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The War on Drugs is a War on the Poor

The “War on Drugs” has been so terribly ineffective that it leads one to question its true motives. Even a dog can eventually learn from an electric fence, so why not the United States government? Is the goal really to curtail drug use, or is it to segregate society and vilify the disadvantaged?

A combination of mandatory minimum sentencing and other unjust laws has led to an enormous rise in U.S. prison populations. Thanks to these laws, 60 percent of the federal prison population consisted of nonviolent drug offenders as of 1999. In 1997, about twice as many people were arrested for drug offenses as for violent crimes.

As a result, the U.S. incarceration rate is now six to ten times higher than in most industrialized countries. Indeed, in 2000 the U.S. surpassed Russia to become the nation with the highest incarceration rate worldwide. A side effect of this enormous boom in prison population has been an increase in spending on prison construction. Since it is mostly young college-age people who are ending up in these prisons, fiscal planners have found that the most logical place to acquire the funds needed for building prisons is higher education. Indeed, there has been a direct trade-off in spending: in 1995, federal funding for university construction dropped by $954 million to $2.5 billion, while federal funding for prison construction rose by $926 million to $2.6 billion. These numbers are huge. They reveal that in one year, the federal government reallocated more than a quarter of total spending for university construction toward prison construction.

The laws are unjust in other ways as well: they target minorities and the poor disproportionately while turning a blind eye to the rich. On paper, these laws…

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…e cost-effective approach to the drug war. It can hardly be a coincidence that the percentage of American citizens who smoke marijuana is two times the percentage of Amsterdam citizens who smoke marijuana, even though marijuana is legal in Amsterdam.

The criminalization of drug use has put its regulation in the hands of corrupt forces that are above the law. The same law that puts the drug dealer who is caught in prison empowers another drug dealer by removing her competition and tightening her control over her territory. As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will be a supply. The problem with criminalizing drugs is that it does nothing to address the demands of addiction. It needs to be recognized that drug use can be curtailed without recourse to imprisonment, that fighting a war on drugs is the surest way to lose all governmental control of drug use.

War on Drugs Causes the Viloation of Individual Rights

Everyone knows the parable of the emperor with no clothes. The significance of a child being the one to point out the emperor’s nudity, as opposed to a sermonizing preacher or self-righteous intellectual, is simple to understand. Neither morality nor logic was responsible for stripping the emperor’s veil of falsehood. All it took was the truth.

One can’t help but think of this when considering Gary Johnson, the Republican governor of New Mexico, who, despite pressure from power brokers at the top of his own party, has proclaimed that the emperor that is this country’s war on drugs is not only naked to the world, but that its body is festering with the sores of moral decay and corruption. In the governor’s own words, “The drug problem is getting worse. It’s not getting better … It needs to get talked about, and one of the things that’s going to get talked about is decriminalization.”

He continues: “What I’m trying to do here is launch discussion … I think it is the number one problem facing this country today… We really need to put all options on the table” (Albuquerque Journal, June 24, 1999).

Not wishing to make a statement without providing viable ideas to support it, Johnson said that changing laws regarding the possession of marijuana would be a logical “first step” since pot is “probably the least dangerous of the identified narcotic drugs that we have” (Albuquerque Journal, July 1, 1999 and Hobbs News-Sun, July 2, 1999).

Johnson is not simply grandstanding, as the facts of the situation point out clearly. Despite massive expenditures, the simple fact is that the war on drugs is a total failure. There is more, not less, drug-related violent crime in the United States today than 30 years ago. Far from pro…

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…guaranteed by the Constitution. Undeniably, it is a violation of the basic principles of human dignity used to formulate the Constitution. Irrefutably, it provides an almost irresistible temptation for police abuse.

And this is one of the mildest forms of enforcement in the hands of the drug warriors. In light of such bleak evidence, it is clear that the drug war has created no winners, but an abundance of losers. The biggest losers are the American citizens, who have seen their cherished rights discarded and continue to suffer decaying schools, nonexistent or inadequate health care, and crumbling infrastructure in poor and rural areas. And still, billions of dollars are poured into a campaign that is nothing more than a ponderous artifact with no place in a free society. The drug war failed a long time ago, and it’s time to let it die. That is the naked truth.

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