The following is a synopsis of a conversation Jack and I had on “The War on Drugs” declared during the Nixon Administration, and expanded to Draconian measures during the Reagan administration.
Jon, “I agree with you that the War on Drugs has been, not only a failure, but has had cruel, unintended consequences of creating a generation of youths who have to live with the stigma of a criminal record, and all of its ramifications, simply because addiction was not recognized as an illness, by the government, and the politicians who used the fear of it to get elected . However, I don’t agree with what many of the European countries have done, not their decriminalization of drug use, but that they are providing the addict with a regulated supply of drugs.”
Jack, “I’ve seen so many of my friends suffer the ravages of drug addiction, simply because they couldn’t get help, and I have seen quite a few die from it, it seems like there are more dying now than in the past. And yes most of them have criminal records because of their addiction. Their arrests are almost one hundred percent related to getting drugs, either from possession, dealing, theft, or selling themselves.
When they get out of jail, they either can’t find a job because of their record, or they relapse because they still can’t get help. This will be their life if things don’t change.”
Jon, “There is help out there if they want it. If their parents have insurance they can go into rehab, and if there is no financial help available, there are places, both private and public that offer rehab. You’ve heard that old saying, you have to hit bottom before you’ll seek help.”
Jack, “That’s so much bull. Yes if you feel so helpless and hopeless with your addiction, you may seek help, if you don’t overdose first. Is that how you see an addict, happily enjoying getting high day and night, then finally hitting bottom, as you call it, and then looking for help. Addicts are screaming for help twenty-four hours a day. It’s paradoxically their addiction that keeps them from getting help. They are sick and they need to be recognized as being sick. By the time they hit you’re so called bottom, most of them have criminal records, and related health problems.”
Jon, “Okay, there are some things that we agree on, decriminalize drugs, its already been classified as a illness by the medical profession so we need to provide universal help for addicts, and don’t make their records of addiction available.”
Jack, “That’s a start, but how will a program like that ever be instituted? Everything is political, Democrats will say yes, Republicans will say no, and all during their impasse more addicts are born every day to support America’s standing as having the World’s largest prison population. And there is one huge question that we did not address, how do you deal with the dealers and the smugglers of drugs from all over the world who keep the drugs coming to us?
Jon, “We know the problem, we have some of some of the solutions, but it appears as long as this is a political issue rather than a health issue, the status quo will remain.
Jack, “How sad, it’s such a huge human problem.”
Jon, “I did look up some data on the so called War on Drugs. Without going into a substantive history, here are some statistics.
The first laws governing drugs were in 1860, and they were local. The first federal law was the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which restricted the distribution and use of certain drugs. From there to the present the federal government has enacted many laws governing drugs, and created many agencies to enact those laws, culminating in the creation The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), commonly known as the Drug Czar. President Clinton raised it to cabinet status in 1993.
President Reagan escalated the drug war with the passage of stronger penalties and mandatory sentencing in both federal and state legislatures. As a result, the number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 in 1997. In 2008 the Washington Post reported that of 1.5 million Americans arrested each year for drug offenses, half a million would be incarcerated. In addition one in five black Americans would spend time behind bars due to drug laws. We are not talking about a few thousand people. As the years go by, the number of Americans whose lives have been marginalized is growing into the tens of millions.
Here is a true indictment of America’s war on drugs. A world Health Organization study found that the U.S. had the highest lifetime drug use rates, by a wide margin, despite its punitive policies – concluding that criminalization has little, or no effects on rates of use.
Those countries that have addressed their the drug problem through decriminalization and treatment, have much better out comes than us. The Portuguese model of decriminalization, treatment and harm reduction services has resulted in a reduction of drug related problems. The British Journal of Criminology wrote in 2010, “The Portuguese evidence suggest that combining the removal of criminal penalties with the use of alternative therapeutic responses to dependent drug users… can reduce the burden of drug law enforcement on the criminal justice system, while also reducing problematic drug use… (and) may offer a model for other nations that wish to provide less punitive, more integrated and effective responses to drug use.”
There is some progress being made here, at the local and the state levels. Seattle has a program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, LEAD that aims to bypass the criminal system entirely. Instead of arresting and booking people for certain drug violations, police in two Seattle neighborhoods, immediately direct them to drug treatment, or other supportive services. A step in the right direction, but needs funding. Also seventeen states have reduced , or eliminated criminal penalties for personal marijuana possession. However, the life of the real addict is being severely compromised by this attention to marijuana, and not addiction to the drugs that kill and destroy our young people.
Jack, “That’s great, but it still boils down to politics. Who has the courage to risk possible political suicide for millions of drug addicts, none of which has the where with all to contribute to a political campaign.