GREEN BAY – Supporters and critics of legalizing marijuana and potentially other drugs differ on whether taxpayer money can be saved on enforcement. But both sides do agree with or without legalization, more public funds need to go toward drug education.
Taxpayers pay millions of dollars locally and billions nationwide every year fighting the war on drugs, to get illegal drugs off the streets.
“I understand it’s very expensive to fight the war on drugs. It is. There’s no argument,” said Brown County Sheriff John Gossage. “But I think what it is something we hold true to our values.”
Gossage says his department spends more than $2 million a year enforcing the drug laws.
Former Green Lake County Sheriff Lance Buchholtz fought in the war on drugs for 26 years, before coming to the conclusion it can’t be won.
“Absolutely not, it’s been a colossal failure and it’s time we just admit that, we be honest and have a discussion about this problem and how are we going to control the marketplace,” said Buchholtz.
Buchholtz favors legalization now. He points to Colorado legalizing marijuana to show money can be saved in enforcement efforts. And money can be made through taxation and regulation.
But to eliminate the temptation and demand for drugs, Buchholtz says the answer lies in more education.
“Look what it’s done for tobacco with teenagers,” indicated Buchholtz. “Teenage smoking has actually gone way down and that’s just been through education programs.”
Drug education is something Gossage can agree with. He says the government needs to spend more on educating the public about the dangers of drugs to help change behavior.
“Absolutely I would think so,” said Gossage.
Brown County District Attorney David Lasee indicates court sentences are incorporating more treatment options for drug offenders. But those court directed treatments come after the fact, and education really needs to come first.
“Is the answer treating this as a public health problem and looking at treatment and education? Absolutely,” said Lasee. “I understand why some say spending money just on enforcement is not effective. I would agree just looking at enforcement it’s not effective, you need to look at public health and education as alternative ways to address the problem.”
Just how much money should be spent on educating society on the dangers of drugs?
The state of Colorado plans to spend $900 million next fiscal year on educating citizens about the dangers of marijuana and other drugs, and programs to keep kids off of drugs.
That’s the same amount Colorado expects to take in the first year from legalizing marijuana.