Pubdate: Mon, 06 Jun 2011
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Jesse Jackson


How do you end America's longest war that is an abject failure? No, 
not Afghanistan. This month marks the 40th anniversary of the day 
Richard Nixon launched the "War on Drugs." And now, four decades 
later, it would be impossible to invent a more complete failure.

About $1 trillion has been spent on the war. Millions of citizens who 
pose no threat to anyone have been incarcerated in prison. Some 2.3 
million now overcrowd America's prisons -- 25 percent of whom have 
been arrested for nonviolent drug crimes.

Our neighbors to the south -- Mexico and Colombia -- are being torn 
about by gang violence and corruption. In Afghanistan, where our 
soldiers risk their lives, fully one-third to one-half of the entire 
economy is generated by the opium and heroin trade. All of this is in 
reaction to nonviolent acts that were not even crimes a century ago.

Yet despite this, drugs are just as available and cheaper than they 
were 40 years ago. As the U.S. drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, concluded: 
"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful. Forty years later, 
the concern about drugs and the drug problem is, if anything, 
magnified, intensified."

And the war's casualties are mounting. The war on drugs turned, early 
on, into a new Jim Crow offensive against people of color. Although 
whites abuse drugs at higher rates than African-Americans, 
African-Americans are incarcerated at 10 times the rate of whites for 
drug offensives. Millions have been deprived of the right to vote for 
being convicted of nonviolent crimes. Hundreds of thousands have died 
and millions suffered because the drug war made treating addiction as 
a public health problem more difficult.

Now the state fiscal crisis is forcing states -- even states as 
conservative as Texas -- to empty overcrowded prisons and seek 
alternatives to incarceration. Yet the war goes on, the money is 
wasted, the violence and corruption escalates, and more lives are ruined.

In a new report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy calls for 
admitting that the war is a failure and turning instead to dealing 
with drugs as a public health problem.

I have spent decades talking with young men and women about the 
perils of drugs, in classrooms, in church basements, in prisons and 
jails and on the street. The scourge of drugs is destructive of lives 
and of hope. But so, too, is the war against drugs.

We must use the 40th anniversary of a failed war to call that war 
into question. What if we treated drug addiction like alcohol 
addiction as a public health problem? Marijuana accounts for one-half 
of all drug arrests in the U.S.; decriminalizing it would save 
millions that could be used to treat addicts rather than arrest kids. 
Alternatives to incarceration should be preferred for those who pose 
no threat to others.

Harsh mandatory and minimum sentences should be repealed. Why not 
take drug addiction out of the criminal justice system and treat it 
in the public health system? It surely would be better to spend the 
money not on locking people up, but on clinics that might treat their 

Ending the "War on Drugs" doesn't mean we abandon the effort to 
regulate them, to teach children of their dangers, or to treat those 
who are hooked.

But it does mean we don't waste millions more lives and billions more 
dollars on a war that cannot be won.

The drug war has been waged by both parties. Politicians have 
postured tough on crime, competing to invent the harshest 
punishments. Money was no object. An entire prison complex -- with 
powerful private interests -- has grown up to warehouse the prisoners 
of the war. But now, 40 years later, isn't it time to put aside the 
posturing, and have a fundamental debate about alternatives to this failed war?
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