Drug pushing is so extraordinarily profitable that even the death penalty can't be expected to eliminate it.
Even so, the U.S. Senate did the right thing Friday when it passed and sent to the House a new bill providing the death penalty for drug dealers convicted of murder.Since the bill would only permit but not require the death penalty for drug dealers convicted of killing lawmen or private citizens, it's hard to understand the efforts of some squeamish lawmakers to make the measure even weaker.
Yes, the death penalty has long been back in effect and doesn't always exert as much of a deterrent effect as logic might indicate and society might desire.
But some states are still reluctant to put capital punishment laws back on the books. Likewise, even if the death penalty deters only a few drug dealers, are we really to believe America won't accept anything but sweeping, dramatic gains in the war on drugs?
In any event, no one can deny the fact that the drug murderer who is executed will be permanently deterred from ever killing or pushing drugs again.
Moreover, don't rule out the possibility that such a tough new law just might help dry up the demand for drugs by changing the moral climate that in some quarters makes the use of illegal substances socially acceptable.
Let's hope that indefensible climate also changes as Americans learn more about the impact of drug abuse.
For example, did you know that drug users are two or three times more likely to skip work than non-users and three or four times more likely to be involved in accidents when they do show up for work?
Or that workers who use illegal drugs also are more likely to steal from their employers?
Or that their health-care costs are substantially higher than those of workers who do not abuse drugs?
No wonder that the latest public opinion polls show that illegal drugs have vaulted to the top of Americans' concerns. No wonder, too, that Washington is seriously considering not only the death penalty bill, but also a wide array of other tough anti-drug measures. Among them are:
- Denying or delaying driver licenses to persons convicted of using illegal drugs.
- Compulsory testing to confirm that a convicted person has not returned to the use of illegal drugs.
- Withholding federal aid from state and local governments, colleges, and other publicly-financed institutions if they don't adopt tough anti-drug policies.
Such penalties deserve serious consideration because there are sharp limits to what can be accomplished by trying to reduce the supply of drugs. Instead, the most gains are to be made by curbing the demand for drugs.
If that goal is to be achieved, there must be stern social sanctions for users of illegal drugs and broad approval for all those Americans who remain drug-free.