In the York County (SC) Green Party’s most recent monthly column in YC Magazine, writer Liz Smith-Anderson wrote about the War on Drugs, which rages on under the Obama administration despite hope for change. Here is the column.
The War on Drugs
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit in on magistrate’s court here in York County. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness. Young adult after young adult being sentenced for having a beer, a joint, and being under the legal age of 21, wherein the people over the age of 21 were then convicted and fined for providing the alcohol and or drugs to these “minors.” There didn’t seem to be much burden of proof, only the word of the officers who issued the tickets. Isn’t it sad that an 18 year old can own a gun but cannot legally consume alcohol? We ship these kids off to kill for our country but punish them severely for drinking a beer.
It became clear that what I was witnessing was a money-making scheme that totally ignored the fact that justice seemed to be meted out according to how much you could pay. If you or your parents could afford the 900 plus dollars, you could get your charges cleared by proceeding to intervention. No money? Your choices are to arrange payment of your fine or go to jail. No attempt is made to address the underlying problems of those unfortunate souls, just punishment. Let’s face it, the War on Drugs has failed and failed dismally, ruining lives and families along the way. It has turned our police force into a militia charged with pumping money into a privatized prison system that profits every time another “druggie” gets sent to jail.
The Green Party of the United States feels that nothing less than the decriminalization of drug use is acceptable. Our jails are overflowing with non-violent offenders who are there simply because they chose to smoke a joint, have a serious addiction problem, or in the case of those under the age of 21, drink a beer. Time has proven that these people are never rehabilitated in jail or in drug courts but educated in how to hide their drug use. The annual cost to house a prisoner is over 20 thousand dollars. Just think of the money that could be saved if all non violent drug offenders were set free. One prisoner could pay over half a teacher’s or police officer’s salary which would be a far better use of tax payer dollars than housing people sent to prison under the demands of current mandatory sentencing laws.
Drug use in and of itself is not necessarily good or bad, depending on its context. Our current drug policy allows for alcohol and nicotine to be produced and consumed legally while it criminalizes other drugs. This policy is hypocritical. If you don’t think our kids see and understand this you are sadly mistaken. In all times, human beings have sought to alter their consciousness through the use of drugs/alcohol. It has only been in the last 100 years that we have developed a system to criminalize the behavior thus enabling profitability for ‘illegal’ manufacturing. Drug dealers don’t pay taxes on the money they make. Drug dealers and cartels around the world LOVE our drug laws, it keeps them in business.
We have taken a behavior that is inherently human and now treat it as a criminal issue when in truth and in fact drug and alcohol addiction is a social and medical problem and should be treated as such. Prohibition did nothing to stop the alcoholic from drinking and the War on Drugs has done nothing to curb drug use. The pharmaceutical industry’s “chemicalization of society” has promoted the attitude that one should be able to take a pill to solve a problem instead of dealing with the sources of the problem. They don’t want you to take a pill or powder that is not making them any money. That is one reason the medical use of marijuana has been stymied in this country. The War on Drugs has made medicinal users criminals. From glaucoma to muscle spasms, MS to cancer, marijuana has been proven to relieve symptoms and at times alleviate them in many people suffering from chronic diseases. Chemotherapy patients world- wide tout the benefits of the medicinal use of marijuana yet we continue to force these very same people into illegal drug buys with the possibility of prosecution and jail time simply because they were unfortunate enough to get cancer.
Producing massive global social disaster, the “war on drugs” has generated many problems including police corruption where the illegal drug market buys favors and freedom on a daily basis. Those who benefit from our current drug laws such as judicial, police, prison bureaucracies, prison construction firms, drug testing companies, lawyers, and security firms are growing wealthy victimizing the common citizen. Good people are being imprisoned because of our absurd drug policies and young adults and kids under the age of 21 are simply crucified if they don’t have the money to buy their way out of trouble.
This war on drugs has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, from the school age child who is fed false and incomplete information to the people in severe pain and the terminal that are denied appropriate treatment. Conservative politicians and talk show hosts (even the ones who have major drug problems themselves) have no problem using victims of the drug war as scapegoats in their attempt to solidify the “us and them” mentality cultivated and promoted by the engineers of this “war.”
This really makes me question the intentions of the Senior Bush in establishing the War on Drugs and enabling the privatization of our prison system. I cannot help but wonder why we continue on with these obviously failed and flawed policies. We have lost our right to legal search and seizure, all that is needed now is the word of one person that they saw something illegal and all rights are revoked. Homes are lost, families torn apart, and prisons overcrowded simply because of our draconian attitude towards the use of drugs. Legalization would provide the means to help people instead of punishing them. The police could go back to keeping us safe from real criminals who murder and commit white collar crimes. The addict could seek help without fear of jail, the courts would be cleared and the prosecution of, disproportionately, people of color for drug charges could end.
Nearly half a million people are behind bars on drug charges – more than all of Western Europe (with a bigger population) incarcerates for all offenses. The war on drugs has become a war on families, a war on public health and a war on our constitutional rights. It’s time to stop the madness that is called The War on Drugs.