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March 3, 2009 -- Daily Sound (CA)

Editorial: The War On What?

By Loretta Redd

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Why do Republican Presidents tend to declare war on behaviors rather than on actual adversaries? Armies should be sent into battle to overpower and defeat other armies not to fight slogans, ideologies or political promises.

Thirty years before George W. Bush initiated his "war on terror," President Richard Nixon conceptualized his "war on drugs." Both are proving to be utter and complete failures, as terrorist cells and anti-US sentiment proliferate around the globe, and drug use leaves a tsunami of horrors behind.

Both are unimaginably expensive in both human suffering and lost revenues, neither can be defeated through our current efforts, as they are now tightly intertwined. As a recent LA Times editorial noted, "Drug use can and does cause profound social harm-but now we know the methods chosen to address the problem were flawed."

Flawed indeed, in a country where we lock up over 800,000 people a year while spending $700 a second unsuccessfully trying to stem the tide of illegal drugs. While law enforcement agencies cry for more funds to curb narcotic crimes, they've managed to arrest only one million of the 28 million drug using occupants of our not-so-bright nation.

Supporters of drug prohibition, however, claim that its benefits are undeniable and self-evident.

James Ostrowski, of the Policy Analysis division of the CATO Institute writes, "Their main assumption is that without prohibition drug use would skyrocket with disastrous results. But there is little evidence for this commonly held belief. From 1988 to 2008, there was not a single Washington official who could cite any study which demonstrated the beneficial effects of drug prohibition when weighed against the costs.

Jeffrey Miron, Harvard professor and author of Drug War Crime: The Consequences of Prohibition, notes that the homicide rate in the US would be reduced up to seventy-five percent if drug use were decriminalized and regulated like alcohol, while saving an incredible $30 billion in our national flop of a fight.

Today, the old War on Drugs has fused with the War on Terror as the Afghan Taliban brings in its largest crop of heroin producing poppies in history. And while heroin use is on a meteoric rise in our country, the President of Afghanistan's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been up to his turban in drug trafficking. A New York Times article in October, 2008, cited the complaints of senior DEA officials and the office of the Director of National Intelligence, explaining"the (Bush) White House favored a hands-off approach toward Ahmed Karzi because of the political delicacy of the matter."

Afghanistan may be half a world away, but in our own backyard, a different Godzilla combo of drugs and terror is growing by the hour. Mexican police agents and federal armies stood helpless or become victims themselves, as the Sinaloa, Tijuana and Gulf cartels blatantly slaughtered over 6,000 people last year. A recent two year combined trafficking operation between the United States and Mexico has led to the arrest of over 700 people, seized $60 million in cash, confiscated over 25,000 pounds of narcotics and sufficient weapons to be the envy of our US military.

To bring this insanity even closer to home, anyone who has followed the 'police blotter' over the past few years has to be aware of the increasing number of crimes in our area involving some form of "controlled substance." While many arrests appear to involve Latinos living in the lower East and West sides of town, let us not overlook our Montecito marijuana mavens, country-club cocaine users, UCSB speedball all-nighters, our 'high' society DUI-dodgers, or the increasing high-school heroin users.

Santa Barbara is no different from Los Angeles or Los Gatos when it comes to the demand side economics that drives the drug economy. That is why it may be time to examine how best to regulate and tax all drugs and narcotics.

Without the user, the growers have no customers, the traffickers have no market, and the 'war on drugs,' with its collateral 'war on terror' costs, is over. History has proven this to be a difficult task, as we reflect on the long-ago days (1920-1933) of the failed Eighteenth Amendment, its speakeasys, bathtub gin, and Al Capone.

A poem by Franklin P. Adams, written two years before Prohibition ended, gives some insight in the Constitutional attempt to apply morality to behavior:

Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can't stop what it's meant to stop.
We like it.
It's left a trail of graft and slime,
It don't prohibit worth a dime,
It's filled our land with vice and crime.
Nevertheless, we're for it.

Before we panic at the thought of decriminalizing drugs, or ending this untenable modern day 'prohibition,' maybe we could ask Congresswoman Capps to convene an objective, multi-facet study group to determine the astronomical price of our current 'war on drugs' and its collateral costs in Afghanistan, Central America and Mexico.

Have the panel factor in the budgetary savings of our proliferating penal system, currently building twenty jails to every one school in this country. And with the most important purpose and ultimate goal being that of prevention, ask the panel to consider the real morality of shifting funds from punitive criminal prosecution to that of treatment and rehabilitation. Then, as an added benefit, consider the elimination of much of the illegal arms dealing around the globe, typically purchased for the protection and defense of gangs and drug traffickers.

While the US economy dives further into bankruptcy, our drug craving goes utterly unimpeded by either our 'war on terror' or our 'war on drugs.' This is not a time for blame; nor is it a time for political moralizing.

The truth is, regulating and controlling currently illegal drugs, just as we have with alcohol and tobacco, won't keep people from making stupid choices, but it will shift the revenues currently flowing out of this country.

In the meanwhile, every time you or someone you know 'innocently' lights up a doobie, sniffs some coke, injects or smokes a little heroin, or takes a hit at anything other than a golf ball, you've added to the deficit (ours, not just yours) and paid the Afghans, Mexicans, or Columbians big bucks to supply you. Meanwhile, this nation just blew $700 for every second of your drug-fogged state.

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