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Monday, August 5, 2013
Since President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs (1970), there has been an explosion in the prison population (up 500 percent), much of it associated with illegal drug crimes. Four decades and $1.5 trillion later, our war on drugs has failed to reduce illegal drug abuse. What it has done is create a black market for drugs.
We have seen how the black market has destabilized countries such as Mexico and Colombia and has provided funds for terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. One would think that with our obsession with the war on terror, someone in government would see the value of changing, or at the very least evaluating, our drug policies.
Some advocate decriminalizing all drugs, including cocaine and marijuana. This might work for marijuana, since studies consider it to be relatively benign when compared with alcohol. For other drugs, this would not be prudent based on their effects on the body and mind.
Many believe that each drug must be evaluated based on dosage, recreational effects on one’s health and use in medical situations. What we consider to be illegal drugs have been shown to have important uses in medicine.
Much like alcohol, drugs do create severe problems if abused. There must be better ways to control and regulate them than to criminalize those who use them. We should consider an axiom that applies to drugs, legal or illegal: Abuse of anything does not detract from the proper use of it.
Here are some sobering statistics from the Drug Policy Alliance that make you wonder what kind of logic continues to infect the brains of our public officials:
n Amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs: More than $51 billion.
n Fraction of people incarcerated for a drug offense in state prison who are black or Hispanic, although these groups use and sell drugs at similar rates as whites: two-thirds.
These statistics would suggest our governments, state and federal, believe a failed policy is the best policy. We are losing too many people in our society to an agenda that is addressed as a criminal justice issue rather than a public health one.
Gun deaths in the U.S. stand at about 32,000 per year, with 9,000 of them involving homicides, e.g., drive-by shootings and drug wars. As Noah Smith said in a recent article in the Atlantic: “If we really want to save some of those 9,000 people, we need to end the self-destructive, failed drug policies that have turned us into a prison state and turned many of our cities into war zones. . . . The single best anti-gun death policy? Ending the drug war.”
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