THE DRUG WAR: IS IT TIME FOR AN ARMISTICE?

Many feel that the “War on Drugs” began in January 1971 when then President Nixon declared that “drug abuse is public enemy number one” and later in January 1972 when he coined the term “War on Drug Abuse.” The fact of the matter is, the actual United States War on Drugs actually began on December 14, 1914 with the Harrison Narcotic Tax Act and continues to this very day. The war is a campaign of prohibition, foreign military aid and military intervention undertaken by our government.

In June, 2011 the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a critical report on the “War on Drugs” declaring “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug policies are urgently needed.”

In 1937 the “Marijuana Transfer Tax Act” was passed. This was designed to destroy the Hemp Industry because Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst and the DuPont family saw hemp as a cheap substitute for the paper pulp they sold for the newspaper industry as well as other materials being developed by the DuPont’s. Many believe that this was the reason marijuana become illegal and classified as a drug. Hemp interfered with the business interests of the wealthy in the country, even though it was never documented to have created any problems prior to the 1937 act like more illicit drugs like Opium and Cocaine.

In 1988 the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was established by the National Narcotics Leadership Act, which mandated a national anti-drug media campaign for youth. The director of the ONDCP is commonly known as the Drug Czar, was coined by President H. W. Bush in 1989. In 1993 the ONDCP Director gains Cabinet Level Status by President Bill Clinton.

In 2012 the director of ONDCP announces that their policy was to no longer wage a “War on Drugs” saying that United States had revised their policy to create a “third way” approach to drug control based on investments in research on the disease of substance abuse. They did not see drug legalization as a solution to drug control and that “it is not a policy where success is measured by the number of arrests made or prisons built.” However, since this decision, little has been done to curb the incarceration rates of those caught up on drug charges nor has very much been placed in drug treatment across the country with the possible exception of federal funding of Drug Courts.

Although it is now the policy of the United States Government that drug use/abuse is a disease, it remains the policy of the United States Government to treat this disease via the Criminal Justice System.

Since 1980, due significantly to the “War on Drugs” our prison population has exploded.

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. (743 per 100,000 population). In 1994 it was reported that the “War on Drugs” resulted in the incarceration of one million Americans each year. Of these arrests, approximately 225,000 are for possession of marijuana, the fourth most common cause for arrest in the United States. In 2008, 1.5 million Americans were arrested for drug offenses of which 500,000 were imprisoned. During the 1980’s, the number of arrests for all crimes in the nation rose 28% while the arrests for just drug offenses rose 126%.

On January 1, 2008 more than 1 in 100 adults in the United States were in prison or jail. In 2008, 1 in every 31 adults (7.3 million) in the United States was behind bars or being monitored on probation or parole. Of this population: one out of 18 men, one in 89 women, one in 11 African-Americans (9.2%), one in 27 Latinos (3.7%), and one in 45 Caucasians. 70% of prisoners in the United States were non-whites. Prison populations have surged in recent years due to mandatory sentencing guidelines and the “War on Drugs.” However, during this same period of time, violent crimes and property crimes have declined since the early 1990s. Only 7.9% in federal prisons were in for violent crimes. And only 52.4% of those in state prisons are in for violent crimes.

It has been estimated that the greatest single force behind the growth of the prison population has been the “War on Drugs.” The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelve-fold since 1980. Yet the percentile of illegal drug use across the country remains unchanged. Of those who end up being incarcerated, there is a 67.5% chance they will be rearrested within 3 years of their release with 51.8% of them going back to prison. Studies verify that going to prison and serving more time results in a higher probability of being returned to prison after release.

That percentile drops for those who get probation without incarceration, and even less for those who complete a drug diversion program instead of being placed on probation. So evidently the less government sanction imposed on a drug offender the better. But as a nation, we tend to throw the book at them. Especially if they are minority and/or not affluent.

In 1986, it was determined that the sentencing disparity of possession of crack cocaine to the possession of powder cocaine (minority use versus Caucasian use) was 100:1. In 2010 the Fair Sentencing Act cut that particular sentencing disparity to only 18:1 (sigh). Crime statistics show that in 1999, African Americans were far more likely to be arrested for drug crimes and receive much stiffer sentences than non-minorities. Nationwide, African-Americans were sent to prison for drug offenses 13 times more often than other races even though they comprise only 13% of regular drug users.

So what do we know about drug use in this country?

We know it is considered a disease like alcoholism, we know that drug use is illegal though alcohol use isn’t and we know that there is often violence associated with the drug use, manufacturing and sale. So is using the criminal justice system the most effective and cost effective way to curb drug use in the country?

Currently, those convicted of a drug crime that do not end up being incarcerated still end up in the criminal justice system. Often they are placed on probation with conditions requiring attendance in substance abuse programs as well as some substantial fines. Rarely does government pay for this treatment, but requires it none-the-less for the offender to avoid further sanctions. So failure to attend treatment or pay the fines, or any continued use of drugs can result in arrest and imprisonment.

Many court jurisdictions have what are known as “Drug Courts.” Drug Courts are advertised as treatment orientated Courts where drug offenders, in addition to treatment and regular contact with their probation officers actually see the Judge on a regular basis. They are given immediate awards for good behavior as well as immediate punishment (to include incarceration) for non-compliant behavior. It’s behavioral modification based on the Pavlovian model. They say that “Drug Court Works,” that’s their motto. However, it is relative depending on what you are comparing it to. Even though it is treatment based, there is a cost of Court supervision attached to it. Many drug users, especially those who end up in the criminal justice system for lack of good attorneys, don’t have the means to pay for treatment, court costs or fines. So financially they end up deeper in the hole, adding to their stress and increasing the likelihood of relapse into drug use for an escape from an ever depressing reality.

What is the illegal drug use rate in this country?

In this country, an estimated 20.4 million people will use some kind of illicit drug during a 30-day period. About 8.3% of all persons age 12 and over are involved in use of illegal drugs or the nonmedical use of prescription drugs. These are conservative numbers.

14.8 million People or 6% of the population use marijuana.

2.4 million People use cocaine.

1 million people use hallucinogens including Ecstasy.

731,000 use Methamphetamine.

7 million use prescription drugs without a valid prescription.

The rate of illegal drug use has remained constant in this country since 2002, despite efforts to curb illegal drug use via the criminal justice system with the drug war. Billions spent and nothing to show for it.

What are the costs for drug treatment?

The costs of effective drug treatment vary according to the programs available, their location. However, it is estimated that the average cost of treatment is $1,433.00 per treatment program and course of treatment. Their effectiveness depends on the type of treatment and what kind of lapse-relapse prevention is offered. It is accepted in the field that once a substance abuser, always an abuser. A person is either in relapse or recovery for the rest of their lives. Many studies tend to bear this out.

So what are the costs to incarcerate drug users?

In 2007, $74 billion was spent on corrections. The total number of inmates in federal, state and local lockups was 2,419,241. That equates to $30,600.00 per inmate per year. The amount does vary depending on location. However these are costs to the tax payer. This is where your money goes.

With the advent of the private prison system, the costs actually do go up, while the security and treatment of the offenders goes down. And again, those costs go to the tax payers, while the profits go to the private prison industry. By the way, the private prison industry is a big advocate on the “War on Drugs.” ALEC sponsors anti-drug laws with mandatory incarceration to “aid” society in dealing with these people.

What are the costs of the “Drug War” compared to the cost of drug use?

So what has the “War on Drugs” brought us?

I agree that illegal drug use is a problem. It is a disease and should be treated as such. Alcoholism is also a disease. However, it is only when someone is “drunk and disorderly” or worse yet, driving a motor vehicle under the influence, do they face arrest and serious legal consequences. Simple possession or use of even a small amount of drugs is grounds for severe financial consequences as well as arrest and possible incarceration. Further, those so treated, will find it difficult to get good jobs and end up being more prone to needing assistance for housing, food and healthcare from tax payers because they are unable to get good work. All because we treated a human ailment as a felony with the entire stigma attached to convicted felons.

It is clear that it is more cost effective and we would have better outcomes to simply treat the drug user so they can take control of their disease. When we label them as criminals, sanction them with probation, incarceration, fines and a permanent record, we make their situation worse. They tend to go on and commit more serious crimes in order to survive. Crimes that do have a direct impact on the community and her safety and well-being.

The “War on Drugs” is a failure and has only served to make the matter worse, create more crime, and cost the tax payer more while enriching those in the private prison industry who simply love the business, by mistreating the offender.

I do not believe in the legalization of drug use; with the possible exception of Marijuana. That drug is proven by study after study, to be no more harmful than alcohol.

Other more serious drugs should remain illegal; however, decriminalized in order to treat the disease, not incarcerate the patient.

If someone commits a crime under the influence of a drug or in attempts to get a drug, then they should face severe criminal sanctions like we do with DUIs. But to continue to go after people who simply use and harm anyone but themselves and their immediate family, leave them to themselves and their family.

A truly conservative government wouldn’t be involved in telling people how to live, if their lifestyle doesn’t impact society in a dangerous way. The “War on Drugs” has failed and it’s time to call an end to it and clean up the mess.

Again, I’m not for legalization, but some level of decriminalization may be of benefit:

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