• Law enforcement rarely arrest or imprison drug offenders.
The Reality: Approximately 25% of our prison population is in jail for drug offenses. Seventy-six percent of the increase in admissions to US prisons from 1978 to 1996 are non-violent drug offenders. Over a period of 20 years the total number of inmates incarcerated on drug charges in federal and state prisons grew over 1000%. In America we have over 100,000 more prisoners in jail on drug offenses than the European Union has total prisoners. The European Union has over 100 million more citizens that the U.S.
The Federal government spends over 13 billion dollars annually on domestic anti-drug law enforcement. That is 800 times greater than the drug control budget. Seventy-nine percent of all drug arrests in 1998 were for possession only. In 1998 police arrested 682,885 Americans for marijuana offenses, more than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined.
• Relaxing anti-drug laws will significantly increase drug use and crime.
The Reality: Jurisdictions that have decriminalized the possession of marijuana and other drugs have drug use and crime rates equal to or lower than those that have maintained strict penalties. Studies have shown that decriminalization of marijuana possession had virtually no effect either on the use or related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana. In Holland the number of hard drug users has fallen steadily since they liberalized their marijuana policies. California saved almost a billion dollars over 10 years in law enforcement costs by decriminalizing the personnel possession of one ounce of marijuana.
• Marijuana is the gateway to the use of hard drugs.
The Reality: In 1944 a study was released by New York City that found that the use of marijuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction. In 1982 a federal study found that there is no evidence to support the belief that the use of one drug will inevitably lead to the use of any other drug. Nothing has changed since then.
• Cannabis has no medical or therapeutic value.
The Reality: The AMA has found that there are significant medical benefits to the use of marijuana for many different serious ailments. Up to the late 1930’s marijuana was available by prescription until Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act that prohibited physicians from prescribing it. Several federal studies have now come out to support the medical use of marijuana.
• We can attain a drug free America.
The Reality: The author of Smoke and Mirrors Dan Baum in “The war on Drugs and the Politics of Failure” summed it up best: “For more than a quarter century the United states has been on a rampage, kicking in doors and locking people up in the name of protecting its citizens from illegal drugs. Hundreds of billions of dollars into the Drug War, nobody claims victory, yet we continue, devoted to a policy as expensive, ineffective, delusional, and destructive as government policy gets.”
Zero tolerance just makes it worse. Judges are forced to sentence drug offenders to lengthy prison terms without considering mitigating factors. Newt Gingrich even proposed legislation in the 1990’s to impose the death penalty for anyone caught importing over two ounces of marijuana.
The war on drugs needs to come to an end. It serves no purpose, wastes valuable resources and does nothing to protect or improve our society. It costs the public approximately $25,000 a year to keep someone in prison. We are wasting our precious resources on nonviolent drug offenders and not getting any benefit. Our elected officials need to wake up and stop beating the drug war drum.
Jeff Blanck is an attorney in Reno in private practice. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.