Friday, June 24, 2011

We Need A New Drug Policy

by Diane Dimond

Forty years ago this month President Richard Nixon declared his "War on Drugs." Now, four decades later can we honestly say we’ve got a handle on the problem?

No, of course we can’t. The drug scourge continues with its ever increasing criminality and murderous violence. It heaps economic hardships on families, communities and prison systems. Our decades' long drug war gives off the stinking scent of failure and the undeniable conclusion that the way we’ve tackled the problem so far just isn’t working

So how long do we keep doing the same old things before we change course? Isn’t it time for a radical shift in strategy to try to lessen the impact illegal drug trade has had on all of us?
You might think that the conservative Nixon, the president shamed by Watergate, ordered up a callous punishment-oriented drug control policy. But he didn’t. Richard Nixon’s $155 million War on Drugs budget (back in 1971) earmarked two-thirds of the money to go for treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts.

Somewhere along the line each succeeding president lost sight of the idea that if you can cut back on the demand for illegal drugs you can cripple the violent trade that sprouts up to supply it.

Today, most of our anti-drug budget goes toward interdiction efforts and punishing people. Two years ago, the White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske said the War on Drugs was over, but it sure feels like we’re still waging very expensive combat against an elusive problem that just keeps growing.

So, back to the reports I read. The first was from an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is a group of current and former front-line responders to the war on drugs. Its members are police, prosecutors, judges, FBI and DEA agents, corrections officials, military officers and others who know firsthand what it is like to wage this never-ending war. They embrace the idea of radical change, fully admitting that everything they have done in their law enforcement career was for naught when it comes to stemming the tide of the illegal drug trade and the abuse of those poisons. They passionately urge lawmakers to embrace the idea of legalizing, regulating and taxing these drugs

I know it sounds revolutionary. But imagine the chilling effect it would have on, say, the Mexican drug cartel. If there’s no more profit in smuggling drugs across the border into the United States their violent gangs would lose power and control. The tens of thousands of drug related murders each year would dwindle. America’s tax coffers would get much needed infusions. Drug addicts could get proper medical help in weaning themselves off their drug of choice. Why, they might even become contributing taxpaying citizens.

LEAP isn’t the only group of knowledgeable people calling for this radical move. Earlier this month a group of internationally known dignitaries including former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volker, former presidents of several countries and the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan endorsed the idea. In a report from their Global Commission on Drug Policy they labeled the War on Drugs a failure and encouraged nations, worldwide, to pursue the idea of legalization, regulation and taxation

Hey, it worked with booze when we lifted prohibition back in the 1930’s. Why wouldn’t it work now?

I recently wrote in this space about how state lawmakers have courageously stepped up to the plate to pass their own immigration laws after Washington’s monumental failure to act on that issue. Same thing here with the nation’s drug related problems. While Congress wallows in budget battles and sex scandals, 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing medicinal marijuana for those with doctor’s prescriptions. 14 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot.

For some inane reason, the Department of Justice Department silently and consistently continues to raid legal growers, registered medicinal marijuana clinics and patients who find relief from marijuana. The DOJ has conducted nearly 100 such raids in so-called "legal" states, according to LEAP’s report. That’s about double the number of such raids during the President George W. Bush years.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want my taxpayer dollars going for police actions against legally approved operations. What a waste of money.

The day of total drug legalization will come – just as it did with alcohol. The question is: How many more multiple billions of dollars will we spend before we finally see it’s the logical way to go?


A Voice of Sanity said...

"They passionately urge lawmakers to embrace the idea of legalizing, regulating and taxing these drugs."

That's a step too far. All of the drug users presently imprisoned in all US prisons could be housed in a camp style system in under one square mile. Few are violent and fewer still are 'improved' by costly imprisonment with actual criminals.

This confinement should be reserved for those who are a danger to themselves or others as a result of their addiction. This would include alcoholics, but not those who smoke tobacco or cannabis. It has the signal benefit that they will still be alive at the end of their time, unlike other 'solutions'.

I would suggest a term of 20 years for this. No, I don't expect anyone will be there that long, but it ensures that after release they can be monitored in some fashion.

It will give the opportunity for those who believe they can cure addicts to try out different periods of isolation from drugs and to test different methodologies.

Parents whose child has sunk into addiction would be able to report them to the police and, after investigation, know that whatever else happens they won't be called to identify a body found in a drug house or the like.

Prison should be reserved for those who are in the supply stream for narcotics AND who are in possession of weapons for non-legal purposes.

Cutting off the supply has never worked. Removing the 'customer base' is worth trying. Perhaps Mexico will resume to be a safe vacation destination!

cheryl said...

Interesting theory (shudder) "Voice of Sanity". I'm assuming that was tongue in cheek, but with you I never know.

I was listening to a radio show which featured a DEA agent yesterday, and the agent was against the legalization of marijuana because of the "violence done by the drug cartels at our borders". Duh!!

Anonymous said...

Well, it is an interesting problem with two opposite aspects. On one side we have the detrimental effect of a legalization on parts of the population but on the other we are keeping an immense criminal empire in business through the so called war on drugs. The comparison to the prohibition isn't completely wrong.

Personally I'd be worried about a complete abandon of all regulation but I think we may have set the bar too low by including weak substances like marijuana and hashishes. Maybe we just need to lighten up a bit...

A Voice of Sanity said...

cheryl said: "Interesting theory (shudder) "Voice of Sanity". I'm assuming that was tongue in cheek, but with you I never know."

Why on earth would you imagine that? I am completely serious. If you don't believe my suggestion is better than what we have now, ask an expert such as this person who I am sure would give anything to have her son back. Or ask any of the many thousands who have lost their children in similar ways.

Anonymous said...

I think that people who want to legalize drugs have never driven on a freeway in Southern California. Things are dangerous enough and there are enough people out there driving impaired or just crazy. Legalization will just lead more slaughter on the roads.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - People driving under the influence has little to do with the availability of drugs and can hardly be used as an argument for the current politic. That is more about people not taking their responsibilities as a driver seriously.

Aside from driving under the influence of alcohol I've encountered people doing all kinds of distracting activities while driving. Like reading, watching TV, shaving, doing make-up, turning around for a lengthy time to yell at kids, blabbering on cell phones, eating... once I even saw a woman blow-drying her hair on the freeway.

If you can't use a small group of peoples lack of responsibility and self control as an argument for prohibition and the restriction of everybody's freedom. That would be like punishing everybody for crimes committed by a few.

Ruthie said...

While I am also for the decriminalization of drugs and legalization of certain drugs, I am not certain that would have any effect on the Mexican cartels. These organizations have a diverse portfolio that includes not only drugs but weapons, pirated goods, and even oil stolen from the nationalized petroleum industry of Mexico. I urge readers of this post to read this article from the NY Times last week :

A Voice of Sanity said...