Conventional wisdom tells us "drugs" are responsible for increasing crime and that therefore the "war on drugs" should be stepped up even more to reduce it. Tragically, however, the causation at work is just the opposite. Most "drug related" crime is not related to the USE of drugs; it is related to the dangerous underground economy created by the war on drugs. The war on drags itself exacerbates property crime, for example, because the war inflates drug prices. For example, the selling price of $100.00 worth of cocaine "on the street" has only a real commodity value of $1.00.
Richard Miller's The Case for Legalizing Drugs (1993) marshalls evidence showing the federal drug policy, past and present, has functioned largely as a means to brand marginalized ethnic groups as deviant. Drugs merited little criminalization until certain non-mainstream ethnic groups began to use them.
The consequences for America's central cities, which serve as the hub of a vast underground economy should not be underestimated. Tens of thousands of our children are caught in the violent network of gangs financed by the drug-trade and hundreds of thousands find their streets and neighborhoods torn apart by drug trade related crime.
A key assumption of the drug war is that arrests and imprisonment will reduce drug use and crime. The evidence, however, does not support this assumption. In fact, incarceration by the legal system actually seems to increase involvement with drugs. According to Drugs and Crime Facts (1991), "more than half of the State prisoners who ever used a major drug e.g. heroin, methadone, cocaine, PCP or LSD reported that they had not done so until after their first arrest. Nearly 60% of those who had used a major drug regularly said such use began after their first arrest."
Countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, England and Italy have controlled both drugs and crime, whereas in the United States harshly punitive programs have increased the supply of both. "Italian voters approved multifaceted referendum rejecting drug prohibition policies on April 18, 1993. Criminal penalties for possession of any narcotic or psychotropic substances were abolished. Regulation forcing doctors to notify health authorities of the identity of individuals who use prohibited substances were repealed. Officials concluded that the harsh penal approach (similar to the one currently in force in the U.S.) had only increased the number of addicts and drug users in prison" (Drug Policy Action, June/July 1993).
While Washington's drug war is failing to reduce drug use as one in eight Americans used drugs in 1994 ("Drag war on losing path" USA Today, February 8, 1995) it is, as its name implies, stimulating violence. Prohibition of drugs encourages drug-economy related homicides. Excluded from legitimate peaceful options for dispute resolutions, those involved in the drug-economy often resort to old fashioned barbarism to settle their disputes.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of drug prohibition is that it has helped spread rather than retard the use of drugs by young people. Somebody should have reviewed the lesson of Prohibition: suppression of taste defined as vice inexorably drives up profits and increases the supply to meet the demand. The massive black market attraction of profit, aggravated because of drug prohibition, tempts otherwise law-abiding citizens, including young people, to engage in the supply and demand of drugs.
America needs to treat drug use as primarily a health and social problem, rather than a crime. Legalization would not be a step in to the unknown. In fact, drugs were legal before 1914 and the United States had fewer addicts per capita and NONE of the crime problems it has today. The government should focus its enforcement efforts on protecting minors, while restricting only adult drug use that directly endangers others.
Resistance to Washington's current drug control policy rests with the mistaken view that incarcerating drug users and traffickers is the most effective way to curb substance abuse. The fact remains, that over the past 15 years and presently, the criminal justice approach has produced an environment in which serious attempts to reduce drug use and abuse in the United States are thwarted, and the drug trade flourishes.
America needs to move away from a criminal justice approach to curbing drug abuse to one based on education, treatment and the elimination of the drug trade through decriminalization. Decriminalization of drugs does not connote approval of taking drugs nor does it condone the selling of drugs to youngsters. Rather, it means intelligently regulating drugs the way we do alcohol.
We must be realistic and discern the distinction between the occasional drug user (nearly 95% of those who experiment with drugs) and the drug abuser (plus or minus 5 %). "If you exclude tobacco, in the whole nation less than 10 percent of the adult population abuses substances; and this less than 10 percent of adults medical science identifies as the constant 'addictive personality' segment of the population. That is, 9 to 12 million adult Americans abuse substances. That figure includes alcohol, by the way, and the figure remains fairly constant. If one lives in poverty and frustration, and sees few rewards available to oneself, one is likelier than one's better-satisfied counterpart to seek the escape of drugs, although the higher rate of consumption does not result in a higher rate of addition.
"It is estimated that 21 million people tried cocaine in 1988. Yet, of those, only 3 million were using it (in 1990) and only a small percentage were addicted. We don' t have reliable data to tell us that crack creates a greater rate of addiction than, say, cocaine. My own guess is it doesn't. Remember that the drug acts on the same brain systems that cocaine and amphetamines do" (from Michael S. Gazzaniga, Professor of Neuroscience at Dartmouth Medical School, in Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do by Peter McWilliams: Prelude Press, 1993 at pages 543-551).
"Of the 77 million Americans who have tried drugs, 2.7 million are addicted; 2.1 million are hooked on cocaine. In 1994 alone, one in eight Americans (almost 1 out of 4 adults) used illicit drugs" (USA Today, "Drug war on losing path" February 8, 1995). The vast majority of these tens of millions of adults who are occasional users of drugs do so because they believe there is nothing inherently evil with drugs. These adults function well in society upholding their family and work-related responsibilities. These tens of millions of adults exercise self-control and will continue to use drugs occasionally regardless of whether the drugs are illegal or illicit.
Decriminalizing drugs would parent the collecting of billions in taxes from the existing occasional users, the savings of billions of dollars currently being squandered on law enforcement, prison construction and cost of incarceration for drug offenders ($0 billion alone was spent merely arresting 1,100,000 drug offenders in 1992 and billions more spent on prisons and incarceration expense of those imprisoned). As important, decriminalizing drugs would permit us to focus and assist the small percentage of people who are genuinely drug abusers by offering them both medical and spiritual education and treatment.
Medical professionals can and do treat addicts as patients, not as criminals, with far greater success and with far less damage to the rest of society than vanquishing these hapless souls in a brutal and expensive war.
The United States now leads the world by a substantial margin in the number of its people per capita who live in prisons and jails. We now have a prison/jail system of over 1,500,000 Americans incarcerated and over 4,000,000 citizens in some kind of penal setting. At this rate, by the year 2,000 one of every 99 adults will live in a cell at the tax payer's expense. In the federal system 65% are simple drug offenders.
As was previously mentioned, $40 billion was spent on arresting 1,000,000 drug offenders in 1992. In 1993 and 1994 the $40 billion figure increased each year as did the number of drug arrests. The vast majority of these men and women are nonviolent. Another deplorable fact is that almost 1 out of every 4 young black Americans is incarcerated or on probation due to drug related offenses. From a sociological point of view this is genocidal and it will have a devastating effect on the entire population for generations to come. It should be clear that the injury caused to people because of drug use is miniscule as compared with the injury caused to people and their families because of the current drug prohibition laws.
"Mandatory Minimum Sentencing" was enacted into legislation to be applied to drug offenders as an attempt to remove arbitrariness. What has been created is a system devoid of mercy and understanding. For the most part it has served only to maximize sentences.
For almost 15 years federal and state governments have spent $250 billion trying to control drugs with the bulk of the money going to law enforcement; yet drugs are more plentiful in 1995 than ever! With one in eight Americans (almost 1 out of 4 adults) using drugs in 1994, the Clinton administration refuses to change course as it proposes a record $14.6 billion federal drug fighting plan for 1996: again increasing law enforcement's share as the '96 proposal seeks 64% of the total, up from 63% in 1995. Is not the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results?
Decriminalize the drugs and we can reverse the approaching irreparable damage the current anti-drug program will ultimately impose on our society. Decriminalize the drugs and abolish the horrendously long sentences which so many hundreds of thousands of first and second time offenders (and their family members, several million more people) are now enduring. Their sentences of 10, 20, 30 years, even life without parole are so unfair as such deny these people and theft families an opportunity to put their lives back together again.
"Federal Judge Jack B. Weinstein has characterized the war on drugs as self-defeating. Judge Robert W. Sweet of Manhattan Federal court and Orange Country Superior Court Judge James P. Gray have publicly supported legalization. About fifty senior federal judges have refused to hear drug cases. Supporting the decriminalization of drugs most recently is Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General under Bill Clinton. Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, economist Milton Friedman also support decriminalization. Other prominent supporters include author William F. Buckley and former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara" (New York Post, December 8, 1993).…