Observations on the Absolute Failure of the Drug War

As young person attending high school I was shocked to learn that President Ronald Reagan agreed to an ordinance that would allow the seizure of property if illegal drugs were found there. I remember hearing about a man who had his boat seized somewhere in the USA, when all he had on his vessel was Cannabis cigarette butt.

This seemed to me to be “unusual” punishment, if not “cruel,” and did not seem in accordance with the Bill of Rights as I was taught it in public school. Quite simply, I could not understand why the government was taking such Draconian measures against people, most of whom were simply engaging in their pursuit of happiness and not hurting a soul. (OK, a stoned boater may be a less-than-pristine boater, but he’s less dangerous than a drunken boater.)

Still, others point to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s mandatory minimum sentences of the 1970s for non-violent drug offenders as being the worst of the programs, but some of the punishments in the South have been pretty severe, too.

The Drug War goes back to the mid-teens, early 1920s. Before that, people were free to do as they pleased with their own bodies insofar as substances were concerned.

President Reagan’s scheme was supposed to be about reversing “libertine” trends started in the late ’50s. It was to reduce the number of drug users and protect children from exposure to drugs. Few of us would disagree with these aims, and I do not disagree, but the manner in which the government continued its pursuit of these ends has been at times pernicious.

I am not so well informed about the current levels of drug use in this country. How can one be? I look at the numbers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and I get confused. Besides, there is apparently no long-term study of use-trends to be found anywhere on the site. Is drug use up or down overall? If someone can point to a long-term study at NIDA, then please do so.

Looking at NIDA’s Web site, it seems that the government’s is not interested at all as to where we’ve been with this, or how things have changed over the past 20 or so years. NIDA focuses only on the “now,” perhaps the last year or two, with no regard to long-term patterns or consequences apparently. Sound familiar?

Somewhere on NIDA I read news that Cannabis use was down among teens in 2004, and this was seen as good news, but it seems that more young people are now resorting to painkillers such as Oxycontin and inhalants, substances that are quite dangerous. What good news?

According a report from the University of St. Louis called USA Drug Policy History, the “federal anti-drug budget increase(d) ten fold ($1.5 billion in 1989–$18.5 billion in 2000),” under President Clinton. Hmm. OK … What’s the upshot? More jobs for certain people and overtime … to what ends? Would America have been better served if some of this budgetary largesse had gone to anti-terrorism services?

Ignore it and it will go away?
I was last told that in the USA regular Cannabis users numbered about 20 million. This was about 10 years ago and the source knew his subject matter. NIDA’s most recent figure shown on this table here indicates that there were about 25.75 million Cannabis smokers in 2002 and 25.23 million in 2003. With all of the Clinton administration’s spending, why are there five million more Cannabis smokers in the USA now?

Should we incarcerate these 25 million people? (Former Drug Czar [aka Caesar] Bill Bennett once said we have prison space for all of them.) Or should we just eliminate this underground market that has caused so much suffering and ruined so many lives?

I vote for the latter. Cannabis should be regulated and sold at liquor stores with similar (and perhaps even more extensive) rules as those that apply to alcohol use. Few people will choose to grow it and those that do will have to do so with regulations. (How many people do you know that make their own beer, when they can spend a few bucks for a six-pack. Would people really go to all the trouble to grow this stuff if it were available at a reasonable price and in a quality condition? The answer is clearly no, for the most part.) Grown in the USA, creating jobs for citizens, raising tax revenues, and redirecting law enforcement resources away from Cannabis and towards those most pressing issues — I would hope some of our leaders would at least consider this concept.

(I had earlier said that medical Cannabis was the only issue and casual use must take a back seat, but how else to end the underground market than to legalize, tax it for revenue and make this reasonable for all? So I take back what I said earlier about this.)

Still, more important is the medical issue, which the current administration seems to continue to ignore, at least publicly. Some cancer, AIDS and glaucoma sufferers have realized the benefits of Cannabis and have found ways to obtain it to relieve their suffering. Federal officials have cracked down on certain individuals who by all appearances just seemed to be doing their jobs under local laws, but federal law trumps state law and some individuals have been arrested.

A subject close to my heart, cannabis for those suffering from multiple sclerosis, appeared on the BBC’s Web site: Cannabis study encouraging for MS. Encouraging? To me it’s great news.

I have seen a number of studies in the past that indicate the medicinal benefits of Cannabis, only to see them ignored by the federal government and the FDA. I hope that as the whole truth emerges we may see changes on our government’s attitude toward this therapeutic substance.

The truth is not going away.

Stop Funding Terror
I found the following quote from the Future of Freedom Foundation interesting:

“Moreover, there exists no evidence that sales from the illicit cultivation and use of marijuana — far and away Americans’ illegal drug of choice – have ever been used to fund international terror campaigns. Much of the pot consumed by Americans is grown domestically, and that which is imported comes primarily from Mexico, Jamaica, and Canada — none of which is a known hotbed for international terror organizations.” Paul Armentano, a Senior Policy Analyst for NORML

One may find in most inner cities in the USA heroin and cocaine aplenty, and drug use in the suburbs is no less a problem. My hat’s off to those law enforcement officers’ efforts to stop the heroin and cocaine trade. These drugs, unlike Cannabis, can be deadly in large enough doses. I admire those law enforcement officers for trying in good faith.

A press release from the Canadian Institute of Health Research has announced “North America’s first clinical trial of prescribed heroin for people with chronic heroin addiction who have not been helped by available treatment options.” It’s similar to the European models. I wish our friends up North the best of luck.

According to a UPI report the opium crop in Afghanistan was 19 times larger in 2002 than it was in 2001. And I read in another report that the 2003 crop was twice as big as that of 2002. A USA Today article further underlines the problem in Afghanistan.

This must mean there’s a huge supply of heroin out there. Which means some of it is likely to end up here in the states. (I don’t know this for sure, but it would seem likely.)

I’ve never tried it but, to my knowledge, heroin has never been difficult to obtain here if you live close to one its distribution centers. That goes without saying. In my opinion it’s a horrible addiction, which is a disease, and requires serious medical, therapeutic (and spiritual) treatment to get over it.

In general, the heroin addict with the bottomless supply of the substance would commit crimes no more than any other person (although he or she might overdose). It’s the active heroin or cocaine addict without money or a source that can be a danger to others.

The trends of use in the USA, according to NIDA, are neither encouraging nor discouraging, unless you see no change as discouraging. There has been practically no statistical change in levels of use in recent years. Hmm.

Still, while Cannabis in no way funds terrorism, we know for sure that many opium crops do. The question is: How do we deny all funding to these groups that raise money for terrorists by selling heroin?

Cocaine supports such terrorists groups as the Shining Path in South America. How do we make sure our citizenry in no way funds such a group?

My radical suggestion is to grow our own cocaine and opium and basically give it away to addicts. It’s almost as simple as that (but of course, there would need to be strict regulations). If an addict has a choice to go to the “street” or go to a friendly nearby healthcare facility, then he or she will likely choose the latter. There is often something deep down within a person, I believe, that does not want to live with a disease but would seek good help were it available.

A Dutch Central Committee on the Treatment of Heroin Addicts (CCBH) has produced a number of studies regarding this issue and how to handle it. Although the studies seem timid when it comes to its conclusions, the message seems to be that state-sponsored programs for heroin addicts can be effective.

I’m not quite sure about what should be done about the cocaine issue, except that I believe we have doctors and scientists smart enough to come up with workable treatment plans.

The Question of Chaos
Of course, we’re in the middle of yet another war and, according to some Americans, it is just as important as World War II. My concern about a nuke hitting NYC or some other wonderful American place makes it real enough to me.

Many of you out there might think that I am just creating chaos here. Well, that is certainly not my intent. I hate it that heroin and cocaine are sold on the streets in this country and on those streets of our allies and friends. I hate it that it funds terrorist groups.

I wish heroin and cocaine had never escaped “the doctor’s office” in America. But that’s pretty much what the prohibition of the mid-teens to early 1920s and the underground market did. People in pain had to go elsewhere for relief (and to quell their addictions) and, soon enough, the underground market grew. Money was to be made in this sordid business, the “pusher” emerged, and it has never stopped. A new class of criminals, “the drug dealer” and “the drug addict,” was invented (and some of them eventually did commit real horrible crime to satisfy their addictions or, in the case of dealers, their greed).

Would there be more drug addicts and chaos if the criminality were removed? If yes, then why? Cigarette smoking, which some have claimed is more addictive than heroin, has declined here without the law pounding hard on the tobacco industry or so hard on the tobacco smoker. Why would these other substances become out of control under a reasonable and sensible plan?

I think we’d see less chaos and crime, especially in the long term. By wiping out the underground market, we’d be wiping out all the crime that goes with it. Most importantly, there would be no more of this underground business in the schools because the underground marketers would no longer be in business.

A person should be arrested if he or she commits a crime, no matter what substance said person is on or how addicted they are. No excuses. But so long as the addict does no harm to others, it would be best to leave them to their vice (or encourage them to seek treatment in a benign way).

So for all the efforts of our federal government, there has been no improvement because of the Drug War, in terms of lessening the rate of drug use or saving life. Would we have more drug addicts if this issue were to be handled in a humane, ethical way? My educated opinion is, No. If the country were to have its collective hearts set on a reasonable and humane policy, then good things would happen.

Our current administration would seem to have no plan to change the course of the Drug War. I hope for the sake of effective governance, that this administration would see the importance of prioritizing our nation’s problems and come to understand that there is a better, more ethical way.

At least I hope the American citizenry will demand change in drug policy for the sake of its own health. Society should be better educated about the nature of all of these substances, so they may know the difference. I pray that Americans will work towards something good when it comes to this issue and not repeat so many past mistakes.

President Reagan’s scheme was supposed to be about reversing “libertine” trends started in the late ’50s. It was to reduce the number of drug users and protect children from exposure to drugs. This was the time when the rehabs mushroomed in the country, just like now you would see Detox Atlanta and similar facilities. Few of us would disagree with these aims, and I do not disagree, but the manner in which the government continued its pursuit of these ends has been at times pernicious.

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