Pubdate: Thu, 10 Apr 2008
Source: Record, The (Harvard Law School, MA Edu)
Copyright: 2008 Harvard Law School Record Corporation
Author: Matt Hutchens
Note: Matt Hutchens is a 1L
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


For almost forty years, America has been engaged in a war which has
cost us trillions of dollars and ruined the lives of millions of our
citizens. We have been fighting against drugs in a street war across
the country. The definition enemy combatant has changed through the
course of this conflict, first encompassing only the smugglers and
distributors, then growing to include users, and now reaching beyond
our borders to the farmers in the developing world who produce the
source crops. Today we are told that all these parties are
contributing to the forces of Terror, and that the whole chain of
enemy forces is complicit in a conspiracy against us. If this were
true, though, wouldn't we disarm our enemies by taking control of the
economic forces that are the source of their power?

Last Thursday, Jack Cole, retired detective lieutenant and former
undercover agent for the New Jersey State Police was present on campus
to share his perspective on the War on Drugs. Today he represents the
anti-prohibition group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. In his
new role he seeks to expose the self-reinforcing and self-destructive
nature of the drug war by sharing his experience as a police officer
and informing others with statistics. Cole argues that the billions
spent on the drug war have only resulted in bloated police staffing,
media scare tactics to justify and expand spending, and distorted
market prices for drugs that actually encourage rather than discourage

According to DEA statistics, the wholesale cost of hard drugs has
consistently fallen over the course of the last 40 years while the
quality produced has risen.

The result is a market flooded with drugs that pose a high risk of
causing overdose for users.

Meanwhile the rate of addiction in the United States has remained
constant at 1.3% of the population.

The ever greater commitment of resources to fighting drugs has forced
police and legislators to expand the frontiers of the drug war to
produce ever higher arrest statistics, but the result has been the
creation of a police state which primarily incarcerates non-violent
offenders. Detective Cole argues that the original motivation for the
drug war was racism and that the system today carries a terrible
legacy of quiet, systematic discrimination. Just over one percent of
all Americans are imprisoned today.

The per capita rate among white males is over 700 per 100,000, but
among Hispanics it is more than double that and in the black male
population it is nearly seven times as high. It is shocking to
consider, as Detective Cole points out, that five percent of the black
male population of the country is incarcerated right now and that a
black male born today has a one in three chance of being convicted of
a crime in his lifetime.

He argues that such statistics would not be tolerated in the white
population, and that the result is the disenfranchisement of a large
percentage of the minority population, over 30% in Texas.

The social and personal cost of the drug war is one of the central
themes of the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire, which depicts
criminal activity in the city of Baltimore. The creator of the series,
David Simon, spoke at the Kennedy School last Friday to a large crowd
about the social problems which inspired the series.

Simon says he attempted to adapt the real experiences he heard while
working as a journalist and talking to citizens of Baltimore into a
realistic portrayal of the divided state of American society.

He sees the drug trade as interwoven with problems of social
stratification, failed education systems, unemployment, and economic

Simon says The Wire tells the story of 'the other America' and insists
that the characters' lives reflect the rational decisions real people
are pressured to make by social and economic circumstances. Simon
says, "The America we've built doesn't need 15% of its population.
We've rendered them irrelevant, and by the way we've created this huge
industry in your neighborhood called the drug trade.

See if you can get a job."

Detective Cole argues that the only solution to the drug problem is
the legalization of all drugs.

The $69 billion spent each year fighting the drug war could then be
reallocated to regulation of the industry and treatment for addiction.

He argues that instead of taxing the drug trade the government should
offer free maintenance doses for addicts in an environment where
professional help for addiction is available.

He points to the successes of similar programs in Switzerland and the
Netherlands as a model for a treatment system which can succeed in
eliminating overdose deaths, reducing the crime rate, and achieving
dramatically higher recovery rates for addicts.

Neither Cole nor Simon believes that political change will come soon.
Cole argues though that the lobbying he has engaged in is creating a
new dialogue among police officers and policy makers.

He says that 80% of the police officers who see his presentation agree
afterwards that legalization appears to be the only rational policy
decision, and yet they almost universally say that they have never
heard another police officer speak against the War on Drugs. Cole
believes that communication about the failure of current policy can
open new viable political options. Simon, on the other hand, belives
that jury nullification is the only way for people who believe the
incarceration of non-violent drug offenders is unjust to express their
refusal to support the drug war.

I believe that the emergence of systematic attacks on the drug war in
popular media and law enforcement that are based on a cost-benefit
analysis of the drug war signals the beginning of an anti-prohibition
movement which will only gain strength so long as it remains ignored
by legislators. I am convinced by Detective Cole's arguments, and I
will not support the War on Drugs by my participation in the
enforcement or prosecution of non-violent drug offenders.

I challenge you to consider the efficacy of a set of policies which
requires us to build 450 prison beds and hire 75 guards each week to
lock away hundreds of thousands of drug users each year, a war which
creates the market conditions in which its enemy is guaranteed to
succeed, and the grossly disproportionate number of casualties in
minority communities. If you agree that the War on Drugs is a failed
policy, be honest with others about it and avoid contributing to the
perpetuation of the status quo.
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath