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A Drug Abuse Policy That Fails Everyone

  1. Wanderer
    The U.S. "war on drugs" has been a bust. And despite the federal government's efforts to claim otherwise, Americans know it: a new national Angus Reid poll shows that 65% of Americans -- with the low marks even across party lines -- think the decades long effort has been a failure.

    Over the past 40 years, the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars has done little to prevent drugs from reaching those who want them and has had scant impact on consumer demand. Drug gangs, particularly south of the border, remain brutal and violent, and the violence has been jumping the border more and more frequently. A staggering total of $521 billion has been spent to arrest and incarcerate drug offenders, including 10 million people whose crime was nothing more than possession of marijuana.

    Perhaps most devastating, the drug war has yielded tremendous unjustified racial disparities in the criminal justice system. As the creators of television's The Wire -- perhaps the most accurate and powerful depiction of the ravages of the drug war in urban America -- noted in a 2008 article, the battle against dangerous substances is a war on poor Americans of color.

    Even beyond government spending, the drug war's costs have been huge. Anti-drug efforts have shredded the 4th amendment to the US constitution on search and seizure, with the courts permitting ever-more-intrusive police activities against those suspected of carrying or selling drugs. The eighth amendment's prohibition on cruel punishments has been diluted by mandatory draconian sentences for minor drug crimes. In courts swamped with hundreds of thousands of low-level drug cases, rapid fire plea bargains pass for justice.

    Blacks and whites engage in drug offenses at roughly similar rates. But over the last 30 years, drug arrest rates for black Americans have been from 2.8 to 5.5 times as high as those of whites. Black men enter state prisons on drug charges at more than ten times the rate of white men.

    Although most American drug offenders are white, African American communities have been and continue as the principal "fronts" of the drug war. To some extent, this is because drug arrests are easier there and police methods are rarely protested.

    At a deeper level, racial disparities in the criminal justice system reflect the way race shaped the definition of the drug problem and hence the proposed solutions. When crack took hold in black communities, public officials could have responded with aggressive community-building investments in substance abuse treatment, education, employment and the like. Instead, they chose punitive policies of arrest and incarceration -- which appealed to whites anxious about their declining status and fearful about the "dangerous" black urban underclass.

    There was hope that the Obama administration would rethink the government's approach to the drug problem. President Obama's new drug plan changes the rhetoric -- no more military metaphors for anti-drug efforts -- but the war isn't over.

    Under Obama's plan, money will continue to flow to traditional drug law enforcement, with prevention and treatment getting short shrift. Whites will continue to smoke weed and snort cocaine with relative impunity. Low-income people of color arrested on drug charges will continue to fill the nation's jails and prisons. Racial disparities in anti-drug efforts will continue to belie the national commitment to equal protection and racial justice.

    President Obama recently signed legislation reducing the infamous federal sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. This is a step in the right direction because more than 80% of the offenders who had received the far harsher federal crack sentences were black. But most drug offenders are prosecuted in state courts under state law--out of 1.7 million annual drug arrests nationwide, only about 25,000 are prosecuted in federal courts - and the new federal cocaine sentences will mean nothing to them.

    No one disputes the importance of protecting minority communities from addiction as well as the disorder, nuisance, and violence that can accompany drug dealing. But drug policies emphasizing arrest and incarceration lock many minority group members in multi-generational cycles of disadvantage and social exclusion. The policies evoke the infamous phrase from the Vietnam War: "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."

    Jamie Fellner
    Staff Reporter
    Posted: August 10, 2010 05:25 PM



  1. talltom
    As Forum members may be aware, there is growing movement in the United States critical because they conceive that the Federal government is growing too fast, the national debt is increasing too much, and the government is taking over too many functions. The "Tea Party" is representative of this attitude. The attacks complain that the Federal government is taking control over more and more concerns of daily life. But most of the concerns deal with such social welfare policies as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Some even want to repeal the new Health Reform bill that was just passed in April, that for the first time would extend health coverage to all, a policy most European countries have had for years.

    Yet few of these attacks mention the War on Drugs, which has gone further than any other government program to attack individual rights.

    So I was delighted to see an add the other day in the NY Times from the Cato Institute, a libertarian group that for many years has raised concerns about the role of the Federal government, including its War on Drugs. The add was entitled "With All Due Respect Mr. President" and listed a dozen areas the government could cut back or eliminate. I disagree with most of their policies, but fully support what they said on the drug war. This is just a brief summary of longer statements they have made on the subject, part of a full-page add meant to reach a large number of readers. I'll find and post more of their ,pre detailed statements.

    Of course other libertarians and conservatives like Bill Buckley have long attacked the drug war. But this is a new movement and it would be great to turn the anger of the Tea Party and others upset on what they see as an overbearing government against drug policies that have really.

    Here's the Cato statement:

    Cato Institute on the US Drug War
    September 16, 2010

    Since the start of the federal War on Drugs in 1970, we've spent hundreds of billions on a futile crusade that's done little to curb drug use and much to impair our civil liberties. In fact, a Cato study showed that Portugal's decriminalization of drugs actually lowered drug-related problems. Returning drug policy to the states — where it belongs — would save at least $15 billion annually.
  2. Terrapinzflyer
    the more things change...

    Ran across this piece from 1992 at Project Censored:


    Sources: In These Times, 2040 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 2nd Fl. Chicago, IL 60647-4002, Date: 5/20/92, Title: "Drug Deaths Rise as the War Continues," Author: Mike Males; EXTRA!, 130 W. 25th Street New York, NY 10001, Date: September 1992, Title: "Don't Forget the Hype: Media, Drugs and Public Opinion," Author: Micah Fink

    SYNOPSIS: When President George Bush went before the nation on September 6, 1989, to give a special address about the seriousness of the drug problem in the United States, the media and the public responded with alarm. By the end of that month, 64 percent of the public believed that drugs posed a greater threat than nuclear war, environmental degradation, toxic waste, AIDS, poverty or the national debt. The New York Times alone published 238 articles on drugs -- more than seven articles a day-that month.

    Fast-forward to 1992: The federal anti-drug budget has mushroomed to over $10 billion dollars; and the president proclaims, "We are winning the war on drugs." The problem with this proclamation is that it is a lie.

    The sobering fact is that Americans are in greater danger from drugs today than ever before. In fact, despite "winning the war on drugs," drug deaths in the U.S. are skyrocketing at a much higher rate than drug arrests.

    Before the Reagan/Bush administrations began their war on drugs, deaths from drug abuse and drug-related murders had declined from a peak of 8,500 per year in the early 1970s to 7,700 in 1982. Since 1982 the numbers have steadily climbed. Drug abuse deaths have risen by 50 percent and drug-related murders have tripled -- to more than 13,000 in 1990. This is the steepest increase and highest level in history.

    Today's drug statistics are startling:

    o During a single week of the present day drug war (as opposed to the "pre-drug-war era"), there are 15,000 more arrests, 5,000 more pounds of cocaine seized, 10,000 more people sent to drug treatment and 100 more drug-related deaths.

    o Street drugs (marijuana, LSD, cocaine, heroin) are not the main killers, as they are portrayed. Rather, prescription drugs (barbiturates, stimulants) are most lethal, accounting for more than 8,000 deaths annually, while street drugs account for 3,000 deaths. (Also overlooked is the "legal-drug" death toll: 400,000 annually from tobacco, 100,000 from alcohol.)

    o Teenagers are often portrayed as the most at-risk group for drug abuse. However, of the 13,000-plus drug-abuse deaths in 1990, adults aged 20 to 59 accounted for 11,000 of those fatalities.

    o Marijuana, LSD and other hallucinogens account for fewer than five deaths a year but make up more than half of all drug arrests.

    o Prescription drugs cause more than half of all drug deaths but comprise only 10 percent of all drug arrests.

    o White adults over the age of 25 account for two-thirds of all drug deaths but account for only one-third of all drug arrests.

    It is more than ironic that the mainstream media that helped Reagan/Bush create a drug war hysteria remain silent or ignorant of the real problems that exist today.

    SSU Censored Researcher: Nicole Novak

    COMMENTS: The sincerity of the Reagan/Bush administrations' war on drugs was first questioned by Project Censored in the #4 Censored Story of 1989, which asked, "Does the administration really want to win the war on drugs?" The answer, based on the experiences of one of the nation's top federal narcotics prosecutors, Richard Gregorie, was "no."

    Gregorie's aggressive and successful eight-year assault on big-time cocaine bosses and drug-corrupted officials from Miami to Medellin was stopped by the State Department, and in January 1989 Gregorie quit in disgust to go into law practice in Miami.

    The same issue resurfaced as the #5 Censored Story of 1990. Titled, "Continued Media Blackout of Drug War Fraud," the nomination revealed the experiences of Michael Levine, a retired undercover agent from the Drug Enforcement Agency. His critical expose of the DEA closely parallels the experiences of Gregorie.

    And now the American public is learning about the tragic results of the war that never was. Mike Males's article about rising drug deaths clearly contradicts President George Bush's optimistic "We are winning the war on drugs" statement.

    At the same time, the mainstream media -- once so eager to herald the War on Drugs are less eager to confess its failure and the toll it has taken in human lives.

    Investigative author Males says his article in In These Times sparked additional coverage only in the alternative press and not in the mainstream media. He notes that while there has now been some sporadic coverage of various experts who feel we're "losing" the war, there has been "nothing on the spectacular rise in drug deaths."

    Males feels the public "needs to be informed that despite rosy claims of officials, the single biggest tragedy -- drug death increases -- is provable by a solid outcome measure that shows the drug war is a disaster."

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