An Unwinnable War on Drugs

An Unwinnable War on Drugs
Posted by FoM on April 26, 2001 at 06:55:38 PT
By Ethan A. Nadelmann
Source: New York Times
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.Ethan A. Nadelmann is executive director of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation. Source: New York Times (NY) Author: Ethan A. NadelmannPublished: April 26, 2001Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Forum: Related Articles & Web Site:TLC - DPF New Bust for Downey Tells Story on 60 Minutes
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Comment #3 posted by Dan B on April 26, 2001 at 20:14:52 PT:
And Another Thing . . .
I was thinking today about the time I've wasted getting angry at the drug warriors playing fast and loose with statistics, when it dawned on me that simply using their own statistics against them is the appropriate response.Consider, for example, the assertion that America has cut drug use by half since the peak year of 1979. Combine that with McCaffrey's continued assertion that 52,000 people currently die each year "from illegal drugs."Fine, then let's go ahead and take them at their word. In 1979, only about 5,000 people died "from illegal drugs." What these statistics show, then, is that while there has been a reduction in drug use by half, deaths due to drug use have increased tenfold. Taken together, this proves that the war on some drugs has made the use of drugs twenty times more dangerous than using drugs was before the war on some drugs. Hardly sounds like something to be proud of.So, the next time someone makes outrageously erroneous claims (i.e., lies to you) about the war on drugs, find a way to turn the lies to your favor. Prove them wrong with their own data; you'll either force them to admit that they are lying or force them to admit that they are wrong.Dan B
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Comment #2 posted by Charlie on April 26, 2001 at 14:12:32 PT
And how much of society (ours and others) is now tainted with prohibition-related corruption?Al Capone would have loved to have a piece of this action.And the policies of this administration reveals that they would be much obliged. 
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Comment #1 posted by Triactum on April 26, 2001 at 08:00:23 PT
an excellent observation 
made with a telling phrase:prohibition-related violenceOne of the problems that drug warriors ignore.
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