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Drug war: An unhappy 40th birthday party

your brain on drugs.jpg
On June 17, 1971, President Richard Milhous Nixon announced that the United States of America would commits its vast resources to armed conflict against a hostile enemy known as "drugs." Yes, that's right. Next week, the War on Drugs officially turns forty years old, and it's showing every bit of its age, like a pot-bellied, balding Kmart clerk hooked on Big Macs.

Drug reform activists plan to hold rallies in fifteen states to mark the anniversary, including this one scheduled for Skyline Park (16th and Arapahoe) between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. That will be followed by a "Liberty on the Rocks" debate featuring folks from the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, the ACLU, the Independence Institute, the Drug Policy Alliance and others.

Four decades of bad policy can't be undone in a moment, of course. But it's also an occasion to reflect on some incremental reforms in drug sentencing laws over the past few years, locally and federally, even as the "war" itself continues to rage, and claim lives -- at home, in cartel-ravaged Mexico, and across the world. It's easy to forget that Nixon's original plan for ridding the nation of the scourge of drugs (heroin habits brought home by Vietnam vets were the focus in those days) put more emphasis on treatment than law enforcement, a sensible approach that hasn't been tried by any other president since Dick resigned.

What did we get instead? Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign and moral hysteria from the media over the crack "epidemic" and the death of college basketball star Len Bias; massive violence and corruption in Latin America -- and to some extent, in our own law enforcement community -- over the profits to be made supplying an eager public with its vices; more than 22 million Americans with some reported substance abuse problem; a justice system scrambling to feed its own $50-billion-a-year habit, which is roughly what's spent every year locking up folks for (primarily nonviolent) drug offenses; and a template for any other cause (the war on terror, the war for energy independence, etc.) that appears to have no clear goal other than the proliferation of government agencies and misery.

That's the condensed version. As the anniversary approaches, we'll no doubt hear plenty about the other legacies of this deadly war. For me, one moment stands out. Early in his presidency, George H. Bush tried to whip up interest in a further expansion of the drug war by holding up a baggie of crack in the Oval Office and explaining to the country that it was purchased in a park right across the street from the White House. In other words, the scourge had spread from the ghettos to nice parts of town and was hovering right on the president's doorstep.

It later turned out that drug cops had lured the dealer to the park to make the buy. It wasn't easy. When told where to make the delivery, the young man --an eighteen-year-old high school senior with no prior arrest record -- asked, "Where the fuck is the White House?"

Where indeed.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Prison frenzy and drug war a huge drag on economy, new report says."


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8 comments
Robert
Robert

The so-called "War on Drugs" is an ongoing civil War against Americans and their constitutional rights.  The Supreme Court of the United States itself consists mostly of enemies of the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution.  The $50 billion annual cost you cite does not account the indirect costs to our society of incarceration.  Many prisoners' conduct did not harm society, and their imprisonment represents lost productivity.  As the "land of the free" has made itself the world leader in criminalizing its own people, more of our resources and attention have gone towards this enterprise, and we freely permit corporations to usurp the State's prerogative to imprison -- the labor of generations of police and prison guards and now corporate machination represent an even greater waste, because it is all paid for by the public and represents the misdirection of our entire society.

matt in boulder
matt in boulder

It later turned out that drug cops had lured the dealer to the park to make the buy. It wasn't easy. When told where to make the delivery, the young man --an eighteen-year-old high school senior with no prior arrest record -- asked, "Where the fuck is the White House?"

That part of the article pretty well sums up the War on Drugs.  Cops used as pawns to smack-down citizens for political gain.  And then, of course, some of the cops find they really like the blank check on human rights abuse and blow the shit out of otherwise law abiding citizens.  The people who stand to win in this war are the politicians, the "corrections" industry (AKA Prison Industrial Complex) and corrupt cops. 

Take a look at this chart and tell me who could possibly see something positive there (besides politicians and prison industry).http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi...

Pam
Pam

The Skyline Rally will be great!  Please come by and sign the banner and the petition to send to our elected leaders in Washington!

Earl
Earl

wheres the white house? ha maybe America should spend less money on the war on drugs and spend more money on education.

bradydave76
bradydave76

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Brandt Hardin
Brandt Hardin

The War on Drugs failed Billions of dollars ago!  This money could have been used for outreachprograms to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing,free rehab, and clean needles.  Harmlessdrugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy.  Cannabis can provide hemp for countlessnatural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every statein our country out of the red!  VoteTeapot, PASS IT, and legalize it.  Voiceyou opinion with the movement and check out my pro-cannabis art at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot...  

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