Sunday, May 8, 2011

The War on Drugs

(Included because I think it's important to know!) 
Many currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, opium, coca, and psychedelics have been used for thousands of years for both medical and spiritual purposes.
The Early Stages of Drug Prohibition 
Why are some drugs legal and other drugs illegal today? It's not based on any scientific assessment of the relative risks of these drugs – but it has everything to do with who is associated with these drugs. 
The first anti-opium laws in the 1870s were directed at Chinese immigrants. The first anti-cocaine laws, in the South in the early 1900s, were directed at black men. The first anti-marijuana laws, in the Midwest and the Southwest in the 1910s and 20s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. Today, Latino and especially black communities are still subject to wildly disproportionate drug enforcement and sentencing practices.
Nixon and the Generation Gap
In the 1960s, as drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent, the government halted scientific research to evaluate their medical safety and efficacy.
In June 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule One, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer. In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the report and rejected its recommendations.
Between 1973 and 1977, however, eleven states decriminalized marijuana possession. In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated on a campaign platform that included marijuana decriminalization. In October 1977, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use.
Within just a few years, though, the tide had shifted. Proposals to decriminalize marijuana were abandoned as parents became increasingly concerned about high rates of teen marijuana use. Marijuana was ultimately caught up in a broader cultural backlash against the perceived permissiveness of the 1970s.
The 1980s and 90s: Drug Hysteria and Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates
The presidency of Ronald Reagan marked the start of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration, largely thanks to his unprecedented expansion of the drug war. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.
Public concern about illicit drug use built throughout the 1980s, largely due to media portrayals of people addicted to the smokeable form of cocaine dubbed “crack.” Soon after Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, his wife, Nancy Reagan, began a highly-publicized anti-drug campaign, coining the slogan "Just Say No." This set the stage for the zero tolerance policies implemented in the mid-to-late 1980s. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who believed that “casual drug users should be taken out and shot,” founded the DARE drug education program, which was quickly adopted nationwide despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. The increasingly harsh drug policies also blocked the expansion of syringe access programs and other harm reduction policies to reduce the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.
In the late 1980s, a political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of draconian penalties in Congress and state legislatures that rapidly increased the prison population. In 1985, the proportion of Americans polled who saw drug abuse as the nation's "number one problem" was just 2-6 percent. The figure grew through the remainder of the 1980s until, in September 1989, it reached a remarkable 64 percent – one of the most intense fixations by the American public on any issue in polling history. Within less than a year, however, the figure plummeted to less than 10 percent, as the media lost interest. The draconian policies enacted during the hysteria remained, however, and continued to result in escalating levels of arrests and incarceration.
Although Bill Clinton advocated for treatment instead of incarceration during his 1992 presidential campaign, after his first few months in the White House he reverted to the drug war strategies of his Republican predecessors by continuing to escalate the drug war. Notoriously, Clinton rejected a U.S. Sentencing Commission recommendation to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences. He also rejected, with the encouragement of drug czar General Barry McCaffrey, health secretary Donna Shalala’s advice to end the federal ban on funding for syringe access programs. Yet, a month before leaving office, Clinton asserted in a Rolling Stone interview that "we really need a re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment" of people who use drugs, and said that marijuana use "should be decriminalized."
At the height of the drug war hysteria in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a movement emerged seeking a new approach to drug policy. In 1987, Arnold Trebach and Kevin Zeese founded the Drug Policy Foundation – describing it as the “loyal opposition to the war on drugs.” Prominent conservatives such as William Buckley and Milton Friedman had long advocated for ending drug prohibition, as had civil libertarians such as longtime ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser. In the late 1980s they were joined by Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Federal Judge Robert Sweet, Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann, and other activists, scholars and policymakers. In 1994, Nadelmann founded The Lindesmith Center as the first U.S. project of George Soros’ Open Society Institute. In 2000, the growing Center merged with the Drug Policy Foundation to create the Drug Policy Alliance.
The Pendulum is Shifting – Slowly – Toward Sensible Drug Policy
George W. Bush arrived in the White House as the drug war was running out of steam – yet he allocated more money than ever to it. His drug czar, John Walters, zealously focused on marijuana and launched a major campaign to promote student drug testing. While rates of illicit drug use remained constant, overdose fatalities rose rapidly. The era of George W. Bush also witnessed the rapid escalation of the militarization of domestic drug law enforcement. By the end of Bush's term, there were about 40,000 paramilitary-style SWAT raids on Americans every year – mostly for nonviolent drug law offenses, often misdemeanors. While federal reform mostly stalled under Bush, state-level reforms finally began to slow the growth of the drug war.
Politicians now routinely admit to having used marijuana, and even cocaine, when they were younger. When Michael Bloomberg was questioned during his 2001 mayoral campaign about whether he had ever used marijuana, he said, "You bet I did – and I enjoyed it." Barack Obama also candidly discussed his prior cocaine and marijuana use: "When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently – that was the point."
The assault on American citizens, however, has persisted. Bloomberg oversaw a higher rate of low-level marijuana arrests than any mayor in New York City history. And Obama, despite advocating for reforms – such as reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, ending the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs, and supporting state medical marijuana laws – has yet to shift drug control funding to a health-based approach.
Progress is inevitably slow but there is unprecedented momentum behind drug policy reform right now. We look forward to a future where drug policies are shaped by science and compassion rather than political hysteria.

The United States has been waging a "War on Drugs" for the last 40 years; spending over a trillion dollars, doing tons of damage, filling prisons as quickly as they’re constructed, and hardly having much effect on either the supply or the demand for drugs. We're fighting this war for an array of political, economic, and ideological reasons. Politicians gain support by campaigning against drugs, the war provides jobs in law enforcement and related fields, some industries profit from the illegality of drugs, and many people insist that using drugs is not only unlawful, but also immoral. Steven McDougall reminds us, "The United States is a democracy. The people who are running the War on Drugs, those who directly benefit and profit from it, are a minority of the electorate. In order to keep the War on Drugs going, they need the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the majority."
The War on Drugs currently has the support of our society, but not because people in this country are dedicated to fighting the war, or pleased with the results; there just don't seem to be any alternatives. If we end the war, we feel we are admitting defeat. We’re afraid that if we quit fighting, the country will be overrun with drugs and we do not want everyone to become addicted, dealers on all street corners, and the mafia influencing the government. We don’t want our country to become, as McDougall describes, a “big crack house”.
"Of course, it's not really a war: that's just a metaphor," McDougall argues, "But metaphors have power. They express implicit assumptions. They frame discussion, and constrain possibilities."
I liked his metaphor that, "Drugs are a force of nature, like the tide. The tide comes in; the tide goes out. You can't stop the tide, and if you're smart, you don't try. If you're smart, you build bridges to span the water, you build boats that float on the water, you teach your children to swim, so that they don't drown if they fall in the water, and if someone declares war on the tide, you don't question their judgment; you question their sanity. If drugs are a force of nature, then we need to call off the war and start building bridges." Then he adds, "So how do we get from metaphor to reality? How do we stop the War on Drugs?" 
To end the War on Drugs, we legalize drugs: production, distribution, sale, possession, and use.

"Contrary to what some people think, the War on Drugs doesn't suppress organized crime: it creates it" (McDougall). If drugs are legal, then marijuana becomes a comparable crop to tobacco and heroin to penicillin; organized crime cannot control or gain from legal products. Let's look back in history now: 
In the United States, distilleries supplied alcohol to be sold to customers in bars, until 1919 when we passed prohibition. Instantly, organized crime, which had previously been absent in the business, took over the production and dispensation of alcohol. By the late 1920's, Chicago gangsters were committing murder to gain control of the industry. In 1933, we repealed prohibition and sure enough, the villains lost jurisdiction and relevance. Nowadays, "alcohol is a large, lawful industry, and organized crime has nothing to do with it"(McDougall).
Consumption of alcohol climbed when prohibition was repealed; however, cirrhosis of the liver reduced as the public drank less liquor and more beer and wine. Presently customers even seem to prefer lite beers and wine coolers. If we legalized drugs, it's very probable we'd notice people smoking opium or chewing coca leaves, instead of injecting heroin or smoking crack.
Only illegal industries kill, kidnap, and keep private armies. With each increased level of enforcement against the drug business, we cause amplified violence by the criminals. In recent years, drug violence in Mexico has escalated to tens of thousands of deaths and with prohibition propping up drug prices, it is inevitable that the drug trade will continue, no matter how risky or violent it gets (Drug Policy).
"Over 37,000 people have been killed since late 2006 in violence caused by drug prohibition in Mexico, similar to what the U.S. experienced during alcohol Prohibition, but far more deadly," says Robelo on Many of these deaths are of immigrants and young men, women, and even children who are "are being forced or recruited into criminal activities ranging from serving as lookouts to hit men."
            Advocates of the drug war still assert that legalization is a negative to children, yet the truth is, as seen in news from Mexico every day, is that the drug war itself is killing children and not discussing alternatives of the war is cruel and indifferent. "According to reports by The Washington Post and Associated Press, at least 1,000 boys and girls have been murdered since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office and unleashed the army against drug traffickers, with the ready support of the United States. Tens of Thousands more have been orphaned; so many in Chihuahua that the state government has set up a special fund to care for them," Robelo informs. Reiterating Presidents Obama and Calderon, DEA head Michele Leonhart announces that these killings are a "sign of success."
It's certainly conceivable that legalizing drugs could increase addiction, however it doesn't seem to be true. Until 1900, there were no laws against drugs. A small percent of the population had addicted problems, mostly to morphine that they bought over the counter. "Since then," notes McDougall, "we have passed hundreds of drug laws, spent hundreds of billions of dollars enforcing them, put millions of drug users in prison and, today, a few percent of the population is addicted, albeit to a somewhat wider variety of drugs."
“I have worked for over 30 years in emergency medicine.” Says board-certified in Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine physician and Maryland state legislator, Dan Morhaim, MD. “We have measured that between 60%-80% of our patients who lack insurance are there due to addiction. Coding systems categorize by final diagnosis, e.g. “forearm laceration,” but when the record is closely examined, it turns out that the laceration occurred because the patient broke a window during a burglary to get money for drugs. I ask addicts three questions. What is the daily price tag of your addiction? Answer: $20-$100/day. What do you do to get the money? Answer: sell drugs, steal, prostitution, work if available. Would you go into a drug treatment program now? Answer: Yes, but none is immediately available.”
"Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to overdose and drug-related disease because cost-effective and lifesaving interventions are not sufficiently available" (Drug Policy). If drug treatment increased, the drug market would lose costumers further. We need new metrics for measuring the success of our nation's drug policies. Rather than measuring success based on slight fluctuations in drug use, the primary measure of effectiveness should be the reduction of drug-related harm, such as overdose deaths, drug addiction, and the transmission of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. (DP)
Arrests and incarceration for drugs, even for first time, low-level violations, can result in debilitating collateral consequences for an individual and their family. A conviction for a drug law violation can result in the loss of employment, property, public housing, food stamp eligibility, financial aid for college, and the right to vote, even after serving time behind bars.(DP)
In seems to be that legalizing drugs may not have so many consequences; actually, it might do us good. We would regain control of the production, distribution and sale of drugs, be able to guarantee the purity and labeling of the product, be able to regulate the time, place, and conditions of sale, control what drug producers say about their product, and set age limits to keep drugs away from children. (McDougall, S)
When drugs are illegal, the suppliers control the market. They offer the most concentrated and addictive forms of drugs, which are the easiest to carry and conceal, and have the highest profit margins. A buyer often doesn’t know exactly what they are getting when they purchase a drug. They don’t see they way it is made and or even know exactly what it’s made of.
            When drugs are legal, consumers control the market. Most drug users don't want to hurt themselves; they would rather know that what they are getting is safe. Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson insists, “Legalize marijuana. Control it, regulate it, tax it. It’s never going to be legal to smoke pot, become impaired, get behind the wheel of a car, do harm to others. It’s never going to be legal for kids to smoke pot or buy pot. And under which scenario is it going to be easier for kids to smoke pot or buy pot? The situation that exists today, where it’s virtually available anywhere, and the person that sells pot also sells harder drugs? Or a situation where to purchase it, you would have to produce an ID in a controlled environment, like alcohol, to be able to buy it. I think you can make the case that it would be harder to buy it, in that controlled environment.”
So we could legalize drugs, and nothing very bad would happen, and the problems that we do have would become quite a bit more manageable. However, none of this can happen until we, as a society, come to terms with some very basic facts about the world.
People use drugs. People use drugs in every country, every society, and every place on this globe. No exceptions. One study found evidence that many in their late twenties accommodated their use of drugs such as amphetamines and cannabis with holding down jobs, paying mortgages and raising children. We can't seem to accept this fact, not in the sense that we don't believe it, but in the sense that we don't want it to be true. We want people to not use drugs.
Ending the war on drugs does not mean you support drug use. There are reasons to not use drugs. Good enough reasons that many people choose not to. But we need to accept the fact that this is a decision made by each person, for themselves, and that we have neither the practical ability nor the moral authority to make that decision for them.
These are worthy principles, especially in the abstract. But if we legalize drugs, they won't stay abstract: they will change our world in very concrete ways. There is a tendency to think of drug users as "other people". But they aren't. We are drug users: we, our families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and people reading this page. If we legalize drugs, these people will no longer be criminals. We won't be able to lock them away in prison. They will be able to use drugs openly. Then we will be put to the test: whether we who don't use drugs can dwell together in peace with we who do use drugs. (McDougall, S)
It is true that drugs are dangerous. So users get hurt, addicted, and may even die.
Again, the simple facts aren't in contention, but we don't want to accept them. The prevailing attitude is, roughly, drugs are dangerous a single death is too many therefore we must outlaw drugs. It sounds reasonable enough until you consider that we don't treat any other risk this way. Life is full of risks. People die doing their jobs, playing sports, and from using alcohol and tobacco. These things aren't illegal. Driving is dangerous: 1% of all Americans die in automobile accidents, but we don't outlaw cars, we put guard rails on highways, we put seat belts in cars, we send our children to driver education classes, and then we send our children out on the highways, and pray for their safe return. Driving is a risk that we accept. The argument that drugs must be illegal because they are dangerous doesn't even stand on its own terms. Making drugs illegal doesn't stop people from using them, and it actually increases the dangers of using them. (McDougall, S)
            Reliable information about drugs does not fall back on scare tactics or oversimplification. To understand a drug, you need to understand its effects, why people use it, and the risk it poses in terms of both health and criminal penalties. Looking at the whole picture of a drug includes making a distinction between the harm that can be caused by the substance itself and the harm caused by drug war policies.(DP) 
Thirty years ago, we ended the Vietnam War, not because it was a bad idea, although it was; not because we were losing it, although we were, but because it no longer had the support of the American people. If we can come to terms with these basic facts about the world: that people use drugs, and that drugs are dangerous, then we won't need the War on Drugs any more, and support for it will evaporate. There will still be a political struggle to end it. It won't end all at once, or everywhere at once. But the interests that are running the War on Drugs cannot continue it without our support. We can end this war. (McDougall, S)
Why We Need to End the Failed War on Drugs
Retired Cincinnati Police Captain Howard Rahtz speaks to students at Ohio University on 4/20/2011 about his experience with the failed war on drugs.
Brought to you by the Ohio University Students for Liberty (meetings every Wednesday at 7:00 in Bentley 205).


Psychoactive drugs are those that affect mental functioning. They are found in every known culture, and human beings seem to take endless delight in finding ways to change their consciousness. Many psychoactive drugs can be dangerous, or even lethal, if wrongly used, and most cultures have a complex system of rituals, rules, and traditions that limit who can take which drugs, under what circumstances, and with what preparation. An exception is modern Western culture, where prohibition means that such natural protective systems cannot develop, and many of the most powerful psychoactive drugs are bought on the street and taken by young people without any such understanding or protection. - Susan Blackmore

Did you know America ranks the lowest in education but the highest in drug use?  It's nice to be number one, but we can fix that.  All we need to do is start the war on education.  If it's anywhere near as successful as our war on drugs, in no time we'll all be hooked on phonics. - Leighann Lord

Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society.  If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. - P.J. O'Rourke

Monday, May 2, 2011

The War On Drugs
What it is about, how/why it's failed, etc.“war-on-drugs”-is-a-“war-on-people”-by-darryl-bickler/