continued Sterling says he's not proposing that people be allowed to sell cocaine "like bananas, or Chiclets...but legal businesses do not kill people for noncooperation," he says. "Every business that is legal in America is in some sense a regulated business. The plutonium business is a regulated business. You and I can't go out and buy plutonium. It's legal to sell insurance, but you can't just go to a street corner in San Diego and start selling 'Derek's insurance.' It's a highly regulated industry. General Barry McCaffrey has a cartoon image of what legalization is. Is alcohol legal? Yes, but you can't sell six-packs out of the trunk of your car. You'd be arrested for doing so."
Sterling suggests starting the legalizing process with marijuana. "The kind of model you might follow is one of licensing and taxing the producers and distributors, as we do with alcohol. You might also license the users and generate revenue that way. With drugs like LSD and peyote, you'd license people to give guided LSD trips. You'd have to [appoint] a licensed LSD leader. You'd envision a professional association that would establish guidelines for who is accredited and what the criteria are for someone who is going to allow someone to use LSD in their presence. You say, 'Why do people use LSD? What are they trying to accomplish? How do you facilitate that in the safest way you can?'
"For a drug like heroin, if someone is certified as an addict, then you establish legal access to heroin. Clean needles. Require that they meet certain social obligations, whether it's caring for their children, holding down a job, attending school... For stimulant drugs, maybe you could set up some kind of consulting pharmacist, who would be something like a stockbroker. He can't sell John Q. Citizen the riskiest investment. The stockbroker has requirements...that their investor be counseled about what the risks are.
"[In each case] it's a consulting kind of professional relationship. It's not going to eliminate the black market. It's not going to eliminate people who are going to tend to abuse drugs. It may not work. But it is an attempt to license and control -- and manage -- the drug problem. That's the best you can do."
Mrkic does not agree. He points to the example of the Netherlands, where he says marijuana has been legalized, but not hard drugs (where the huge profits are). "What do you mean by 'working?' If 'working' means that you don't have illicit [marijuana] trafficking, yes. Because you can produce and traffic legally. You can buy marijuana in the cafés of Amsterdam. But this also means its use is spreading. A [recent Dutch] national survey of motorists produced a terrifying result: over 75 percent of all the drivers were under the influence of alcohol, or marijuana or some other narcotic. So if you legalize it, you have to be aware that it's going to be much more widely used."
For Sterling, who is skeptical about such negative reports from Holland -- Mrkic admits that "the methodology of the survey was not available, only the results" -- it's a question of solutions appropriate to the problem. "What happens if you have a problem with air and water pollution? You don't have the governor declare a 'pollution-free California,' outlaw the internal-combustion engine and make it a crime to flush the toilet. No. We regulate how much people can pollute! We license pollution.
"The current problem is caused by prohibition. When Congress says, 'These drugs are not legal,' it is saying, 'Organized crime: you run the drug business.' We've given organized crime the franchise to distribute drugs by choosing not to regulate it and not control it." Sterling concedes that among those congressmembers he has lobbied, there's been "extremely little interest in these ideas. Only 'this conversation didn't take place' type of conversations."