Pubdate: Wed, 26 Dec 2007
Source: CounterPunch (US Web)
Copyright: 2007 CounterPunch
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for NORML and the 
NORML Foundation in Washington, D.C.


No-Knock, You're Dead

A growing number of political pundits are questioning America's
military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some are beginning to
draw parallels to lawmakers' much longer domestic war effort: the
so-called war on drugs. The comparison is apropos.

For nearly 100 years, starting with the passage of America's first
federal anti-drug law in 1914, lawmakers have relied on the mantra "Do
drugs, do time." As in the Middle East, the human and fiscal
consequences of this inflexible policy have been steadily mounting.

America now spends nearly $50 billion dollars per year targeting,
prosecuting, and incarcerating illicit-drug users. As a result, the
population of illicit-drug offenders now behind bars is greater than
the entire U.S. prison population in 1980. Since the mid 1990s, drug
offenders have accounted for nearly 50 percent of the total federal
prison population growth and some 40 percent of all state prison
population growth. For marijuana alone, law enforcement currently
spends between $7 billion and $10 billion dollars annually targeting
users -- primarily low-level offenders -- and taxpayers spend more
than $1 billion annually to incarcerate them.

Despite these unprecedented punitive efforts, illicit drugs remain
cheaper and more plentiful than ever. (Who ever heard of crack, ice,
Ecstasy, GHB, or Special K 30 years ago?) Among children, the
percentage using illicit drugs is little different than it was in
1975, when the government first began monitoring teen drug use
(though, comparatively, adolescents' use of cigarettes has fallen
dramatically during this time). Illicit-drug use among adults has also
remained virtually unchanged; however, far more users are overdosing
and dying from substance abuse than ever before.

Americans are also dying in greater numbers a result of drug-war
enforcement. For example, members of Georgia's narcotics task force
shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in November 2006 during a
no-knock drug raid of her home. Two officers in the raid eventually
pled guilty to manslaughter and admitted that they planted drugs in
Ms. Johnston's house as a cover story for their actions.

A similar fate befell 44-year-old housewife Cheryl Noel of Baltimore,
who was shot and killed by police in 2005 during a 5 o'clock a.m.
"flash-bang" raid of her home. Noel's husband and 19-year-old son were
later charged with possession of marijuana and drug

Nevertheless, despite the drug war's growing expense and civilian
casualties, lawmakers continue to offer few, if any, strategies other
than to stay the course. Such a mindset is epitomized by the outgoing
House Drug Policy Subcommittee chairman, Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who
authored federal legislation to withhold financial aid from convicted
drug offenders, recently pushed for the use of mycoherbicides as
biological agents to kill drug crops overseas, and continues to
publicly lambaste drug czar John Walters for employing an oversoft (in
Souder's opinion) drug-war battle-plan. The families of Kathryn
Johnston and Cheryl Noel would most likely beg to differ.

However, in contrast to politicians who call for a review of the U.S.
military's Middle East policies, few lawmakers are demanding a
timetable to bring about a cease-fire to the war on drugs -- or are
even calling for a reduction in the number of "troops" ( i.e.,
narcotics detectives, DEA agents, et cetera) serving on the front
lines. They ought to. If American lawmakers want to take a serious
look at the United States's war strategies, let them begin by
reassessing -- and ending -- their failed war here at home.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake