No parent wants to see their kids’ lives trashed by drug use. If young people can be kept drug-free until they are 18, most will be drug-free for the rest of their lives.
How do you do that? You require testing for driving and other privileges, including employment and perhaps high school education. If kids know there is about a 99 percent chance they will lose, they won’t take the risk — especially on things that are important to them like a driver’s license or getting a job.
To deal effectively with teen drug use, we need a plan of gradual but certain penalties that really work. Disincentives work most effectively not by the severity of the penalty but by the certainty of it.
We need to make this work for our kids and for Latin Americans, where the U.S.’s drug appetite has stimulated international cartels and contributed to thousands of deaths.
The plan should not abandon criminal sanctions, but we can reduce the demand for drugs by using effective disincentives, which should mean less incarceration. Already, less than 1 percent of all state prisoners are there for use or possession of marijuana.
That’s partly because drug courts work. There are 2,400 of them, and that number should be tripled.
They put greater emphasis on rehabilitation. Their recidivism rate is 16 percent compared with 45 percent for other courts.
Supervised rehab would be part of the certain result of drug violations — and the only way to get back privileges such as driving and no jail time.
States that have implemented medical marijuana have three times higher drugged-driver fatalities than states that have no medical marijuana laws.
High Schools that have implemented drug testing have better attendance, higher grade scores and fewer disciplinary problems. In Chicago, St. Patrick’s High School uses random testing.
Hair tests can detect drug use back 90 days. St. Patrick’s attendance, graduation and college admission rates are higher and disciplinary incidents lower.
In a competitive world, the U.S. cannot afford to have its young people be dumbed down by drugs. Today, children are offered tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs and sex at an average of age 12 when they lack knowledge of the health hazards and the judgment to say no.
The drug control effort has been a lot more effective than reported by the media. More than 93 percent of Americans do not use illegal drugs. In fact, more than 30 years ago, that percentage was 50 percent higher — 11 percent used illegal drugs regularly versus 7 percent in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available.
That’s progress, but much more needs to be done. We need to establish a better system of rewards and disincentives that do not rely on incarceration alone.
Let’s require a drug test for driver’s license applicants. The courts have supported compulsory drug testing where certain public privileges and safety are involved — including access to employment and public housing.
The U.S. led the world into this problem. We can lead it out. Drug testing has worked effectively in the workplace, in some schools, in the military and with drug courts.
Peter Bensinger is CEO of Bensinger DuPont and Associates and was DEA administrator under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan from 1976-81. Linden Blue is vice chairman of General Atomics and a trustee of the Hudson Institute.