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The war on 'the war on drugs' [The conversation]

June 17, 2011 |  1:07 pm

Drug Use Is Life Abuse With the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's "War on Drugs" Friday, many people seem to agree that the battle against “America’s public enemy No. 1” has failed. 

After the Global Commission on Drug Policy released its June report, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released statistics that reflected decreasing use of illicit drugs in the U.S.

But the 19-member Global Commission said current drug policy isn't working and recommends that governments "end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others." The group also encourages governments to experiment with drug legalization to undermine organized crime, expand treatment programs, educate youth to discourage drug use and focus on reducing violence from crime organizations that harm individuals.

Other commentators seem to share similar feelings about the War on Drugs:

Statistics don’t show the human element 

The Obama administration presented a collection of statistics that compared current drug use and demand with the peak of the late 1970s, although a direct correlation between those declines and the drug war are highly debatable. In doing so, it completely sidestepped the human, economic and societal toll of the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, many for simple possession.

No need to put a human face on 40 years of folly when you can swaddle its inefficacy in a patchwork quilt of self-serving statistics.

-- Charles M. Blow, New York Times Op-Ed columnist

The punitive approach to stopping drug use doesn't work

But [the Global Commission on Drug Policy] probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3% of all American adults!

--Former President Jimmy Carter 

After 40 years, it’s time to try something else

We do not support the simple legalization of all drugs. What we do advocate is an open and honest debate on the subject. We want to find our way to a less costly and more effective method of discouraging drug use, cutting down the power of organized crime, providing better treatment and minimizing negative societal effects.

-- George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of State and Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Prison doesn’t help and isn’t a rational solution

There is nothing rational about such drug policies. In no other area of criminal law do we lock up huge numbers of people because they might pose threats to themselves, but have done nothing to harm another person. [...]

But even if you think that drugs should be illegal, it’s hard to justify prison sentences for possession or nonviolent drug crimes. Imprisoning people for drug offenses basically destroys their lives -- even if they’re lucky enough to exit prison. Prison neither treats nor trains nor rehabilitates. Instead, prison makes people more likely to commit crimes in the future and makes them effectively unemployable with little hope of a future. Evidence indisputably shows that treatment is far more cost-effective than incarceration for drug offenses, rehabilitating individuals so they can be productive members of society.

--Inimai M. Chettiar, Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union

Libertarians think it encroaches on individual freedoms

Nick Gillespie characterized it as a “war on some drugs.”  “Libertarians think it's destructive ... and does huge damage to the idea that we are free and autonomous individuals. ... Individuals have a right to screw their lives up or to enjoy themselves in the ways they see fit.”

“There isn’t a single sane person in this country who thinks that the drug war makes sense or that we’re winning it, so there is a solution to be had there but that solution is going to come at the expense of politics, because politics produced this god-awful mess,” Matt Welch said.

-- Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, Reason Magazine

The Drug War is detrimental to minority communities

Although whites are relatively untouched by anti-drug efforts compared to blacks, supporters of the drug war may not see a problem of race discrimination because they do not believe the purpose of drug law enforcement is to harm blacks -- if anything, drug law enforcement is seen as protecting minority communities from addiction, harassment, and violence. Perhaps without realizing it, they have accepted the same definition of discrimination that the courts use in constitutional equal protection cases -- absent ill intent, there is no discrimination.

-- Jamie Fellner, 2009, Senior Counsel for the U.S Program of Human Rights Watch


Marijuana profiling

Who is winning the drug war's publicity battle?

The conversation: Campaign to legalize marijuana

-- Samantha Schaefer

Photo credit:  Los Angeles Times

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