Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence
Posted by FoM on July 29, 2000 at 10:18:24 PT
Abroad at Home By Anthony Lewis
Source: New York Times
Imagine a country, a democracy, with a domestic program that is increasingly costly and socially disruptive. The problem it is supposed to solve has actually grown worse over the years -- but neither major political party will talk about changing the policy. That is a picture of the United States and its drug policy. By any rational test the war on drugs, with its use of the criminal law and harsh sentences to solve the problem, is a costly failure. The number of Americans in prison for drug offenses has multiplied by 10 since 1980, from 41,000 to 458,000. But drugs are more available than ever, and more young people are using them. 
In the face of this political and social disaster the Republican and Democratic parties offer: silence. Their leaders are evidently afraid that even discussing different approaches might get them labeled as soft on drugs. But the silence is about to be broken. In tandem with the Republican National Convention starting Monday in Philadelphia, and later with the Democrats, there will be shadow conventions that discuss the failed war on drugs and two other issues that the major parties have not solved: campaign finance and the gap between rich and poor. Senator John McCain and other politicians brave enough to break with their parties' wishes will participate. Senator McCain will be the keynote speaker tomorrow, talking about the idea that makes him anathema to so many other Republicans: ending the scandal of campaign money and influence. The shadow conventions are the brainchild of Arianna Huffington, the columnist and gadfly. She has moved from the political right toward the left -- or perhaps to a position of dislike for all evasive politicians. The shadow conventions will have participants from all camps. Representative Tom Campbell of California, the Republican candidate for Senate against the incumbent Dianne Feinstein, will talk about the failed drug war. So will another Republican brave enough to challenge the policy, Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Walter Cronkite, the greatly respected former broadcast newsman, has made a 10-minute video special for the shadow convention on the cost of the drug war. The staggering figure mentioned above -- that 10 times as many Americans are in prison for drug offenses today as in 1980 -- comes from the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. It has just issued a report that shows, in fresh ways, some consequences of the war on drugs. The 458,000 men and women now in U.S. prisons on drug charges are 100,000 more than all prisoners in the European Union, whose population is 100 million more than ours. The annual cost of incarcerating them is $9 billion. Nearly 80 percent of drug arrests in 1997, the most recent year for which figures are available, were for possession. Of those, 44 percent were for possession of marijuana. Blacks are overwhelmingly more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug offenses, a study by Human Rights Watch showed. Just 13 percent of regular drug users in this country are black, but 62.7 percent of drug offenders sentenced to prison are black. Evidently juries and judges treat offenders less seriously if they are white. The Justice Policy Institute report found that in 1986, 31 out of every 100,000 young people in America were put in state prisons for drug offenses. By 1996 the figure had nearly quadrupled, to 122 per 100,000. The institute studied states with higher rates of imprisonment for drug offenses to see whether that had a deterrent effect. It found, to the contrary, that states with higher incarceration rates also had higher rates of drug use. There are already signs around the country of unease with the human cost and practical failure of our drug policy. Perhaps the shadow conventions will move more political leaders to face the reality recently stated by The Economist of London: "That misguided policy has put millions of people behind bars, cost billions, encouraged crime and spread corruption while failing completely to reduce drug abuse." Ralph Nader has chided me for saying that he has paid little or no attention as a candidate to the civil liberties record of the major parties. In fact he has called the Clinton administration's record "abysmal." Contact: letters Published: July 29, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company Related Articles & Web Sites:The Shadow Conventions Policy Institute Conventions Convention 2000 News Board In The Shadows Political Reformers Plan Shadow Conventions Articles On The Shadow Conventions: CannabisNews Articles On The Shadow Conventions: 
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Comment #4 posted by Jerad on July 29, 2000 at 15:52:44 PT:
I don't think this 'Shadow convention' is going to really speed anything up. This drug war has been going on for a long time and nothing has changed. Except for laws getting stricter. The leaders of our countries (if that is what you want to call them) are too afraid to tell the people (particulary the parents) that certain drugs should be decriminalized or legalized (like marijuana). And also the government is making too much money from alcohol companies funding the WoD. I believe the tobacco companies are also. Maybe by some freak accident something might happen, but getting presidents in office like Al Gore or George Bush Jr. isn't going to help anything. They are against drugs (so they say). We need Ralph Nader, or any other libertarian in office, if we want to accomplish something. Personally I think all these libertarians should run for something lower then president, such as congress, senate, governor, etc. They won't ever be in office because the only way you win is if you have tons of money like George Bush does or Al Gore. It's going to be a slow process. IMO it's first going to be slowly legalized for medical use, then decriminalized, and then legalized after awhile. I do hope the Shadow convention speeds things up a bit, and informs people who are brainwashed by all the 'marijuana is bad' government scare tactics. And I also hope that this convention may let other people, such as Al Gore and George Bush Jr, to feel comfortable talking about the WoD.Anyways I'm too tired to keep typing, if there are any spelling errors, it's b/c i haven't slept any lately...Later people
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on July 29, 2000 at 14:59:49 PT:
Silence no more
I think it is fair to say that the news media of this country are finally beginning to realize that there is another voice besides that of the DrugWarriors. And they are increasingly starting to pay attention to that alternate voice. But I don't have any illusions as to *why*. And it has nothing to do with humanitarianism.The media has known for years of the costs incurred by the DrugWar and the speciousness of the DrugWarriors claims. Day after day, they saw the reality behind the statistics; families destroyed, homes of those accused but never tried of any crime sold to police and their friends, jobs lost, careers ruined. Long prison sentences given to those caught with pot, while murderers went free after 7 years for 'good behavior'. Many of the 'journalists' happily lapped up DrugWarrior propaganda, knowing it for the bilge it was, and uncritically regurgitated it, because if they didn't they would have lost 'privileged access' to their 'inside sources'.Oh, yes, they've known... and said damn little. And now they finally sense a change in the wind, and are adjusting their reportage accordingly. It has become fashionable now, to sound as if they are standing out from the pack and publicly calling for debate. When many of them used to treat this subject with the requisite amount of (editorially prescribed) condescending giggles, titters and snickers.Make no mistake: they have been shamed into remembering their investigative roots. We can expect that those who have been the biggest recipients of Barry-ola will be the quietest commenters around; a veritable spectrum will now come into being. Those that had little or nothing to do with Barry's little censorship scheme will be the loudest critics of the WoSD.But they all could have been a hell of a lot more vocal earlier on. Because of their silence or their laughter, because of their acquiesence in the face of great tragedy, many people have suffered and died.Sure, I welcome the fact that the media is starting to listen to us. But they are doing it for their own reasons, and they aren't the same as ours. 
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on July 29, 2000 at 13:59:00 PT
It would be something
Hi Dan B.It would be really something and could very well happen just that way. We are living in quite a time. They are hearing us finally. Too many people have been hurt by these drug laws. I wish no one would ever do drugs (cannabis is an herb in my opinion) but they are and they will. We can't stop drug use. It should be an adult's right to decide to experiment with a substance, not mine, not yours, nor the Governments. Personal morality should be that personal. Maybe there is hope!Peace, FoM!
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Comment #1 posted by Dan B on July 29, 2000 at 13:14:18 PT:
The Major Newspapers Seem to be Waking Up!
This is not the first article from the New York Times I have seen here that is critical of the drug war. And more of the prominent newspapers across the country seem to be jumping on our bandwagon--Thw Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times (from time to time), and others are stepping up the debate. Syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington is doing a bang-up job exposing the drug war as the ruse it is. Wouldn't it be ironic if the same industry that collaborated with the petrochemicals companies and Henry Anslinger to start the ban on cannabis--newspapers a la William Randolph Hearst--were instrumental in the ban's demise? Hearst has to be spinning like a leaf in his grave! 
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