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War On Drugs: What Is It Good For?

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US: War on Drugs: What Is It Good For?


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URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v13/n122/a01.html

Newshawk: http://www.drugsense.org/donate.htm

Votes: 1

Pubdate: Fri, 15 Mar 2013

Source: Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)

Copyright: 2013 Morning Journal

Contact: letters@morningjournal.com

Website: http://www.morningjournal.com/

Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/3569

Author: David Case, Globalpost

Page: C5





BOSTON - The global drug war is arguably America's longest armed conflict, declared 42 years ago and still raging at a pace that would startle many citizens.


It is waged daily, on farmland and streets from Colombia to Mexico to Detroit. It has put millions of people behind bars, and has dramatically influenced our culture and worldview.


By some estimates, it has cost the nation more than $2 trillion dollars.


Ironically, the drug war was nearly stillborn.


Less than a year after he fired the first salvos, Nixon's Republican-led Shafer commission sought to calm Americans and temper the president's claims.


The Shafer commission concluded that the drug problem would "not collapse our society," and noted that "the compulsive use of alcohol remains the nation's most serious drug problem." It cautioned against a "drug abuse industrial complex," that could perpetuate the problem, and called for a review of programs that might be doing more harm than good.


It even recommended abolishing penalties for private use and possession of cannabis.


Nixon ignored these conclusions, and the nation forged on with a strategy that increasingly emphasized force over treatment.


Most leaders since Nixon have doubled down on that strategy. Even President Barack Obama - who initially promised change, and who allegedly pioneered "roof hits" as a student - has merely tinkered with Washington's interdiction-oriented program. He continues to ask Congress for billions of dollars in support of overseas eradication.


Drug hawks contend that this is a good thing. They say prohibition is working, especially when compared with the record for legal drugs.


"Fifty-two percent of Americans drink regularly," argues Dr. Kevin A Sabet a former senior advisor in President Obama's Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Even with every single anti-smoking campaign you could ever conjure up, 27 percent of Americans still smoke cigarettes. Only 7 percent of Americans [used marijuana in the past month]."


But 42 years after Nixon's landmark policy initiative, the Shafer Commission appears prescient.


Condemnation of the drug war has gone mainstream. Conscientious citizens have concluded that the collateral harm inflicted by the drug war exceeds the benefits that it may yield.


Voters in Colorado and Washington demonstrated this, with their November 2012 referenda calling for legalization of marijuana. According to a 2010 Pew Research poll, three-quarters of Americans now favor legalized medical marijuana. A sizeable minority, 41 percent, support full legalization.


There is no denying that drug abuse is serious problem, and that society needs to pursue policies to minimize harm. Evidence is emerging that even marijuana, widely considered the most bening of intoxicants, can cause cognitive and neuropsychological impairment.


The trouble is, there is little evidence that prohibition and harsh criminal penalties are having a meaningful impact. Yet the strategy is arguably inflicting an unacceptable collateral toll on society.


To put it another way, "The public does not like marijuana," as BrianVicente, a Denver attorney who co-wrote Colorado's "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012," told Rolling Stone after voters approved it. "What they like is community safety, tax revenue and better use of law enforcement."


The statistics are staggering.


Prohibition has put an unprecedented fraction of the US population behind bars. America now incarcerates some 2.25 million people, more than one-in-five of the world's prisoners. The number of US inmates serving time for drug charges now exceeds the entire US prison population in 1970, the year before the drug war began. About half of federal prisoners, and 1-in-5 state prisoners, are serving time for non-violent drug crimes. Many more are serving time for violent crimes tied to the drug trade.


This massive prison population exacts a huge cost on families, neighborhoods, and taxpayers. Meanwhile, it hasn't significantly affected the flow of drugs, because for each trafficker thrown in prison, others seem remain ready to their luck at this risky trade.


The drug ban also has given rise to a vast global black market, estimated to be worth $320 billion. This market empowers criminals, and provides lucrative opportunities to anyone with the requisite job skills: a willingness to harm children, break the law and resort to violence. The illicit trade has transformed neighborhoods - from Baltimore to Detroit to East L.A. - into battle zones, where innocent citizens live in fear of violence and shady dealers.


While Americans have long blamed this urban blight on drugs, experts increasingly regard prohibition as the main culprit. "Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground. This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead," writes Harvard lecturer and Cato Institute fellow Jeffrey A. Miron. "Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after. Violence is the norm in illicit gambling markets but not in legal ones .... Violence results from policies that create black markets, not from the characteristics of the good or activity in question."


At a time when government debt in the US is soaring, prohibition costs taxpayers dearly. In California, prison expenses leapt from 3 percent of the state budget in 1980 to nearly 11 percent by 2010; education fell from 10 to 7.5 percent in the same timeframe.


In a 2010 study, Miron estimated that full legalization could save taxpayers $41.3 billion each year, currently spent on enforcing prohibition. Additionally, taxing drugs at rates common to tobacco and alcohol would yield government revenues of $46.7 billion - yielding a total benefit of more than $85 billion each year.


Washington's drug strategy claims victims not just within US borders, but globally where it has aggressively imposed its drug strategy. It has done this in part by demanding prohibition as a prerequisite for foreign assistance, and in part by using United Nations conventions to compel others to ban drugs, including marijuana. As a result, even countries like Pakistan,Egypt and Cambodia that have longstanding traditions of marijuana use have been forced to ban the drug.


Some governments have elected to appease Washington by passing laws - even draconian ones - and then quietly ignoring them. But the US also compels countries, particularly in Latin America, to crack down on drug cultivation, resulting in a "terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights," as former President Jimmy Carter wrote in a NY Times op-ed.


The track record of such overseas eradication offensives demonstrates how difficult it is to staunch the flow of intoxicants. Since 2000, the US has spent more than $7 billion to crack down on Colombian cocaine, an effort that yielded several druglords. Nonetheless, Colombia remains the world's biggest supplier of the drug. Efforts to fumigate great expanses of its coca crop have apparently led to an herbicide resistant variety, as well as an expansion in acreage under cultivation.


As Colombia became increasingly hostile, the market simply adapted. Coca cultivation shifted to Peru and Bolivia, and trafficking through Mexico surged. Beginning in 2006, the Mexican government launched an offensive that has left 70,000 dead, but merely concentrated power in the hands of the fabulously rich Sinaloa cartel. And as other Mexican cartels suffered setbacks, trafficking has escalating through Central America, where violence is surging.


Just as the Shafer Commission warned, the US's anti-smuggling apparatus has grown into a sprawling, multinational behemouth. The Drug Enforcement Agency currently has 86 offices in 67 countries. The Pentagon also plays an active role. The US Army, Navy, and Air Force routinely chase traffickers, in what has become a militarized assault costing more than $20 billion in the past decade.

MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom

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