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November 19, 2006 - Detroit News (MI)

Subject Drug War To The Iraq War Test

By Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of The Detroit News

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Now that Washington is awash in rare bipartisan logic about evaluating the goals and strategies of the Iraq War, the same reasoning should apply to the other conflict America is hopelessly mired in: the war on drugs.

The parallel between the two is undeniable.

Like Iraq, the drug war has been pressing ahead at enormous cost and destruction without a pause for an honest assessment of whether the tactics are working, or will ever work.

Yet while it only took three years for the American people to lose patience with the Iraq War, the drug war has been dragging on virtually unchallenged for three decades.

Given the cost, it's baffling that taxpayers haven't demanded more accountability.

State and federal drug fighting efforts cost roughly $1 billion a week.

Here's the return on that money: Zero. Despite keeping more than 300,000 people locked up for drug offenses, narcotics use has held steady for 20 years.

And despite a global interdiction effort bankrolled by the United States, only 10 percent of heroin imports worldwide are intercepted and only 30 percent of cocaine imports.

That means anyone who wants drugs, can get drugs.

The drug war has ruined America's cities. Gangs terrorize neighborhoods and catch innocent residents in their crossfire. Up to half of the homicides in urban communities can be traced to drug trafficking.

Police forces have turned into paramilitary units that are often as menacing as the hoodlums.

The war has also destroyed families, particularly among our most vulnerable populations. One in 20 black males is behind bars, with drugs the primary reason.

It's not just an urban problem or a black problem -- rural communities are being decimated by the crystal meth epidemic.

New Strategy Needed

It's changed who we are as Americans.

In the name of the drug war, we've forfeited civil liberties, vastly increasing police powers and tipping the balance toward the government and away from the individual.

Half of the wiretaps approved each year are for drug cases, and the law has been rewritten to allow their OK on the scantest of evidence. There's no question that illegal drugs are a scourge on the country.

Drug abuse is the direct cause of 17,000 deaths annually.

For the health of the nation, we have an obligation to discourage drug abuse, just as we do alcohol and tobacco abuse.

But this drug war is senseless. Its main focus remains marijuana, a drug less harmful than alcohol, which can be bought over the counter on nearly every block.

Of the more than $50 billion spent to fight the drug war, two-thirds goes to law enforcement efforts and one-third to treatment.

That's been the formula since the beginning. But attacking the supply hasn't worked and never will.

The focus should be on decreasing demand. Devote the bulk of the money to more and better treatment programs.

The drug war should face the same scrutiny the Iraq War is undergoing.

If we know the strategy isn't working, change the course.

If that approach makes sense for the Iraq War, then it surely makes sense for the drug war.

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