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 The Drug Civil War

By Cliff and Margaret Thornton, founders of Efficacy

Our government declared war on drugs over a quarter century ago, but the war is really against Americans who choose to use certain drugs - people not inanimate objects. Regardless of what they claim, we are engaged in a strange sort of civil war - the drug civil war.

The government would say that the war is not against the people who use drugs, but those who sell them, as if there is some wide gap between the two. Whether users of dealers, both all are people. In addition, millions of American lives have been destroyed by charges relating to simple use or possession of drugs.

America has declared war on its own people three times. The first was when the North invaded the South to prevent it from seceding over the issue of slavery. (It can be debated that this conflict, as well, could have been resolved without the terrible bloodshed of war.)

The second time was to attempt to prohibit the consumption of alcohol in 1921, which led to the most violent period of street crime we ever endured until recently. The War on Drugs is the third war. It has been a politically conceived, irrational reaction to what should be considered a public health problem. The battlegrounds of the second and third wars were (are) the streets of our cities.

If any President had ever said he wanted to declare a violent war on some of the most sick and unfortunate Americans, he would not have had much support. The declared war on drugs, however, has received support from all sides. Inanimate substances were the perfect enemy for a society that seems to require an enemy in order to feel secure. With the threat of communism vanishing, the timing was perfect and the politics "correct."

When Martin Luther King said, "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government," he was referring to the war in Vietnam. Our government has since turned its violence inward on its most vulnerable people, minorities, the young, and the poor. Like all Civil Wars, this one is fought between different groups of Americans, including government entities.

Belief in neighborhood block watches seems to be growing, even after volunteers have been killed on the streets. This thinking is the result of the need for an illusion of control. This is psychological control - reinforcing the "us" vs. "them" attitude. Many minority people make their livings as drug warriors. Minorities involved in or using drugs are considered enemies. War rhetoric is strong in minority communities. It is divisive and dehumanizing. It helps people cope with the brutality of war. Remember Gooks, Krauts, and Japs? Now they are roaches who run from the light.

When government commandos use helicopters and assault weapons and crash through doors of Americans, it is war. The people inside the doors did not look like dangerous enemies at first. They were sick and pathetic - until they began to arm themselves. Violence and drugs were never connected until the government introduced the violence. No matter what anti-crime bills we pass, the cycle of violence will continue until we substantially change the role of our government with regard to drugs.

When we trace the per capita level of violence in American history, we see that it jumped in 1921 and continued to escalate until 1933. It then declined rather dramatically and was quite stable until the 1970s. During the Depression, crime rates fell. Poverty, it seems, does not cause crime to the extent that prohibitive law enforcement does.

"People... locked up for drug use are really political prisoners. For it is only politics that makes their drug use a crime while the leaders of the world are toasting with champagne," says Marloes Elings of Amnesty International. When the government uses hypocrisy and violence to control the behavior of citizens, the citizens become vicious. Government sets the tone by declaring war - as a result the drug civil war rages.

Efficacy is a Connecticut-based, non-profit organization advocating peaceful ways to respond to social problems. We use the following vehicles to express this: public presentations; a newsletter; commercial media; public radio and access television programs.

At the present time, Efficacy is concentrating efforts on drug abuse and crime prevention. We encourage citizens to reexamine drug policy. We challenge the mentality of the drug war and find that present policies have been counter-effective. We promote open discussion of alternatives and public-health awareness.

We are part of an emerging social movement based on common sense, harm reduction, human rights, science, compassion, and truth. We advocate a paradigm of basing social practices on efficacious methods. This is an advocacy of methods that have been confirmed and established to be effective rather than emotional or political reactions to problems.

Efficacy maintains a network of scholars, and legal and medical professionals who study results of new research and drug policy innovations in other nations. We convey these messages to our members, readers and listeners. We support other organizations working on drug policy reform. Efficacy circulates a newsletter to approximately 1,000 readers throughout New England on a quarterly basis. We produce presentations for educational institutions, churches, civic groups, etc. We participate in forums and communicate with the media on drug policy and other social issues.

The work of Efficacy is funded by donations and grants. For more information contact: Efficacy - Cliff & Margaret Thornton - PO Box 1234 - Hartford, CT 06143 - phone: 860-285-8831 - FAX: 860-688-4677 -

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