Atlanta -- Every 18 seconds, an American is busted for drug possession, according to Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) crime statistics released Monday.
The new statistics point to a continued emphasis on drug interdiction otherwise known as the "war on drugs" that more and more law enforcement officers are now questioning. While many experts hold the anti-drug campaign to be the key reason for the decline in the crime rate in the US, especially violent crime, since the 1990s, these police officers, as well as current and retired judges and prosecutors see, instead, thousands of American lives ruined for small drug infractions in a costly and possibly unwinnable "war."
"Not only do these officers see the terrible results that their work has had on individuals' lives, but a lot of what I hear from beat officers and undercover narcotics agents is they've seen colleagues die in the line of fire trying to enforce laws that have no positive impacts," says Tom Angell, a spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in Washington. "For a lot of them, this is about trying to keep good cops alive by repealing stupid prohibition laws."
According to the latest FBI figures, 82.3 percent of all drug arrests in 2008 were for possession, and 44.3 percent of these for possession of marijuana. Arrests totaled more than 1.7 million.
"You can get over an addiction, but you will never get over a conviction, said Jack Cole, a retired undercover narcotics agent and LEAP director, in a statement Tuesday about the "collateral consequences" of the war on drugs.
The emergence of frontline officers speaking out against the war on drugs is helping to kindle a debate about legalization of drugs across the US, says Mr. Angell. It is even driving a Congressional bill written by Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virigina to establish a new Blue Ribbon justice system panel that would take a serious look at drug legalization.
The US could gain $77 billion in revenue a year by legalizing and taxing marijuana, cocaine and heroin, says LEAP.
Culturally, attitudes about drugs may be changing. A Zogby poll in May showed for that the first time a majority of Americans favor decriminalizing marijuana. States such as Massachusetts and California have already taken steps in that direction.
"[Most] drugs are more readily available at lower prices today than when Nixon declared a war against it," says Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief and a staunch proponent of drug legalization, referring in part to the lower price of marijuana.
However, White House "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske recently said, "Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary and it's not in mine."
Sending The Wrong Message?
Pro-legalization groups are missing the forest for the trees, says Gregory D. Lee, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent. He says the dwindling crime rate across the US is directly correlated to the government's investment in border and street interdiction.
"Legalization sends a message that it's okay to do drugs when in reality these drugs have a tremendous impact on the future of the people who take them," he says. "[Under legalization], the crime rate would rise because of crimes committed by people under the influence of these substances."
Mr. Lee points to the rising price of cocaine in the US as a sign that domestic and international interdiction is working. "The war on drugs," he says, "is being won."
September 14, 2009 -- Raw Story (US)
FBI Figures: One Drug Bust In US Every 18 Seconds
By Stephen C. Webster
America is a nation at war, overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at home.
According to the newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Report for 2008 every 18 seconds someone is arrested and charged with violating drug laws.
Another striking figure in the report: of the 1,702,537 drug arrests in 2008, 82.3 percent were for simple possession of a contraband substance. Nearly half, 44 percent, were for possession of marijuana.
According to San Francisco Weekly's calculations, 2008 saw one marijuana arrest every 37 seconds.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said 2008 had the second-highest number of marijuana arrests the U.S. has ever seen. The group said that 2007 currently holds the record.
"Federal statistics released just last week indicate that larger percentages of Americans are using cannabis at the same time that police are arresting a near-record number of Americans for pot-related offenses," said NORML Director Allen St. Pierre in a media advisory. "Present enforcement policies are costing American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and having no impact on marijuana availability or marijuana use in this country. It is time to end this failed policy and replace prohibition with a policy of marijuana regulation, taxation, and education."
"In our current economic climate, we simply cannot afford to keep arresting more than three people every minute in the failed 'war on drugs,'" Jack Cole, a former drug officer who oversees the activist group who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), said in a press release. "Plus, if we legalized and taxed drug sales, we could actually create new revenue in addition to the money we'd save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users."
The report noted that the figures are a slight dip from 2007, going from 1.8 million to 1.7 million.
"Those looking for a partisan pattern should note that drug arrests climbed under Bill Clinton as well as George W. Bush, and that last year's drop occurred during the latter's second term," wrote Jacob Sullum at Reason.com. "Since local police make the vast majority of drug arrests (especially pot busts), it's not clear how much difference the president's drug policy agenda makes, although federal priorities affect the behavior of state and local law enforcement agencies, especially when funding is attached to them."
The FBI also recorded a 1.9 percent drop in violent crime, and the smallest number of forcible rapes in the last two decades. The report additionally noted that 1.4 million arrests were made for drunk driving alone.
"Racial minorities suffered disproportionately as victims of some of the most violent crimes," added CNN. "Almost half of the country's 14,000 murder victims, for example, were African-American."
The Office of National Drug Control Policy had not commented on the FBI report at time of publication.
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