THE drug problem is swinging the United States legal system by the tail. There are not enough courts and judges to handle the burgeoning number of drug cases.
Prisons are ill-equipped to cope with drug pushers and addicts.
And law enforcement and the criminal justice system are often overresponding, or underresponding, to the narcotics crisis.
Solutions are sometimes extreme. They range from the requirement of a mandatory death penalty for hard-drug pushers and maximum jail time for regular users, to outside-the-walls rehabilatative programs.
Some would decriminalize certain types of drugs. Others would throw individual privacy guarantees to the wind and require substance-testing for all public employees and most private workers.
One constitutional lawyer suggests that drugs are not only subverting society - but also subverting justice.
The drug crisis may demand a three-D response: do, don't, and diminish. Points to be made include:
DO provide preventative drug education. One highly visible program is Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). This instruction by police officers to school children in nearly every state and several foreign countries centers on teaching youngsters to resist drugs.
DO consider the impact on the courts of drug cases and look for alternatives to jail, such as probation and community service.
DO provide the legal structure to deal with the burgeoning number of drug cases that need to be adjudicated in court.
William Rehnquist, chief justice of the US, in his recent year-end report on the judiciary, asked Congress to provide more federal judgeships to deal with drug matters. The chief justice pointed out that 25 percent of criminal cases handled by the federal courts are drug-related. ``Some courts, especially in border states, are approaching the outer limits of caseload and fatigue from handling drug-related cases,'' he said.
DON'T set aside constitutional rights regarding search and seizure and other protections of the accused to get drug convictions.
DON'T use the public's concern about drugs to justify mandatory drug testing where no such action is warranted. Drug-testing programs for workers who are involved in national security or where public safety is at stake may be justified. They should not, however, intrude on personal rights or privacy or be demeaning to individual dignity.
DON'T weigh the drug issue out of proportion to other constitutional considerations. A case now before the Supreme Court, for example, involves the use of peyote in religious ceremonies. The court must decide whether the drug issue negates the free exercise claim.
DIMINISH the supply of drugs through stricter surveillance and restraint of the flow from illegal domestic and foreign sources.
DIMINISH the demand for narcotics through community, state, and national programs that encourage useful citizenship rather than concentrate on fear.
DIMINISH tolerance for drugs by young people by erasing the often-confusing distinction between good and bad drugs. This may involve emptying medicine cabinets and better examples set by adults.