House Subcommittee Hearings on Drug Legalization:

ACLU urges Congress to reconsider destructive drug war strategy

Testifying before a House subcommittee, the American Civil Liberties Union told lawmakers that the most effective way to control drug abuse is through regulation, not incarceration.
"Our 85-year experiment with criminal prohibition of drugs has not solved the problems it was meant to solve and has created other serious problems resulting from the excessive and unprincipled use of the government's police power," ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser told the House panel.

Rather than continue to criminalize drug use, Glasser urged Congress to begin the "difficult process" of developing a system for regulating the availability of drugs.

Testifying before the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources panel of the House Government Reform Committee, Glasser noted that since 1973, when the harsh Rockefeller-era drug laws were passed, the use of criminal sanctions has increased exponentially. Incarceration has gone up from a few hundred thousand to more than 1.7 million; between 1985 and 1995, 85 percent of that increase was due to drug convictions, the bulk of them for nonviolent crimes, according to the Bureau of Justice.

People of color are paying the highest price for this strategy, Glasser said, because of the "stunning and unjustifiable" racial disparities in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, as well as other racial disparities in how drug laws are enforced. Citing federal government statistics, he noted that only 13 percent of monthly drug users are black, but 37 percent are arrested for possession; 55 percent are convicted of possession, and 74 percent are imprisoned for possession.

Glasser also charged that federal criminalization of drug crimes is clogging the court system. About half of all federal drug arrests are for marijuana­­more than 80 percent of them for simple possession. Civil asset forfeiture­­what one historian has called a government license to steal­­is widespread at both federal and state levels, allowing law enforcement to seize the cars, homes and property of people accused of drug crimes, even if they are never convicted.

"The government has demonized all drug use without differentiation, has systematically and hysterically resisted science and has turned millions of stable and productive citizens into criminals," Glasser said.

Cato Institute testifies on failure of our current policy of drug prohibition

Massive federal effort does not reduce drug use, encourages crime and corruption

"Perhaps no area more clearly demonstrates the bad consequences of not following our tradition of individual liberty, vigorous civil society, and limited government thandrug prohibition," Cato Institute executive vice president David Boaz told the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources of the House Committee on Government Reform . "The long federal experiment with prohibition of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs has given us unprecedented crime and corruption combined with a manifest failure to stop the use of drugs or reduce their availability to children."

"In 1933, Congress recognized that Prohibition had failed to stop drinking and had increased prison populations and violent crime. Congress then acknowledged the failure of alcohol Prohibition and sent the Twenty-First Amendment to the states. Why do we continuously ignore the lessons of the past?" asked Boaz.

Today Congress confronts a similarly failed prohibition policy, Boaz explained. "Futile efforts to enforce drug prohibition have been pursued even more vigorously in the1980s and 1990s than they were in the 1920s. Total federal expenditures for the first 10 years of Prohibition amounted to about $733 million in 1993 dollars. Drug enforcement cost about $22 billion in the Reagan years and another $45 billion in the four years of the Bush administration. The federal government spent $16 billion on drug control programs in FY 1998. That does not include state and local expenditures, which were $15.9 billion in FY 1991 and have likely increased considerably over the 1990s."

"As for discouraging young people from using drugs, the massive federal effort has largely been a dud. Despite the soaring expenditures in antidrug efforts, about half the students in the United States in 1995 tried an illegal drug before they graduated from high school. Every year from 1975 to 1995 at least 82 percent of high school seniors said they found marijuana 'fairly easy' or 'very easy' to obtain. Over 54 percent of high school seniors reported some use of an illegal drug at least once during their lifetime," Boaz informed the panel.

Boaz recommended that Congress withdraw from the war on drugs and let the states set their own policies with regard to currently illegal drugs. "Drug abuse is a problem, for those involved in it and for their families and friends, but it is better dealt with as a moral and medical than a criminal problem."