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Time to End the War on Drugs?


In 1971 Richard Nixon announced a War on Drugs. It was part of his “law and order” initiative meant to address what was being viewed as rampant drug use, particularly among the young who opposed the Vietnam War. He vowed to rein in what he saw as an epidemic of drug abuse in America. It was a move widely hailed by supporters he called the “silent majority” -- those who opposed the free-wheeling lifestyle exhibited by those they called hippies.


Penalties were increased under Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan's “Just Say No” initiative, aimed at discouraging young people from taking drugs. As a result, the prison population exploded, particularly among minorities who were often sentenced to lengthy prison terms for possessing small amounts of illegal substances. Over the first 30 years of the War on Drugs, the minority prison population grew from around 700,000 to 3 million.


As a result, many declared that the so-called War on Drugs was nothing less than overt racism, with one in three Black men and one in six Hispanic males being incarcerated at some point in their lives. Too many are attracted to the “easy money” associated with drug dealing and are willing to take the risks to make a quick buck. Serving prison time is often viewed as a badge of honor, plus many make even more connections to the drug trade while being incarcerated.


The War on Drugs is as much a class war as it is a racist policy. All too often you will hear of a celebrity or someone with influence entering re-hab to avoid prison. The opioid epidemic saw the Sackler family avoiding punishment for promoting legally sanctioned drug abuse while thousands died and others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for committing illegal acts to support their habit. Those unable to afford adequate legal representation are often sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for holding small amounts of illegal substances.


The violence associated with illegal drugs is entirely avoidable. You only need to look at the Prohibition era to see how organized crime took advantage of illegal alcohol to strengthen its place in society. The violence associated with bootlegging, the illegal distribution of alcohol, disappeared once Prohibition was repealed. This led criminals to turn to the drug trade to maintain their hold on certain segments of the population. The turf wars associated with the illegal distribution of drugs has caused needless deaths of thousands.


Unlike other addictions, drug addiction is treated as criminal rather than an illness. While many states are easing their restrictions and even legalizing marijuana, the DEA still classifies it in the same category as heroin and LSD. While some judges are opting to order a drug addict into rehab, far too many still view it as punishment, especially for those who relapse.


The time to end the War on Drugs is now. Drug addiction needs to be recognized as an illness, the same as any other addiction. Drug possession should be decriminalized and the prisons converted to rehabilitation centers. It would reduce the violence associated with drug dealing, more people would be far more successful with treatment over punishment, and the racist policies that are inherent in the drug laws would be eliminated.


There are only positives in ending this unfair practice.

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