Fl: 40 years of war on drugs failure: Rethink the war-fighting model

FL: 40 YEARS OF WAR ON DRUGS FAILURE: RETHINK THE WAR-FIGHTING MODEL
mapinc / 6/16/2011 / By Mark Schneider, Source: Palm Beach Post

Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon declared our nation’s War on Drugs. That is more than enough time to evaluate the war’s costs and benefits: In dealing with the problems of drug abuse, it has failed. It is time for a new approach.

The most recent assessment of this war came this month from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group of 19 political, business and cultural leaders including Reagan-era Secretary of State George Schultz and former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker. Calling for an end to the war-fighting model, they wrote:

"Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction."

The commission noted that current policies have generated massive violence and undermined political stability in drug-producing and distributing countries. At the same time, such countries as Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands, which have replaced repression with harm-reduction, have seen significant public health benefits and, in the case of heroin, reductions in use and addiction.

Of particular concern, the War on Drugs has led to widespread violations of constitutional and human rights, racially skewed enforcement, and an explosion in the U.S. prison population, by far the world’s largest. In 2008, four out of five arrests were for mere possession of drugs, one-half of those for marijuana. Due to selective enforcement, those imprisoned are primarily minorities.

While there is no evidence to support that African-Americans use drugs at a higher rate than white Americans, and although they make up only 12.6 percent of the general population, African-Americans account for 37 percent of total drug arrests annually and 56 percent of incarcerations. As Georgetown University law Professor David Cole put it, were whites being arrested at the same rate as blacks, "We would almost certainly see this as an urgent national calamity, and demand a collective investment of public resources to forestall so many going to prison."

Florida’s drug laws, which require minimum mandatory sentences, are among the nation’s most punitive. As a result, nonviolent drug offenders make up one-third of our prison population. In a time when the state cannot adequately fund education and social services, the fiscal consequences of rampant, unnecessary levels of incarceration have drawn overdue attention to drug policy.

In Florida, a more sensible approach is slowly coming. This year, the Legislature approved a pilot drug court program to divert some first-time offenders from the lifelong revolving door of the criminal justice system. A bill was also filed to eliminate or restructure minimum mandatory prison sentences for drug possession. The governor’s law and order transition team joined Florida TaxWatch, the Collins Center for Public Policy and others in calling for numerous changes in our drug policies.

We urge citizens to read the Global Commission report ( Global Commission on Drug Policy ), separate propaganda from science, and compare the harms of drug abuse to the even greater harms of prohibition. We ask everyone to support those who are working to amend Florida’s unjust, costly, failed drug policies.

It has often been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. After 40 years of failure, it’s past time to bring some sanity to the problems of drug abuse.

MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom

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