Pubdate: Tue, 08 Oct 2013
Source: Progress-Index, The (VA)
Copyright: The Progress-Index 2013
Author: Ronald Fraser


To the Editor:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, commander-in-chief of Washington's 
failed War on drugs, recently issued what looks a lot like a domestic 
version of Vermont Sen. George Aiken's famous 1966 face-saving 
formula for exiting from America's lost war in Vietnam: Declare 
victory and get out. After more than 58,000 deaths, that is exactly 
what he did.

And now a timely American Civil Liberties Union report titled, "The 
War on Marijuana in Black and White" explains why Holder's similar 
announcement is especially good news for African-Americans nationwide 
and in Virginia.

Sensing that the U.S. war on marijuana is also unwinnable - and after 
more than eight million marijuana arrest in the last ten years - 
Holder declared in late August that his department will not challenge 
the statuses in Colorado and Washington state legalizing marijuana 
for recreational use or the laws that permit medical marijuana in 16 
others states.

Black and white Americans both paid a dear price in Vietnam. But the 
war on drugs has taken a much larger toll on African-Americans than 
whites here at home, even as the rates of marijuana use among the two 
groups are roughly equal according to the ACLU report. For example in 
2010, 14 percent of blacks and 11.6 percent of whites reported using 
marijuana in the past year, but blacks were nearly four times more 
likely to be stopped and arrested on marijuana charges.

America's grand geo-strategic goal was to stop the spread of 
communism in South Vietnam. From the start however, Washington's war 
on drugs specifically targeted American neighborhoods. In its first 
report, issued in 1989, the Office of National Drug Control Policy 
said, "To prevent people from using drugs, drug enforcement 
activities must make it increasingly difficult to engage in any drug 
activity with impunity . . . Effective street-level enforcement means 
dramatically increasing the number of drugs offenders arrested."

In desperation, troop levels escalated again and again in Vietnam 
before we finally declared "victory" and pulled out. The war on 
marijuana followed a similar trajectory as the nation desperately 
tried to arrest its way to victory. In 1995, 520,000 people 
nationwide were arrested for possession (not selling) marijuana. In 
2010, the number skyrocketed to 784,000.

The share of African-Americans who died in Vietnam, 12.5 percent was 
about equal to their share of those military age in the population, 
13.5 percent. In America's arrest-driven drug war however, blacks 
have experienced a much higher casualty rate. Nationally, blacks are 
3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Virginia blacks, in 2010, accounted for only 20 percent of the states 
population but were hit with 43 percent of the 18,756 arrest for 
marijuana possession. That is why Virginia African-Americans are 
cheering Holder's de-escalation initiative.

As in all wars, most Americans killed in Vietnam were young. The ACLU 
reports that here at home, "Teenagers and young adults bear the brunt 
of the marijuana possession policies; 77 percent of marijuana arrests 
in 2010 were of people 29 or younger, 62 percent were people younger 
than 25, and more than one-third were teenagers and preteens."

While not all of those arrested are tried, those convicted of 
marijuana possession continue to pay a price for many years to come, 
including loss of public housing, student financial aid, employment 
opportunities, child custody and immigration status. The war on 
marijuana is costing us a bundle. The ACLU report estimates that the 
total national expenditure for enforcing marijuana possession laws in 
2010 was $3.6 billion. Virginia's share was more than $67.2 million.

To end the tremendous human and fiscal costs of our domestic war on 
marijuana, and the disproportional impact on African-Americans, the 
ACLU recommends ending the war on marijuana and legalizing its use 
for people over 21 through a system of taxation, licensing, and regulation.

Is that where Holder - at last - is taking the federal government?

Ronald Fraser

DKT Liberty Project

Washington, D.C.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom