COLUMN: Readdressing the War on Drugs

Posted 11:49 a.m. Sept. 27

by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – As the American government continues to ‘wage the war against drugs’, a perpetual process of suppressing civil liberties, alienating large segments of the population, compromising the morals and values so highly revered by democratic society and financial profligacy occurs behind the fa?ade of a painstakingly obvious and futile policy towards narcotics.

Since 1971, when President Richard M. Nixon launched the ‘war on drugs,’ the United States has only succeeded in increasing drug use among its population and contributing to the totalitarian control of brutal foreign regimes through a practice of “drug war exceptions.”

Rather then focusing on “homeland security” issues regarding the sale and use of narcotics, the United States government chooses to fight an international war with drugs. Perhaps the most recent and frightening example of the American anti-drug policy abroad came in May of 2001 when the now infamous Taliban government of Afghanistan issued an edict ordering the halt of all opium cultivation. Afghanistan is, to date, the world’s leading opium producer, supplying over 70% of the world’s opium. Consequently, the Taliban regime was rewarded financially, with a grant of $43 million in aid for ‘humanitarian efforts.’

Opium production in Afghanistan accounts for $2 billion in gross domestic product. According to Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute, the financial impact of Afghanistan’s opium production on the United States economy is a startling $215 billion, making a reward of $43 million a substantial amount if the designated funds were to be redirected towards non-humanitarian efforts.

Despite reports issued by the U.S. government and the United Nations that testify to a decline in the cultivation of opium for the 2000-2001 year, the neighboring Takjistani government reported an actual increase of opium shipments crossing into the country. Carpenter reports that the edict was merely a front to drive up the prices of already stockpiled opium harvests.

This is only one of many examples in which the American government displays a great degree of ambiguity in international relations by collaborating with dictatorial or authoritarian regimes. In the 1980s, the American government was hardly lacking in praise for Panama’s cruelest dictator Manuel Noriega. Although he appeared committed to the American-Panamanian anti-drug alliance, according to Wall Street Journal correspondent Frederick Kempe, for every crucial drug-related arrest Noriega assisted in, he personally profited from massive extortion deals made with the drug lords before surrendering them to American authorities. This relationship continued into the 1990s with authoritarian president Alberto Fujimari.

The pattern of disregard for humanitarian rights abuses and anti-democratic administrations is exemplified in American collaborations with the military juntas of Burma and the communist nation of Cuba. Despite the severing of all diplomatic ties and severely enforced economic embargos against both nations, the U.S. government was lenient in regards to relations when the countries chose to assist with the interception of freighters smuggling cocaine from Columbia. What is the implication of these actions? The American government has shamelessly pursued policies of self-interest, even those that compromise the ethical ideological premise that is definitive of a democratic society.

The largest and most elaborate attack on drugs launched by the American government was the commencement of “Plan Columbia” in 1999. With a price tag of $1.5 billion, the United States has utilized their massive military force to aid the Colombian government in eradicating the extensive cocoa production that characterizes the Latin American nation. As Carpenter reports, this prohibitionist policy strengthens an already corrupt and repressive government and intensifies U.S. military involvement abroad.

The results have been an increasingly anti-American sentiment in Columbia and a progressively hazardous situation for American troops who have encountered attacks on their planes that distribute chemicals that aim to destroy the cocoa crops throughout the country. According to Washington Post correspondent Scott Wilson, despite a major reduction in cocoa plantations per acre, Columbian peasants testify that countless more cocoa fields exist in the hard to reach valleys and jungles of Columbia, protected by camouflage covers and guerilla troops.

David B. Kopel, of the Independence Institute of Colorado, reports that despite estimates made by the United States which put Columbian cocaine production at an annual rate of 580 tons, a top official in the Colombian government leaked to sources in May of 2001 that cocaine production is actually in the ball park of 800 to 900 tons annually, with no immediate signs of decline.

While the U.S. government continues to spend billions in alliances with dictatorships, military regimes and authoritarian governments, the war on drugs within our own boundaries continually fails to be properly addressed. According to the Bureau of Justice, in 2000 86.9 million Americans or 38.9 percent of the population over the age of twelve admitted to having tried some form of narcotics and 38.9 million or 25.5 percent admit to be currently using an illegal substance. Of these, 34.2 percent have used or are using marijuana, 11.2 percent have used or using cocaine, 2.4 percent have used or are using crack and 1.2 percent have used or are using heroin.

Rather then directing precious funding towards rehabilitation, the U.S. government has increased expenses utilized for police force and incarceration. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in 1999 6.3 million adults, or 3.1 percent of the population over the age of 12 were either incarcerated, on probation or serving time on parole. These statistics placed America as the leading nation for the imprisonment of its populace, surpassing the former USSR and South Africa respectively.

In 2000, 77,791 or 51 percent of all convictions were drug related offenses and in 2001 the DEA arrested 30,644 people for drug-related crimes. In addition, juvenile facilities detain 98,913 minors on drug related charges. According to the office of the National Drug Control Policy, drug-users are 16 times more likely to commit theft or larceny, 14 times more times likely to violate driving and alcohol laws and 9 times more likely to be arrested on assault charges. In March of 2000, the government reported a range of 42.5 percent to 82 percent positive testing for an illegal substance by adults at the time of their arrest. Nineteen percent of all state and 16 percent of all federal prisoners admitted to committing their crimes so as to obtain drug money. Consequently, over 80 percent of all inmates admit to using drugs.

It is statistically proven that drugs are the most pervasive force regarding the act of committing a crime in America. But still, the essential necessity for the treatment and rehabilitation of this disease goes unmet. According to the ONDCP, $38 billion is spent on incarcerating the American populace each year, of which $30 billion goes directly to incarcerations for crimes of a drug or alcohol related nature. It costs the average taxpayer an annual sum of $9,177 for an offender’s trial (with a federally appointed attorney) and $20,674 a year to incarcerate each prisoner.

In no way do I advocate a policy of legalization. Nor do I aim to criticize the American government, who has continually proven themselves worthy of the title, “the leader of the free world.” But I call into question a government whose policies suppress their ailing citizens without properly facilitating a means for their restoration. I call into question a government who allocates a greater amount of resources for the prison industrial complex then the education system. And I call into question a government who will financially contribute to the very regimes that sustain terrorist networks, inflict massive humanitarian abuses on their citizens and are characterized by all that is truly anti-democratic.

Frankly, the world cannot expect the eradication of narcotics. The Netherlands will remain a member of the international community, high-school students and collegiate alike will continue to experiment, and a “hippie” counter-culture, committed to the ideals of the mind expansionism will most likely always exist in every region of the world. No legal provision, like that represented in the 1998 Higher Education Act, that restricts students with prior drug convictions from receiving federal aid, will stop this. Drugs are a reality we face. At any time when a product proves that it can reap a lucrative profit, there will always be a willing entrepreneur with the necessary capital to risk its distribution. As the saying goes, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.”

But rather then compromise the morals of America with ideologically contradictory international coalitions and the aggressive suppression of Americans who were never given a chance, I suggest we reexamine the ways in which we wage this ominous and indispensable war on drugs. Let combat take form in the improvement of all facets of the public education system, focusing on those areas where minorities, who represent the majority of drug related convictions, reside. Why not increase treatment facilities and establish federal programs to combat the disease of addiction, so we can cure rather then punish our sick? Currently, only 40 percent of all inmates have accessible to them drug rehabilitation programs and only 173,000 of all prisoners are enrolled in such. Can we not hold our government somewhat accountable for every drug-related crime committed if they refuse to offer a truly sound solution?

Statistics prove that among those drug offenders enrolled in treatment programs, only 3.3 percent were likely to be arrested again for a drug-related crime within six months following their release. In contrast, 12.1 percent of those not enrolled became repeat offenders within the same time period and only 20.5 percent of those enrolled in treatment programs used drugs again. Although these numbers still represents the severity of drug addiction, it is still a start and we have to start somewhere.

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