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February 2, 2009 -- Daily Reveille (LA Edu)

Column: American Government Losing The 'War On Drugs'

By Scott Burns

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

With two major wars taking place overseas, many Americans ignore the war taking place within our borders.

The phrase 'War on Drugs' was first coined by Richard Nixon in 1971. American's ongoing battle with narcotics, however, can be traced back to congressional action taken nearly 100 years ago. Financial data shows we've spent more than $400 billion on the drug war since the 1970s.

Even after spending $50 billion this past year, the struggle appears to be going nowhere.

Draconian drug laws have helped America incarcerate a larger proportion of its citizens than any other nation in the world. While Americans only account for 5 percent of the world's populace, they make up more than 25 percent of the world's inmates. More than 160,000 drug users have been arrested this year, according to Those numbers are expected to excede 2 million arrests by next year.

Racial discrimination and social oppression are two major conflicts critics observe. American surveys indicate blacks make up 14 percent of illegal drug users, yet 36 percent of those arrested are black and 63 percent of those imprisoned are black. One of the key battlegrounds of the war takes place on college campuses.

Nearly 20 percent of college students ages 18-22 have experimented with drugs, according to

Though the proportion of students who drink remained constant from 1993 to 2005, daily marijuana use more than doubled, and use of other illegal drugs have skyrocketed 52 percent, according to a National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse study.

Most universities have enforced stricter policy and increased their drug awareness programs to help allay these results. But many of these steps, according to one student group, have muddled the thin line between personal protection and civil rights.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), a non profit organization founded in 1998 by students from George Washington University and Rochester Institute of Technology, intended to change the way the government views drugs as a criminal justice issue and a public health issue.

Their mission statement reads: "[SSDP] is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society."

Over the past decade, the organization has expanded its role, offering more than 150 chapters nationwide, and a chapter opened on the LSU campus last November.

"The long-term objective for SSDP at LSU is to transform the way our university deals with drugs and drug use. We want the university to recognize that the worst thing it can do to someone with a drug problem is hampering their ability to get an education," said local SSDP president Sam D'Arcangelo.

Aside from impeding proper education, SSDP also believes the drug war is legally deranged.

"The War on Drugs is unconstitutional. Our lawmakers 90 years ago knew it was unconstitutional to ban a substance outright, which is why alcohol prohibition required a constitutional amendment."

"Forty-two percent of Americans admit to having tried marijuana at least once. Does this make 42 percent of our country criminals? More people die from aspirin overdoses everyday than have ever died from a marijuana overdose in the history of the world."

Besides explicit efforts to denigrate drug users, D'Arcangelo contends there are far greater reasons students should feel compelled to take action.

"Drug policy reform is not a matter of allowing 'potheads' to smoke in peace, it is a matter of human rights. It's also a matter of civil liberties. Right now they tell you what you can put in your body. Who knows what they'll be telling you not to do next?"

SSDP makes it clear they do not support eliminating drug regulations entirely. Instead, they suggest we distinguish between 'hard' and 'soft' drugs, favoring decriminalization rather than asphyxiating addicts' ability to receive help. They also contend school programs -- like D.A.R.E -- counterproductively spread fallacies about drugs, specifically marijuana, and inhibit kids' ability to learn facts rather than fabrication.

Many Americans have expressed similar support. The most popular topic on President Obama's campaign Web site dealt with 'Ending Marijuana Prohibition".

There's no doubt our government has been financing a war within our borders.

A war, quite frankly, we're losing.

Prohibition didn't work. And neither will despotic regulation of drugs.

By trying to interfere, they've obfuscated civil liberties and the principles of freedom they're supposed to defend.

The truth is: the more authority Washington holds, the more freedoms are inevitably sacrificed.

Thousands of complex 'solutions' have been offered to curtail drug related problems, but none offer the pragmatic simplicity of Texas Rep. Ron Paul's proposal:

"You want to get rid of drug crime in this country? Fine, let's get rid of all the drug laws."

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