Advertised as an effective drug control policy, America's harsh drug laws only give the illusion of progress.
Two recent reports show, once again, that the arrest and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent adult drug offenders have done little to stem the use and trafficking of illicit drugs. Drug Use. A senior fellow at the George Mason University School of Public Policy, Dr. Jon Gettman's recent study, Consistent, Persistent and Resistant, Marijuana Use in the United States - funded by the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation - finds that the "Bush Administration anti-drug policies have been unsuccessful in reducing the demand for and use of marijuana and other illegal drugs." Further, Gettman reports, the government's own Office of National Drug Control Policy ( ONDCP ) did not come close to reaching its recent goal: the reduction in the use of illicit drugs among adults 18 years and older by 25 percent between 2002 and 2007. After five years of effort and many millions of tax dollars, illicit drug use among adults declined by less than one percent. Of the six tax-funded programs designed by the ONDCP to reach its 25 percent reduction goal, the Bush Administration's Office of Management and Budget found that only one program rated an "adequate" grade.
The other five were rated "ineffective" or "results-not-demonstrated." Drug Trafficking. In its new report, Correcting Course: Lessons from the 1970 Repeal of Mandatory Minimums, the Washington advocacy organization, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, finds that, to date, "No conclusive studies demonstrate any positive impact of federal mandatory minimum sentences on the rate at which drugs are being manufactured, imported, and trafficked throughout the country." The U.S. Congress first enacted mandatory sentences for drug offenses in 1951 only to repeal the law in 1970 because it was not reducing drug use. Then, in 1986, the Congress set new mandatory sentences aimed at locking up big-time drug traffickers and, in 1988, expanded the law to apply to simple possession of crack cocaine. By 2008, more than one-half of the 200,000 federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses.
But instead of filling federal prisons with drug kingpins, 66 percent of crack cocaine offenders in 2005 were low-level street dealers, lookouts and couriers and only 33 percent were higher-level suppliers. Instead of ending the drug war, mandatory sentences promise to keep prisons full of nonviolent, low level offenders, while drug use continues unabated. Setting goals in the absence of any reasonable means to achieve those goals is plain dumb, except in Washington. Perhaps the non-performing drug war programs are not really expected to deliver on their publicly stated goals, but continue because they serve a very different purpose.
They give the politically useful illusion of "controlling" crime and allow morally righteous members of society to impose their values on the actions of others. Instead of ending the drug war, each year Washington drug warriors issue a new round of optimistic forecasts to keep the illusion alive, to justify another round of funding from American taxpayers. In the absence of a strategy that can both win the drug war and pass Constitutional and affordability tests, police departments, prison operators and hundreds of thousands of prison guards keep themselves busy wasting money on non-performing programs and arresting more low level drug offenders. Forget pie-in-the-sky government promises that build false expectations. When the toughest action governments can take to change individual behavior - sending its citizens to prison - doesn't work, it is time to try another approach. Building more prisons will not reduce drug use in America. Instead, across America, let's build thousands of down-to-earth education and health programs that can actually help individuals in your hometown and mine make informed life-style choices.
Author: Ronald Fraser
Pubdate: Tue, 25 Nov 2008
Source: Metrowest Daily News (MA)