Drug policy reform

Drug policy reform

By Allen Penticoff

Drug policy reform

Our new president, George W. Bush, is promising some tax cuts. I have a suggestion to aid his goal: Do away with the “War on Drugs.”

Here is why I support this radical change in public policy. First of all, it is an extremely expensive public program. Last year, on the federal level alone, $19 billion dollars of our money was spent on the “War on Drugs.” The “war” includes treatment and prevention of illicit drug use; but the lion’s share of this money has gone to the DEA, police and military for enforcement, and to foreign countries as subsidies for their military to support our futile efforts to inhibit the influx of drugs to this country. This $19 billion is part of the 300 billion spent since the early 1980s, when President Reagan first declared “war” on drugs. Sadly, this sum is not the full extent of our spending spree on this social ill—local law enforcement, court costs, prosecution expense, incarceration, parole, probation and welfare costs are a further drain on all our wallets. So, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll guess that another $19 billion was spent last year. Most reports indicate much more is spent. That is $152 for every man, woman and child in this country. Obviously, not everyone is paying their “share,” so you get to pay for them.

Secondly, what do we get for our money? Pretty much nothing. We have not slowed the consumption of illicit drugs in this country one bit. Drug quality and availability is up, and the price is down—the exact opposite of what the government said would be the result of taking on drugs in a war. Since using up our money was not effective enough, the drug warriors have asked that we give up several of our rights as citizens of this country to combat the supposed “epidemic.” First to go was the right to be protected against unreasonable search. We gave police and federal/military the right to wiretap or to bust down our doors for no more reason than suspicion. Road blocks—so-called “safety checks”—take place when nothing else will do, and if that doesn’t smell of Stalinism—then M & Ms aren’t chocolate! This leniency for the enforcers has led to a new wave of racism in the form of “racial profiling.” Non-white skin color is the only requirement for suspicion of possessing or selling drugs, despite the fact that most illicit drug users are white.

Seizure is a new tool for the enforcers. Gone is the need to prove any wrongdoing to take away one’s property. You do not even have to be charged with a crime for them to come and take your house, car or life. As Dave Barry says—”I’m not making this up.”

What else do we get for this expense and sacrifice? We get corrupted governments and police forces here and abroad. We get foreign military massacres of their own people with our bombs and equipment. We force dirt-poor farmers and their families into a life of crime on one hand, and destitution on the other. We get our own prisons stuffed with non-violent offenders. We get a criminal justice system that has no leeway for judges and prosecutors to make value-based decisions. We get violence and crime in our inner cities from drug turf wars and property crime to support expensive addictions. We get families torn apart and taxpayers sent to jail—now we are providing for them instead of them helping us bear our tax burden. Sick people cannot get drugs needed to relieve their suffering, and we have created a huge underground industry that thrives untaxed and unregulated—free-market capitalism in its purest form.

The drug war cannot be won through direct federal, state or local intervention. We are competing with a huge innate demand for lifestyle products, backed by a supply system whose profits are greater than the entire U.S. defense budget. The illicit drug supply network can afford to do whatever they need to in order to stay in their highly profitable business. Their money talks! The drug barons fear only legalization and the cheap competition that would eliminate their vast income.

The list of bad side effects from the “War on Drugs” is much longer than I have space to list, so now is the time to revisit my original proposal. This “war” effort is exceedingly expensive—especially in light of the poor results. By abandoning prohibition, and the expensive efforts to further restrict drug supplies and punish the users, we could quickly lower income and property taxes. Tax revenue could be generated through regulated drug sales; this money could be used on treatment and prevention. Let those with the habit pay for the cure.

Eighty years of prohibition has been proven unsuccessful. In this new millennium, the time has arrived for finding a new approach to solving the problem of substance abuse in the United States.

Note: A public forum sponsored by Rockford Urban Ministries will be held as part of the weekly Coffee Talk series at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Three panelists, Ana Donaldson, interim director of Harm Reduction Outreach; David Weissbard, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church; and Mark Karner, assistant state’s attorney, will discuss the issues of the drug war.

Allen Penticoff is an aircraft insurance adjuster living in the Rockford area. He is a member of the Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform.

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