Pubdate: Tue, 25 Nov 2008
Source: Daily News Tribune (Waltham, MA)
Copyright: 2008 GateHouse Media, Inc.
Author:  Ronald Fraser
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT
Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.


Advertised as an effective drug control policy, America's harsh drug
laws only give the illusion of progress.

Two recent reports show, once again, that the arrest and incarceration
of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent adult drug offenders have done
little to stem the use and trafficking of illicit drugs. Drug Use. A
senior fellow at the George Mason University School of Public Policy,
Dr. Jon Gettman's recent study, Consistent, Persistent and Resistant,
Marijuana Use in the United States - funded by the Marijuana Policy
Project Foundation - finds that the "Bush Administration anti-drug
policies have been unsuccessful in reducing the demand for and use of
marijuana and other illegal drugs." Further, Gettman reports, the
government's own Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) did
not come close to reaching its recent goal: the reduction in the use
of illicit drugs among adults 18 years and older by 25  percent
between 2002 and 2007. After five years of effort and many millions of
tax dollars, illicit drug use among adults declined by less than one
percent. Of the six tax-funded programs designed by the ONDCP to reach
its 25 percent reduction goal, the Bush Administration's Office of
Management and Budget found  that only one program rated an "adequate"

The other five were rated "ineffective" or "results-not-demonstrated." Drug
Trafficking. In its new report, Correcting Course: Lessons from the 1970
Repeal of Mandatory Minimums, the Washington advocacy organization, Families
Against Mandatory Minimums, finds that, to date, "No conclusive studies
demonstrate any positive impact of federal mandatory minimum sentences on
the rate at which drugs are being manufactured, imported, and trafficked
throughout the country." The U.S. Congress first enacted mandatory sentences
for drug offenses in 1951 only to repeal the law in 1970 because it was not
reducing drug use. Then, in 1986, the Congress set new mandatory sentences
aimed at locking up big-time drug  traffickers and, in 1988, expanded the
law to apply to simple possession of  crack cocaine. By 2008, more than
one-half of the 200,000 federal prisoners were serving time for drug

But instead of filling federal prisons with drug kingpins, 66 percent
of crack cocaine offenders in 2005 were low-level street dealers,
lookouts and couriers and only 33 percent were higher-level suppliers.
Instead of ending the drug war, mandatory sentences promise to keep
prisons full of nonviolent, low level offenders, while drug use
continues unabated. Setting goals in the absence of any reasonable
means to achieve those goals is plain dumb, except in Washington.
Perhaps the non-performing drug war programs are not really expected
to deliver on their publicly stated goals, but continue because they
serve a very different purpose.

They give the politically useful illusion of "controlling" crime and
allow morally righteous members of  society to impose their values on
the actions of others. Instead of ending the drug war, each year
Washington drug warriors issue a new round of optimistic forecasts to
keep the illusion alive, to justify another round of funding from
American taxpayers. In the absence of a strategy that can both win the
drug war and pass Constitutional and affordability tests, police
departments, prison operators and hundreds of thousands of prison
guards keep themselves busy wasting money on non-performing programs
and arresting more low level drug offenders. Forget pie-in-the-sky
government promises that build false expectations. When the toughest
action governments can take to change individual behavior - sending
its citizens to prison - doesn't work, it is time to try another
approach.  Building more prisons will not reduce drug use in America.
Instead, across America, let's build thousands of down-to-earth
education and health programs  that can actually help individuals in
your hometown and mine make informed life-style choices.

Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty
Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization. Write him  ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin