Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jun 2011
Source: New Mexican, The (Santa Fe, NM)
Copyright: 2011 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Author: Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico State Director of the Drug 
Policy Alliance.


Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration or reflection,
others a time for action.

Friday marked 40 years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug
abuse as "public enemy No. 1," officially declared a "war on drugs." A
trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, the war on drugs
remains a miserable failure.

The Land of Enchantment has not been spared. Local headlines tell us
that the war on drugs continues to threaten New Mexicans' health and
safety: "Friend abandons toddler after mom overdoses"; "New Mexico
family loses relative to Juarez violence"; "Overdose deaths among
people under 21 increasing"; "Medicaid axes inpatient program for
drug-addicted mothers"; "Martinez has high hopes for repeal of medical

On this anniversary, it's time to reflect on why New Mexico's overdose
death rate has increased 150 percent in the last four years; why the
state is spending upward of $22 million each year to incarcerate
nonviolent drug-possession offenders; and, why we are incarcerating
our mothers because of their addictions who then leave behind hundreds
of babies and young children.

It's time to admit that the war on drugs is a failure and agree to
turn instead to dealing with drugs as a public health problem.
Wouldn't it be better to spend the money on clinics that might treat
illnesses instead of on locking up nonviolent people?

We know a lot more things than we did 40 years ago, and it's time to
revise our strategies for combating drug misuse based on that
knowledge. We know that four out of five drug arrests are for
possession only, mostly for marijuana. We know that the average cost
of putting someone behind bars is about $30,000 a year, whereas the
average cost of treating them is about $3,000. And we know that most
communities in New Mexico lack access to quality drug treatment.

So let's celebrate this anniversary by crafting a new drug strategy
for the 21st century: A strategy designed to get us to a place where
politics no longer trumps science, compassion, common sense and fiscal
prudence in dealing with illegal drugs. A place where marijuana
legalization is no longer a question of whether, but when and how. A
place where people are not more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and
incarcerated for violating drug laws because of their ethnicity and
culture. And a time when reducing over-incarceration is broadly
embraced as a moral necessity.

Let's work with legislators who dare to raise these important
questions. Let's organize public forums and online communities where
New Mexicans can take action, enlist unprecedented numbers of powerful
and distinguished individuals to voice their dissent publicly, and
advocate for policies that focus less on obtaining convictions and
more on preventing addictions.

Let's transform this anniversary into a year of action.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.