Pubdate: Sun, 15 Nov 2015
Source: Sunday Herald, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Sunday Herald
Author: Howard Wooldridge
Note: Howard Wooldridge is a retired Michigan police detective who 
has campaigned for an end to the war on drug


SINCE the official beginning of the drug war in 1971, the 
law-enforcement community in the United States has spent just over $1 
trillion. Tens of thousands of citizens have died, sacrificed on the 
altar of this modern prohibition. Millions have suffered from a drug 
arrest, which haunts them forever - and the difference on the 
streets? Federal research shows drugs are cheaper, stronger and more 
"readily available" to America's youth.

As a street cop and detective in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, I had a 
ringside seat to this unfolding social disaster.

Like most wars, the drug war began with a high moral purpose - to 
save people from some harmful drugs - and a modest budget. As drugs 
remained readily available, government's response ratcheted up in the 
80s - mandatory minimums, hundreds of prisons built, civil asset 
forfeiture, no-knock drug raids, drug war exceptions to rules of 
search and seizure. We received any and all laws we asked for to make 
this prohibition effective. All for naught.

As an officer, I witnessed a large number of officers spend much of 
their patrol time searching car after car for an arrest mostly 
involving cannabis. Back at the donut shop, they said they found 
personal amounts of cannabis in every tenth car. These officers knew 
that command liked pot busts due to good headlines, as well as the 
money and vehicle seizures related to a drug arrest. The motto 
"Protect and Serve" became a quaint, meaningless phrase. Informally, 
we became a profession of "Search and Arrest".

A chat over a beer with a friend in 1987 illustrates well the failure 
of this strategy/policy. Christine had become a narcotics officer the 
year before. Excitedly, she recounted some war stories of good busts, 
lots of dope confiscated, over 100 drug houses shut down, etc. Into 
the second beer, she became a bit quiet. She said it was so 
discouraging. Despite all the team's efforts, the number of drug 
houses in the city had increased and the street prices of all drugs 
had dropped - indicating over-supply.

Police officers learned quickly the absolute futility of our efforts. 
Drug dealers accepted, as a condition of their employment, death and 
long prison terms. Thus, the massive punishment  mandatory minimums - 
had zero impact on the drug trade. Every dealer arrested, shot or 
killed was quickly replaced.

AS WE saw the uselessness of our actions, many narcotics officers 
became ever more aggressive, to compensate for no tangible gains. 
They approached citizens in large cities, almost demanding they be 
allowed to buy drugs. Confrontations often led to violence and the 
death of citizens. Now, in 2015, we watch in horror as officers shoot 
and kill someone suspected of selling a few grams of cannabis.

To maintain the public's interest and financial support, $80 billion 
in 2015, we put on a dog and pony show for the cameras. Every couple 
of weeks we laid out a table full of guns, a table covered in drugs 
and another overflowing with money. This to demonstrate yet another 
"victory" in our efforts. In the background, we would show a dozen 
people arrested during the drug bust. As the new century started, we 
stopped doing this, as the public accepted the fact that all drug 
busts were without meaning.

In the 21st century, the ground is fertile in Scotland and elsewhere 
to begin the debate on how to treat dangerous drugs. The public knows 
that this drug prohibition is an abject failure. As reported in the 
2010 Lancet report, these prohibited drugs are dangerous, even 
deadly. That is not the issue. The fundamental question is how does 
the involvement of the police and prisons improve anything?

Luckily, the creator of the Drug War - the USA - is experiencing a 
fundamental shift in the public's attitude towards drug abuse. Why? 
Starting in the 2000s with methamphetamine, and more recently with 
heroin, white people are now the vast majority of citizens using and 
abusing illegal, hard drugs. When mostly people of colour were being 
arrested and/or dying from illegal drugs, the establishment did not 
care or passed laws to lock them up. The hypocrisy stinks.

As a lobbyist in the US Congress since 2005, I have challenged each 
member to state one benefit, one advantage, of drug prohibition. Not 
one has ever been able to. Their silence is deafening.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom