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Why and How to End the War on Drugs

With so many problems in the world today u2013 global economic crisis, climate change, a corrupt political system, growing inequality and entrenched injustice u2013 why make ending the War on Drugs a priority?

With so many problems in the world today – global economic crisis, climate change, a corrupt political system, growing inequality and entrenched injustice – why make ending the War on Drugs a priority?

The answer is that focusing on the War on Drugs addresses all of these issues in some way. From the amount of money and resources being spent to the human and environmental toll that it costs, the impairment of democracy and its promise of equality as the result of the dependence on military action and violence is at the heart of the Drug War. Working to put an end to it is therefore one of those causes that joins together many different causes, and its resolution lays the groundwork for solutions to many different problems.

The Costs

The National Drug Control Budget: FY 2013 Funding Highlights show requested spending in the amounts of $10,538.1 million for drug treatment and prevention (with increases in the former and decreases in the latter) and $15,061.8 for combined domestic law enforcement (including incarceration operations), interdiction (i.e. customs and border protection), and international support (development aid plus interdiction and eradication efforts in Colombia, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America reflecting millions of dollars in decreases, while efforts in Afghanistan and Central Asia show increased spending). The grand total, according to the US government: just shy of $25,600,000,000.

This requested budget does reflect some welcome changes in direction, such as giving up on some useless prevention messaging and stepping back the US interference in foreign countries where the United States’ efforts to stop drug trafficking have not only been abject failures but have made the US an unwanted presence (see Honduras).

Yet the Drug Policy Alliance recognizes the need for more changes, holding the US’ War on Drugs responsible for “devastating human costs that far outweigh the damage caused by drugs alone. The United States’ unrivaled incarceration rate is a constant financial drain, causing an immeasurable loss in workforce productivity, and puts a strain on scant legal and law enforcement resources.”

Tough Questions

Discovering how to put an end to the War on Drugs begins by taking a look at why it has been so unsuccessful and asking tough questions, which is exactly what Ernest A. Canning did in his outstanding three-part series, Disturbing Questions About Our Government and the So-Called ‘War on Drugs.’ Part 1 asks, “Would legalization reduce CIA access to covert funding?” Part 2 queries, “Would legalization disrupt the economics of the Prison Industrial Complex and its pool of slave laborers?” Part 3 deals with the question, “Is the evil, that many cite as indicative of the ‘failure’ of the ‘War on Drugs,’ actually a perverse indices of its success?” …Disturbing, indeed.

More tough questions need to be asked about such issues as the US’ role and intentions in the Paraguayan “legislative coup” that displaced leftist President Fernando Lugo. While the coup is generally looked at in terms of land ownership, agribusiness, and the maintenance of a US military presence in a region that has been steadily rejecting it, few seem to have taken note of Paraguay’s status as the largest producer of marijuana in South America

Public Discussion

Those who have been attempting to live normal lives in places on the globe where drug violence makes this proposition an enormous challenge do not need to ask any questions beyond this: “Since the current policy obviously isn’t working, why don’t we try something else?”

In answer, they are discussing different ideas, top among them being some form of drug legalization or legitimization, beginning with marijuana. The leaders of those countries most severely affected by drug violence – Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala – have begun talking in earnest about the possibility of major changes in their nations’ drug policies, despite Washington’s staunch adherence to its Drug War ideology. At the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia last April, a candid discussion on alternatives to the War on Drugs was held by 30 heads of state.

The Uruguayan Parliament is taking the discussion a step further in looking at a proposal for the government to regulate and sell marijuana to Uruguayan citizens. Unlike the portrayal in the New York Times, it is not as if the “famously rebellious” President José Mujica could just decide to do this on a whim. Mujica’s presidential record proves him a consensus builder, not a bully, and his proposal is being subjected to vigorous public debate and all the proper channels. Polls indicate that public support is not behind the idea as the process begins. But regardless of the outcome, Uruguay is showing great leadership in seriously entertaining the idea.

Citizen Action

The people in many parts of Latin America who are positioned at the source and the transit stages of the illicit drug trade have long suffered the misguided policies of the War on Drugs in the form of ongoing violence and social disarray, while for the end-users, the devastation of families is kept hidden, the toll disproportionately paid by groups of people who are sequestered to certain sections of the nation’s cities, to out-of-the-way work camps, hidden dishwashing stations, nighttime cleaning shifts, to walled prisons.

Yet the War on Drugs affects everyone in the United States. The diversity of the more than 220 organizations that are supporting the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which began its march to Washington D.C. in Tijuana on Sunday, 12 August 2012, displays just how far and wide the Drug War policies reach. Drug addiction specialists and law enforcement groups are joining together with peace brigades, justice centers, Latin American solidarity organizations, minority rights leaders, prisoner reform activists, women and family advocates, religious charities, workers unions, even Afghan Peace Volunteers mentor, Dr. Hakim, who all have the same goals: “to promote dialogue with American civil society and its government.”

Ending the War on Drugs is, at its essence, about the restoration of democratic principles.

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