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October 17, 2006 - Berkeley Daily Planet (CA)

OpEd: Do Benefits Of Drug War Outweigh The Costs?

By Travis C. Ash

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Since the war on drugs began some $47 billion a year is reserved from federal, state, and local treasuries to combat the so-called menace that encompasses the trafficking, sales, and use of drugs directly affecting the citizens of the United States of America. This obviously reflects the government's view on the subject of drug abuse and related activities as very grave indeed.

It is apparently serious enough to lawmakers who deem it necessary to spend that insane amount of tax money, and commit entire agencies of human resources annually in an attempt to try and bring the problem to a halt.

The trouble is that through all the searches and seizures, television campaign ads, and mandatory minimum sentencing there is no end in sight and it seems to have fueled a kind of evolution in the world of mind altering substances.

Has the use and proliferation of drugs actually come anywhere near to being reduced one may ask? It seems that there is still a rampant desire to obtain these illicits among the public with no short supply of those who are more than willing to supply these people who have become victims of psychological addiction, possibly brought on by the need to self-medicate in a society that breeds depression and despair among many socioeconomic levels.

Perhaps the resources that are available due to the taxes paid by many of these citizens should be applied to mental health outreach programs or even simply making information available on the root causes of unhappiness and depression in various degrees of life that we all go through.

Instead it appears that a majority of people are left to the wolves and are sometimes "forced" to obtain what they perceive as medication from much easier sources than "appropriate" channels that are not accessible to the common public.

So then there we are back to the arrest and incarceration of many users who have never been involved with any sort of violent crime, which one would think only fuels the fire of hopelessness and despondency that caused them to medicate in the first place due to the harsh conditions in the jails and prisons of the nation supposedly devoted to the "rehabilitation" of these lawbreakers.

A recent article in USA Today offers the point of view that most television ads over the years have actually convinced the youth population that "taking drugs is normal" through information gathered from the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is sanctioned by Congress and their job is to research whether or not programs initiated by the legislature are accomplishing the goals that they were designed to do, or perhaps convalescing into colossal failures.

One instance of failed policy seems to be the stubbornly coordinated "War on Drugs" that although has the best of intentions has missed the mark entirely.

This most recent report covers the $1.4 billion spent on attempts to curb the rise in use of MDMA more popularly known as "ecstasy". The GAO spent an additional $43 million on the investigation on the validity of the ads just to find that they were not useful tools in dissuading young people from taking these pills.

The office of current drug czar, John Walters, has disputed these findings based on the fact that the ads were used almost two and a half years ago (which strangely seems to be the time it takes to gather information on the results).

They also countered through a survey conducted by the University of Michigan in 2005, that there has been a 5 percent decline in 10th graders who reported having used illicit drugs in the last year compared to statistics from 1998. Wow, seven long years of work involved in dissuading high schoolers to say no to drugs have really paid off, haven't they?

I think that drugs are certainly responsible for a portion of society's ills and we cannot let their black market run amok, unchecked by law enforcement officers on the beat, but how much evidence must we see in order to come to the conclusion that there needs to be a shift in strategy here?

I don't know what positive effects might have occurred as a result of the seizures of large amounts of various drugs over the years. I would imagine however that this pressure has caused steep increases in the value of said product and the higher stakes involved have brought forth more violent means of control of this lucrative market.

It also goes to reason that there would be less armed robberies and burglaries to pay for the high prices placed on the backs of those already addicted to the menace of crack cocaine and heroin through the free black market.

Perhaps the $600 per second that the federal government spends on its failing and unwavering strategy could be used more effectively when those in power no longer fear to admit that past reasonings on the issue were not perfect and should not be continued on the basis of ego issues that they most be the most proper simply because they were instigated by those who are in charge.

Travis C. Ash is a Richmond resident.

Opinions expressed in Daily Planet commentary and letters to the editor are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Daily Planet or its staff.

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