Losing the battle

By Jonathan Koepke

Over 25 years ago in 1974, Richard Nixon began a war on illegal drugs in the United States. No matter what side of the fence you stand on when considering drug legalization issues, there is no doubting that drugs are an important issue in American society and politics.

This will not be an article about how much my friends or I love pot or whatever recreational drugs are out there and how it should be legal. Instead it is important to look at the epidemic of drug-related prison sentences and the staggering amount of manpower, money and resources are put into drug interdiction that is completely ineffective.

I was watching an episode of “Frontline” the other week on PBS (Yes, I am a college student who actually watches PBS) and came across an incredible program. It was titled “America’s War on Drugs,” and provided a historical perspective of the issue. In it I came across a staggering figure. In the middle part of the 1970s, the CIA found that in order to prevent the manufacturers of illicit drugs from being able to turn a profit, US officials would have to seize 96 percent of all drugs smuggled into the United States.

Considering the fact that even the highest reports and estimates of drug seizures stand at somewhere around 30 percent, according to the U.N. International Drug Control Program, it is unbelievable to imagine achieving a 96-percent success rate. Considering this fact, that was general knowledge to every president since that time, there is a simple question to ask.

Why keep spending the money when it is not working?

According to the Office of the National Drug Control Strategy, about $17.7 billion dollars were spent on the drug war. This is a monetary figure that does not take into consideration the number of law enforcement officers who lost their lives in drug control-related busts and seizures or the number of small time offenders and possessors who choke our nation’s prison system.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 58 percent of federal prisoners in America are sentenced on drug charges. In addition, the rise in non-violent drug convictions from 1985 to 1995 accounted for 80 percent of the increase in prison population.

Now, these facts may be a great achievement in the eyes of some, but considering the wretched conditions of America’s prison system, they seem to be more of a glaring problem. Small-time offenders only become affiliated with larger criminals in prison. Few stay in for more that a few years, and when they leave they are only more involved in criminal activities. In addition to this, U.S. prisons do not exactly solve the problem of drug use.

There also seems to be a problem of institutionalized racism in the war on drugs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, whites constitute 72 percent of drug users, blacks 15 percent and Hispanics 10 percent. At the same time, blacks constitute over 42 percent of drug offenders in federal prisons and over 60 percent in state penitentiaries. It seems rather ridiculous to consider this fact in light of what people in America say today about racism being gone.

These statistics are impressive, but another fact to consider is the reason why we have a culture of hypocrisy when it comes to controlled substances. In America, alcohol and tobacco are legal substances as long as one is of a certain legal age to use and consume them.

Any argument that can be made about the reason for illegality or prevention of importation of other drugs can be reflected upon alcohol or tobacco.

Are they addictive? Yes. Are they harmful to the body and mind? In certain doses, yes. Can they ruin lives and break up families and interfere with people’s ability to work or function? Yes.

Now, while there may be differences in severity between a drug like heroin and a cigarette, the analogy fits. So why the hypocrisy? Easy. Tobacco and alcohol are big markets and have always been in the U.S. They are big business. Opiates and cocoa (marijuana to a lesser extent) are all grown and produced outside of the U.S. They are either unable to be grown or have had no significant business or industry in the U.S., so therefore they are illegal.

These atrocities are a direct reflection of the state of life in America. Racism and hypocrisy rules supreme. Illogical and inhumanitarian methods and practices characterize our War on Drugs. Money and lives are wasted.

We should put it into a more worthwhile and successful practice of improving people’s everyday lives so that they do not turn to drugs as an escape from the pain of day-to-day living.