Pubdate: Fri, 28 Nov 2008
Source: DrugSense Weekly (DSW)
Section: Feature Article
Author: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D.
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the 
DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.
Referenced: Consistent, Persistent and Resistant, Marijuana Use in 
the United States
Referenced: Correcting Course: Lessons from the 1970 Repeal of 
Mandatory Minimums


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" grade.

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 offenses.

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.
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