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July 24, 2004 - The Daily News (GA)

Winning The War On Drugs

By Danny Hanemann, photographer and a regular columnist for The Daily News

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Seems To Me...

In case anybody hasn't noticed yet, we're losing the war on drugs. Despite every governmental effort, the problem is only getting worse. The policies of the last eight administrations have relied on three basic strategies to create a drug-free America: interdiction, education, and incarceration. All told, these efforts cost the U.S. taxpayer over $400 billion per year.

Consider interdiction. Drug production constitutes the primary source of exports for several South American countries. Arguably, the economies of both Colombia and Bolivia would collapse without the drug trade. No economic incentive the U.S. can offer is going to persuade these nations to abandon production. In the Middle East the Afghan people have already resumed the planting of poppies, even as American forces occupy the country.

According to U.S. government reports, the drug enforcement agencies have never been able to interdict more than one percent of the total worldwide crop. Our borders are so porous that we can't stop people from entering illegally; much less countermand the influx of drugs. After completing a major study, the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that no amount of money would improve interdiction of drugs at our borders. Interdiction has proven to be a costly and dismal failure.

Regarding education, there is no substantive evidence that anti-drug education programs work on a permanent basis. Programs such as D.A.R.E. or Partnership for a Drug Free America offer limited but temporary diversion but, as youngsters grow older, peer pressure and the lure of quick money supplant the lessons they attempt to teach. Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' crusade had as much chance of success as programs advocating sexual abstinence. One only needs to look at the rising rate of drug use to dismiss the efficacy of these and like programs.

What about incarceration? According to a 2001 report by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Department of Correctional Services, the United States leads the world in locking up its citizens.

  • U.S.A....2,078,570
  • China....1,549,000
  • Russia...846,967
  • India.....313,635

Violent crime accounts for 49% of inmates sentenced. Property crime accounts for 19%. Drugs account for 20 %. Public disorder accounts for 11 %. No doubt, many, if not most of the violence and property crimes may be also be attributed to the illegal drug trade. Watch the local news broadcasts out of New Orleans and that fact will quickly become apparent to even the casual observer.

Mandatory sentencing, longer sentences and the construction of new prisons have resulted in a slight drop in the crime rate but every time a dealer is removed from the street, another quickly replaces him.

A parallel can be drawn with the 'Noble Experiment' of the prohibition era. The outlawing of alcohol created an organized crime syndicate of national proportions and, overnight, made criminals of hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

How deadly is the substance abuse epidemic? Here are some interesting statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse regarding the death rate attributable to various drugs in an average year.

  • Tobacco kills about 390,000.
  • Alcohol kills about 80,000.
  • Second hand smoke kills about 50,000.
  • Cocaine kills about 2,200.
  • Heroin kills about 2,000.
  • Aspirin kills about 2,000.
  • Marijuana kills 0. There has never beer a recorded death due to marijuana at any time in U.S. history.

All illegal drugs combined kill about 4,500 people per year, or about one percent of the number killed by alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco kills more people each year than all of the people killed by all of the illegal drugs in the last century.

So what's the solution? Legalization. By legalizing drugs the government can control the distribution and standardize dosages, thus preventing overdose deaths. The $400 billion now wasted on the war on drugs would easily fund clinics to distribute these drugs and to offer withdrawal programs for those who wish to break their habit.

Additionally, by eliminating the profit motive from the illegal sale of drugs, street crimes, including burglary, robbery and murder would plummet. Addicts would not have to steal to supply their habits and drug lord turf wars would end, just as they ended at the repeal of prohibition. Prison populations would also decline as non-violent offenders are released.

Currently, it is easier for a teenager to buy marijuana than to buy beer or tobacco. By selling marijuana through drug stores, teenagers would lose access to the drug and high taxes on the product would add to government coffers instead of draining them.

Finally, the Middle Eastern and South American nations, and the terrorist groups they fund would lose a vital source of income. Production of the attendant crops would shift to the American farmer and benefit that segment of the economy.

Unfortunately there's not a single politician on the 'Hill' with the guts to propose such legislation, so the war will go on and we will continue to lose.

'We have met the enemy and he is us.' - Pogo

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