Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The War on Drugs?

Is it really a 'War' or a misguided concept? There are many opinions on the issue. Here are a few...

Jack Cafferty, CNN Commentary: War on drugs is insane [March 2009]
Someone described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. That's a perfect description of the war on drugs.

If drugs were legalized, we could empty out a lot of our prison cells. People will use this stuff whether it's legal or not. Just like they do booze. And you could make the argument that in some cases alcohol is just as dangerous as some drugs. I know.

Like I said ... something to think about. It's time.

Jim Webb - The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 [March 2009]

The Act will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process.

Why We Urgently Need this Legislation:

  • Incarceration for drug crimes has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, despite virtually identical levels of drug use across racial and ethnic lines.
  • With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses 25% of the world's reported prisoners.

  • Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.

  • Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.

  • Existing practices too often incarcerate people who do not belong in prison and distract locking up the more serious, violent offenders who are a threat to our communities..

  • Mass incarceration of illegal drug users has not curtailed drug usage. The multi-billion dollar illegal drugs industry remains intact, with more dangerous drugs continuing to reach our streets.
  • Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

  • Incarceration for drug crimes has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, despite virtually identical levels of drug use across racial and ethnic lines.
Neal Peirce, Seattle Times Editorial The Other War We Can't Win [December 2006]
...So has the "war" worked? Has drug use or addiction declined? Clearly not. Hard street drugs are reportedly cheaper and purer, and as easy to get, as when President Richard Nixon declared substance abuse a "national emergency."...

We'd be incredibly better off if we had treated drugs as a public-health issue instead of a criminal issue — as the celebrated Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, in fact advised us. Friedman, who died last month at 94, witnessed America's misadventure into alcohol prohibition in his youth. "We had this spectacle of Al Capone, of the hijackings, the gang wars," wrote Friedman. He decried turning users into criminals: "Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters worse — for both the addict and the rest of us."...
New York Times, Editorial: Not Winning the War on Drugs [July 2008]
...Over all, drug abuse must be seen more as a public health concern and not primarily a law enforcement problem. Until demand is curbed at home, there is no chance of winning the war on drugs.
PBS Series: America's Forgotten War: A Series Overview [March 2009]
Many experts believe it's time to come up with a new strategy. Currently, the biggest drug use in America stems from homegrown marijuana and prescription drugs. If that's the case, critics ask, why does the United States continue to spend billions in anti-drug efforts that end up pushing production from one Latin American country to another?

National Review: The War on Drugs is Lost 7 essays [July 1996]
1. Wm. F. Buckley Jr. - Author, commentator and founder of the National Review magazine.

WE ARE speaking of a plague that consumes an estimated $75 billion per year of public money, exacts an estimated $70 billion a year from consumers, is responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the million Americans who are today in jail, occupies an estimated 50 per cent of the trial time of our judiciary, and takes the time of 400,000 policemen -- yet a plague for which no cure is at hand, nor in prospect...

...it is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors.

2. Ethan A. Nadelmann - Scholar and researcher.

The essayists assembled here do not agree exactly on which aspect of the war on drugs is most disgraceful, or on which alternative to our current policies is most desirable, but we do agree, as Mr. Buckley expected, on the following: The ``war on drugs'' has failed to accomplish its stated objectives, and it cannot succeed so long as we remain a free society, bound by our Constitution. Our prohibitionist approach to drug control is responsible for most of the ills commonly associated with America's ``drug problem.'' And some measure of legal availability and regulation is essential if we are to reduce significantly the negative consequences of both drug use and our drug-control policies...

Prohibition is no way to run a drug policy. We learned that with alcohol during the first third of this century and we're probably wise enough as a society not to try to repeat the mistake with nicotine. Prohibitions for kids make sense. It's reasonable to prohibit drug-related misbehavior that endangers others, such as driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, or smoking in enclosed spaces. But whatever its benefits in deterring some Americans from becoming drug abusers, America's indiscriminate drug prohibition is responsible for too much crime, disease, and death to qualify as sensible policy.

I am often baffled by the resistance of conservatives to drug-policy reform, but encouraged by the willingness of many to reassess their views once they have heard the evidence. Conservatives who oppose the expansion of federal power cannot look approvingly on the growth of the federal drug-enforcement bureaucracy and federal efforts to coerce states into adopting federally formulated drug policies. Those who focus on the victimization of Americans by predatory criminals can hardly support our massive diversion of law-enforcement resources to apprehending and imprisoning nonviolent vice merchants and consumers. Those concerned with overregulation can hardly countenance our current handling of methadone, our refusal to allow over-the-counter sale of sterile syringes, our prohibition of medical marijuana. And conservatives who turn to the Bible for guidance on current affairs can find little justification there for our war on drugs and the people who use and sell them.

3. Kurt Schmoke - Dean of Howard University School of Law, former Mayor of Baltimore, MD and former prosecutor.

I have long advocated that the war on drugs be fought as a public-health war. This is sometimes called medicalization, or regulated distribution. Under this alternative to the war on drugs, the government would set up a regulatory regime to pull addicts into the public-health system. The government, not criminal traffickers, would control the price, distribution, and purity of addictive substances -- which it already does with prescription drugs. This would take most of the profit out of drug trafficking, and it is profits that drive the crime. Addicts would be treated -- and if necessary maintained -- under medical auspices. Children would find it harder, not easier, to get their hands on drugs. And law enforcement would be able to concentrate on the highest echelons of drug-trafficking enterprises...

I once told a television reporter that the war on drugs was our domestic Vietnam. Conservatives and liberals disagree about the justice of that war. But we generally agree that the strategy for fighting it didn't work, and as a result the war lasted too long and cost too many lives. The same is true of the war on drugs. It's time to bring this enervating war to an end. It's time for peace.

4. Joseph D. McNamara - former police chief.

"IT'S THE money, stupid.'' After 35 years as a police officer in three of the country's largest cities, that is my message to the righteous politicians who obstinately proclaim that a war on drugs will lead to a drug-free America. About $500 worth of heroin or cocaine in a source country will bring in as much as $100,000 on the streets of an American city. All the cops, armies, prisons, and executions in the world cannot impede a market with that kind of tax-free profit margin. It is the illegality that permits the obscene markup, enriching drug traffickers, distributors, dealers, crooked cops, lawyers, judges, politicians, bankers, businessmen...

It was my own experience as a policeman trying to enforce the laws against drugs that led me to change my attitude about drug-control policy. The analogy to the Vietnam War is fitting...

One hopes that politicians will realize that no one can accuse them of being soft on drugs if they vote for changes suggested by many thoughtful people in law enforcement. If the politicians tone down their rhetoric it will permit police leaders to expose the costs of our present drug-control policies. Public opinion will then allow policy changes to decriminalize marijuana and stop the arrest of hundreds of thousands of people every year. The enormous savings can be used for what the public really wants -- the prevention of violent crime.

5. Robert W. Sweet - Federal judge and former prosecutor.

WHY does a sitting judge, constitutionally charged with enforcing the laws of the United States, seek the abolition of the criminal penalties attached to drug use and distribution? The answer in my case stems from personal experience, leading to the conviction that our present policy debases the rule of law and that its fundamental premise is flawed...

...Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentences, and judicial discretion was radically restricted. The day in the fall of 1988 that I was mandated to sentence Luis Quinones, an 18-year-old with no prior record, to ten years of real time because he was a bouncer in an apartment where drugs were being sold, I faced our national drug policy and the need to re-examine it. Assisted by the writings of Professor Ethan Nadelmann I concluded that our present policy of criminal prohibition was a monumental error. A number of other judges have reached the same conclusion. Judge Weinstein has characterized our present policy as ``utter futility,'' and Judge Knapp has likened it to ``taking minnows out of the pond.''

As Chief McNamara writes, the realities of criminal prohibition are becoming recognized. The first and foremost effect is the creation of a pervasive and unbelievably powerful underground economy..

...the fundamental flaw, which will ultimately destroy this prohibition as it did the last one, is that criminal sanctions cannot, and should not attempt to, prohibit personal conduct which does no harm to others. Personal liberty surely must extend to what, when, and how much a citizen can ingest...

The effect of the underworld drug economy, the debasement of the rule of law, and the undermining of fundamental fairness and individual rights under the war on drugs all combine to require that the criminal prohibition against drug use and distribution be ended.

6. Thomas Szasz - Psychiatrist.

Today, the United States is the embodiment of the principle that self-medication is evil. To protect people from rejecting protection from dangerous drugs, the U.S. criminalizes self-medication without a prescription. We are now paying the price of our anti-drug mentality.

William Bennett is right: Drug use and drug controls are primarily moral issues. But whereas Bennett sees self-medication as wicked and drug criminalization as virtuous, I see self-medication as a basic human right (with unqualified responsibility for its consequences) and drug criminalization as sinful (hypocritical and unenforceable)...

Drugs are, of course, not the only dangerous artifacts in our environment. Electricity, household appliances and cleansers, and countless other products of human inventiveness endanger, injure, and kill children. We accept these inventions that, in the long run, make our lives healthier and safer, and adapt to them by teaching children to cope realistically with the risks they pose. Harassing adults and depriving them of rights will not work as a substitute for disciplining children...

7. Steven B. Duke - Law professor.

``THE DRUG war is not working,'' says Bill Buckley. That is certainly true if we assume, as he does, that the purpose of the drug war is to induce Americans to consume only approved drugs. But as the war wears on, we have to wonder what its purposes really are.

If its purpose is to make criminals out of one in three African-American males, it has succeeded. If its purpose is to create one of the highest crime rates in the world -- and thus to provide permanent fodder for demagogues who decry crime and promise to do something about it -- it is achieving that end. If its purpose is de facto repeal of the Bill of Rights, victory is well in sight. If its purpose is to transfer individual freedom to the central government, it is carrying that off as well as any of our real wars did. If its purpose is to destroy our inner cities by making them war zones, triumph is near.

Most of the results of the drug war, of which the essayists here complain, were widely observed during alcohol prohibition. Everyone should have known that the same fate would follow if the Prohibition approach were merely transferred to different drugs...

The only benefit to America in maintaining prohibition is the psychic comfort we derive from having a permanent scapegoat. But why did we have to pick an enemy the warring against which is so self-destructive? We would be better off blaming our ills on celestial invaders flying about in saucers.

1 comment:

James Raider said...

It's time for drastic changes on our failed War on Drugs.


Time to regain control of our streets and our sanity.