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Failure of Fault Based War on Drugs

Kate Comiskey’s death is a tragic casualty of the war on drugs. It began when Governor General Taft outlawed opium in the newly conquered Philippines,

then expanded with the Pure Food and Drug and Harrison acts. After the failed experiment with alcohol prohibition, not to be defeated moralists convinced congress to make marijuana essentially illegal with exorbitant taxation. The only opposition testimony was from the American Medical Association. Nixon developed the forerunner to the DEA and vowed to create a way to get blacks without appearing to be racist. It has worked quite well.

Nixon commissioned conservative republican governors Shafer and Hughes to do a study and officially denounce marijuana once and for all. That commission disappointed the president and recommended among other things, that marijuana should be legal/regulated as is alcohol, and that the only legitimate role for the federal government regarding drug use would be to help identify people who might benefit by getting help. That report was rejected by Nixon, and the war on drugs was initiated with a relatively small budget of about $30 million. Selective prohibition was considered the moral thing to do; it would drive up prices making drugs comparatively unavailable to the average person. By the time Reagan became president the war on drugs took a serious turn. Maryland University basketball star Len Bias died of a cocaine seizure (his friends were afraid to get help for fear of legal culpability) and several dozen crack babies fed the federal frenzy that ratcheted up the war even further. Helping it along was the CIA involvement in cocaine trafficking to help fund the illegal arming of contras in Nicaragua. Illicit drugs became a huge business- because of the black market. It is estimated that the three largest industries in the world today are: oil, arms and illicit drugs.

Unfortunately there is so much money to be made in illicit drugs that no one in legislative power is willing to pull out the rug on this financial feeding trough. The money derived from illicit drugs finances governments, central banks, political parties and countless subversive organizations. The profits only exist in the context of a black market. These drugs are not expensive to produce or distribute and even with interdiction/confiscations the prices are only 10% of what they were at the threshold of the war on drugs in the early 1980’s. It has also fueled an explosion of prisoners, with more people incarcerated for non violent drug offenses in the United States than in all of Europe for all causes. Today more black adult men are in jail than college. In 2003 there were more arrests in America for simple marijuana possession than for all violent crime combined.

Drug law violations are difficult to detect as they generally involve a voluntary seller and purchaser. Purchasers may be seeking euphoric escape, relief of suffering or to fuel addiction. In order to discover these transactions, government often rely on snitches, informants, and undercover agents in order to ‘catch’ one or more persons engaging in mutually consensual commerce. Mitch Gooldy was such a man. Although he was a frequent flyer in drug court, he arranged to become an informant for the government instead of going to jail (or obtaining the medical help the Shafer Commission thought he should be receiving). This placed him in ideal position to continue (ab)using illicit drugs and is a directly complicit circumstance in his vehicular murder of Ms. Comiskey.

Our current strategy for selective illicit drug use is fault based. If we were to consider instead a public health policy that utilizes harm reduction, reality education, treatment and maintenance programs, we would save billions (Rand study suggests a $7 return on every dollar such invested), allow hundreds of thousands of otherwise peaceful people to be productive citizens and family members, diminish our drain on welfare resources and free our police and courts to deal with more threatening problems. People in such a system are more than twice as likely to be employed and drug free. In such a system Ms. Comiskey might still be alive.

The problem is such a system relies on scientific facts, logic and reason. It diminishes moralists who feel certain drug use is simply wrong, and should be punished. Given the current budgetary state of affairs in Indiana and America, we should re-evaluate our current approach if for no other purpose than to save money. The additional benefit would be healthier people, fewer broken homesFree Reprint Articles, more people in the work force.

by Clark Brittain,

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