Electing Faithfulness Part 8: The War on Some Drugs

[back to part 7: Healthcare]

“The War on Some Drugs”
or
“The War on Poor People Who Have Drugs”
or
“The War on Drugs Pharmaceutical Companies Aren’t Cashing In On”
or
“The War on Black People” (ok, that one’s harsh)

Take a brief look at what’s happening in America today:
Fully Armed Swat team shoots at ex-marine 71 Times in Marijuana raid—No Marijuana found
Marijuana raid kills father to be
And several other tragic drug war fatalities

In the simplest of terms, any substance that affects the body in a way that can impair a person is a drug, whether it be for medicine, recreation, or any other purpose.  Thus, the term “drug” is a neutral term.  However, we often hear about a so-called “war on drugs,” which is actually, if we apply it honestly, a war on particular drugs and for particular reasons, benefitting only particular people.

Nearly 750,000 people are arrested every year for marijuana offenses in the U.S. There’s a lot of variation across states in what happens next. Not all arrests lead to prosecutions, and relatively few people prosecuted and convicted of simple possession end up in jail. Most are fined or are placed into community supervision. About 40,000 inmates of state and federal prison have a current conviction involving cannabis, and about half of them are in for cannabis offenses alone; most of these were involved in distribution. Less than one percent are in for possession alone.

I know what a lot of people are thinking.  “If it’s a crime, don’t do it, and if it’s a crime, you get locked up.”  Plain and simple, right?  Unfortunately, many people in our society have this thwarted view of crime and punishment: whatever the laws say make sense, the tougher you are on crime the more it’ll go away, and there are two kinds of people in the world: criminals and non-criminals, so just lock up all the criminals, and if it happens to you—well—you asked for it.  It’s the kind of attitude that never stops to consider the notion that sometimes police are corrupt, that sometimes laws are corrupt.  Oh and sometimes people need Grace, and having orange pajamas shouldn’t exclude you from Grace.

You may ask why I care about this.  Am I a drug user?  Do I want to be a drug user?  Caleb Coy would like to set the record straight.  I have never used cannabis in my life.  I smoked not; neither did I inhale.  I am not writing this post to inspire people to use cannabis or to convince you to legalize cannabis so that I can use it legally.  My purpose here is to show you why the “war on drugs” policies in America need to change, and why it matters.  That being said, let’s go over some points about cannabis:

1. Prohibition doesn’t work. We know that.  It didn’t work with a worse drug, alcohol, and it isn’t working for cannabis.  When any drug is legitimized gangs are no longer in control of the distribution.  Criminals dealers have no more profit, and the possibility of taxation of substances can benefit the economy.
Observe that legal substances such as tobacco, alcohol, most pharmaceuticals, and even edibles such as fat, sugar, and salt—these all together contribute to the great majority of deaths in our society, and yet are legal, some of them with doctor-prescribed restraints based on age or medical condition.

2. Cannabis cigarettes don’t cause cancer any more than tobacco cigarettes
3. Criminals may more likely to use drugs, but no evidence is shown that cannabis causes people to commit crimes.  Alcohol is proven to increase the likelihood someone will commit a crime, because it has been known to cause aggression.
4. Marijuana is not chemically addictive: you can’t become dependent on it like you can most drugs.  Less than 10% of heavy pot users become dependent.
5. Most users aren’t hardcore: About half of the people who report using cannabis in their life reported less than 12 days of use.  One third of users say they use it less than 10 days in a year.  Compare that to alcohol users.
6. Marijuana is not really a gateway drug:  Statistically, kids who try weed will be more likely to try other drugs than kids who don’t, but that probably has more to do with the social factors and environments (rebellion, drug culture, etc.).  A report by the Inst. of Med. found “no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of cannabis are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

Noam Chomsky (who happens to be no fan of Ron Paul) explains why the war on drugs is too costly, and ultimately ineffective:
“…Without any criminalization, the usage of [alcohol and tobacco] has declined pretty significantly among more educated people. And it’s the same with say, red meat. It was a lifestyle change, and it became a healthier lifestyle with no criminalization. That’s just education – basically, prevention. So I think there’s almost no other rational conclusion other than the one I mentioned: that the Drug War is not intended to deal with the use of drugs. It’s intended for other purposes, namely those that are the actual and predictable consequences of it.”

We have over 1.1 million in prison, making us a world’s leader in inmate count.  Over 20% of Federal prison inmantes are non-violent, first-time offenders.

Ron Paul understands that our prisons are overcrowded, and that among the first released should be nonviolent abusers of cannabis, because they do more harm being in prison.  He believes that drug abuse laws should be left up to states.  The War on Drugs is bleeding too much tax money and has not been effective.  There are deep problems with the War on Drugs involving classism, unjust incarceration practices, and absurd policies.

The War on Drugs is a Failure

Billions of dollars are spent on this war on some-drugs-and-some-people-involved-in-drugs, where too many policemen arrest innocent people, plant evidence, lie, and falsify charges, just to meet arrest quotas and make white suburbanites feel safe (I have nothing against cops who don’t do this stuff).  Many people who are merely drug mules and small-timers get 15-year charges, while the high rollers get to trade info and bribe (or threaten) cops to walk free.  As Ron Paul points out, “We have non-violent drug offenders doing life sentences, and there is no room to incarcerate the rapists and murderers.”

We have a strange dichotomy in American prisons: On the one hand, we are spending too much on luxuries.  A federal prison should be providing the least amount of luxury among any federal housing.  Yet on the other hand, we are spending too much on incarcerating people and shoving them all in a cage.  What sometimes happens is that the more brutal criminals hog the luxuries and create a “Hell on earth” for the weaker ones (you know, like Arkham City).  In this way, a system meant to produce justice ends up perpetuating injustice, as corruption grows within the walls and the ones who suffer the most are the less corrupt.

Fed pens could shrink and state pens could cut spending by a) Not spending so much on pampering prisoners with cable and full gyms, while also b) Not throwing people in prison forever by trumping charges.

Leaving more laws to the states would allow for states to creatively use alternative punitive methods that have in many instances proven more effective and far cheaper—sanctions and restrictions, fines, community service, probation, and rehabilitation.  If you’re going to treat Darryl Strawberry or Charlie Sheen this way, you should treat poor ghetto drug abusers this way.

Ron Paul favors the right to use cannabis as a medical option.  Medical.  Do we understand what that means?  That means that if we are in pain and a) our body is not responding to other painkillers, and/or b) we prefer a more natural painkiller than pharmaceutical drugs offered, cannabis, an herb of the earth created by God, would be used to treat the pain.  This is very comparable to using opium, another product of the green earth, to treat pain, which mankind has been doing in hospitals for a long time.

Besides, hemp is an herb that, if legalized and regulated in America, could help the economy by producing products such as paper, clothing, building materials, and plastic composites. (During WWII the US government allowed the growing of hemp to replace Manila, which was produced by the Japanese).  In some states it is actually legal to cultivate hemp, but due to anti-drug pressure from the DEA nobody’s really trying it.

But one of the worst things about the War on Drugs is that it’s actually a War on Minorities.  The policies carried out damage Blacks and Latinos most of all, unjustly incarcerating them in-proportionally to the number of drug users in America.

[Ron Paul on the racist origins of the “War on Drugs” policies]

So why is cannabis still illegal?  People scared of change.  But, since we’re curious, here are the top Special Interest Groups lobbying to keep it illegal:
1. Police Unions—Federal drug war grants are a huge part of police debt. budgets.  Why turn that much money down?
2. Private Prison Corps.—Right now, cannabis is our biggest cash crop for private companies.  In 2010 there were over 800,000 cannabis arrests in the U.S.  In that same year, two private prison companies made over $3 billion locking people up.  One of the companies, CCA, revealed that it intends to continue the drug war to gain profit.  Some prison companies even bankroll pro-drug-war politicians and secretly lobby for harsher sentencing for drug crimes.
3. Beer Corps.—They fear the competition.  Companies producing a more dangerous drug than cannabis.
4. Pharmaceutical Corps.—They don’t like cheap alternatives to their favorite pills: Advil, Vicodin, etc.
5. Prison Guard Unions—More prisoners, more prison guards.  Gotta protect your jobs, right?
(The drug cartels want to keep it illegal too.  They just don’t lobby for it.  They’d rather kill DEA agents and control the market with high profit than risk losing it all in an open market)

President Obama has had yet to really tackle the war on drugs in his presidency, though he has expressed the desire to do so if he gains a second term.  Similar to Ron Paul, he has expressed dissatisfaction with the war on drugs and instead wants to handle cannabis abuse as more of a “public health problem” like smoking and drunk driving.  Obama was very candid about his drug use as a young man, unlike Bill Clinton, which reveals his honesty on the topic.  However, during his 2008 campaign Obama promised not to interfere with providers of medical cannabis.  Under his administration, the raids have continued, whether he’s paying attention or not.  Given his knack for talking a lot about things but not giving what he promises (withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, for example), I don’t know how much I could trust him to handle this issue in the future.

Governor Romney has spoken that he would “fight tooth and nail” to prevent medical marijuana from being legalized.  I wonder how much of my money along with those teeth and nails will be funneled into that endeavor.  But this very Mormonized, no-tolerance-of-any-substance-we-don’t-comprehend is the only position on drugs he’s been consistent about.  He expressed that the drug war was disappointing, but mostly because it’s not successful, not because we’re going about it the wrong way.  He seemed more worried about the cost in money, not the cost in lives or livelihood.  He believes marijuana is a gateway drug, though no statistical evidence exists to support his claim.  And for a man with zero tolerance of alcohol and cannabis, Romney is a huge supporter of Big Pharm.  He claims that they are in no way “bad guys”, but just “doing the work of the free market”.  It’s no wonder he is the second top recipient of campaign contributions from pharm companies this year (Obama is first—could this explain his inaction?  It could be he is waiting til a second term when contributions won’t matter).

You can’t solve crime by throwing as many criminals in a cage for as long as you can and expecting them to come out reformed.  Many perpetuate a corrupt community together, the ones with the worse records ruling as kings while the ones with small records become peons.  All the while we are paying around 30,000 for each inmate a year, even the ones with a first-time, non-violent conviction.  The typical cocaine user is a white, middle-class male, but you’ll see very few of these in prison.  It seems like every part of this system is broken except the bars.

I know of a young man who has been in prison for the past few years for a nonviolent crime, and is surrounded by violence.  Should he have to face all that in addition to confinement and stripped privileges?  We must not conflate crime.  At the very least, it’s too expensive.  At the most, it’s unjust.

Communities need to organize and volunteer to ease the despair and helplessness that lead to drug abuse, for it is not the few drug lords that fuel the business of addictive drugs, but the many poor souls caught up in addicting habits, guilty though most of them may be in their voluntary choice to pursue drug abuse.  Let communities “clean up the streets” in ways that police work has just plain failed.  We as churches need to strengthen our prison ministries, instead of cowering behind our pews and praying for stricter penalties to be handed down from Caesar.  “I was in prison, and you didn’t visit me.”  Those words should haunt us.

If that’s “soft on crime”, then I’m soft and unashamed.  How would you feel if your 19-year-old son was sentenced to five years for possession of weed?

[on to part 9: Education]

3 responses to “Electing Faithfulness Part 8: The War on Some Drugs

  1. Pingback: Electing Faithfulness: Concluding Thoughts | CALEB COY

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