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Time to Legalize Drugs

Undercover Baltimore police officer Dante Arthur was doing what he does well, arresting drug dealers, when he approached a group in January. What he didn't know was that one of suspects knew from a previous arrest that Arthur was police. Arthur was shot twice in the face. In the gunfight that ensued, Arthur's partner returned fire and shot one of the suspects, three of whom were later arrested.

In many ways, Dante Arthur was lucky. He lived. Nationwide, a police officer dies on duty nearly every other day. Too often a flag-draped casket is followed by miles of flashing red and blue lights. Even more officers are shot and wounded, too many fighting the war on drugs. The prohibition on drugs leads to unregulated, and often violent, public drug dealing. Perhaps counterintuitively, better police training and bigger guns are not the answer.

When it makes sense to deal drugs in public, a neighborhood becomes home to drug violence. For a low-level drug dealer, working the street means more money and fewer economic risks. If police come, and they will, some young kid will be left holding the bag while the dealer walks around the block. But if the dealer sells inside, one raid, by either police or robbers, can put him out of business for good. Only those virtually immune from arrests (much less imprisonment) -- college students, the wealthy and those who never buy or sell from strangers -- can deal indoors.

Six years ago one of us wrote a column on this page, "Victims of the War on Drugs." It discussed violence, poor community relations, overly aggressive policing and riots. It failed to mention one important harm: the drug war's clear and present danger toward men and women in blue. 


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