- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A free ride on VRE

Your article regarding Virginia Railways Express’ declining ridership and corresponding decrease in revenue fails to mention one significant cause of revenue loss (“Decline in ridership costs commuter rail,” Page 1, Tuesday). Each time a VRE train is more than 30 minutes late, a Free Ride Certificate is issued to all passengers on the affected train. Because of the numerous delays over the past two or three months, I have managed to ride the entire month of July using my Free Ride Certificates.

From a rider’s perspective, many delays are the result of poorly maintained signals and switches by CSX, which owns VRE’s Fredericksburg line. One or more seem to fail at least once a week, causing significant delays. CSX seems to give VRE little respect or priority as our VRE trains chug along behind slow-moving freight trains.

CHARLES PATALIVE

Bumpass, Va.

Legalize drugs

Thank you for publishing Terry Michael’s outstanding Op-Ed column, “Legalize drugs” (Monday). When we legalized alcohol in 1933 after Prohibition, we didn’t surrender to the alcohol cartels — we put them out of business.

When we legalize, regulate, tax and control our now-unregulated, untaxed and uncontrolled drugs, our overall crime rate will decline substantially. The drug dealers, drug lords and drug cartels will be put out of business overnight, and our robust prison-building industry will come to a screeching halt.

Many judges and prison wardens say that at least 70 percent of our violent crime and property crime is drug-related. Actually, almost 100 percent of so-called drug-related crime is caused by our drug-criminalization policies — not the drugs themselves.

When most types of recreational drugs were legally available on grocery store shelves and in pharmacies for pennies per dose, the term “drug-related crime” didn’t exist. Neither did drug lords, drug cartels or even drug dealers as we know them today.

It’s time to chart a new course in our drug war. Our current policies are not working except to assure the full employment of those doing the prohibiting.

KIRK MUSE

Mesa, Ariz.

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Terry Michael suggests many reasons to question America’s so-called war on drugs and its peculiar obsession with marijuana, but one seems particularly obvious: It hasn’t worked, most obviously in the case of marijuana.

The Justice Department’s Drug Threat Assessment 2006 reports, “Marijuana availability is high and stable or increasing slightly” despite an all-time record number of marijuana arrests — 771,984 in 2004. Eighty-nine percent of those arrests were for possession — more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.

The government estimates indicate that before national prohibition of marijuana in 1937, just about 2 percent of Americans tried the drug by the time they turned 21. For the past decade, between 40 percent and 50 percent have tried marijuana before graduating from high school. Put another way, since we banned marijuana, its use by young people has increased by well over 2,000 percent.

If a policy is intended to stop something, and the thing it’s supposed to stop increases by more than 2,000 percent, reasonable people begin to question whether the policy is effective.

BRUCE MIRKEN

Director of communications

Marijuana Policy Project

Washington

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Terry Michael did a good job listing the societal harms caused by the drug war in “Legalize drugs,” but he forgot to mention that the drug war simply doesn’t work. Creating a punitive nanny state has not resulted in lower rates of drug use. The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Study reports that lifetime use of marijuana is higher in the United States than in any European country, yet America is one of the few Western countries that punishes people who prefer marijuana to martinis.

There is a middle ground between drug prohibition and blanket legalization. Switzerland’s heroin-maintenance trials have been shown to reduce disease, death and crime among chronic users. Heroin-maintenance pilot projects are under way in Canada, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. If expanded, prescription heroin maintenance would deprive organized crime of a core client base. This would render illegal heroin trafficking unprofitable and spare future generations addiction.

Marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol, only without the ubiquitous advertising. As long as marijuana distribution remains in the hands of organized crime, consumers of the most popular illicit drug will continue to come into contact with sellers of hard drugs such as cocaine. This “gateway” is the direct result of a fundamentally flawed policy. Marijuana arguably is safer than legal alcohol; it makes no sense to waste tax dollars on failed policies that finance organized crime and facilitate the use of hard drugs.

ROBERT SHARPE

Policy analyst

Common Sense for Drug Policy

Washington

Wrong on horse-slaughter bill

I was extremely disappointed to read your editorial, “Stop Horsing Around, ” (Tuesday). It is difficult to understand how a newspaper that covers Washington so extensively could so deeply misunderstand the legislative situation surrounding Rep. John Sweeney’s bill.

There was no “fuzzy parliamentary procedure” to allow the House Agriculture Committee to consider the bill. H.R. 503 was assigned to the committee because the bill falls under the jurisdiction of the committee. Since Mr. Sweeney wants his bill considered so that it can pass by a simple majority, committee consideration is the normal procedure. Having followed countless pieces of legislation through Congress, surely The Washington Times is not suggesting that a bill introduced by a member, assigned to the committees with shared jurisdiction and considered by each committee, following the very same democratic process established by our Founding Fathers, is an “anti-democratic abuse”?

The rest of your editorial manages to mangle the history of last year’s appropriations process, where Mr. Sweeney attempted to circumvent the legislative process by attaching a funding limitation to an appropriations bill.

Because his effort only stopped the government from paying for inspection services at the three processing plants, it did nothing to alter the overarching statutory requirement which requires the secretary of agriculture to inspect all meat processed in U.S. facilities. While the secretary was denied the funds needed to orchestrate the inspections, he still faced the obligation to inspect. In order to comply with the letter of the law, the secretary followed the only course of action open to him: providing inspections on a fee-for-service basis, a process already established to cover species for which funding for inspection is not currently provided under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. No legal acrobatics were required.

No one has thwarted Mr. Sweeney or ignored the law. Instead, proponents of the Sweeney bill either misunderstood the law or sought to gain through bluster what they could not get with an appropriations rider. Today, those same proponents seek to follow a more normal legislative process, but somehow fail to view the consideration of the bill by the authorizing committees as an essential part of that process.

Finally, as I explained in my testimony on Tuesday, this bill offers no real solution to deal with all of the unwanted horses abandoned by this bill. This concern is shared by major organizations — including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Quarter Horse Association and every state Horse Council that has taken a position on H.R. 503 — they are all concerned with the welfare of these horses. For good reason they and I oppose this bill.

REP. BOB GOODLATTE

Chairman

House Committee on Agriculture

Washington

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