Reefer Madness, Redux

Reefer Madness, Redux
Posted by CN Staff on October 16, 2003 at 11:24:49 PT
Source: Boston Phoenix 
Our obsession with drugs and our national failure to distinguish among them — equating the effects of pot, for instance, with those of heroin — have corrupted our criminal-justice system. Consider the following: as of 2000, United States prisons held 458,131 people incarcerated for drug offenses alone. That’s 100,000 more inmates than the 356,626 people incarcerated throughout the European Union for all offenses combined. The statistic is even more startling when you consider that the EU has 100 million more people than the US.
Nearly 25 percent of those locked up in the US today are in prison or jail for a crime related to the use or sale of drugs. Federal spending alone on the incarceration of inmates convicted of drug charges is $3 billion annually. In the last decade, from 1990 to 2000, federal inmates imprisoned for drug offenses jumped 59 percent, while the rates of incarceration for violent offenders fell. In 2000, the average federal drug offender was sentenced to 75.6 months in prison while the average federal offender sentenced for a violent crime was given just 63 months behind bars. And as of 1999, the total number of people incarcerated in state and federal prison for nonviolent offenses — which includes, for the most part, those convicted of drug charges — exceeds the populations of Alaska and Wyoming.This is madness. The US war on drugs is a failure. The former US drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey, admitted as much in remarks to the Criminal Justice and Substance Abuse Conference in New York in 1999, as quoted by the Justice Policy Institute in a report on the impact of incarcerating drug offenders available online at: There, he said: "It is clear that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem of chronic drug abuse and drug-driven crime. We cannot continue to apply policies and programs that do not deal with the root causes of substance abuse and attendant crime. Nor should we expect to continue to have the widespread societal support for our counter-drug programs if the American people begin to believe these programs are unfair."Well, guess what? They’re unfair.The Justice Policy Institute report from July 2000 clearly documents that African-Americans are bearing the "brunt of the war on drugs." In 1996, the latest year for which data were available, 63 people out of every 100,000 were sent to prison after being found guilty of a drug charge. But blacks are sent to prison on drug charges at a rate 14 times higher than that of whites (279 per 100,000 versus 20 per 100,000). Incarceration rates by race in Maine — a state with a relatively low population of blacks — are instructive: in 1996, African-Americans accounted for 39.13 percent of all admissions to prison on drug charges. Whites, by contrast, made up just 8.42 percent of all such admissions. The implications of this are grave. The Human Rights Watch found that by 1998, 13 percent of the adult-male African-American population had lost the right to vote after being convicted of felonies. Thirteen percent. Not all of these convictions were related to drugs — but many were.Despite compelling evidence of the bloated costs and wasted resources devoted to our two-decade-long war on drugs, not to mention shocking racial disparities in arrests and sentencing for drug charges — all documented by organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the Justice Policy Institute, and the Sentencing Project — the Bush administration has embraced the gulag approach to dealing with the societal problems caused by drug abuse. This, more than anything else, was evident at last week’s anti-drug summit organized by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. There, we saw ONDCP director and national drug czar John Walters suggest routine drug testing of high-school students as a deterrent to drug use by teens. We heard Mayor Tom Menino and Boston police commissioner Paul Evans warn that heroin dealers are targeting children by putting cartoon characters on their drug packets. We heard Governor Mitt Romney gravely intone that the marijuana available today is not your father’s weed — it’s much more potent, addictive, and dangerous. As Walters brings his dog-and-pony show across the country — attacking medicinal marijuana, advocating incarceration over rehabilitation, and exploiting the vulnerability of "the children" to make political points about a very real heroin epidemic that is destroying adult lives — people are going to jail for nonviolent drug-related offenses in record numbers; judges are being forced to sentence them to ridiculous punishments thanks to draconian mandatory-minimum laws; and people with cancer, AIDS, and other chronic-pain-related ailments are being denied the one drug that might offer relief.You can take action against this madness on the local level. Write to your state representative and tell him or her that you support House Bill 2965, sponsored by State Representative Frank Smizik (D-Brookline), which would allow the use of marijuana by patients who’ve been prescribed the drug by their doctors. Visit -- -- to find contact information.Note: The war on drugs destroys lives but does nothing to mitigate the abuse of drugs in this country.Source: Boston Phoenix (MA) Published: October 17 - 23, 2003Copyright: 2003 The Phoenix Media Communications GroupContact: letters Website: Related Articles:Behind Closed Doors Salesmen
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment