While I am fully aware that writing a columnadvocating the decriminalization of all drugs and illicit substances could prove wildly unpopular and even potentially hazardous to a professional career, I feel compelled to address an issue which is entirely ignored in major press publications. The "war on drugs" has been waged in various forms and capacities since the prohibition of alcohol, and the only thing it has accomplished is to put non-violent, non-criminal offenders behind bars.
Right now, the United States holds a very interesting record. More people are imprisoned in this country than any other in the world --and this isn't even adjusting for population and percentages. According to the National Institute of Corrections,of the 9.25 million people currently held in detention the world over, 50 percent are right here in the United States. If we count only the adult population, about one in 90 people are behind bars. For a country that prides itself on the moniker "Land of the Free," this is a staggering statistic, and a huge amount of it is a result of the so-called war on drugs.
In Bowling Green, Ohio,alone,473 drug-related arrests have been made from Jan. 1, 2007 to Sept. 9, 2008, according to numbers generously provided by the Bowling Green Police Department. This isout of5354 total criminal arrests, which leaves the war on drugs accountable for about 9 percent of total arrests in Bowling Green over the last 20 months. On the surface, the numbers may not seem that huge, but when one starts to examine the nature of the war on drugs itself, many if not most of those 473 arrested persons --with their lives changed irrevocably --begin to stop looking like criminals.
For starters, the origins of the war on drugs (post-prohibition) can be traced to the 1930s to a man named Harry Anslinger. Marijuana had been outlawed in other regions of the United States prior to this, but it would be Anslinger who would truly cast the criminalization of substances in a remarkably frank and open light. Those who were suspicious that making substances illegal based on what sorts of "undesirable" people were using them had their suspicions confirmed by Anslinger.
Quotes attributable to Anslinger include (and there are certainly more than these): "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men." "You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother." And my personal favorite, "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."Examples of the war on drugs being a war on class persist to the present, as in the case of the difference of penalty associated with rock and powder cocaine.
Beyond the historical argument, it makes little sense to target a given substance as the root of the problem. Nobody wants America to devolve into a nation of heroin addicts, and it likely never would (although there is potentially some historical precedence for this in 17th century China) because the root of the problem is not the users themselves. People who are addicted to heroin are sick, and sick people do not get treated in jail. If the federal government started cracking down on wealthy bankers who launder the money and elements that bring the drugs into the country in the first place, like the CIA, dealers would begin disappearing from the streets overnight. Instead, the modus operandi is to target the users themselves, and nobody gains any ground.
My goal in writing this has nothing to do with encouraging the use of drugs. We live in a country in which doctors regularly overprescribe reasonably healthy people with drugs to ure minor symptoms -- thenmore drugs to cure the side effects of those drugs, and more drugs to stay alert from the drowsiness induced by the other drugs. Many of these drugs are more hazardous to a person's long-term health than casual use of marijuana, LSD, mushrooms or even cocaine. LSD is a Schedule 1 Drug in the United States and carries extremely stiff penalties. Yet, chemically, it is less toxic than aspirin or Vitamin C, and certainly less so than alcohol and nicotine, according to the federal government's own list of poisonous substances. Danger posed physically to a person as the result of drug use is hardly a legitimate argument for their criminalization.
Organizations like DARE and related community-driven campaigns to keep kids drug-free are admirable, so long as rationality is used in place of fear and propaganda (for there are certainly enough rational reasons to avoid drug use). The work of local law enforcement people also should not be criticized, as they are relatively inconsequential to the war on drugs. More and more people keep going behind bars, but the problem persists.It persists because the government is not serious about fixing it and because, ultimately, there really is no problem in the first place. Continuing the war on drugs is to continue a policy formed out of racism, which continues to be practiced along much the same lines. To incarcerate people --locking them in a system intended for repeat business and recycled offenders --instead of offering actual help, makes no sense.
The use of drugs is a personal choice, and those who can use them responsibly are not damaging the community. It makes no sense to throw ordinary citizens behind bars because they enjoy a chemical substance. Nothing about drug use is fundamentally or morally wrong. The black market created by criminalizing drugs ravages communities and makes the inner city a much more dangerous place to live. The time has come to put a stop to the failed and discriminatory war on drugs.