Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Truth About The War On Drugs has two interesting pieces on the drug issue in America, first, "Retired Judge Reveals the Surprising Rationale for America's Extremist Drug Laws" by Frederic Block, and the second, by Tony Newman, "10 Ways the Drug War Is Causing Massive Collateral Damage to Our Society.  Both should be read to understand how the extreme drug laws started - and how they damage the country.

From Block's essay:

"From 1875 to the present, our country has been hell bent on prohibiton.

What follows is an excerpt from "Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge" (Thomson Reuters Westlaw 2012), a book where the author tries to explain life on the bench and the unknown parts of our legal system.

"The first anti-drug law in our country was a local law in San Francisco passed in 1875. It outlawed the smoking of opium and was directed at the Chinese because opium smoking was a peculiarly Chinese habit. It was believed that Chinese men were luring white women to have sex in opium dens. In 1909 Congress made opium smoking a federal offense by enacting the Anti-Opium Act. It reinforced Chinese racism by carving out an exception for drinking and injecting tinctures of opiates that were popular among whites.

"Cocaine regulations also were triggered by racial prejudice. Cocaine use was associated with blacks just as opium use was associated with the Chinese. Newspaper articles bore racially charged headlines linking cocaine with violent, anti-social behavior by blacks. A 1914 New York Timesarticle proclaimed: "Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' Are a New Southern Menace: Murder and Insanity Increasing Among Lower Class Blacks Because They Have Taken to 'Sniffing.'" A Literary Digest article from the same year claimed that "most of the attacks upon women in the South are the direct result of the cocaine-crazed Negro brain." It comes as no surprise that 1914 was also the year Congress passed the Harrison Tax Act, effectively outlawing opium and cocaine.

"Marijuana prohibition also had racist underpinnings. This time it was the Mexicans. Just as cocaine was associated with black violence and irrational behavior, in the southwest border towns marijuana was viewed -- beginning in the early 1920s -- as a cause of Mexican lawlessness. A Texas police captain suggested that marijuana gave Mexicans superhuman strength to commit acts of violence:

"Under marijuana Mexicans [become] very violent, especially when they become angry and will attack an officer even if a gun is drawn on him. They seem to have no fear. I have also noted that under the influence of this weed they have enormous strength and it will take several men to handle one man while, under ordinary circumstances, one man could handle him with ease.

"The American Coalition -- an anti-immigrant group -- claimed as recently as 1980: 'Marihuana, perhaps now the most insidious of narcotics, is a direct byproduct of unrestricted Mexican immigration.'

"The racial fallout from our drug laws has persevered. In her article, The Discrimination Inherent in America's Drug War, Kathleen R. Sandy reported in 2003 that black Americans then constituted approximately 12 percent of our country's population and 13 percent of drug users. Nevertheless, they accounted for 33 percent of all drug-related arrests, 62 percent of drug-related convictions and 70 percent of drug-related incarcerations."

(For more, read on --> the last paragraph is a great lead-in for the second article, "The 10 Ways the Drug War Is Causing Massive Collateral Damage to Our Society":

"From racial injustice to flawed foreign policy, the war on drugs causes harm on many fronts.

"The war on drugs is America’s longest war. It has been 40-plus years since Nixon launched our modern “war on drugs” and yet drugs are as plentiful as ever. While the idea that we can have a “drug-free society” is laughable, the disastrous consequences of our drug war are dead serious. While it might not be obvious, the war on drugs touches and destroys so many of the issues we care about and the values we hold. Below are 10 collateral consequences of the drug war and reasons we need to find an exit strategy from this unwinnable war.

"1. Racial Injustice

"The war on drugs is built on racial injustice. Despite roughly equal rates of drug use and sales, African-American men are arrested at 13 times the rate of white men on drug charges in the U.S. -- with rates of up to 57 times in some states. African Americans and Latinos together make up 29 percent of the total U.S. population, but more than 75 percent of drug law violators in state and federal prisons.

"2. Denied Access to Education, Housing and Benefits

"Passed by Congress in 1998, the Higher Education Act delays or denies federal financial aid to anyone ever convicted of a felony or misdemeanor drug offense, including marijuana possession. A drug offense will also get you and your entire family kicked out of public housing. Thirty-two states ban anyone convicted of a drug felony from collecting food stamps.

"3. Wasted Taxpayer Dollars

U.S. federal, state, and local governments now spend $50 billion per year trying to make America 'drug free.' State prison budgets top spending on public colleges and universities. The prison industrial complex is ever more powerful. Nevertheless, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other illicit drugs are cheaper, purer and easier to get than ever before.
"4. Unsafe Neighborhoods

"Most 'drug-related' violence stems not from drug use, but from drug prohibition. That was true in Chicago under alcohol kingpin Al Capone and it is true now. The mass killings in Mexico and in many U.S. cities are not from marijuana or other drug use, but because the plants are worth more than gold and people are willing to kill each other over the profits to be made.

"5. Shredded Constitutional Rights

"Armed with paramilitary gear, police break into homes unannounced, terrorizing innocent and guilty alike. Prosecutors seize private property without due process. Citizens convicted of felony offenses lose their right to vote, in some states for life. More and more Americans are subject to urine tests without cause. And the list goes on.

"6. Bloodbath in Latin America

"U.S. drug policies in Latin America have failed to reduce the supply of illicit drugs. Instead our policies have led to a bloodbath with more than 60,000 people killed in prohibition violence since 2006 in Mexico alone. Our policy and strategies have empowered organized criminals, corrupted governments, stimulated violence, assaulted the environment and created tens of thousands of refugees.

"7. Compromising Teenagers’ Safety

"The defenders of the failed war on drugs say that we can't discuss alternatives to prohibition because it would 'send the wrong message to the kids.' Ironically, the drug war is a complete failure when it comes to keeping young people from using drugs. Despite decades of DARE programs with the simplistic 'Just Say No' message, 50 percent of teenagers will try marijuana before they graduate and 75 percent will drink alcohol....

"8. Drug Treatment

"Despite the government’s lip service to the need for treatment, most of the drug war budget still goes to criminal justice and military agencies. The majority of those who need treatment can’t get it. And for many, the only way to get treatment is to get arrested...

"9. Public Health

"Unsterile syringe sharing is associated with hundreds of thousands of HIV/AIDS infections in the U.S. among injection drug users, their sex partners and their children. Yet state paraphernalia and prescription laws limit access to sterile syringes in pharmacies, and the U.S. government stands alone among Western industrialized nations in refusing to fund needle exchange...

"10. Destroyed Families

The number of people behind bars on drug charges in the U.S. has ballooned from 50,000 in 1980 to more than half a million today. That’s more than all of Western Europe (with a bigger population) incarcerates for everything. Millions of people in the U.S. now have a father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter behind bars on a drug charge."

The essay concludes:

"Thankfully, momentum is building in this country and abroad toward a more rational drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights. States like Colorado and Washington just dealt a blow to marijuana prohibition by legalizing marijuana. World leaders, including multiple presidents in Latin America are calling for open debate on alternatives to drug prohibition. Many countries in Europe have implemented public health strategies like safe injection facilities and prescribing medical heroin to reduce HIV/AIDS and overdose deaths. Both red and blue states are reducing their prison populations by offering alternatives to jail for low-level drug offenses.

"Everyone has a reason to oppose and be outraged by the failed drug war. We need to step up our efforts, grow our numbers, and continue to win hearts and minds because the casualties from the war continue to grow every day. And the war on drugs is not going to end itself."

The "War On Drugs" is a political issue at heart - neither the history of drug laws in America nor the means to plunge us into the depths of that "war" were the result of left-wing thinking.  They were the result of the Conservative Authoritarian way of thinking, and like all of the realities of their ideological flim-flammery, our country is the worst for  allowing these demagogues to waste our money, time, and health for the sake of their wealthy and ecumenical sponsors - the leaders and water carriers of the Conservative leadership that continues to wage war on its own people.

"Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love."

Mother Teresa