Pubdate: Wed, 27 Dec 2006
Source: Repository, The (Canton, OH)
Copyright: 2006 The Repository
Author: Harry E. Klide
Note: Harry E. Klide is a retired Stark County Common Pleas Court judge.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


I don't know whether America is going to win the war in Iraq, but I 
do know that we have lost the war against the use of drugs, which we 
have pursued for the past 30-plus years. The war on drugs has been a 
dismal failure. It is not truly a war against drugs, but a war 
against us - our people, our children, ourselves.

President Nixon, when running for president, coined the expression, 
"war on drugs," knowing that appearing tough on crime would get him many votes.

After Nixon's election, Congress passed legislation giving massive 
funding to police departments throughout the country to fight the war 
on drugs. The politicians passed harsh laws for mandatory minimum 
sentences and for "three strikes and you're out" sentences. The 
mentality that has prevailed is "lock them up, throw the key away, 
and the drug problem will go away." We've locked them up, but, 
unfortunately, the problem has not gone away.

Worse Than Ever

As a matter of fact, the drug problem has become worse. Whether we 
want to admit it or not, we absolutely cannot arrest our way out of 
the drug problem. Walter Cronkite recently wrote a letter asking more 
than 100,000 people to help end the drug war at home. In explaining 
the reasons for doing so, he stated, "It surely hasn't made our 
streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of 
people - disproportionately people of color - who have caused little 
or no harm to others - wasting resources that could be used for 
counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals."

Humans for hundreds of years have been using alcohol, coffee, 
tobacco, marijuana, opium and other addictive and mood-affecting 
drugs. Legal or illegal drugs and crime go hand in hand. Most of the 
criminal cases I handled on the bench, such as violence, robbery, and 
thievery were intertwined with alcohol and drugs. Interestingly, we 
don't arrest people for drinking alcohol, or smoking tobacco, the two 
worst drugs known to human beings. In the United States, tobacco 
kills 430,000 people every year; alcohol kills another 110,000. All 
the illegal drugs combined in the United State kill fewer than 18,000 people.

We have tried to use force, prohibition and incarceration to control 
the drug market. We have increased the patrol and inspection of our 
nation's borders. We have increased arrests for violation of drug 
laws and lengthened sentences. We have poured billions of dollars 
into overseas anti-drug paramilitary operations. What are the results?

The reality is that our efforts have led to a more efficient drug 
trade and a hugely profitable drug market. Every year, we're spending 
about 70 billion to fight this war. Every year we are arresting 1.6 
million people - mostly young people - for non-violent drug offenses, 
thereby clogging our courts. Our prison system has quadrupled in the 
past 20 years, making building prisons in America the fastest growing 
industry. There are over 2 million prisoners in the United States, 
which means we who make up 5 percent of the total global population, 
now have 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Significantly, although 
African Americans account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, 
44 percent of all prisoners in the United States are African 
Americans. Violent crime is not responsible for the quadrupling of 
the incarcerated population since 1980. The single greatest force 
behind the growth of the prison population has been the war on drugs.

With all these lives we're destroying every year, and all the money 
we're spending, drugs are cheaper, are more potent, and easier to get 
than when the war against drugs began. Everything from crack cocaine 
to marijuana is just a phone call away. You can buy it on any street, 
in any school yard, in any small farm town. As a 2002 drug survey by 
the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia 
University revealed, schoolchildren across the country say it is 
easier for them to buy marijuana than it is to buy beer and 
cigarettes. Is it perhaps because alcohol is controlled by the 
government, whereas drug distribution is controlled by organized crime?

I think that it is time to rethink our strategy and to redefine our 
goals. We obviously cannot depend on our politicians to extricate us 
from this quagmire. We must admit that we're losing the war on drugs. 
As parents concerned about protecting our children from drug-related 
harm, we must alter our way of thinking and hopefully find ways to 
claim victory. We must look for alternatives. One hears many voices 
proclaiming that the answer is treatment, education and prevention. 
There are also many voices out there that proclaim that in order to 
end the war on drugs, and end drug prohibition, the answer is to 
legalize and regulate drugs so that we can run the mob out of a 
highly profitable business that pay no taxes on their huge profits. 
We can then control the drug market, regulate it and tax it.

Public Action

No one likes to admit being a loser. But since the politicians will 
not cure this societal ailment, is it feasible to believe that we the 
people somehow can organize, mobilize and publicize the disastrous 
consequences of a drug war against our children and ourselves and put 
an end to it? What do you think?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake