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The will to change course

By Mikki Norris, HR95: Human Rights and the Drug War

Head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Thomas Constantine says that Americans have neither the resolve nor the resources to win the Drug War. Perhaps he is finally learning something about America's longest war--it's unwinnable.

How can we win a war against drugs? Americans are major drug consumers. We drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, take Prozac, and give our kids Ritalin. We try pharmaceutical drugs relentlessly advertised by the media as quick fixes to all our aches and pains. We believe in drugs; a pill for every ill.

It's part of our culture. Does anyone really believe that Americans want to be "drug-free"? Sports fans give up beer? Patients suffer needlessly? Impotent men say no to recreational Viagra? Ridiculous. "I have the right to put whatever I want into my body."


Not in America.

The government insists that we surrender this right. It doesn't believe in our people's ability to make responsible decisions.

Constantine is correct; Americans don't have the "resolve" to give government such strong paternalistic control over our lives. Big government is bad, remember?

Americans lack the resolve to win the Drug War because it asks us to do things that are fundamentally un-American. Like inform on our neighbors, expel children from our schools, and squander tax dollars on prisons rather than invest in education. It asks us to embrace the doctrine of "zero tolerance" for certain drugs and abandon our heritage of freedom.

We fought World War II to bring an end to the policy of demonizing a group of people and rounding them up. In America, we strive to be tolerant: a pluralistic society demands that we accept people who are different than us. Not everyone has to be the same here.

Constantine doesn't seem to get it. Americans are not a mean-spirited people. We want to protect our children and help them succeed, not criminalize every teenager who happens to possess or experiment with marijuana. We don't want kids to go to jail or lose student loans over it. We don't think people who commit non-violent drug offenses should be in prison longer than murderers and rapists are. We have a strong moral sense of right and wrong. When the Drug War locks away our neighbors and loved ones for 5, 10, 20 years or life for minor offenses, that is cruel and unusual punishment and it is wrong.

Early in our education, every American is taught about our rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. We studied the Bill of Rights, the foundation of our nation's greatness. We don't want government to cannibalize our rights, privacy and property to fight its Drug War.

How much more money will we squander in their Drug War before we end it? The federal government spends $17 billion a year to fight it; the states spend even more. This failed policy puts two thirds of its resources into law enforcement and prisons. Constantine and Drug Czar McCaffrey both admit that the money would be better spent on prevention and treatment, but they and the politicians are addicted to their Drug War. They throw billions at surveillance, futile interdiction programs, and drug task forces to arrest and punish citizens, and they can't stop. They pump millions of dollars into sexy media campaigns and counterproductive programs like DARE that glamorize drugs and keep kids curious.

Think how different "the drug problem" would be if we used our resources to help rather than hurt people. What if we offer treatment to an addict at a cost of $4,000 per person, as opposed to $23,000 per year for several years in prison? If we hire more teachers and invest in books, child care, after-school programs, jobs and health care instead of more police, prison guards and helicopters? If we create opportunities to make a dignified living in inner cities as an economic alternative to drug dealing? If we invest in the People--our greatest resource--rather than concrete walls and bars to lock more of us away?

Americans don't have the resolve to turn our country into the mean-spirited police state that the Drug War demands, but we do have the resources to heal America. We just need the political will to change course.

Mikki Norris is co-author of Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War (Creative Xpressions, 1998) and curator of the award-winning Human Rights and the Drug War exhibit.

Human Rights and the Drug War exhibit

By Kim Hanna, MassCANN/NORML

I am proud to announce that I have placed the HR95 'Human Rights and the Drug War' photo exhibit in my local library in Framingham, Massachusetts. The Main library has a couple of display cases 40x90 inches with glass door fronts and since my group MASSCANN/NORML had already purchased a photo exhibit, I applied for permission to also display the HR95 exhibit at the library. No problems, and the display was up for all of Feb. 99. It really felt good to bring awareness to the failed drug war and speak out for these people in prison. Relating a prisoner's story to someone else bonds you with the prisoner in a special way. The photo exhibit consists of storyboards about aspects of the drug war and prisoners' stories of how they became caught-up in the drug war juggernaut, serving hideously long terms in prison. Of course in the display, I put issues of The Razor Wire with The November Coalition web address put across the top banner, as well as other leaders in the reform movement and their websites. Since there are public Internet terminals at the library, I'm hoping some people will look up these websites and learn more, and maybe even join us.

Of course I displayed the new book 'Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War' by Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad and Virginia Resner. This book grew forth from the photo exhibit by HR95 and tells stories of drug war victims and the real truth of the government's war on our people. Get a copy for your local library, it's a must read for freedom fighters. I also typed a form letter to send to politicians and newspapers announcing the exhibit at the library, and I asked people to come and bear witness to these atrocities by our own government. The drug warriors have been put on notice; we're on to them and we know what they're doing is wrong. We're witnesses to a dark chapter in our history.

I've got to go back to the library to add a final touch to the HR95 photo display: I'll tie some yellow ribbon to some of the pictures, and pray these people come home soon.

This photo exhibit is sponsored by Mass CANN/NORML at and NORML at I urge other reformers and concerned citizens to do the same at their library, just make arrangements in advance and check on availability.

Working to end drug war injustice

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