The only way to win the war on drugs is to stop fight­ing.

Let me come right out and say what you won’t tell the Amer­i­can peo­ple. The War on Drugs is un­winnable. It was un­winnable for Nixon, Ford, Carter, Rea­gan, Bush, Clin­ton, Bush, and now Obama. At forty-four years, it’s Amer­ica’s long­est war and there’s no en

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD -

The peo­ple who ben­e­fit most from the War on Drugs are the traf­fick­ers. Ev­ery dol­lar we spend on drugs and ev­ery dol­lar we spend try­ing to in­ter­dict them raises the prof­its of the Mex­i­can car­tels and makes them more pow­er­ful. So in the very act of fight­ing this war, we lose it. Cops stand­ing in front of big drug seizures look great on­the evening news. But it sells a lie that we’re win­ning, just like Ge­orge Bush on an air­craft car­rier declar­ing that a war was over that still rages on to­day.

It’s not only that we can’t win this war, it’s that we’re de­stroy­ing our­selves fight­ing it. We are lit­er­ally ad­dicted to the War on Drugs. A half-cen­tury of failed pol­icy, one tril­lion dol­lars and forty-five mil­lion ar­rests has not re­duced daily drug use—at all. The U.S. still leads the world in illegal drug con­sump­tion, drugs are cheaper, more avail­able, and more po­tent than ever be­fore.

Our jus­tice sys­tem is a junkie, de­mand­ing its daily fix of ar­rests, seizures and con­vic­tions. It needs drugs. It’s as hooked as that guy stick­ing a nee­dle into his arm even though he knows it’s killing him.

Towns that used to com­pete for fac­to­ries now cam­paign for pen­i­ten­tiaries be­cause caging our cit­i­zens has be­come big busi­ness. Prison pri­va­ti­za­tion—cor­rec­tions as cap­i­tal­ism— has in­creased 1600% be­tween 1990 and 2010.

More African-Amer­i­can men are in prison or in the “sys­tem” to­day than there were slaves in 1850. And you don’t just throw an in­di­vid­ual be­hind bars, you throw his or her whole fam­ily. Al­most 3 mil­lion kids have a par­ent in jail on a drug charge, and they’re more likely to be on wel­fare, drop out of school, go out on the cor­ner and sell drugs to start the whole tragic cy­cle all over again. Drugs be­gin the de­struc­tion of fam­i­lies and the jus­tice sys­tem fin­ishes them off.

Through­out its history, the War on Drugs has dis­pro­por­tion­ally im­pacted mi­nori­ties—it is a war on peo­ple, specif­i­cally com­mu­ni­ties of color. “Right now we have the worst of both worlds. In vast blocks of cities, the only in­comes come from the gov­ern­ment or from drugs.” That was Bill Clin­ton in 1992, and 23 years later noth­ing has changed.

Po­lice de­part­ments have be­come oc­cu­py­ing armies. We can draw a di­rect line be­tween the War on Drugs and the re­cent events in Fer­gu­son, Cleve­land, Bal­ti­more and else­where.

The mil­i­ta­riza­tion of our po­lice de­part­ments be­gan with the re­ac­tion to the crack epi­demic of the 1980s. Heav­ily armed SWAT teams bat­ter­ing down doors in the mid­dle of the night, ar­rest­ing thou­sands of young men, have turned Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods into war zones and spawned a hos­tile and deadly re­la­tion­ship with our in­ner city com­mu­ni­ties.

Proof that this mil­i­ta­riza­tion isn’t work­ing is its es­ca­la­tion: In 1972 there were a few hun­dred paramil­i­tary drug raids; 1980 saw 3,000; 2001 had 40,000; and last year that dou­bled to 80,000. Of course, if the raids were work­ing, there’d be fewer of them, not more. The War on Drugs isn’t just a fail­ure, it’s a dis­as­ter. U.S. drug pol­icy works great—for the Mex­i­can car­tels. Your votes have con­se­quences: In 1994 you voted in NAFTA, the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, which DEA agents on the front line call the North Amer­i­can Free Drug Trade Agree­ment. So while you were pass­ing se­vere laws against drug pos­ses­sion at home, you were en­abling thou­sands of trailer trucks of dope to come across the bor­der and flood our cities.

Our drug pol­icy to­ward Mexico has been so bad that for­mer Pres­i­dent Clin­ton apol­o­gized to the Mex­i­can peo­ple in Fe­bru­ary of this year, say­ing “I wish you had no narco-traf­fick­ing, but it’s not re­ally your fault. Ba­si­cally, we did too good of a job tak­ing the trans­porta­tion out of the air and wa­ter, and so we ran it over land. I apol­o­gize for that.”

It’s not the “Mex­i­can Drug Prob­lem.” It’s the Amer­i­can Drug Prob­lem. It’s sim­ple: No buyer, no seller. We fund the killing, fuel the killing, and sus­tain the killing. As a re­sult, 100,000 peo­ple in Mexico are dead just since 2006.

You’re so con­cerned about ter­ror­ists thou­sands of miles away that you don’t see the ter­ror­ists just across our bor­der. The car­tels are more so­phis­ti­cated and wealth­ier than the ji­hadists and al­ready have a pres­ence in 230 Amer­i­can cities. The car­tels were run­ning the ISIS play­book—de­cap­i­ta­tions, im­mo­la­tions, videos, so­cial media—ten years ago.

Many of you keep talk­ing about build­ing a wall that stretches the en­tire 2,000-mile land bor­der with Mexico. It doesn’t mat­ter how high a wall you build if the traf­fick­ers can tun­nel un­der it. You’ve read about these tun­nels, with rail­road tracks, air- con­di­tion­ing, el­e­va­tors, and dor­mi­to­ries. Now drug traf­fick­ers use them, but how long will it be be­fore ter­ror­ists fig­ure out that this is a way to get into our coun­try? Those tun­nels only ex­ist be­cause drugs are illegal. Your “tough on crime” stance makes us soft on se­cu­rity. We never learn. Since 2005, Congress has spent 2.5 bil­lion dol­lars on the Merida Ini­tia­tive, pro­vid­ing weapons, he­li­copters, fixed-wing air­craft, sur­veil­lance tech­nol­ogy, and es­pe­cially train­ing to Mex­i­can counter-drug agen­cies. But DEA agents in the field regularly re­port that these agen­cies have crim­i­nal con­nec­tions to the car­tels, even serv­ing as their armed forces, and have been in­volved in the mas­sacres of in­no­cent civil­ians. We are fund­ing our own drug epi­demic.

Our Mexico strat­egy is such a com­plete fail­ure that dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Fast and Fu­ri­ous, the ATF vi­o­lated the very fed­eral laws it was cre­ated to en­force, fa­cil­i­tat­ing arms smug­gling to drug traf­fick­ers in an ef­fort to trace them. The ATF lost track of the au­to­matic ri­fles that were then used to mur­der Bor­der Pa­trol Agent Brian Terry. Mex­i­can am­bas­sador to the U.S. Ar­turo Sarukhan said, “The think­ing that you can let guns walk across the bor­der and main­tain op­er­a­tional con­trol of those weapons is re­ally an out­stand­ing lack of un­der­stand­ing of how these crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions are op­er­at­ing on both sides of our com­mon borders.”

In Afghanistan, Congress au­tho­rized 108 mil­lion dol­lars to “in­cen­tivize” prov­inces to re­duce poppy cul­ti­va­tion. In­stead, they built ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems to wa­ter the pop­pies. So far, you’ve spent 7.6 bil­lion dol­lars to fight the drug war in Afghanistan, and opium pro­duc­tion there has tripled.

We should be us­ing our re­sources to fix our crum­bling schools, cre­ate jobs, and fund drug treat­ment. Be­cause in­ter­dic­tion in­creases sup­ply while ed­u­ca­tion re­duces de­mand.

Ed­u­ca­tion is cheaper than in­car­cer­a­tion. Keep­ing some­one in a class­room costs one quar­ter of what it costs to keep him in a cell. But, thanks to the War on Drugs, Amer­ica is home to the largest prison pop­u­la­tion in the history of the planet. You know how we got to this point. At the height of the drug war hys­te­ria, and des­per­ate to ap­pear tough on crime, Congress over­re­acted and passed in­sanely over-the-top laws forc­ing judges to put non­vi­o­lent drug of­fend­ers into prison for manda­tory terms of fif­teen years to life.

The prison pop­u­la­tion ex­ploded. Now we have 5% of the world’s peo­ple but 25% of the world’s con­victs. That’s 2.3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans be­hind bars, half of them on drug re­lated of­fenses.

Eric Ster­ling, a lawyer and one of the ar­chi­tects of the 1986 fed­eral sen­tenc­ing laws, later wrote that they were a ter­ri­ble mis­take, “among the most re­viled Acts of Congress in re­cent years.” U.S. Dis­trict Judge Mark Ben­nett says that he feels guilt and sor­row when he has to sen­tence non­vi­o­lent drug of­fend­ers to long manda­tory terms and tells them, “My hands are tied …I’m sorry. This isn’t up to me.” We can­not in­car­cer­ate our way out of this prob­lem. We’ve failed. And both sides of the aisle agree: Pres­i­dent Obama, April 2015: “I am a very strong be­liever that the path that we have taken in the United States in the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been so heavy in em­pha­siz­ing in­car­cer­a­tion that it has been coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.” Gover­nor Chris Christie, June 7, 2015: “I think quite frankly the war on drugs has been a fail­ure.” Three quar­ters of Amer­i­can vot­ers to­day agree with them. In a May 2014 drug raid with a “no-knock” war­rant, a Ge­or­gia SWAT team threw a flash bang grenade into a baby’s playpen. That one-year-old child, Bounkham Phone sa­vanh, suf­fered crit­i­cal burns. David Si­mon has said, “Prob­a­ble cause was de­stroyed by the drug war.” We torched our civil rights, and now we burn ba­bies along with them. That’s not who we are. At least that’s not who we should be. The Cato In­sti­tute es­ti­mates that le­gal­iz­ing all drugs would save the coun­try 41 bil­lion dol­lars a year. Tax­ing drugs at the same rate that we tax al­co­hol and to­bacco (by far the big­gest killers among drugs), would yield 46 bil­lion dol­lars in tax rev­enues.

With that kind of money, you could shrink the deficit, grow the econ­omy, cre­ate busi­nesses in in­ner cities, pro­vide treat­ment for ad­dicts—things that might ac­tu­ally do some­thing about the drug prob­lem.

Ap­pear­ing tough on crime is not the same as be­ing tough on crime. Be­ing tough on crime means mak­ing some hard de­ci­sions.

We need to stop think­ing about how to fight this war bet­ter, but how not to fight it at all.

We need lead­er­ship and leg­is­la­tion. We need Congress to have the courage to step up and say not that the sys­tem is bro­ken and in need of re­pair, but that in 1971 we made a colos­sal tril­lion dol­lar mis­take that has de­stroyed this coun­try, and it has to stop.

How much more money do we have to waste, how many more fam­i­lies have to be de­stroyed, how many more peo­ple have to be killed be­fore you sum­mon the courage to tell the truth to the Amer­i­can peo­ple?

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