The Doomed War On Drugs
(excerpt from “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, by Paul J. Bern)
Of all the people throughout the world who are incarcerated, fully 25% of them are locked up right here in the US. The United States has more people locked up in state and federal prisons than all the rest of the countries of the world combined. Of all the US prisoners currently serving sentences in state and federal prison, over 55% of them are locked up for nonviolent drug offenses. When we look at whether fewer people use drugs in countries like ours with stricter drug laws, we find that the World Health Organization looked at 17 countries in a 2008 study and found no such correlation. The US, despite its punitive – to the point of being Draconian – drug policies, has one of the highest levels of drug use in the world. By any measure, making drugs illegal fails to achieve one of its primary objectives. But it is the unintended consequences of prohibition that make the most compelling case against it.
Prohibition fuels crime in many ways: without state aid, addicts may be forced to fund their habit through robbery, for instance, while youngsters can be drawn into the drugs trade as a way to earn money and status. In countries such as Colombia and Mexico, the profits from illegal drugs have spawned armed criminal organizations whose resources rival those of the state. So what’s the alternative? There are several models for the legal provision of recreational drugs. They include prescription by doctors, consumption at licensed premises or even sale on a similar basis to alcohol and tobacco, with health warnings and age limits. If this prospect appalls you, consider the fact that in the US today, many teenagers say they find it easier to buy cannabis than beer. What has the 40-year-long war on drugs gotten us? In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:
• $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.
• $33 billion in marketing “Just Say No”-style messages to America’s youth and other “prevention” programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have “risen steadily” since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 lastyear.
• $49 billion for law enforcement along America’s borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
• $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
• $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.
The $320 billion annual global drug industry now accounts for over 1 percent of all commerce on the planet. A full 10 percent of Mexico’s economy is built on drug proceeds. For every drug dealer you put in jail or kill, a line forms to replace him/her because the money is just that good. Today it is clearer than ever that criminalization not only does not work when it comes to drug law enforcement, it actually exacerbates the drug “problem” overall. The February 12, 1996 issue of the National Review had the headline in bold letters, “THE WAR ON DRUGS IS LOST”. Consider a few facts about America’s weed war:
* It diverts hundreds of thousands of police agents from serious crimes to the pursuit of harmless tokers, including agents from the local and state police, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, Border Patrol, Customs, and Postal Service.
* By even the most conservative estimate, the outlay from US taxpayers now tops $10 billion a year in direct spending just to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users and sellers, not counting such indirect costs as militarizing our border with Mexico in a hopeless effort to stop marijuana imports.
* Police agents at all levels trample our Bill of Rights in their eagerness to nab pot consumers by conducting illegal car searches, phone and email taps, garbage scrounging, and door-busting night raids.
* Even people who are merely suspected of marijuana violations and have had no charges filed against them can (and regularly do) have their cars, money, computers, and other property confiscated by police. In a reversal of America’s fundamental legal principles, it is up to these suspects to prove that their property is “innocent” of any crime.
* People convicted of possessing even one ounce of marijuana can face mandatory minimum sentences of a year in jail, and having even one plant in your yard is a federal felony.
* 49,000 Americans are in federal or state prisons right now on marijuana charges, not counting people in city and county jails.
*89% of all marijuana arrests are for simple possession of the weed, not for producing or selling it. In short, marijuana prohibition is not, and will not, reduce demand. So then it’s time to regulate the supply. It is time to remove the production and distribution of marijuana out of the hands of violent criminals and into the hands of licensed businesses, and the only way to do that is through legalization, regulation and taxation.
Another thing about the drug war is that we are forced to draw connections between the war on drugs and the disintegration of low-income and black communities in America. As Dr. King so poignantly reminds us in his critique of the Vietnam War, “a time comes when silence is betrayal.” With many communities disparately impacted by the drug war, many of us working for justice have come to the realization that America’s war on drugs is really a war on families and communities. In the spirit of Rev. Dr. King, we must now ask: Has this drug war assault on the poor and the marginalized become the next big civil rights struggle? Civil rights advocates are honoring Dr. King’s legacy by standing up against the “new Jim Crow” – mass incarceration through the racially disproportionate war on drugs. It is impossible to talk frankly and honestly about racism without talking about the drug war. Few U.S. policies have had such a devastating effect on Blacks, Latinos and other racial minorities than the drug war. Every aspect of the war on drugs – from arrests to prosecutions to sentencing – is disproportionately carried out against minorities. In an allegedly Christian country like the US, this is inexcusable.
100,000 Americans die each year from prescription drugs — that’s 270 per day or more than twice as many as there are killed in car accidents each day. This shows you how dangerous prescription medications truly are. To make matters worse, we are the only developed country that doesn’t control prescription drug prices, meaning that the drug companies can charge whatever they want to — even for drugs that don’t work very well. The industry’s unlimited hikes in prices have helped make health insurance unaffordable for most Americans. This is also why wages of American workers have stagnated. When health premiums rise, employers must get the extra money from somewhere, and employee raises are one of the first things to go.
But what if some of that money that we are spending on apparently dangerous but legal prescription drugs was redirected towards medical marijuana? Has modern medicine been able to document the positive effects of cannabis medication? Research into possible medical uses of Cannabis is enjoying a renaissance.
In recent years, studies have shown potential for treating nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, alcohol abuse, collagen-induced arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disorder, depression, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell disease, sleep apnea, Alzheimer’s disease, glaucoma and anorexia nervosa. It is also documented to be very effective for patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law passed in 2000. Now, the United States, which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in tiny Portugal, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September 2010 to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries — including Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru — have taken interest, too. The disasters that were predicted by critics didn’t happen. The answer was simple: Provide treatment. Here’s what happened in Portugal between 2000 and 2010 as a result of decriminalization of formerly illegal drugs:
• There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.
• Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.
• Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.
• The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.
• The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.
Officials have not yet worked out the cost of the program, but they expect no increase in spending, since most of the money was diverted from the justice system to the public health service. The U.S. is spending $74 billion this year on criminal and court proceedings for drug offenders, compared with $3.6 billion for treatment. The result of the criminalization of alcohol sales and consumption during the 1920’s was the gangster era of Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde and scores of other lesser-known hoodlums and gangs that profited from the violent underground economy that Prohibition created. Today we have an identical situation since the drug trade is mostly in the hands of gangsters and thugs, with the criminals killing innocent bystanders and each other in fights over turf and cash flow. The fact that more people are being locked up while crime has decreased and our prisons are already bursting at the seams, particularly in minority communities, constitutes a 21st century civil rights issue of the highest order. It is time for the US government and law enforcement to “stand down red alert” in the war on drugs. It’s time to end this madness and this stupidity.
The fact of the matter is that if cannabis was legalized and regulated, the medical profession would have a new and completely natural weapon to use against chronic pain, the side effects of chemotherapy, glaucoma and a veritable laundry list of other ailments. All the claims about cannabis being harmful and addictive have long since been disproved by reputable scientific researchers.
If cannabis was legalized and taxed at the state and federal level, American taxpayers and lawmakers alike would be looking at a new revenue stream well in excess of $400 billion dollars annually at the federal level alone. This is not counting fresh revenues in the amount of tens of billions annually that each state would collect as a result of legalization, times all 50 states and US territories.
Finally, if cannabis is decriminalized, all the combined resources of law enforcement at all levels could redirect their time and effort to the main things that they do best, which is to stop violent crime in its tracks, and to detect and expose those who are involved with terrorism and human smuggling across or within our borders. It is much easier for law enforcement at all levels to protect the public when they do not have to waste time prosecuting certain persons for smoking a harmless plant. Cigarettes are legal; when someone lights one up they are also smoking a plant, so (speaking as a minister who has no problem with taking a stand against bad laws that are counterproductive at best and a human rights violation at worst) morally there is no difference. It is a documented fact that cigarette smoking kills between 40 and 50 thousand people per year in the US alone. By the same token, nobody ever died from smoking cannabis. Absolutely nobody.
If “we the people”, America’s 99%, want an effective way to to take away what I regard as excess authority that is being abused by the minions and henchmen of the 1%, then ending the war on drugs would be one very good place to start. The war on drugs, like the ticking time bomb of economic inequality and the resulting class warfare that is ongoing in America, is the new civil rights battle cry of the 21st century. As a watchman on the wall protecting a boundary that shields the human rights of mankind, it is my job to sound this warning, and I am not alone.
As the spring of 2012 turns to summer, a resounding crescendo of voices of the multitudes who are completely fed up with an existence of bare bones survival will rise up and speak the truth to the power of big corporate money. We who are rising up will say with one voice, “Enough is enough!”, and by the force of sheer numbers we will overwhelm those who hoard wealth, assets and possessions at the expense of everyone else. If we are denied a hearing for our grievances then we shall take to the streets in protest. Then the top 1%-‘ers will see that resisting us will only turn America into another Tunisia, another Egypt, another Yemen, another Spain, another Syria, or another Greece. It is time for everyone to make a choice. If we do not make ourselves part of the solution, then we default to being part of the problem. Become part of the solution. Occupy America in 2012 and beyond!