Pubdate: Thu, 08 Dec 2011
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2011 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Suzanne Wills, Special Contributor
Note: Wills, a Dallas resident, is speakers' bureau coordinator for 
the Drug Policy Forum of Texas.


When President Richard Nixon created the Drug Enforcement
Administration by executive order 40 years ago, the promise was a
diminishing market for illegal drugs and a decrease in crime and
violence. The reality has been much different.

In the early 1970s very few Americans had ever used an Illegal drug.
Now nearly half of us have. Illegal drugs are available to anyone
willing to pursue them.

The violence in producing countries in Central and South America and
transit countries such as Mexico and the Caribbean has increased to
the point that it threatens the stability of some governments.

We have spent over $1 trillion on the ever escalating drug war.
Ironically, the only drug that has decreased in use is tobacco.

The United Nations and the United States work to force all countries
to adhere to the same drug laws and policies regardless of logic or
outcome. Nevertheless, a few countries have tried different approaches.

 From the beginning, the Netherlands tolerated sales of marijuana for
personal use in their famous "coffee shops." The Dutch now use
marijuana at about half the rate of Americans. The rates of cocaine
and heroin use in the Netherlands are far lower than here.

In 1994, the Swiss began giving injectable doses of heroin to addicts
at certified medical centers. Crime among the addicts decreased
markedly, employment increased and their health improved

Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and put the money saved on
law enforcement into education and medical treatment. Crime, drug use
by teenagers, HIV, overdoses and heroin use all declined.

Fifteen U.S. states have decriminalized possession of marijuana. They
have about the same rates of cannabis use as the other states. Sixteen
states and the District of Columbia have voted to allow use of
marijuana as a medicinal herb. They have not experienced an increase
in use among the young or increased crime.

In spite of evidence that alternative approaches can be useful drug
prohibition laws remain entrenched.

Nixon appointed the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse,
then ignored its recommendations, as well as this prescient
observation: "Perhaps the major consequence of ... well-meaning
efforts to do something about drug use ... has been the creation of a
vested interest in the perpetuation of the problem among those
dispensing and receiving funds."

Forty years later the funds have increased exponentially and the
vested interests distort public policy in a myriad of ways.

Federal anti-drug grants and asset forfeiture policies have made
pursuing low-level drug dealers and users a top priority for police

Meanwhile, clearance rates for violent crimes are abysmally low.
Homicide clearance has dropped from 91 percent in 1965 to 65 percent

Defense contractors lobbied vigorously for the Andean Counterdrug
Initiative and the Merida Initiative. These programs pay for transport
helicopters, surveillance aircraft and other military equipment as
well as spraying crops with herbicide. More than $10 billion has been

Private security contractors hire multiple lobbying firms and receive
billions from the federal government to carry out global
counternarcotics activities.

Since the early 1970s, the United States has built the largest prison
system in the history of the world. Americans are imprisoned at seven
times the rate of Europeans. The liquor industry financed the
opposition to California's Proposition 19 in 2010 which would have
legalized marijuana for adult use.The pharmaceutical industry does a
massive amount of lobbying. It has a strong financial interest in
making cannabis legal only as a pharmaceutical product, not as a plant.

The "War on Drugs" is more disruptive and destructive than the drugs
themselves. It has increased drug use, eroded our civil rights, skewed
policing and funding priorities, put control of dangerous drugs in the
hands of criminals and threatened democracy throughout our hemisphere.

Reform organizations, religious groups, medical associations, the
NAACP and leaders such as President Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and the
former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have all advocated
for changes in drug policy.

The responsible course of action for the federal government is to
allow countries and states to adopt the policies their citizens deem
appropriate and just.

Wills, a Dallas resident, is speakers' bureau coordinator for the Drug
Policy Forum of Texas."
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