Saturday, August 28, 2010

The War on Drugs a Failure

War on drugs a failure: Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position generally referred to as the United States "Drug Czar." Kerlikowske concedes that the war on drugs has not been successful.
Journalists have the power to influence for good. Take its recent stance on the so-called War on Drugs, a U.S.-led initiative that dates to the 1970s under the Nixon Administration. After spending about one trillion dollars to fight illegal drug use, the ill-conceived and earnest plan is a complete failure. 

Who says so? Almost everybody, including former world leaders, think-tanks, academics, policy analysts—all respected and respectable members of society. For example, the late and well-respected Walter Cronkite wrote a piece in The Huffington Post in 2006, Telling the Truth on the War on Drugs.

And, it's not only journalists and academics who write about the need for a change in policy. For example, Gil Kerlikowske, the U.S. drug czar, concedes the strategy hasn't worked.  "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

The War has resulted in horrible miscarriages of justice, all under mandatory minimum sentencing  laws, which see people go to jail for no more than answering the phone, Here's a famous example worth recounting, from the same article penned by Cronkite:
Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in any way.

But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached.

An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.

To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend —who actually knew something about dealing drugs —was able to trade information for a reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole had nothing with which to barter.
In truth, the war on drugs is not only too expensive, but inhumane. It puts people in jail for consuming even small amounts of cannabis, or soft drugs. If anything, drug use is a social and medical problem, which ought to be treated by more humane harm-reduction actions.

One of the leading voices to end the criminalization of drug use is the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based advocacy group. In many ways, the war on drugs is a war on people. Average people like you and me. The group writes on its website the following sobering facts about U.S. drug enforcement policies:
The United States is now the world's largest jailer, imprisoning nearly half a million people for drug offenses alone. That's more people than Western Europe, with a bigger population, incarcerates for all offenses. Roughly 1.5 million people are arrested each year for drug law violations - 40% of them just for marijuana possession. 

Photo Credit: Gerald Campbell 2007.

 Even so, well-known voices are speaking out, both artists and businesspeople:
Sting, the internationally renowned singer/songwriter, has teamed up with actor/producer/medical marijuana advocate Montel Williams and businessman/philanthropist George Soros in a powerful video supporting the Drug Policy Alliance’s call for an end to the failed war on drugs.

In the two-minute video, Sting poignantly states that he believes in the right to “sovereignty over one’s mind and body” and that “the war on drugs represents an extraordinary violation of human rights.” He goes on to say that “it’s time to step out of our comfort zone and begin to tell the truth about drugs and our failed drug policies.”

Montel Williams expresses his view that, “whether you use drugs or not you deserve to be treated with kindness and dignity.”

George Soros, meanwhile, explains that he supports the Drug Policy Alliance because the organization promotes harm reduction and fosters debate on drug policy.

The video also includes a scientist, an activist, a former drug war prisoner, and a parent – each of whom articulates the need to dramatically reduce the role of criminalization in drug policy.
Such a policy will end the decades of injustices against millions of people, a harsh policy against human rights and liberty, cornerstones of the U.S. Constitution. A more humane policy will ultimately bring dignity to many poor people's lives.

The money currently going to the the drug-enforcement industry, billions of dollars a year, can then be transferred to more important sectors, like health-care, education and other social causes. In the future, people will wonder what took so long to act ... that is, to act humanely.

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