NEW BRITAIN - "The drug war has nothing to do with drugs. It's about power, it's about control, it's about coercion, it's about money." So said Clifford Thornton, a 2006 Connecticut gubernatorial candidate and 1995 founder of Efficacy, a nonprofit organization devoted to drug policy reform.
He offered a talk, "Justice, Race, Politics and the Drug War," during an appearance Tuesday afternoon at Central Connecticut State University's Torp Theatre.
Thornton originally planned to show the audience videos of police and clergy speaking out against the drug war, and an expose of the notorious incident in Tulia, Texas, where 10 percent of the entire black population was imprisoned on cocaine charges based the word of a single corrupt drug cop who was later convicted of perjury.
However, Thornton's video plan fell through when the university projector stubbornly refused to work, so he instead gave a brief, informal talk followed by a long question-and-answer period.
Thornton started by challenging the audience: "Raise your hand if you think the drug war is working." Not one hand went up. "Raise your hand if you think people will stop using drugs." Still no hands.
Much of Thornton's talk focused on Connecticut-centric facts: The state's annual prison expenditures are $600 million with 70 percent of the state's prison population of 17,000 imprisoned on drug-related charges. If drugs were legalized, he said, the money spent on prosecuting and incarcerating drug users "could buy every man, woman and child in Connecticut a $1 million health policy" and still have money left over.
Thornton often repeated the words "legalize, medicalize, decriminalize." He calls for the outright legalization of marijuana and the medicalization of other currently illegal drugs.
Although the majority of American drug users are white, Thornton said, the majority of drug convicts are black or Latino. "Blacks and Latinos are 6 percent of [Connecticut's] population, yet make up 70 percent of its prison population." Thornton said this is due, in part, to the fact that it's easier for police to make arrests in the open-air drug markets found mostly in inner cities, whereas the more intense levels of suburban drug use tend to take place behind closed doors.
One person in the audience asked if ending the drug war eliminates police and prison guards jobs. "We'd need to make a switch from a drug-war economy to a peace economy," Thornton said.
Again he recited some statistics: In Connecticut alone, legalized (and taxed) marijuana would result in $9 million to $12 million dollars a year in additional tax revenue, and the legalized growing of hemp - basically marijuana without the mind-altering THC - would create new jobs in the paper, garment and food industries.
However, Thornton said, such ideas would find heavy resistance from "the multimillion-dollar bureaucracy fighting the drug war." One such example he mentioned is Carlton Turner, former "drug czar" under President Reagan, who made billions of dollars off his personal urine-testing company after using his authority to make such tests federal policy.
Thornton also criticized the two-tiered system of justice caused by the drug war - the "well-connected" generally are not penalized for drug crimes, only the poor.
"If whites were arrested and incarcerated for illegal drug use we wouldn't be having this conversation, because there would literally be armed insurrection in the street. The white middle class is not going to stand for their children going to jail for bulls---. And that's what it's all about: bulls---."
Thornton mentioned a few well-connected Connecticut residents who avoided prison for drug crimes that would've sent poorer people to prison, including the sons of former Gov. (John) Rowland and former Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy. Another audience member asked Thornton how he came by his interest in the drug war.
"About 40-some years ago, two weeks before I was to graduate high school, the family and I were sitting down having breakfast. There was a knock at the door, my grandmother instructed me to accompany this gentleman. He was a police officer. And he took me to a field of abandoned cars, and under one of these cars was the body of a naked woman. She was my mother, who had died from an apparent heroin overdose.
Now, there are no words to describe how I felt, but one thought resonated as I came to my senses and that was, all illegal drugs should be eradicated from the face of the earth. But as I watched my native Hartford, Conn., go downhill, decade after decade, and seeing that they're putting more money into fighting drugs, and more and more people were going to jail, mostly black and brown, I began to take on this issue. Twelve years ago I retired early from Southern Connecticut Telephone to do this work."
Clifford Thornton's nonprofit organization, Efficacy, can
be found on the Web at http://efficacy-online.org
Legalization Without Indemnification Is Totally Irresponsible
By Clifford Thornton, Efficacy
The recent push to decriminalize and legalize drugs, especially marijuana, has picked up steam all over the world. California Governor Schwarzenegger said legalization has to be put on the table. Rhode Island has written into its new medical marijuana law that in 2012 outright legalization would be formally addressed. Portugal has decriminalized small amounts of formerly illegal drugs, along with Mexico. Many countries now have such policies on the table for consideration.
But in the United States the drug reform movement, if one can call it that, is sharply focused on marijuana and not on drug prohibition as a whole. Unfortunately this focus ignores three other longstanding and devastating social issues. First, drug war policies have needlessly taken potential taxpayers out of the community and spent tax money to keep them in prison. Second, twenty million children have been orphaned because one or both parents have been sent to prison on drug related charges. Third, in that process, public and higher education have been dramatically shortchanged.
As a result, billions of dollars that could well be funneled into education and health care instead of going aimlessly into law enforcement for myriad scams and follies. We have taken countless young people out of our community on drug charges and wonder why they and their contemporaries no longer have faith in our system. Our children are not stupid; they see two forms of justice, one for the well-connected and one for the poor. Society will pay for this perception of injustice for decades to come.
But we must also not forget the impact of the War on local economies. The police chiefs of Camden, Newark, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles have said that parts of their cities would collapse financially without the illegal drug trade. It's one thing to knock someone on the head for money to buy drugs, but it's a different thing to do it to buy bread. The drug economy would need to be replaced. Using Connecticut as an example we can see the potential. Studies show that it has three and half million residents with over a six hundred million dollar prison budget. The prison population, some 17,000, with seventy percent serving time for drug related charges, presents a goldmine of economic opportunity. We must also remember that in the late eighties to early nineties Connecticut spent a billion dollars to build prisons, with luck never to be repeated.
So when illegal drugs are one day legalized, medicalized or decriminalized, that will present the state a windfall of around four hundred million dollars per year. All of following could be accomplished with the stroke of a pen. That could mean a million dollar health policy for every man, woman and child. It could mean a hundred million toward free tuition and fees for everyone who wishes to go to college. It could mean a hundred million toward the funding of our public school system with one teacher and assistant per ten pupils grades K-8. It could mean a hundred million toward providing those after school programs which are so direly needed, filled with athletics, academic and social programs that are missing today.
There would also be the 9 or 10 million dollars in new tax revenue from the legalization of marijuana. This revenue could be used for all sorts of treatment programs for those that want and need it, plus what cities and towns would save and reallocate from their police budgets. And think about this, what if cannabis cigarettes were made in the community as opposed to RJ Reynolds. And often forgotten is that the legalization of industrial hemp could be a real prize here in terms of new products and jobs. Hemp has the potential to become a multi-billion dollar industry in Connecticut alone. And guess what, very few in the criminal justice system would have to lose their jobs. What I am talking about is not only a shift in monies but a reassignment of personnel.
The War On Drugs is America's longest conflict, and those who are primarily affected by it need to be compensated for an ill-advised, mindless, megalomaniacal, policy. After all, there was the Marshall plan after WWII.
There will be a economic report in the coming year that will
highlight the money spent by cities to fight this unwinnable
war on drugs in Connecticut. This report will blow you away.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.