Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

August 27, 2006 - Washington Post (DC)

Column: Designing An 'Exit Strategy' For The War On Drugs

By Neal Peirce

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

SEATTLE - Is it time to forge an "exit strategy" for the our prolonged "war on drugs"?

That question -- normally considered a "no-no" in legal circles, especially among prosecutors and police -- has been raised by the prestigious King County (Wash.) Bar Association since 2000. And the results have been impressive.

King County is sending minor street drug users and sellers through drug courts instead of incarcerating them; its average daily jail count is down from 2,800 to 2,000. The Washington Legislature was persuaded to cut back drastically on mandatory drug possession sentences, apportioning funds to adult and juvenile drug courts and family "dependency courts." Tens of millions of dollars have been saved.

"This project isn't for fringy pony-tailed pot smokers," insists Roger Goodman, director of the bar association's drug policy project. "We did it for the courts. We can't get civil cases heard for three years. And the drug cases are mostly so petty."

The uncomfortable truth is that despite decades of aggressive government crackdowns, U.S. drug use and drug-related crime are as high as ever. Made profitable by prohibition, violent criminal enterprises that purvey drugs are flourishing. Harsh criminal sanctions, even for minor drug possession, have packed jails and prisons. Public coffers have been drained of funds for critical preventive social services.

Internationally, we're discovering that the U.S.'s heavy-handed campaign of illegal drug eradication in countries like Colombia is about as successful as we've found our parallel military adventure into Iraq. Despite the stunning $4.7 billion we've spent since 2000 on planes fumigating Colombia's coca crop, farmers there are producing just as much cocaine as before our aerial assault.

Back home, "street" prices for cocaine have dropped and purity remains high. Prohibition has failed equally to stamp out markets and quality, or increase street prices for heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. The drug war kicked off by President Nixon in the '70s, and copied by state and local governments nationally, costs $40 billion or more a year. It is a massive, embarrassing, destructive failure.

But politicians are normally afraid to question the system for fear of being called illegal drug apologists. So how did the King County Bar get the ball rolling? "It's the messenger, not the message" -- the credibility of the bar association, says Goodman.

The King County Bar in fact assembled a nationally unprecedented coalition of supporters, ranging from the Washington State Bar Association to the King County and Washington State Medical Associations, the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the League of Women Voters of Seattle and Washington.

And the first-stated goals weren't scuttling drug laws. Instead, the bar association announced its platform as (1) reductions in crime and disorder -- "to undercut the violent, illegal markets that spawn disease, crime, corruption, mayhem and death," (2) improving public health by stemming spread of blood-borne diseases, (3) better protection of children from the harm of drugs, and (4) wiser use of scarce public resources.

Now the bar association and its allies are asking the Washington Legislature to establish a commission of experts to design how the state can switch from punitive approaches to a focus on treatment, shutting down the criminal gangs that now control the drug trade.

As controversial as it sounds, programs for victims (most likely adults) of such dangerously addictive drugs as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine may be easiest to fashion. Rather than leaving them to the streets and black market exploitation, there may -- as some European models suggest -- be ways to register addicts, provide controlled amounts of drugs in medical settings, and try to guide them into treatment.

For marijuana, control by cartels that now provide huge quantities might be broken by state licensing of home production (like brewing) and non-commercial exchanges. Or a state distribution system like state liquor stores, demonstrably effective in denying sales to youth, could be established.

The toughest issues may surround protection of children. Today, it's noted, they get contradictory messages -- "Take a pill to feel better," and "Just say no, except when you're 21 and then you can drink." Youth see commercial advertising pushing a wide variety of mind-altering, pleasure-inducing substances, even while society leaves control of so-called "illicit" drugs to criminal gangs. Plus, kids do like to experiment.

A realistic program could start with respecting young people, providing them honest information, on uses of -- and the demonstrable dangers -- of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Goodman notes that in the 13 states where medical use of marijuana is authorized, teen use is down. "It's not as cool when grandma uses marijuana for cancer pain," he says.

There's surely no risk-free "exit" from today's terribly destructive drug war. But we have to try -- and we should thank communities and states with the courage to lead.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

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.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact