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By Clifford Thornton, Executive Director of Efficacy

I travel all over the U.S. to speak and organize, trying to change the mindset of the current war on drugs. Last year, I was in Cleveland to address the Unitarian-Universalist convention. While there, I also spoke at a luncheon sponsored by City News, spoke at other civic functions, and appeared on various radio, and TV programs.

All speakers look for that current hook to bring one's subject into plain view. With the drug war it's not hard to find. "A Cleveland Police detective, while in a hand-to-hand struggle with a drug suspect, discharges his weapon and critically wounds a six-year-old boy several yards away" appeared in Cleveland's Plain Dealer. This incident occurred while I was in Cleveland. Every day on average in this country five children, age five to sixteen years, die because of drug related situations. This is called collateral damage. When are we as a nation going to learn this is an unwinnable war?

This 'drug situation' will, and will always be, a public health problem, not a law enforcement one.

Racism, classism, terrorism and the war on drugs are inextricably parts of one huge lie; one cannot address one part effectively without addressing the other. This is not a war on drugs but is a war on poor people, primarily people of color. I could talk about the race issue, which is well documented, and blacks as usual are the perceived primary pariahs, Instead, what I want to talk about is the burgeoning class separation.

The religious community has always been the backbone of the black community. We have seen this throughout our history with slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement. Why are too many black politicians, preachers and other leaders bemoaning racial profiling and not the war on drugs, when racial profiling is a direct result of the drug war? Why are they not talking about AIDS in which the war on drugs is the primary culprit for the spread of this incurable disease in our communities? Why do they have this dumb look on their faces when you mention that intravenous drug users, through homosexual and heterosexual encounters, are the primary conveyers of AIDS in prisons and our communities?

Is it because 'the religious community' is tied to local, state and federal funding and the authorities forbid discussion? Is it because they have become employers and employees of the drug war through rehabilitation centers and drug-counseling etc.? Is it because they have become gatekeepers where their prosperity depends on not solving the drug problem but perpetuating it?

Looking at the criminal justice system, it's true that almost two thirds of the six-and-a-half million who are on probation, parole, half-way houses, jail or prison are minorities. But there is one central theme - they are overwhelmingly of the same socioeconomic class. They are poor people. Ten percent of the African-American population is in the criminal justice system. Forty percent of the six-and-a-half million are there for possession or sale of drugs. When one looks at drug related crimes, these percentages jump to the high sixty percentiles. Where is the black church and black America on this drug war issue?

According to Reverend Beatrice Walkout of Cleveland, "Black preachers have to be educated on this issue. They are basically following what the white establishment tells them to do, and it is not to end the drug war." She went on to say, "What we need to do is to study this at length."


This drug war has been going on for over thirty years at a cost of a trillion dollars, and we have had almost nine decades of drug prohibition, Why, then, are there more illegal drugs at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before? My experience says that when considering alternatives for the drug war, all conversation ought to start with one question: Do you think that people are going to stop using illegal drugs? The predictable and overwhelming response is NO. Those that say 'yes' are not from this planet.

So the next question becomes: How are we as society going to create an atmosphere that will cause the least amount of harm to the people who use these drugs and secondly, the least amount of harm to society? Anyone that says we should not, could not, would not, or that we would be sending the wrong message to our children by legalizing, medicalizing and decriminalizing illegal drugs simply does not have a clue. All of the damage done is not by the drugs but by the drug policies. There is no drug known to man that becomes safer when the sale and distribution is turned over to criminals.

Our problem is not the drug dealers or drug cartels-they are just opportunists-our problem is the self-righteous legislators in Washington and the apathetic, non-voting public who create the opportunity for the drug cartels and dealers. The misinformed and uninformed people who support the drug war are directly responsible for this rise in crime, drugs in our schools, AIDS in our communities, and for creating enormous criminal empires.

Let us be realistic. Marijuana, cocaine and heroin present no problem to me or to anyone else who chooses not to use them, but the illegality of these drugs presents a clear and present danger to everyone. Just ask that six-year-old in Cleveland, whom I'm told lost his life. Just ask the thousands of parents who have lost their children to this drug war who had absolutely nothing to do with drugs.

Legalization, medicalization and decriminalization of these few outlawed drugs won't immediately solve the problems of drug abuse or addiction, but it will confine that problem to the people who choose to use these drugs. Perhaps the more important question is how do we as a society of reformers create an exit strategy for the authorities?

Efficacy, PO Box 1234, Hartford, CT 06143
(860) 285-8831 · (860) 688-4677(fax)
Email Cliff:, and check out for more about Efficacy.

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The Razor Wire is a publication of The November Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates drug law reform. Contact information:
795 South Cedar - Colville, Washington 99114 - (509) 684-1550


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