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AN UNWINNABLE WAR ON DRUGS

T

The420Guy

Guest
What has the war on drugs done for Darryl Strawberry and Robert Downey Jr.?
Are they better off or worse off? Are they the targets or the victims?
Should they be thankful or regretful?

The war on drugs is really a war on people - on anyone who uses or grows or
makes or sells a forbidden drug. It essentially consists of two elements:
the predominant role of criminalization of all things having to do with
marijuana, cocaine, heroin, Ecstasy and other prohibited drugs and the
presumption that abstinence - coerced if necessary - is the only
permissible relationship with these drugs. It's that combination that
ultimately makes this war unwinnable.

The previous drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, wanted to do away with the
rhetoric of the war on drugs while retaining its two core elements. Now
the new attorney general, John Ashcroft, wants to intensify the drug war
efforts. The implications are ominous.

The success or failure of drug policies is usually measured by those annual
surveys that tell us how many Americans, particularly teenagers, confessed
to a pollster that they had used one drug or another. Drug warriors often
point to the 1980's as a time when the drug war really worked because the
number of illicit drug users reportedly fell more than 50 percent in the
decade.

But consider that in 1980 no one had ever heard of the cheap, smokable form
of cocaine called crack or of drug-related H.I.V. infection. By the
1990's, both had reached epidemic proportions in American cities. Is this
success?

Or consider that in 1980, the federal budget for drug control was about $1
billion, and state and local budgets perhaps two or three times that. Now
the federal drug control budget has ballooned to roughly $20 billion,
two-thirds of it for law enforcement, and state and local governments spend
even more. On any day in 1980, approximately 50,000 people were behind
bars for violating drug laws. Now the number is approaching 500,000. Is
this success?

What's needed is a new way of evaluating drug policies by looking at how
they reduce crime and suffering. Arresting and punishing citizens who
smoke marijuana - the vast majority of illicit drug users - should be one
of our lowest priorities. We should focus instead on reducing overdose
deaths, curbing new H.I.V. infections through needle-exchange programs,
cutting the numbers of nonviolent drug offenders behind bars, and wasting
less taxpayer money on ineffective criminal policies.

Darryl Strawberry and Robert Downey Jr. qualify as both targets and
victims of the war on drugs - targeted for consuming a forbidden drug,
victimized by policies that must "treat" not just addiction but
criminality. Millions more are victimized when their loved ones are put
behind bars on drug charges or when they lose family members to
drug-related AIDS, overdoses or prohibition-related violence. We should
base our drug policies on scientific evidence and public health
precepts. That's the most sensible and compassionate way to reduce drug abuse.




SAMPLE LETTER

To the editor:

Ethan Nadelmann's Apr. 26th op-ed on the need to base our drug policies on
scientific evidence and public health precepts was right on target. I sometimes
think that drug laws have done more harm to Darryl Strawberry and Robert
Downey Jr.
than the drugs they are addicted to. The real eye opener for me was the phrase
"prohibition-related violence." Despite decades of hearing politicians and drug
czars blame drugs for violence, the parallels between the drug war and alcohol
prohibition had never occurred to me. Alcohol, of course, was once very much
associated with organized crime and violence prior to the repeal of
prohibition.
With innocent missionaries being shot down in Peru and America's prison
population
at an all time high, perhaps its time for politicians to drop the drug war
hysteria
and give drug peace a chance. As a Christian, I have to ask myself: What would
Jesus do?

Robert Sharpe

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US NY: OPED: An Unwinnable War On Drugs
URL: US NY: OPED: An Unwinnable War On Drugs
Newshawk: Amanda
Pubdate: Thu, 26 Apr 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
Details: Overload Warning
Author: Ethan A. Nadelmann
Note: Ethan A. Nadelmann is executive director of the Lindesmith Center-Drug
Policy Foundation.
 
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