Pubdate: Wed, 07 May 2008
Source: Tucson Citizen (AZ)
Copyright: 2008 Tucson Citizen


A new study of the war on drugs leaves but one conclusion: There must be
a better way.

The tactics of arrest and imprisonment have failed. We spend billions
with little effect. New tactics emphasizing treatment and prevention
programs are overdue. Admittedly, such programs have shown mixed
success, but perhaps that is because they haven't been funded adequately.

The newly released study should provide an impetus to change tactics.
An attack on the demand side of drug use is clearly called for.

The Sentencing Project, a group advocating reform of the criminal
justice system, conducted the study. The results paint a dismal
picture of a war that is unwinnable. Most striking are figures on the
disparity between the number of blacks and whites arrested in Tucson
on drug charges. The study found drug arrests increased 887 percent
between 1980 and 2003 - but increased by 1,184 percent for blacks.

The relatively low black population in Tucson may have skewed the
figures. But because studies have shown blacks and whites use drugs at
about the same rate, the arrest disparity raises questions of how
suspects are targeted for investigation and arrest.

But the larger problem crosses racial boundaries: Why do we spend so
much on the law-enforcement side of the drug war and relatively little
on the prevention and treatment side? In fighting illegal immigration,
Arizona has gone after the demand side by targeting companies that
hire people who are in the country illegally. Similarly, we must
target those who populate the demand side of the illicit drug trade,
not only the suppliers.

Historically, two-thirds of drug-war money goes to law enforcement,
one-third to prevention and treatment, said the head of a Tucson
agency overseeing publicly funded treatment. National studies find
that 60 percent of inmates are in for drug-related crimes. Arizona
spends $110,000 an hour to run our state prisons. Do the math and it's
a losing proposition. We can't spend enough money fast enough to build
prisons and lock up everyone who uses drugs. Yet the demand for drugs
remains as high as ever, according to The Sentencing Project.

Treat drug users and build understanding that the use of drugs is a
symptom of societal problems: lack of education, uneven economic
development, poor urban planning, disparate access to health care and

And that brings us back to the disparity between the numbers of blacks
and whites arrested on drug charges. Shifting the emphasis from
enforcement to reducing the demand will help address that racial inequality.

Every war must include an evaluation of strategies, followed by
changes in tactics to address shortcomings. Tucson must undertake such
an evaluation and put more money and attention into drug-use
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