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11 August 2004

We have heard it time and again. The drugs are destroying our communities. Young lives full of promise are snuffed out by the scourge of drug addiction. Vicious gangs force our children into doing their dirty work,- selling drugs on street corners. Young girls are forced into prostitution to support their addiction. We have all seen pictures of cocaine babies. The pundits, the politicians, the executive officials have spoken and told us that this is a plague that must be destroyed. And if it takes a war to eradicate this plague,- so be it, we will fight the war on drugs and we shall prevail.

However, there are different ways to look at it. One perspective would be that some view some drugs considered illegal in the US perfectly safe and even useful. I once met a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who credits hashish with saving his life as, according to his description, this was a way to get rid of stress and get oneself together without the drunken stupor caused by alcohol. The medical use of marijuana is another area where the drug's positive effects are well documented. Cocaine makes one extra-alert; I suppose there are situations when that could come in handy,- to help an exhausted soldier or firefighter stay focused, for instance. Of course, for drugs to have a positive effect they must be used in moderation, but the same is true of pretty much everything. One needs to just walk the streets of pretty much any US city to see the results of our failure to know moderation when it comes to food consumption.

Another view of the situation is that the drug addicts are sick. They can no longer control their urges, thus they can not be held responsible in a court of law, nor can they be expected to avoid committing crimes if these crimes hold a promise of their next fix for them. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that demand (the addicts) brings supply (the drug dealers) onto the scene. Hence, according to this model, the solution ought to be registration and treatment for drug addicts, with the distribution for those who have not yet been weaned off their drug of choice.

Yet another view,- the one I favor the most,- is that drug use is a matter of personal choice. It should be completely decriminalized. It is officially considered a crime, while, so long as you merely consume drugs you harm no one but yourself. If you commit a crime, whether while intoxicated or not, it is this crime you ought to be prosecuted for. I favor that view. Yes, there are holes in it. Of course a drug addict does not merely harm himself as it is also his family, friends and the community that suffers. But the same is true of a person who eats unhealthy food, incurs heart trouble as a result and dies of a heart attack at a young age. Or of a person who becomes addicted to alcohol,- which is legal.

These views likely do not even begin to represent the whole spectrum. They should suffice to show, however, that the narrow view accepted by several consecutive US administrations is not the only way to look at the picture,- likely, not even the
correct way. But let us stop our lofty flight into theory and come back to the reality on the ground. And the picture there ain't pretty. The war on drugs is going apace. In his August 5, 2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article Walter Cronkite correctly characterizes this war as an utter failure and also correctly notes that,


Much of the nation, in one way or another, is victimized by this failure - including, most notably, the innocents, whose exposure to drugs is greater than ever.

He then goes on to elaborate on the scope of the war, the sheer numbers of those affected,- 500,000 behind bars exclusively for drug offenses. The article is also an excellent summary of how unfair the system is, with, among other things, the lowest-level offenders often getting the toughest sentences as they do not have infromation they could trade for a reduced sentence. As for what is in the works to change this reality, according to Cronkite,

The Alliance [Drug Policy Alliance] and other organizations are working to reform and reframe the war on drugs. And they are finding many judges on their side, who are rebelling against this cruel system. We can expect no federal action during the congressional hiatus in activity ahead of the November elections, but it would be of considerable help if, across the country, campaigning politicians put this high on their promises of legislative action, much sooner than later.

I think this may not be going far enough. We should not reframe the war on drugs,- we should stop it. Those who have commited drug-related violent crime should be prosecuted,- with the war on drugs stopped, murder is still going to be murder, racketeering is still going to be racketeering, and both will still remain crimes.

Boris Grebenshikov, one of Russia's leading rock musicians, wrote in one of his songs:

We have been fighting this war for 70 years,
They have taught us that life is combat,
But the new intelligence report just came in
And it turns out all this time we fought ourselves.

(Translated by me, on the fly)

Well, he said it. Let's just not allow the war on drugs to decimate our society for 70 years,- the roughly 20 years we've been fighting it is more than enough. Time to stop the madness.

Originally published here on 11 August 2004.

Minimally modified.

Originally posted to borepstein on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 08:05 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Oh My (none)
    You are going to turn a lot of hate loose on you.
    The drug war pushes a lot of peoples buttons and you will be accused of distracting us from the "real issues" as if a half million people in jail is trivial.
    I agree with you, but keep your head down, the backlash will be coming.
    •  Imo, (none)
      there seems to be more than sufficient interest the 'drug war' issue here at dKos for there to have been a number of recommended diaries on it in 2+ years I've been here. There was even an excellent series done by a former community member (who's abandoned the site due to ill-willed personal attack, unrelated to the issue).
  •  Thank you for your thoughtful post (4.00)
    This is an issue that continues to require attention, imo.

    The fact is that the 'war on drugs' is now almost 100 years old, if you place the year of inception (as I do) at 1914 & the passage of the Harrison Act, which was the initial crucial step in transferring addiction concerns from the medical sphere to the sphere of law enforcement.

    In almost a century it's possible to have created an entirely legal, exceptionally lucrative national industry based in drug addiction -- the existence of which assures that the farther into the 'drug war' we progress (to use the term very loosely) the less likely it is that the actual problems of drug addiction will be addressed at all on a societal level.

    Imho, the most pressing problems surrounding addiction have absolutely nothing to do with the effects of the drugs themselves, but on the detriments to individual health & liberty that current measures -- assuring the continued vitality of the black market -- impose on drug users who've simply chosen illegal means of addressing a basic human desire (a simple change of consciousness) as opposed to legal means.  

    I speak as one seriously addicted to opiates for 12 years & a drug user for 30.

  •  I suffer from chronic pain (4.00)
    In the last few years, the govt has used the DEA to shift their war to doctors who write too many scripts for pain meds.  It's a much easier job.  They just hit town, go to each pharmacy and pull up a sheet with certain drugs and count the numbers written by each doctor.  Once they hit every pharmacy, they raid the doctor's office and take all the patients records and bust the doctor.  It doesn't matter what the patients are being treated for, it's how many scripts the doctors write.  Good luck at getting your medical record back once the FEDS have it.  My town lost 5 doctors to this crusade.  I recently read an article that said most of the doctors caught up in this mess are cleared, but by then their reputation and practice is gone.

    Needless to say, trying to even find a pain mgmt. doctor to treat you is getting hard.  Doctors have to pay a fee every year so they can write scripts.  The money collected by the FED goes to the DEA to fight their war against doctors. So in a way, the money we pay for an office visit, is going to the govt. to go after doctors.

    I think it's time they take their war of drugs and shove it where the sun doesn't shine!

  •  The war on drugs is a war on people. (3.66)
    The United States government will take a wage earning father away from his family, regardless of the will of the people who are tired of having their hard earned money stolen from their paychecks and funneled towards law enforcement at the expense and sorrows of the masses.

    Ive smoked marijuana everyday for the past 7+ years. (im 22 now) I graduated high school early at 16 as the head of my class. Never missed a day of work or school due to 'being high'.  Im not on prozac, ridilin, or any other RX-crack. Though I cant possibly say what I wouldnt be without pot. I do credit it with not only possibly 'saving my life', but credit it with my deep interest in all things political. I dont drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use any 'real' drugs. I have tried them yes, but not because of any so called 'gateway' drug.  Now dont get me wrong, im not defending drugs. But in my view theres quite the difference between marijuana and a line of coke or a hit of speed, a tab of ecstasy or a dose of GHB. I think that speed, ice, meth, or whatever the hell you feel like calling it is one of the most horrible substances man has created. It destroys familes, relationships, friendships, and the very fabric of your mind. If there is a war on terror we should be fighting, it should be on meth. I personally know far more people affected by meth than by Saddam.

    Anyway, I've kinda lost the original point of this reply (its that damn reefer!) but basically what im saying is: The current war on drugs is a Fraud. What does putting a casual marijuana user in jail for 2 years do for him? For the system? Armed robbers get less time than someone who grows a plant in their garden for the sheer purpose of watching something lovely grow. There needs to be a war on drugs. But the right drugs.  There should also be a War On Overcrowded Prisons, a war on rights violations, a war on high fines for the people most unlikely to be able to pay them, and a War on Misinformation in general.

  •  I did a diary on ts a while back... (none)
    Specifically, pot. All the cokeheads I've known were fairly well off, and pretty evil bastards. Wanted to share the addiction, but hated it. Crackheads, the Ecstacy kids and speedfreaks I've met, even potheads and meth addicts, don't really understand the attraction to drugs like heroin, coke, and painkillers/scrips.

    The crackheads and meth addicts come closest, because of similar addiction patterns, but there seems to be less, how should I put this? Less intention, perhaps, on the part of these folks, the rural kids who operate labs in their basements, the kids who experiment with psychedelics and marijuana, the crack addicts in urban areas. They know it's bad. They are aware of how it can affect them and others. These people are always aware of and must constantly worry about a bust that could destroy their lives, their chances for financial aid (even for education, which aids in addict rehabilitation), for getting custody of children, for getting decent jobs. Basically, minor drug convictions limit any chance of raising oneself from the poverty/igmorance that usually caused the addiction in the first place.

    Coke tends to be a more elite drug. You can't maintain a coke habit on a Pell Grant, or working at a McDonald's, though some try. Rich cokeheads know they won't go to jail (and even if Daddy or uncle Jack can't get 'em off and bury the record, they serve less time than other drug offenders), witness Bush2. They know people. They have access. They have the moolah. A lot end up distributing, and they don't screw about with dime bags. We're talking veritable Fuckloads of drugs, people. Trucks. Cargo ships. Not even Keith Richards could do that many drugs. What do they do with it?

    Why, they grease palms. Money comes in many forms.  Those college students and waiters have to get it somewhere. So do the crackheads. But the wealthy would never deal with crack - too low class. So - coke goes to kids {coff - College Republicans}, who serve as middlemen, ditributing it in poorer neighborhoods.

    What is the result? Loyalty. The drug war has made a lot of people very wealthy and very influential, and a lot of other people very complacent, likely to consider all drugs from the same perspective. This is a mistake. Pot, psychedelics, needed painkillers - I have no problem. Hard drugs are dangerous, but punishing the victims is the wrong strategy. There is no ghetto strategy to buy coke from Guatemala. That comes from the upper class. We need to focus on the movers, and move them out.

    Non violent offenders clog our jails while violent criminals walk free, and those like Cheney destroy million of lives with impunity.

    Here's my diary

    Why do I believe this? In college, I had mind. Can I plead the fifth?

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