The State of our Union

By Pamela Oppenheimer, wife of a drug war prisoner

In President Clinton's latest State of the Union Address, I was troubled that he neglected to address the most critical issue facing our country today: The U.S. War on Drugs.

The U.S. Drug War is, in effect, a prohibition on drugs. This war, waged by the government against its own people, has caused the crime associated with drugs, not the drugs themselves.

Propaganda and "tough on drugs" politicians have brainwashed us into thinking the War on Drugs is an admirable war, and drug legalization is not a viable option. In fact, the War on Drugs has not reduced drug use in our country at all. It has only succeeded in putting millions of our citizens in prison, dividing families that are already in distress. Statistics show that those children who have one parent absent are twice as likely to be incarcerated in their lives as their peers who live in intact families. We are mindlessly creating the next generation of prisoners.

With such a strong focus on civil rights and in a time of such prosperity and growth, it pains me to know that there are millions of Americans today who are considered "disposable casualties" in our War on Drugs. Those people are the drug users, suppliers and dealers of America. I know they aren't people we are proud of, nor are they people I agree with or even understand. Nevertheless, they are still Americans and have rights just like the rest of us. The War on Drugs, as some call it, has violated the civil rights of this group of Americans.

We have performed military-style raids on their homes, conducted unwarranted searches, seized their assets, compromised due-process, provided lethargic public defenders, coerced them into snitching and lying, and incarcerated their families.

Many of our political leaders, including our President, have admitted prior drug use. How can we dismiss their drug use as a "youthful indiscretion" or a brief curiosity when others who are less influential citizens are in the midst of a raging war? If circumstances were different, President Clinton could have a criminal drug record. If he were caught, would he want the judge to determine his punishment, or would he want the prosecutor to control his fate?

Prison sentences today are calculated by a rigid schedule of mandatory sentences. The judge cannot even consider the specific circumstances for each case. Most cases are settled before they go to court when a terrifying mandatory minimum sentence is presented to the defendant. It's then the prosecution starts "sharpening his/her pencil" as they coerce the defendant into submission. Is this justice? What price are we willing to pay to fight this war? Our constitution, or merely a few million American's civil rights?

Now we are giving billions of dollars to Columbia, secretly influencing television networks, warehousing 2,000,000 prisoners, monitoring another 4,000,000 probationers, spending billions implementing our national anti-drug policy, bragging about zero-tolerance, condoning law enforcement corruption and racial-profiling, and cowardly protecting our "tough on drugs" facade. All of this rhetoric continues as we blatantly ignore the solution. We should legalize drugs to minimize the adverse effects that drugs have on our society.

We can start reducing the harm drugs cause in our society by considering drug use as a medical, social and psychological problem instead of a criminal problem. We must treat the problem, not fight a war against it. Drugs are a health issue, not a criminal issue. Eliminate the profit incentive, and the violence will end. Provide accessible treatment for anyone in need, and abuse will diminish.

Most Americans don't use illegal drugs and frown upon those who do. Most Americans agree that drugs are a huge problem in our country. Most Americans feel if we legalize drugs, we are condoning their use. WRONG! We do not condone something just because it is legal. Do we condone adultery, sinning and gluttony? Probably not but should these sins be criminal activities? Should we promote moral values with coercion?

We must differentiate between sins and crimes. The distinction between sin and crime is that sin is an offense against God, and crime is an offense against man. Most crimes are sins, but should most sins be crimes? We cannot legislate morality, or we would all be in prison, as no man is without sin. By making certain drugs illegal, we have thrown people in prison that might otherwise be law abiding citizens. Yes, it might be a sin, but is it really a crime? What makes some drugs a crime, and others, such as prescription drugs, not even a sin?

Criminal law should be restricted to punishing only those who harm others.

The "Protect the Children" Song-and-Dance

Many advocates for the War on Drugs are fighting the war with the excuse of protecting our children. No, we don't want our children doing drugs, but is the War on Drugs reducing availability to our children? A recent study reveals that 87% of high school students feel drugs are easier to obtain than alcohol and cigarettes. Tell me this! If the War on Drugs is supposedly to protect our children from drug exposure, then how much more exposure do we need to prove that this war is not working?

Ending the Drug Prohibition

Use you imagination for a moment and try to compare our current drug prohibition to the last century's alcohol prohibition. Consider this If drugs were legalized.

The Plan: Demobilize the War on Drugs

  • The Food and Drug Administration would guarantee a safe product from licensed facilities
  • Government would gain regulatory control over drug sales
  • Clinics would sell drugs in limited quantities at a reasonable price to adults only
  • Individuals could grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use
  • Taxes from drug sales could pay for regulation, education, rehabilitation and research
  • Doing drugs in public and driving under the influence would be illegal
  • Drug officials would concentrate on protecting children from exploitation
  • Advertising drugs would be strictly prohibited
  • Non-violent drug offenders would be released in a staged "re-entry to society" program
  • Drug use would be handled as a medical problem similar to alcoholism
  • Drug Treatment would be available to anyone

The Result

  • Drugs would be considered a medical/social problem, not a criminal activity
  • Drug dealers would be out of business due to lack of profits, and forced into legitimate employment
  • Drug turf wars would cease, as would cross-fire victims, making neighborhoods safer
  • The "glamour" of drugs would be stripped away making it less enticing to many
  • Drug treatment would be readily available and socially acceptable
  • Deaths from "bad product" would be eliminated
  • Illegal drug importation would stop
  • Our second largest crop in the U.S. (marijuana) could be legitimized
  • Our Gross National Product would include drug sales, which to date have intentionally gone unrecognized
  • Relations with drug producing countries would improve
  • Many murders and an estimated 40% of property crimes would be eliminated
  • Our prison population would be dramatically reduced
  • Millions of children would have their formerly incarcerated parents returned
  • Law officials could concentrate on violent crimes
  • The corruption of police, judges and politicians would decrease
  • The huge bureaucracy created by the drug war would be diffused
  • Prisons would be reserved for individuals who are a danger to society


  • Perhaps a temporary increase in drug use (similar to increased alcohol use after Prohibition ended)
  • Many unemployed DEA, CIA, FBI agents
  • A deflated Prison Industrial Complex

The Conclusion

The American people should start thinking for themselves and stop ignorantly buying into the War on Drugs mentality. IT IS THE WAR, NOT THE DRUGS CAUSING THE CRIME!!!! Legalize drugs.