The war on drugs is bound to fail without changes - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

The war on drugs is bound to fail without changes

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Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2011 7:30 am

There was "victory" in Iraq and a pending one in Afghanistan. Now, we're told, it's time to turn our weapons to the war on drugs.

The need for an escalation led U.S. Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal to plant the thought in public discourse that invading Mexico is not out of the question.

We don't like losing wars. We fight only for the right side because our intent is for a happy ending. Just consult a history book, if you're in doubt.

Given that, a mistake was made from the beginning with the misapplication of "war" to the campaign to minimize illicit drug use. Wars provoke resistance from the other side. We don't like or understand that.

The Nixon administration gave the war on drugs a law-and-order spin in the early 1970s. Its concern was with out-of-control youth (mostly in college), the association of pot smoking with draft-resistance, hippies, yippies, cultural drift and the Beatles. Drug use was considered the common denominator with disorder and threats to the upright, the straight-laced, the moral community and what made over-the-top youth go bonkers.

A law-enforcement, rehab, talk-and-treatment therapy, and a public relations industry grew up around legitimate concerns over distribution and illicit drug use. However, the application of drug laws today tends to serve other social-control purposes.

For example, low-level pot possession is the number one cause of arrest in New York City, 50,383 cases. Of those, 86 percent of the arrests last year were of blacks and Latinos despite consistent research showing young whites use marijuana at higher rates, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

In another theater of the war, a November 2008 report from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., co-chaired by Mexico's former president Ernesto Zedillo, declared the U.S. war on drugs had failed. The report called for rethinking the "asymmetrical" U.S. policy that calls for countries like Mexico to stanch the flow of drugs without making a successful effort to stop the flow of guns going south and avoiding the public health issue that large-scale illegal-drug consumption presents. The drug fight will fail so long as law enforcement remains the policy's emphasis. Neglect of the problem of consumption, despite all the health and brain-science evidence on addiction, shows how wrong-headed the policy is.

More than two years after the Brookings report, the Inter-American Dialogue also labels the policy a failure. It challenges the policy whose purpose is to fight on and spend into oblivion, with seeming disinterest on whether drug use and distribution is declining. Debate about the 40-year U.S. war on drugs," said the Dialogue, "remains muted."

Inter-American Dialogue president emeritus Peter Hakim presented his case to "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske. He briefed staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and discussed the report with assistant secretary William Brownfield of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Who was Hakim trying to move? The very people whose careers and budgets depend on keeping the drug war going?

Have we sat and watched this scenario before? Try public education, where bad results get more money, which produces more bad results.

Good money chasing good policy is the prescription. Not good money chasing bad policy. The "far-reaching debate" Hakim wants is sound but unlikely because of war promoters.

Look long and hard into the public policy syndicates that lie and have no serious public interest at heart. Reason demands something different.

With drugs, even the law and justice theme rings phony -- like documentaries for future TV episodes of "Cops". Some days, the glowing reports about a bust or a capture look suspiciously like that banner "Mission Accomplished," but eight long years before the Iraq war began winding down.

To make the Iraq war increasingly a thing of the past, it took some bold changes of policy, personnel and public attitude. Just as it will take in the war on drugs.

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