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Rethinking the Futile War On Drugs
by
John McAlister
Candidate US Senate
Columbus, OH

Bobbie is the 29 year old brother of Paula Dunn, a lovely and talented singer of contemporary Christian music. I recently heard her tell a woeful story of how Bobbie was incarcerated recently with rapists, murderers, and other violent criminals. Had he committed a crime against anyone's life, liberty or property? Had he killed, raped, or stolen money? No. His crime? He was caught with the possession of cocaine. Had he done any harm to anyone other than, possibly, himself?

Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico is a man who is level headed and a person who doesn't mince words. He said, "I believe that our war on drugs has been a dismal failure." He spoke at a Taos Chamber of Commerce meeting. "We are putting more and more money into a war that we are absolutely losing."

More and more money? How much?

During the Reagan years we spent about $22 billion on drug enforcement and $45 billion under the Bush administration. We're currently spending over $18 billion per year just at the federal level and States and local communities spend even more. These futile efforts to enforce prohibition have been pursued during the last 20 years more vigorously and longer than alcohol prohibition was during the 1920's.

What good has it all done? Arrests are up. In a September 29, 1999 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, David Boaz reported that "there are about 400,000 drug offenders in jails and prisons now, and over 80 percent of the increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions. Drug offenders are about 60 percent of all federal prisoners, compared to only 12.4 percent for violent offenses.

A total of 3,470,545 Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges during the Clinton/Gore administration alone! October 21, 1999 it was reported that the number of marijuana related arrests dropped slightly in 1998 to 682,885, from 1997's record high of 695,200, according to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report released Oct 17, 1999. Eighty-eight percent of those arrests were for possession.

Forty-four percent of all drug arrests nationwide were for marijuana, and one out of every 25 criminal arrests in the U.S. were for marijuana possession.

"The war on drugs is increasingly focused on seeking out and prosecuting otherwise law-abiding citizens who smoke marijuana," said Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director. "It represents a gross misapplication of law enforcement resources that should be spent on serious and violent crime."

Have all the arrests helped?

The arrests and incarcerations haven't stopped the use and abuse of drugs, or the drug trade, or the crime associated with the black market transactions. Cocaine and heroin supplies are up. Young people in high schools in 1995 said that they found marijuana "fairly easy" to "very easy" to obtain. Roughly half said they had tried an illegal drug before they graduated from high school.

It's time to stop the war on drugs.

Thoughtful people are saying it's time to rethink our anti-drug efforts. People such as Kurt Schmoke, the Democratic mayor of Baltimore, to George Shultz, who was Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, to Jesse Ventura, Gov. of MN have all called for the decriminalization of drugs.

I would like to call it the relegalization of drugs. Why did we need an Amendment to the Constitution to prohibit alcohol and yet the War On Drugs was declared with the stroke of a president's pen?

As David Boaz, Ececutive Vice president of the Cato Institute has so aptly put it. "Congress should deal with drug prohibition the way it dealt with alcohol prohibition. The 21st Amendment did not actually legalize the sale of alcohol; it simply repealed the federal prohibition and returned to the states the authority to set alcohol policy. States took the opportunity to design diverse liquor policies in tune with the preferences of their citizens. Congress should withdraw from the war on drugs and let the states set their own policies, just as they already do for alcohol. For their part, the states should prohibit drug sales to children, just as alcohol sales to children are prohibited today. Driving under the influence of drugs should be illegal. But beyond such obvious restrictions, states should be free to set the drug policies that make sense to them up to and including sales to adults by licensed stores, much as alcohol is sold today. Federal withdrawal from the drug war would restore authority to the states, as the Founders envisioned. It would save taxpayers' money. And over time it would allow us to develop an approach to drug use that abandons prohibition and massive incarceration in favor of a common sense system in which the propensity of some people to use drugs is accepted and dealt with sensibly."

Conclusion

The fact that we let politicians and bureaucrats run and ruin other people's lives when they have done nothing that causes harm to no one, other than themselves, is a corruption of the ideals of America and our system of justice.

As is pointed out in the Handbook for Congress,drug abuse is a problem, for those involved in it and for their families and friends. But it is better dealt with as a moral, spiritual and medical problem rather than as a criminal problem.

The United States is a federal republic, and Congress should deal with drug prohibition the way it dealt with alcohol prohibition. The Twenty-First Amendment did not actually legalize the sale of alcohol; it simply repealed the federal prohibition and returned to the several states the authority to set alcohol policy. States took the opportunity to design diverse liquor policies that were in tune with the preferences of their citizens. After 1933 three states and hundreds of counties continued to practice prohibition. Other states chose various forms of alcohol legalization.

Congress should repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, shut down the Drug Enforcement Administration, and let states set their own policies with regard to currently illegal drugs.

I hope I will see the day sometime in the next six years where people like Bobbie who have an addiction problem will never be put in prison for "posession" a "crime" of non-violence that never threatened any other person's life, property or liberty.

(See War On Drugs weblinks)