Pubdate: Sat, 19 Oct 2013
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2013 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: Ronald Fraser
Note: Fraser writes on public policy issues for DKT Liberty project, 
a Washington based civil liberties organization.

Point of View

It's A Losing Battle


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 U.S. deaths, that's 
exactly what we 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 blacks nationwide and in Oklahoma.

Sensing that the U.S. war on marijuana is also unwinnable - and after 
more than 8 million marijuana arrests in the past 10 years - Holder 
declared in late August that his department won't challenge the 
statutes in Colorado and Washington state legalizing marijuana for 
recreational use or the laws that permit medical marijuana in 16 other states.

Black and white Americans paid a dear price in Vietnam. But the war 
on drugs has taken a much larger toll on blacks than whites here at 
home, even as the rates of marijuana use among the two groups is 
roughly equal. In 2010, for example, 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.

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 drug 
offenders arrested."

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 persons nationwide were arrested for 
possession (not selling) marijuana; in 2010, that number skyrocketed 
to 784,000.

The share of blacks who died in Vietnam (12.5 percent) was about 
equal to their share of those of 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. Oklahoma blacks, in 2010, accounted for only 8 percent of 
the state's population but were hit with 21 percent of the 10,478 
arrests for marijuana possession.

The ACLU reports that more than a third of those arrested for 
marijuana possession were teenagers and preteens and that marijuana 
enforcement in Oklahoma in 2010 cost the taxpayers more than $30.8 
million. The ACLU recommends ending the war on marijuana and 
legalizing its use for persons older than 21 through a system of 
taxation, licensing and regulation.

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