War on Drugs is Ineffective

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  • n March, the commander in chief of the War on Drugs stood in front of a crowd of policymakers, advocates and recovering addicts to declare that America has been doing it wrong. Speaking at the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta – focused on an overdose epidemic now killing some 30,000 Americans a year – President Barack Obama declared, "For too long we have viewed the problem of drug abuse?...?through the lens of the criminal justice system," creating grave costs: "We end up with jails full of folks who can't function when they get out. We end up with people's lives being shattered."
  • Toward the end of Prohibition, John D. Rockefeller Jr., the powerful businessman who supported the US ban on alcohol, admitted defeat. Seeing the effect Prohibition had on America, he concluded that the policy was doomed. So in the 1930s, he underwrote a study that laid out how to legalize alcohol while strictly regulating it. The study shapes alcohol policy to this day, as Garrett Peck explained for Reason.
  • As the US debates drug policy reforms and marijuana legalization, there's one aspect of the war on drugs that remains perplexingly contradictory: some of the most dangerous drugs in the US are legal. Don't believe it? The available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows tobacco, alcohol, and opioid-based prescription painkillers were responsible for more direct deaths in one year than any other drug. The chart above compares those drug deaths with the best available data for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana deaths.
  • On September 6, 2006, a score of masked gunmen stormed into a night club in Uruapan, Michoacán, fired at the ceiling, and tossed five severed heads onto the white-tiled dance floor. Being narcotraficantes—members of one of the brutal drug cartels that effectively ruled large swaths of Mexico in the early years of this century—they also left a note. In towns along the border, boastful, taunting, and tendentious banners and placards, or narcomantas, were routinely hung up next to piles of corpses. This one read, “The Family doesn’t kill for money. It doesn’t kill women. It doesn’t kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice.”
  • Over the weekend, the New England Conference of United Methodist Churches, which represents 600 congregations, voted for a resolution that calls for a complete end to the War On Drugs. The resolution points to Christian principles of redemption and restoration to replace the current system of punitive sanctions against drug users:
  • Maryland District Judge Askew Gatewood brushed off a prosecutor's request to jail Ronald Hammond for possessing 5.9 grams of marijuana — saying it wasn't even enough pot to "roll you a decent joint" — and ordered the Baltimore man to pay a $100 fine instead. But the case eventually led to a 20-year prison sentence for Hammond. As the Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton reported, Hammond was on probation at the time for selling $40 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover officer. Maryland Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart-Mays suspended a 20-year sentence in that case, telling Hammond he would face the full term if he violated his probation in any way.
  • The conservative wave of 2014 featured an unlikely, progressive undercurrent: In two states, plus the nation's capital, Americans voted convincingly to pull the plug on marijuana prohibition. Even more striking were the results in California, where voters overwhelmingly passed one of the broadest sentencing reforms in the nation, de-felonizing possession of hard drugs. One week later, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD announced an end to arrests for marijuana possession. It's all part of the most significant story in American drug policy since the passage of the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol in 1933: The people of this country are leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs.
  • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), in an interview with Talking Points Memo last week, became the first sitting US senator to publicly support marijuana legalization. Merkley told TPM he will likely vote in support of Measure 91, which would fully legalize marijuana possession and sales in Oregon. "I lean in support of it," he said. "I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case. And there is concern about a series of new products — and we don't have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure."

Conservative Supporters of this Argument

DateConservativePositionLocationAbout
10/29/09Tom TancredoMarijuana Should be Legalized
Tom Tancredo
A lot of what pushed me into this position was watching what happened on the border, he explains. The issue of violence that surrounds it — not just on the border — and the crime all over the place. The number of people in prison and the amount we spend to keep them there. The broken families. When you add it all up, when you put all the stuff on the scales — so to speak — there's no question, he says. It tips automatically to the legalization side.
02/25/09Glenn BeckConservative Radio HostMarijuana Should be Legalized
Glenn Beck
“I think it’s about time we legalize marijuana.” He added, “We have to make a choice in this country. We either put people who are smoking marijuana, behind bars, or we legalize it…[banning cannabis] is not helping us, it’s not helping Mexico, and it is causing massive damage on our southern border.”
04/17/08Ron PaulFormer U.S. Respresentative [...Marijuana Should be Legalized
Ron Paul
Ron Paul and Barney Frank introduced US House of Representatives: H.R. 5843 (To eliminate most Federal penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use).
07/25/07Dana RohrabacherU.S. Representative [R-CA]Marijuana Should be Legalized
Dana Rohrabacher
Co-Sponsored the The Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment (House Amendment 272).

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