Pubdate: Tue, 07 Oct 2003
Source: Good 5 Cent Cigar (RI Edu)
Copyright: 2003 Good 5 Cent Cigar
Author: Tom Angell, Cigar Columnist


Many people maintain the misguided perception that drug policy reform is all
about fighting to get high legally. There is nothing that saddens and
enrages me more than this commonly held sentiment. The truth is that drug
policy reformers do what they do to make society a better and safer place
for everyone.

While I do believe that no one should be persecuted for choosing to ingest
substances that the government classifies as "illicit," my dedication to
drug policy reform is about much more than the mere "right to get high." My
colleagues and I do what we do because we know that the current War on Drugs
causes much more harm than it could ever prevent. Reformers advocate for
more reasoned, just and compassionate public policies, while those fighting
the Drug War are champions of ignorance, injustice and waste.

In the United States, there are over 2.1 million people behind bars, thanks
mostly to our nation's misguided drug policies. This year alone, the federal
government will spend $20 billion fighting the Drug War, and state and local
governments will spend at least another $20 billion. In the U.S., someone is
arrested for a drug law violation every 20 seconds. Arrests for drug law
violations this year are anticipated to exceed the 1,579,566 drug arrests of
2000. It is expected that 236,800 people will be locked up for drug law
violations this year.

Despite these staggering statistics from the government's own research,
showing that massive amounts of taxpayers' money is being spent to fight the
Drug War harder than ever before, drug use has not been deterred. Over 94
million Americans have used an illegal drug at least once in their
lifetimes. This represents 41 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 and

In addition to the Drug War's blatant ineffectiveness, it is
disenfranchising large segments of our society. African Americans, who
comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, also account for 13 percent of
drug users. However, because of racism in general, and racial profiling in
specific, they disproportionately account for over 55 percent of drug
convictions. One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 years old
is under correctional supervision or control. One tenth of black men in this
country have lost the right to vote because of felony drug convictions.

The racist Drug War has destroyed millions of American families while
wasting billions of dollars. However, the harms caused by U.S. drug policy
are not contained within America's borders.

The U.S. government has spent more than $2.5 billion since the late 1990s on
Plan Colombia. This program purportedly aims to reducing the flow of illegal
drugs like cocaine from Colombia to the U.S. by spraying poisonous chemicals
on fields of coca plants growing in the country.

By importing the drug war into Colombia, the U.S. has only exacerbated an
already unstable situation by fueling that nation's ongoing civil war.
Roundup Ultra, the chemical that is being used to eradicate coca plants is
manufactured by Monsanto, the same company that gave us Agent Orange during
the Vietnam War. Roundup Ultra not only destroys coca plants; it annihilates
legitimate crops and kills livestock. It has also reportedly made many
people (especially children) sick with respiratory, skin and
gastrointestinal problems.

Not surprisingly, this hasn't done anything to reduce illegal drug use in
the U.S. When our helicopters spray poison on fields in one part of
Colombia, coca growers simply set up shop in other areas, or other
countries. It's like squeezing a balloon: when you pinch it in one area, it
expands in another.

What I've mentioned in this column only begins to scratch the surface of the
inherent futility and danger associated with the U.S.'s misguided drug
policies. If you're interested enough in the harms caused by the War on
Drugs to have read this entire column, I strongly recommend that you attend
two upcoming on-campus lectures about the topic.

Tonight at 6 p.m. in Chafee 275, Cliff Thornton, an African American man,
will deliver a speech entitled "Race and the Drug War: A War on Minorities?"

Next Tuesday, October 14, at 7 p.m. in Atrium 2 of the Memorial Union, Nancy
Sanchez Mendez, who spent time in Colombia, will speak about the U.S.'s
involvement in that country, in a lecture titled "Exposing the Secret War:
The Impact of US AID in Colombia."

Regardless of how you currently feel about drug policy, you should come see
what Mr. Thornton and Ms. Sanchez have to say. After all, it's your money
that is funding the War on Drugs.
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