Pubdate: Mon, 11 Dec 2006
Source: Daily Hampshire Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2006 Washington Post Writers Group
Source: Daily Hampshire Gazette (MA)
Author: Neal Peirce
Cited: King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project
Bookmark: (Milton Friedman)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


Pick your week or month, the evidence keeps rolling in to show this 
country's vaunted "war on drugs" is as destructively misguided as our 
cataclysmic error in invading Iraq.

There are 2.2 million Americans behind bars, another 5 million on 
probation or parole, the Justice Department reported on Nov. 30. We 
exceed Russia and Cuba in incarcerations per 100,000 people; in fact 
no other nation comes close. The biggest single reason for the 
expanding numbers? Our war on drugs - a quarter of all sentences are 
for drug offenses, mostly nonviolent.

So has the "war" worked? Has drug use or addiction declined? Clearly 
not. Hard street drugs are reportedly cheaper and purer, and as easy 
to get, as when President Richard Nixon declared substance abuse a 
"national emergency."

Drugs crossing our borders have been widely blamed. To stem them, 
President Bill Clinton launched Plan Colombia, carried on 
enthusiastically under the Bush administration. The plan's modus 
operandi is war from the sky - aerial spraying that has covered 2.4 
million acres of Colombia's coca plant and opium poppy fields - 
almost as much territory as Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota has become our second-largest diplomatic 
mission, employing over 2,000 people. Still, the U.N. reports, 
Colombia last year produced 776 metric tons of cocaine, enough to 
supply 80 percent of the world market. Great victory.

In Afghanistan, the provider of a huge portion of the world's heroin, 
production is soaring with the profits funding insurgents and 
criminals. Drug cartels with their own armies regularly engage NATO 
forces - as serious a threat as the Taliban. High-level government 
officials and police are reportedly corrupted. And the U.S. still 
presses eradication programs that will alienate beleaguered villagers.

And Mexico? Under Vicente Fox's presidency, Mexico captured several 
drug gang leaders, seized record amounts of drugs and extradited 
about 50 suspected traffickers to the U.S. Our government is said to 
be pleased. Except that gang-sparked gunfights, kidnappings and 
murders have escalated along the U.S.-Mexico border. A vast majority 
of cocaine entering the U.S., plus increasing amounts of marijuana 
and methamphetamine, continues to flow through Mexico.

We'd be incredibly better off if we had treated drugs as a public 
health issue instead of a criminal issue - as the celebrated Nobel 
Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman advised us. Friedman, who 
died last month at 94, witnessed America's misadventure into alcohol 
prohibition in his youth. "We had this spectacle of Al Capone, of the 
hijackings, the gang wars," wrote Friedman. He decried turning users 
into criminals: "Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters 
worse - for both the addict and the rest of us."

Debating then-drug czar William Bennett in 1989, Friedman opposed 
"the path you propose of more police, more jails, use of the military 
in foreign countries, harsh penalties for drug users, and a whole 
panoply of repressive measures."

And in one of his last interviews, Friedman asked the relevant 
questions: "Should we allow the killing to go on in the ghettos? 
10,000 additional murders a year? .. Should we continue to destroy 
Colombia and Afghanistan?"

The ironic truth is that humans have used drugs - psychoactive 
substances ranging from opium and coca to alcohol, hemp, tobacco and 
coffee - since the dawn of history. Problems get triggered when 
substances are associated with despised or feared subgroups, 
according to a careful study by the King County, Wash., Bar Association.

Tobacco users returning to Spain from the Americas in the 16th 
century, for example, were subject to tortures of the Inquisition 
because they smoked like "savage" Indians. Coffeehouses were 
politically suspect in 17th-century eastern Europe, with users 
subject to the death penalty.

In this country, opium was widely applied medicinally up to 1900, but 
then became associated with "opium dens" operated by Chinese 
immigrants. Cocaine, used by oppressed Southern field hands to allay 
their pains, became associated with "Negroes." Alcohol use was 
identified with urban Catholic immigrants, "marihuana" smoking with 
Mexicans. The same Puritanism and misplaced religious zeal that 
triggered prohibition of alcohol was gradually applied to more and 
more substances from the early 1900s onward, culminating in our ugly 
and now global drug war.

Race remains a disturbing factor: The federal penalty for crack 
cocaine, a drug favored in poor black neighborhoods, remains 10 times 
that for regular cocaine, which is more popular among whites.

Yet just think: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cultivated 
hemp for pain relief. President William McKinley entertained with 
coca wine. In 1898, Bayer Pharmaceuticals ran ads giving equal 
billing to aspirin and "heroin - the sedative for coughs." Coca-Cola 
contained small amounts of coca and caffeine until the coca was 
removed in 1903.

The United States professes values of freedom, tolerance and love for 
peace. Yet now, in its drug laws, its wholesale incarceration 
practices and increasingly in its international drug practices, the 
country lurches in a polar opposite direction. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake