Pubdate: Sat, 08 Sep 2012
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2012 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Neill Franklin


One hundred and ninety six people were murdered in Baltimore last
year. Recent figures show our violent crime rate is more than two and
a half times the national average. Many of these crimes spawned from
the illegal nature of the drug trade, and the vast majority of them
will go unsolved because so much police time is spent arresting drug
users and low-level dealers.

But this weekend, a cross-country caravan of victims of the drug war
brings a message of change to Baltimore. Dozens of Mexican and
U.S.-based drug war survivors, law enforcement officers and others
with firsthand experience with failed drug laws have been traveling
for weeks now, educating people about the destruction our policies
have wrought and the futility of continuing them.

Forty years after President Nixon declared the war on drugs, and after
a trillion dollars spent, drug use continues unabated, yet the power
of the gangs supplying the drugs has greatly increased. Those gangs
were responsible for more than 60,000 deaths and 10,000 disappearances
in Mexico over the past six years, and untold deaths in the United
States over the past four decades. Family members of some of those
killed are on the caravan today, and polls show voters agree with them
that it's time to enact drug law reform. Politicians and policymakers
need to abide public opinion and common sense by providing treatment,
not jail time, to people with substance abuse issues.

I was a police officer. Over the course of my 34-year career, I
arrested hundreds of people for drugs, and I saw how this not only
failed to prevent violent crime but caused more violence as others
battled to take over newly available markets. I saw that when those I
arrested went to jail, they lost their jobs, homes, friends and
families because of it. It's unlikely that anything in their lives
changed for the better because of their interaction with the criminal
justice system. Most of them didn't receive treatment for their
addictions. They weren't educated. And they weren't given job skills
that would help them reintegrate into society.

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I know the harm drugs can do and how important professional help is to
treating drug addiction. And I know that for every dollar spent on
treatment, four to seven dollars are saved on crime and criminal
justice costs. But I also know how few addicts receive this treatment
because our drug control funding priorities are upside down.

In the end, the only things that improved were the profits of the
violent drug cartels running the trade and the arrest numbers of the
police department. Numbers that tried so desperately to prove that
which is unprovable: that we are winning this costly, destructive,
unwinnable war on drugs. All the while the drug treatment centers, the
employment agencies, the schools of the city - and across the nation -
remain underfunded.

Although this is a problem in Baltimore, it's not merely a Baltimore
problem. President Barack Obama has repeatedly said we should treat
drug abuse as a health problem rather than as a criminal matter, but
he has yet to back up his rhetoric with shifts in drug control
funding. He, like President George W. Bush before him, spends the
majority of federal drug money on law enforcement, punishment and
interdiction, rather than on prevention and treatment.

This in turn, puts pressure on countries south of the border, many of
whose foreign aid, essential to their very survival, is tied to their
participation in the American war on drugs. That is what brought the
Caravan For Peace here this weekend. Imagine losing your own child -
to drug war violence, to the criminal justice system or to drugs
themselves - and being able to do little about it because it's not
even your own country's war. That is the plight for Javier Sacilia,
the renowned Mexican poet leading the caravan, who lost his son at the
murderous hands of the cartel.

For the sake of the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters and
daughters and sons of those who have been lost but who have no voice
to protest, make your voice heard. Tell your elected leaders it's time
to change our priorities in the war on drugs. Tell them it's time to
fund treatment centers and schools, not another juvenile justice center.

Neill Franklin is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition, a retired Maryland State Police major and former
Baltimore Police lieutenant colonel. His email is  ---
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