To the surprise of no one . . .

By Alec Goodwin

The Global Commission on Drug Policy is calling the war on drugs a complete and utter failure.

Finally, someone has the spine to admit what everyone has known for years; that the war on drugs has been a costly, deadly fiasco.

The report, which was prepared by former world leaders and UN members such as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former leaders of Mexico, Colombia and
Brazil, and the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, soundly condemns the war on drugs as ineffective, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and leading to rampant drug crime and death.  The report is intensely critical of the United States, where we’re less concerned than other nations about treating drug addicts and users and more concerned about punishing them.  According to the report, America lacks the courage to admit in public that our methods have been ineffective and counterproductive.

The commission urges the US to suspend its current drug policy and focus more on human rights and healthcare. The US spent an estimated $15 billion in 2010 fighting the war on drugs, that’s $500 dollars every second.  An American citizen is arrested for a drug related crime every nineteen seconds.  

Why are we wasting so much money and locking up so many people without making a dent in drug crime?  Shouldn’t we be seeing some results by now? The US has been incredibly stubborn in its approach on fighting drugs, barely changing in its methods since the advent of the drug war in 1980.

The report cites a global increase of 35% in opiate use, 27% in the use of cocaine, and an 8.5% increase in the use of cocaine between 1998 and 2008. In spite of our heroic efforts,  drug use isn’t just not going away, it’s getting worse. The drug cartels are getting more violent and more powerful, and the only ones being punished these days seem to be the users. The report expresses the hope that common sense will prevail.  The authors hope America’s focus will be less on punishing users who harm no one and more on controlling drugs through legalization in order to undermine drug cartels.  Too often people have been locked up for years  for their addictions while society at large is untouched and unharmed. The war on drugs, for all the money and lives it has cost, should be focused on catching the big fish.

The US and Mexico have, of course, rejected the findings of the report, calling them “misguided”.  After spending so much money on a futile project it is hard to admit failure.

2 thoughts on “To the surprise of no one . . .

  1. In the 1970s I worked with a guy named Mark Kleiman. He is a professor at UCLA. Before he went to UCLA, it must have been around 1980 he worked at DOJ and at the time he was telling them the war on drugs was bad public policy. I think he had a letter to the editor in the WSJ and some articles published about it, I don’t remember all the details. Anyway that was over 30 years ago. Mark graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Here’s a link to him
    It says he was a “director of Policy and Management Analysis for the Criminal Division”. We worked together at the City of Boston where I was a financial analyst.

    I had a really bad experience with the City of Steamboat Springs Colorado where my neighbor was the president of the city council. It turned out he really was a convicted drug dealer. When I lived there, there were rumors that he was a convicted drug dealer but no confirmation. There were rumors he was dealing drugs when I lived next door but I don’t know for sure. I heard that the police were selling drug evidence but I don’t know for sure. My entire perception of what was going on there was influenced by my having heard Mark’s theories over 10 years before. I was concerned because the apparent dealing was going on really near my house and I had adolescent boys. I thought that the city wasn’t enforcing the zoning and was encouraging Bennett to invade my property rights because he was somehow blackmailing or compromising officials but I don’t know for sure.

    I don’t know what I really think about the war on drugs at this point. Every once in a while I read the Steamboat Pilot. They have a huge medical marijuana industry there now and there are conflicts about that too. They’ve had some problems with kids getting medical marijuana and complaints in Oak Creek especially of interference with conventional businesses. Other places I read about people breaking into homes to go through walls to get into stocks of medical marijuana. I’m sort of inclined to think that if marijuana is to be legal that it should be grown in wineries instead of in residential neighborhoods but I understand the idea of entrepreneurs making money on it too.

    I had a really bad experience with former judge Edward Nottingham and I always suspected that cocaine was a factor in that and a factor at the Denver Players brothel but again I don’t know for sure. See U.S.A. v. Brenda Stewart District of Colorado 10-cr-00580.

    I think the whole subject of legalizing and regulating drugs is actually really confusing. It would probably help to read Mark’s latest writings.

  2. In Canada, marijuana is illegal, but small amounts, up to a few ounces or however much the police officer will confiscate are not a law enforcement concern. Illegal for profit grow ops can destroy the value of leased homes and with gangs growing and smuggling across the border and selling here it does support crime, apart from the people growing small crops on their own for sale. We have gangs selling and shipping heroin and cocaine, since we’re a port city, even though users and street dealers are not police targets. We don’t usually see much gang violence in the news, but I know the Hell’s Angels have other businesses like extortion, and legit. businesses members have to launder money.
    As long as there is a law criminalizing a substance and not providing a path for legal use I think you will find problems as with L.A.’s medical marijuana clinics unwanted by neighbours; targeted prosecutions of marijuana users in California by Federal law enforcement; and inability to enforce regulations (keep greenhouse restrictions, age restrictions, etc.), because since marijuana is still not fully legal, it’s in short supply, and it’s expensive, and worthwhile for criminals to invest time and violence into.
    Believe me when I say as an addict in recovery that trying to keep drugs away from someone who needs them is not a good use of resources. The “Drug War” has done more harm than good; putting pressure on the supply side of the equation has harmed the US, but also countries in the Global South where we’ve intervened to try to stop botanicals like cocaine and opium. Encouraging and funding governments in Colombia, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and others to sign on to this plan has done severe damage to societies, food systems, and human rights across the globe.
    Truthful education, support, prevention, treatment, harm reduction for communities and users, and law enforcement for violent crimes and exploitation are proven remedies for drug abuse. So are fathers–I appreciate mine so much more now I know how many addicted women never had even an adequate father. Carrying on with drug policy as usual in N. America is not an option.

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