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News Link • Drug War

Call Off the Global Drug War

• Jimmy Carter
N an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. The commission includes the former presidents or prime ministers of five countries, a former secretary general of the United Nations, human rights leaders, and business and government leaders, including Richard Branson, George P. Shultz and Paul A. Volcker.

The report describes the total failure of the present global antidrug effort, and in particular America’s “war on drugs,” which was declared 40 years ago today. It notes that the global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Its primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.

These recommendations are compatible with United States drug policy from three decades ago. In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

This approach entailed an enormous expenditure of resources and the dependence on police and military forces to reduce the foreign cultivation of marijuana, coca and opium poppy and the production of cocaine and heroin. One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

The commission’s facts and arguments are persuasive. It recommends that governments be encouraged to experiment “with models of legal regulation of drugs ... that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.” For effective examples, they can look to policies that have shown promising results in Europe, Australia and other places.

But they probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3 percent of all American adults!

Some of this increase has been caused by mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws. But about three-quarters of new admissions to state prisons are for nonviolent crimes. And the single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980.

Not only has this excessive punishment destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families (disproportionately minorities), but it is wreaking havoc on state and local budgets. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out that, in 1980, 10 percent of his state’s budget went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and only 7.5 percent to higher education.

Maybe the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for the war on drugs will help to bring about a reform of America’s drug policies. At least the recommendations of the Global Commission will give some cover to political leaders who wish to do what is right.

 

4 Comments in Response to

Comment by Jillian Galloway
Entered on:

On June 17, 1971, President Nixon told Congress that "if we cannot destroy the drug menace in America, then it will surely destroy us." After forty years of trying to destroy "the drug menace in America" though, we still *haven't* been able to destroy it and it still *hasn't* destroyed us. Four decades is ample enough to realize that on this important issue President Nixon wrong! All actions taken as a result of his invalid and paranoid assumptions (e.g. the federal marijuana prohibition) should be ended immediately!

It makes no sense for taxpayers to fund the federal marijuana prohibition when it *doesn't* prevent people from using marijuana and it *does* make criminals incredibly wealthy and incite the Mexican drug cartels to murder thousands of people every year.

We need legal adult marijuana sales in supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies for exactly the same reason that we need legal alcohol and tobacco sales - to keep unscrupulous black-market criminals out of our neighborhoods and away from our children. Marijuana must be made legal to sell to adults everywhere that alcohol and tobacco are sold.

 

Comment by Anonymous
Entered on:

 

This is re-inventing the Global Drug War the wrong way.

"...we are free to pursue anything we want as long as we are not harming another person or damaging his property..."

This simply means that WE ARE NOT FREE to "pursue anything" we want, if by doing so we harm another person or do damage to someone else's property.

In short, there is no such thing as ABSOLUTE FREEDOM. No one is free to commit any act that is illegal or prohibited by law or criminal. To stay in prison after conviction of a wrongdoing is neither a right nor freedom the Statue of Liberty stands for -- it is punishment.

Illegal use of marijuana and hallucinogen substances that induce hallucinations or addictive drugs such as LSD that screws up or damages the brain is prohibited by law because needless to say it harms people. If it is a cure, then their use must be legalized or authorized by law. If for health reason the use of marijuana -- which otherwise would have been illegal -- is legalized by law, the legalization of such use is NOT A PROCESS THAT ERODES OUR FREEDOM.

Regulating the use of controlled substances that could harm people has nothing to do with our vigilance to protect our liberty and freedom that the Statue of Liberty stands for. I’m sorry… But the connection is too far – like a million light years away.

Comment by Anonymous
Entered on:

 

This is re-inventing the Global Drug War the wrong way.

"...we are free to pursue anything we want as long as we are not harming another person or damaging his property..." This simply means that WE ARE NOT FREE to "pursue anything" we want, if by doing so we harm another person or do damage to someone else's property.

This simply means that WE ARE NOT FREE to " we want, if by doing so we harm another person or do damage to someone else's property.

In short, there is no such thing as ABSOLUTE FREEDOM. No one is free to commit any act that is illegal or prohibited by law or criminal. To stay in prison after conviction of a wrongdoing is neither a right nor freedom the Statue of Liberty stands for -- it is punishment.

Illegal use of marijuana and hallucinogen substances that induce hallucinations or addictive drugs such as LSD that screws up or damages the brain is prohibited by law because needless to say it harms people. If it is a cure, then their use must be legalized or authorized by law. If for health reason the use of marijuana -- which otherwise would have been illegal -- is legalized by law, the legalization of such use is NOT A PROCESS THAT ERODES OUR FREEDOM.

Regulating the use of controlled substances that could harm people has nothing to do with our vigilance to protect our liberty and freedom that the Statue of Liberty stands for. I’m sorry… But the connection is too far – like a million light years away.

Comment by Ed Price
Entered on:

When considering legalizing drugs, watch out so that you do not make this BIG mistake that erodes our freedoms even further than they are already. Here is what that mistake is about.

In our land, the land of the free, we are free to pursue anything we want as long as we are not harming another person or damaging his property. It seems that some people have decided that using certain drugs is harming someone else, or damaging his property, without such a thing having happened. They call it a threat. And the supposed threat is worse than the damage that may have been done if the so-called threat were allowed to continue.

In other words, we are free to use only certain kinds of drugs because we are damaging someone when we use some other kinds of drugs, even when there is no damage that can be seen or brought into evidence.

Here is the big danger. Legalizing something that is really legal in the first place - drug use with no evidence of damage - destroys our freedom to do something that we would have been free to do anyway.

THE THING THAT SHOULD BE DONE IS, make the illegal activity of taking away our freedom to do what we want when we don't hurt anyone, take that illegal activity of freedom busting away. Give us back our freedom. Prosecute us AFTER we have done damage. And if we do damage, PROSECUTE US HARSHLY AND FIRMLY so that all others will take warning and stop doing damage.

Making drug usage "legal" is only another way of placing us under the thumb of someone who wants to control our lives. It is a process that erodes our freedom.


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