The US government’s campaign against the illegal drug trade was first termed the “War on Drugs” by former president Richard Nixon in June 1971.
According to this overview of the history of the drug war by DrugPolicy.org:
He [Nixon] dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule One, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer.
In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the report and rejected its recommendations.
The Origins of the “War on Drugs”
After President Reagan was elected in 1980, he oversaw a massive expansion of the drug war. The incarceration rate for nonviolent drug offenses from 1980 to 1997 increased 700%. Source
To call it a “War on Drugs” is really a misnomer; you cannot declare war on an inanimate object. It is a war on people, mostly US citizens.
If we want to have a serious conversation about this issue, we need to have clarity about what is truly happening. Because this is such a divisive issue, I want to deal strictly with published facts from reputable sources, not subjective opinions or feelings. I want to take an objective look at what the drug war is, what it does, and what the results are.
Once we have a clear picture, you are then free to arrive at your own conclusions.
Alcohol prohibition was instituted in the United States with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on January 16, 1919. While drinking alcohol was never illegal, the amendment prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”
After only 14 years, the failure of prohibition became apparent, and public outcry became overwhelming. The repeal of prohibition came with the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5, 1933.
Among the strongest arguments for repealing prohibition was the economic case that legalizing and taxing alcohol would bring about much needed tax revenue, as the “Great Depression” had begun just a few years earlier. Another strong case was that legalizing the manufacturing and sale of alcohol would completely undermine organized crime, which had amassed a great deal of power and control through their monopoly on the alcohol black market.
To illustrate this, consider the vast, criminal empire created by Al Capone, who is probably the most recognized and infamous head of organized crime during the prohibition period. By 1927, Capone and his gang, “The Chicago Outfit”, were making approximately $60 million per year. They controlled the alcohol supply from Canada to Florida, profiting from the sale of liquor to over 10,000 speakeasies. Massive bloodshed occurred whenever rival gangs threatened his empire. In fact, violent crime increased overall during the prohibition period.
Prior to prohibition, the homicide rate in the US was 6 per 100,000. This increased to 10 per 100,000 in 1933. When prohibition was repealed, this rate went back down.
You can see the sharp rise in homicides starting at the beginning of prohibition in 1919. It drops back down after prohibition was repealed in 1933:
We learned some very valuable lessons through the implementation, and failure of alcohol prohibition:
- Alcohol, which was produced “underground”, became more potent, and dangerous to consume because trusted, reputable manufacturers were forced to cease production. (Adding to this danger was the deliberate decision by the government to poison alcohol, resulting in as many as 10,000 deaths. Source)
- If you make a product illegal, demand for the product will continue, and it effectively creates an illegal black market for that substance and invites all of the criminal activity and dangerous conditions that come with it. It pushes the entire market for that substance to “the streets”, resulting in both less safe products and violent criminal enterprises springing up around their sale. In a study of over 30 major U.S cities during the prohibition years, the number of total crimes increased by 24%. Theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicide by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6% and police department costs rose by 11.4%. Source
- Prohibiting the use of a product millions of people enjoy quickly fills prisons to capacity with non-violent offenders. By 1932, the number of federal convicts had increased 561%, and the federal prison population had increased 366%. Total federal spending on incarceration rose 1,000% between 1915 and 1932. Source
- While federal spending on the enforcement of prohibition skyrocketed, production and distribution of alcohol continued. The annual budget of the Bureau of Prohibition increased 204%, from $4.4 million to $13.4 million, during the 1920’s. Source
- Prohibition leads to wide-spread corruption. Commissioner of Prohibition Henry Anderson concluded that, “the fruitless efforts at enforcement are creating public disregard not only for this law but for all laws. Public corruption through the purchase of official protection for this illegal traffic is widespread and notorious. The courts are cluttered with prohibition cases to an extent which seriously affects the entire administration of justice.” Source
It’s not hard to conclude that, not only did prohibition achieve the exact opposite of its stated goals, the only people who benefited from prohibition were criminals, and the corrupt bureaucrats that protected them. Both of these groups profited greatly from the illegal sale of alcohol.
When prohibition was repealed in 1933, organized crime was decimated and lost nearly all of its black market alcohol profits. It’s pretty obvious how comparative alcohol prohibition is to drug prohibition.
The comparison between prohibition and the war on drugs is further explained in this article published by Reason.com:
When America repealed prohibition, we repealed it with a constitutional amendment. Contrast that to drug prohibition, where Congress made no attempt to comply with the Constitution in passing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the law that gave us the modern drug war.
There’s no question that drug prohibition has been every bit the failure alcohol prohibition was. Nearly 40 years after the CSA passed, we have 400,000 people in prison for nonviolent drug crimes; a domestic police force that often looks and acts like an occupying military force; nearly a trillion dollars spent on enforcement, both here and through aggressive interdiction efforts overseas; and urban areas that can resemble war zones. Yet illicit drugs like cocaine and marijuana are as cheap and abundant as they were in 1970. The street price of both drugs has actually dropped—dramatically—since the government began keeping track in the early 1980s.
When he first visited the United States in 1921, Albert Einstein wrote of America’s ban on booze: “The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law… For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.” That’s as true today as it was then.
The following graph shows the effect of $1.5 trillion worth of federal drug enforcement spending over the last 40 years on the rates of drug addiction in the US:
As with alcohol prohibition, federal spending on drug prohibition continues to skyrocket, while drug use, transportation, and addiction continues, virtually unaffected.
The Financial Cost of the Drug War
In 2011, The Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a report signed by George Shultz, Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. It begins:
“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.”
Regardless, the Obama administration, in its 2013 budget, requested $25.6 billion in federal spending on the drug war. Source
When you combine state and local spending on everything from drug-related arrests to prison, the total cost adds up to at least $51 billion per year. Source
If you add up total spending worldwide, enforcing the drug control system costs at least $100 billion a year. Source
The money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education in the past 20 years. Since 1980, California has built 1 college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a prisoner costs it $45,006 per year.Source
You can view a real-time clock of federal drug war spending here.
None of these numbers account for the lost productivity of those in jail, opportunity costs lost as businesses reconsider putting offices in violence-plagued regions, the cost of putting children into foster care and psychological services because a parent has been thrown into jail, or the pain and suffering when innocent people are injured or killed in botched drug raids. Calculating the exact amount of financial damage is impossible.
While the financial costs are staggering, the most vicious impacts are on people’s lives.
The Human Cost of the Drug War
The number of people killed in Mexico as a direct result of the war on drugs is over 70,000. Source
This graph shows how the incarceration of Americans has skyrocketed since the start of the war on drugs:
In fact, the US prison population now dwarfs that of all other nations:
In 1992, there were 1.3 million inmates in America’s prisons and jails. Today, there are 2.2 million Americans in prison or jail. Source
The reason for this sharp rise starting in the early 90’s, according to Prospect.org is:
State after state (and the federal government) in the ’90s passed laws lengthening sentences for many crimes, particularly drug crimes. If you got convicted, you’d stay in prison far longer. About half the states also passed “three strikes and you’re out” laws mandating that anyone convicted of a third felony would be sentenced to a long prison term—usually life or 25 years.
1 out of every 34 adults in America are being supervised by the criminal justice system, more than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. Source
More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes. Source
In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on non-violent drug charges; 4 out of 5 were for mere possession. Source
The “Land of the Free” has just 5% of the world’s population, yet we comprise 25% of the world’s prison population. Source
The Racial Bias of the Drug War
Blacks make up 50% of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes.
Black youth are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white youth, even though white youth are more likely to abuse drugs.
1 in every 18 black males over 18 is incarcerated. Source
Incarceration rates for black males jumped 500% between 1986 and 2004. Source
This graph shows the racial disparity of the prison population:
One of the shocking side-effects of mass imprisonments in America is that we are now the only country in the world where male rape victims outnumber female rape victims, according to the Department of Justice figures.
The Militarization of Police Forces
When it comes to actually arresting drug offenders, the “no-knock raid” is a commonly used technique. A no-nock raid is an unannounced, combat-style, paramilitary raid, usually done in the middle of the night, on a suspected drug offenders home; a tactic that has grown in use from 3,000 raids a year in the mid-1980s, to 80,000 annually today. Source
Radley Balko is the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop.
He writes for the Wall Street Journal:
In my own research, I have collected over 50 examples in which innocent people were killed in raids to enforce warrants for crimes that are either nonviolent or consensual (that is, crimes such as drug use or gambling, in which all parties participate voluntarily). These victims were bystanders, or the police later found no evidence of the crime for which the victim was being investigated.
Since the 1960s, in response to a range of perceived threats, law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield.
Consider today’s police recruitment videos (widely available on YouTube), which often feature cops rappelling from helicopters, shooting big guns, kicking down doors and tackling suspects. Such campaigns embody an American policing culture that has become too isolated, confrontational and militaristic, and they tend to attract recruits for the wrong reasons.
In his paper entitled Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, available for free here, he writes:
Americans have long maintained that a man’s home is his castle and that he has the right to defend it from unlawful intruders. Unfortunately, that right may be disappearing. Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work.
According to TIME:
In a pre-dawn drug raid late last month in northern Georgia, the Habersham County police entered the home of the Phonesavanh family while they were sleeping and dropped a “flashbang” grenade in a crib holding a 19-month-old boy, who was badly burned and later placed into a medically induced coma.No one was arrested, and no weapons or drugs were found inside the home.
The officers making the raid were part of what the county police call an SRT – or a Special Response Team. That moniker is normally used by the military. But SRT and SWAT teams using military-style tactics and weaponry are becoming increasingly common.
As the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have wound down, police departments have been obtaining military equipment, vehicles and uniforms that have flowed directly from the Department of Defense. According to a new report by the ACLU, the federal government has funneled $4.3 billion of military property to law enforcement agencies since the late 1990s, including $450 million worth in 2013.
Five hundred law enforcement agencies have received Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, built to withstand bomb blasts.
More than 15,000 items of military protective equipment and “battle dress uniforms,” or fatigues worn by the U.S. Army, have been transferred.
The report includes details of police agencies in towns like North Little Rock, Ark., (pop: 62,000), which has 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, a Mamba tactical vehicle and two MARCbots, which are armed robots designed for use in Afghanistan.
According to The Guardian:
Tanks, grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and assault rifles are just a few of the items that have been transferred from military control to municipal police forces. Law enforcement agencies need only to arrange and pay for shipment in order to receive the items of their choice (pdf).
One particularly egregious example is found in South Carolina, where Richland County’s sheriff acquired a tank with 360-degree rotating machine gun turrets. Sardonically, the vehicle has been named “the Peacemaker“.
Sheriff Lott’s new toy:
In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older had used illicit drugs in the past month. Source
We are giving law enforcement officials military equipment, paramilitary training, telling them that they are fighting a war, and that 23.9 million American citizens are the enemy. This has caused a dramatic change in how the public and law enforcement see each other.
The numbers of people who are arrested and incarcerated are shocking, but what about what happens in between? Are our courts administering justice effectively?
Michelle Alexander, a Civil Rights Lawyer, writes for the New York Times:
The Bill of Rights guarantees the accused basic safeguards, including the right to be informed of charges against them, to an impartial, fair and speedy jury trial, to cross-examine witnesses and to the assistance of counsel. But in this era of mass incarceration — when our nation’s prison population has quintupled in a few decades partly as a result of the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement — these rights are, for the overwhelming majority of people hauled into courtrooms across America, theoretical.
More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury.
If you are arrested and charged with drug possession, and decide to go to trial before a jury, even if you are innocent, it’s your word versus the cop’s word. The conviction is an almost guarantee, and the sentences for those who take their case to trial are unbelievably harsh.
According to the New York Times:
After decades of new laws to toughen sentencing for criminals, prosecutors have gained greater leverage to extract guilty pleas from defendants and reduce the number of cases that go to trial, often by using the threat of more serious charges with mandatory sentences or other harsher penalties.
In the courtroom and during plea negotiations, the impact of these stricter laws is exerted through what academics call the “trial penalty.” The phrase refers to the fact that the sentences for people who go to trial have grown harsher relative to sentences for those who agree to a plea.
Nearly nine of every 10 cases ended in pleas last year, the federal data show, while one in 12 were dismissed (the percentage of dismissed cases was substantially higher a generation ago). The number of acquittals dropped even further.
Last year, there was only one acquittal for every 212 guilty pleas or trial convictions in federal district courts. Thirty years ago, the ratio was one for every 22.
If you are charged with simple drug possession, the plea bargain usually consists of a huge reduction of your sentence if you simply plead guilty, and help the court avoid the hassle of a trial. If you decide to take your case to trial, the judge and prosecutor will throw the book at you. In essence, you are being coerced into giving a guilty plea because going to trial isn’t worth the risk.
Oftentimes, though, the plea deal comes with strings attached.
John Horner was a 46 year-old fast food worker who lost his eye in an accident in 2000, and was prescribed painkillers. A couple years later, he befriended a man who said he was suffering from Crohn’s Disease, an incredibly painful inflammatory bowel disease. The man asked Horner if he could purchase some of the painkillers so he could finally have some relief.
Horner’s new friend was a police informant. Under Florida’s mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws, the minimum sentence he faced was 25 years. In Florida, it costs around $19,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year. This means that his sentence would cost the state $475,000 total, enough to send 75 students to Florida State University for a year.
The prosecutor offered to reduce his sentence if he became an informant himself, and helped send 5 others to prison on 25 year sentences. He tried, but was unable to meet the deadline, and was sentenced to the full 25 years last October.
He will be 72 by the time he gets out.
Meet John Horner’s children:
John Horner’s wife has a petition up on Change.org to reform mandatory minimum laws for 1st time drug offenders. You can learn more, and sign the petition here.
Because of these mandatory minimum laws, we don’t even know who’s actually guilty of these crimes, and who is just pleading guilty because it’s less risky. If a cop says you had drugs in your possession, you’re going to take the plea deal. If you turn over the names of 5 other people, they’re going to plea as well. When you’ve got 25 years hanging over your head, you’re going take the deal, and to turn over everyone you can think of.
Not only is the information from informants likely unreliable, sometimes these informants are so terrified of these sentences that they will plant drugs on other people in order to escape jail time.
Such is the case in this story from the Boston Globe:
A Lowell man is expected to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Lowell and a Lowell police officer who relied on two informants suspected of planting drugs on dozens of innocent victims, a scandal that already has led prosecutors to drop charges in 17 pending drug and firearm cases and to overturn two convictions.
Because of the monetary incentives that drug arrests bring to police departments, corruption is inevitable, as is the case in this story from alternet.org:
The NYPD has been under fire in recent months for illegal searches resulting in thousands of low-level marijuana arrests, mostly of people of color. As corrupt as this practice is, testimony from Stephen Anderson, a former NYPD narcotics detective, shows it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
According to Anderson, who testified at trial Wednesday, New York City police regularly planted drugs on innocent people to meet quotas.
Anderson should know. He was arrested in 2008 for planting cocaine on four men in a bar in Queens. His statements are the first glimpse into a culture of set-ups at the Brooklyn South and Queens Narc squads where eight corrupt cops were arrested.
The New York Times also reported on the story:
Though there had been conflicting testimony during the trial about the existence of quotas in the department’s drug units, Justice Reichbach said, a system of flawed procedures in part led to the charges against Detective Arbeeny.
In the department’s Brooklyn South narcotics unit, for instance, drugs seized as evidence are not counted or sealed until they reach the precinct and can be handled by multiple officers along the way, Justice Reichbach said, adding that such unacceptable practices “pale in significance” to the “cowboy culture” of the drug units.
“Anything goes in the never-ending war on drugs,” he said, “and a refusal to go along with questionable practices raise the specter of blacklisting and isolation.”
The “Prison-Industrial Complex”
The corruption continues in other areas, as Salon.com reports:
A new report from In the Public Interest (ITPI) revealed last week that private prison companies are striking deals with states that contain clauses guaranteeing high prison occupancy rates. The report documents the contracts exchanged between private prison companies and state and local governments that either guarantee prison occupancy rates (essentially creating inmate lockup quotas) or force taxpayers to pay for empty beds if the prison population decreases due to lower crime rates or other factors (essentially creating low-crime taxes).
Some of these contracts require 90 to 100 percent prison occupancy.
The booming private prison industry is often called the “Prison-Industrial Complex”, a variation of the term “Military-Industrial Complex” coined by President Eisenhower when describing the increasing influence of private military contractors on government policy.
The term implies that the private prison industry is lobbying the government to institute policies to fill jail cells, and their pockets, just as military contractors lobby the government to go to war and buy more weapons. The more wars we get into, and the more people we lock up, the more these private contractors make. By imposing long prison sentences for seemingly innocuous, non-violent crimes such as drug possession, the prison population drastically increases, along with the “Prison-Industrial Complex’s” profits.
According to The Atlantic, it’s not a wacky conspiracy theory; it’s simply a matter of fact:
The prison-industrial complex is not a conspiracy, guiding the nation’s criminal-justice policy behind closed doors. It is a confluence of special interests that has given prison construction in the United States a seemingly unstoppable momentum. It is composed of politicians, both liberal and conservative, who have used the fear of crime to gain votes; impoverished rural areas where prisons have become a cornerstone of economic development; private companies that regard the roughly $35 billion spent each year on corrections not as a burden on American taxpayers but as a lucrative market; and government officials whose fiefdoms have expanded along with the inmate population.
Since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent.
Between 1990 and 2010 the number of privately operated prisons in the U.S. increased 1600%. Source
To further increase profits, inmates in these prisons are also put to work.
According to this article in Yahoo Finance:
Federal Prison Industries, a company that contracts out prison labor, made over $900 million in revenue last year.
FPI has prisoners working in apparel, clean energy, printing, document conversion and call centers. The prison industry has also made money by contracting prison labor to private companies. The companies that have benefited from this cheap labor include Starbucks, Boeing Victoria’s Secret, McDonalds and even the U.S. military.
Prison laborers cost between 93 cents and $4 a day and don’t need to collect benefits, thus making them cheap employees.
Simply put, we’re jailing Americans for profit, not because they are violent criminals, or a threat to society.
Kids for Cash
If this wasn’t already bad enough, the Wall Street Journal reports on a scandal aptly titled “Kids for Cash”:
In what is known locally as the “kids for cash” scandal, two judges have pleaded guilty to accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks from a for-profit juvenile correctional facility — a privately owned jail for kids, essentially.
In 2003 one of them, Judge Michael Conahan, who had authority over such expenses, defunded the county-owned detention center, channeling kids sentenced to detention to the private jail — along with the public’s money. Mr. Conahan also agreed to send the private facility $1.3 million per year in public funds.
Over the succeeding years, the private jail, along with a second lockup-for-profit that had opened in another part of the state, won tens of millions of dollars in Luzerne County contracts, allegedly with the two judges’ help. Mr. Conahan’s alleged partner in the scheme, Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr., reportedly sent kids to the private detention centers when probation officers didn’t think it was a good idea; he sent kids there when their crimes were nonviolent; he sent kids there when their crimes were insignificant.
It was as though he was determined to keep those private prisons filled with children at all times. According to news stories, offenses as small as swiping a jar of nutmeg or throwing a piece of steak at an adult were enough to merit a trip to the hoosegow.
The conditions inside these youth correction facilities are usually deplorable, as a special Huffington Post report entitled Prisoners of Profit discovered:
Those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades, according to a HuffPost investigation that included interviews with 14 former employees and a review of thousands of pages of state audits, lawsuits, local police reports and probes by state and federal agencies.
Out of more than 300 institutions surveyed, a YSI detention center in Georgia had the highest rate of youth alleging sexual assaults in the country, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
There are multiple organizations that have a keen interest in keeping the war on drugs going. Because of drug laws, not only do private prisons make record profits, so do the drug kingpins themselves.
Just like alcohol prohibition, the war on drugs keeps drug prices high, which means drug gangs and cartels are making obscene amounts of money, and they are vehemently against legalizing drugs, especially marijuana. Cannabis, or “marijuana”, is a plant that is easily cultivated, which means that if it were legal, anyone who wanted to consume it would no longer have to buy from drug dealers; they could simply grow it in their own home. Border violence and gang wars would be virtually eliminated overnight.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera reported head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, ranked 701st on Forbes’ yearly report of the wealthiest men alive, and worth an estimated $1 billion, officially thanked United States politicians for making sure that drugs remain illegal.
According to the Huffington Post, he said:
“I couldn’t have gotten so stinking rich without George Bush, George Bush Jr., Ronald Reagan, even El Presidente Obama, none of them have the cajones to stand up to all the big money that wants to keep this stuff illegal. From the bottom of my heart, I want to say, Gracias amigos, I owe my whole empire to you.”
This is obviously satire, but it makes an extremely good point. Just like Al Capone during prohibition, business is good for those involved in the illegal drug market. Business is good for everyone that benefits from drugs being illegal, including private prisons and governments. Simply put, just like all other wars, the war on drugs is too profitable for too many people to be ended.
With all of this money flying around, it’s only natural that large banks would be getting in on the action:
During a 22-month investigation by agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and others, it emerged that the cocaine smugglers had bought the plane with money they had laundered through one of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia, now part of the giant Wells Fargo.
Just like Capone and his “Chicago Outfit” gang, if drugs were legalized, drug dealers, gangs and cartels, and other powerful interests would be decimated, and so would the private prison industry, the DEA, and police departments nationwide. All of them have an interest in keeping the drug war going.
The Most Powerful Interest in the Drug War
As I mentioned earlier, one very powerful group that benefits from the war on drugs is the government itself, and not just because it increases their budgets.
According to ABC News in an article entitled How Undercover Cops in a Florida City Make Millions Selling Cocaine:
For years, the Sunrise, Fla., police have been conducting what are called “reverse stings.” Undercover police detectives play the role of cocaine dealers and try to lure in potential buyers who drive or fly in from all over the country with wads of cash. If the stings are successful, informants can receive large payouts and police can seize cash, cars and other non-monetary assets. The busts have pumped millions of dollars into local coffers.
This is a common practice by police forces nationwide called “Civil Asset Forfeiture”.
It is described in this article by The New Yorker:
The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is appealing. It enables authorities to confiscate cash or property obtained through illicit means, and, in many states, funnel the proceeds directly into the fight against crime.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, cops drive a Cadillac Escalade stencilled with the words “this used to be a drug dealer’s car, now it’s ours!”
In Monroe, North Carolina, police recently proposed using forty-four thousand dollars in confiscated drug money to buy a surveillance drone, which might be deployed to catch fleeing suspects, conduct rescue missions, and, perhaps, seize more drug money.
Hundreds of state and federal laws authorize forfeiture for cockfighting, drag racing, basement gambling, endangered-fish poaching, securities fraud, and countless other misdeeds. In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one.
A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.
Obviously, asset forfeiture presents a massive conflict of interest for law enforcement, and it is ripe for rampant corruption and abuse.
You can find countless stories of innocent people losing of their valuables in police encounters for absolutely no reason, including a man who lost $22,000 in cash.
According to the story:
“If somebody told me this happened to them, I absolutely would not believe this could happen in America.”
That was the reaction of a New Jersey man who found out just how risky it can be to carry cash through Tennessee. For more than a year, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has been shining a light on a practice that some call “policing for profit.”
In this latest case, a Monterey police officer took $22,000 off the driver — even though he had committed no crime.
“You live in the United States, you think you have rights — and apparently you don’t,” said George Reby.
This is nothing but thinly veiled armed robbery on a massive scale.
The Iran-Contra Affair
During the ramping up of the drug war in the 80’s under President Reagan, Nicaragua was controlled by a leftist group called the Sandinistas. In an attempt to further US economic interests in Central and South America, Reagan believed that the Sandinistas should be replaced by a regime more friendly to the US; the Contras. In order to do so, Reagan believed the best course of action would be to fund and arm the Contras, much like he did with Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban “Freedom Fighters” in Afghanistan.
In fact, here’s Reagan meeting with the Taliban in the White House:
In order to acquire the funds to support the Contras, members of the executive branch sold weapons to “supposedly moderate elements” within Iran in exchange for the release of the American hostages of Hezbollah. These “moderate elements” ended up being Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical Islamist regime. Khomeini was known for his support of the hostage takers.
According to The New York Times, the following weapons were sold to Khomeini:
- August 20, 1985 – 96 TOW anti-tank missiles
- September 14, 1985 – 408 more TOWs
- November 24, 1985 – 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles
- February 17, 1986 – 500 TOWs
- February 27, 1986 – 500 TOWs
- May 24, 1986 – 508 TOWs, 240 Hawk spare parts
- August 4, 1986 – More Hawk spares
- October 28, 1986 – 500 TOWs
The only problem for Reagan was, the Contras were human rights abusers who frequently employed tactics such as rape, kidnapping, torture, and murder of civilians, and U.S. funding of the Contras insurgency was made illegal through the Boland Amendment. (Again, the US has a nasty little habit of constantly supporting “Freedom Fighters” who end up being violent, extremist terrorists.)
The deals went down as planned, and the Contras got the money they needed. So, what does this have to do with the drug war?
During what became to be known as the “Iran-Contra Affair”, an investigative journalist named Gary Webb wrote a series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News called Dark Alliance.
What Gary Webb uncovered was that the CIA was helping fund the Contras in an even more insidious way; drug trafficking. In essence, Nicaraguan drug traffickers, with the assistance of the CIA, were transporting and distributing cocaine in Los Angeles (leading to the crack epidemic of the 80’s), and the profits were used to support the Contras.
In 1996, CIA Director John M. Deutch went to Los Angeles to attempt to refute the allegations raised by the Webb articles, and was famously confronted by former Los Angeles Narcotics Detective Michael Ruppert, who testified that he had witnessed it occurring firsthand.
Here’s the video of the confrontation:
John M. Deutch was fired as the director of the CIA shortly after this confrontation.
Michael Ruppert was found dead with a gunshot to the head on April 13, 2014. The coroner judged it a suicide.
Meanwhile, Gary Webb’s reporting generated a firestorm of controversy. His employer, the San Jose Mercury News, backed away from the story, effectively ending Webb’s career as a journalist. His wife stated that he had been depressed for years over his inability to get a job at a daily newspaper, losing his house, and not being able to financially support his family.
Tragically, Gary Webb was also found dead with 2 gunshot wounds to the head in 2004. The coroner judged it a suicide as well.
According to Esquire, Webb’s work “prompted an investigation by the CIA’s inspector general which subsequently confirmed the pillars of Webb’s findings.”
A movie about Webb’s life called Kill the Messenger is coming out later this year:
A New Approach
All of the evidence, facts, and data are clear; the war on drugs is a massive failure, and the unintended consequences have been devastating.
If we, as a country decided, after just 14 years, that alcohol prohibition was a failure and had to come to an end, how can we not at least admit the same about the drug war?
The people who believe that legalizing drugs will lead to widespread abuse now would have said the same thing about alcohol abuse in 1933. What they forget is that all drugs were freely available prior to drug laws passing. Only a tiny portion of society ever got addicted to these drugs, contrary to what drug war supporters would have us believe.
In his book, The Great Libertarian Offer, presidential candidate Harry Browne wrote:
Until the early 1900s, the federal government did little to regulate or control the sale or use of alcohol or drugs — except for taxing alcohol.
It may be hard to believe today, but early in the 20th century a 10-year-old girl could walk into a drug store and buy a bottle of whiskey or a packet of heroin. She didn’t need a doctor’s prescription or even a note from her parents. Any druggist would sell to her without batting an eye; he would assume she was on an errand for her parents.
While that may seem amazing now, it wasn’t to anyone then. Heroin was sold in packages as a pain reliever or sedative — just as aspirin or other analgesics are sold today. The measured dose didn’t make anyone high, and rarely did anyone become addicted —certainly no more often than with sleeping pills today.
Given such easy access to liquor and drugs, we might assume that America’s adults and children were all high on booze and drugs. But that wasn’t the case.
You can read the entire chapter on the drug war for free here.
As mentioned earlier, under Nixon, marijuana was temporarily classified by the DEA as a Schedule One drug, the most restricted drug category, along with heroin. Nixon ignored the report by his drug commission, and marijuana has remained a Schedule One drug ever since.
Ironically, meth and cocaine, which are both significantly more dangerous and addicting than marijuana, are only Schedule Two drugs. Source
It is clear that these categorizations are not based upon any serious scientific research, but instead are informed solely by irrational fear and propaganda. Federal drug criminalization prevents any further scientific research, and completely eliminates a serious, factually-based debate.
More people die from tobacco and alcohol use each year in the US alone than all illegal drug use worldwide. Source
No one has ever died from marijuana use. Source
Obesity has now surpassed tobacco use as the number one cause of preventable death in America. Source
There is no rhyme, reason, or logic to our drug laws. If we really want to fight a war on dangerous substances consistently, we need to focus most aggressively on fighting alcohol, tobacco, and sugar.
Research by Harvard links sugary beverages to 180,000 global deaths.
Locking people up for cigarettes, beer, and cupcakes sounds ridiculous, but because of how many people they kill, it should make total sense for supporters of the drug war.
The motivation and rationale behind the drug war is confusing, contradictory and inconsistent at best, and devious at worst. It is clear that those struggling with addiction to illegal drugs shouldn’t just be thrown in jail; they should have the same treatment options as those with addictions to prescription drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or junk food.
The organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition says:
We believe that by placing drug abuse in the hands of medical professionals instead of the criminal justice system, we will reduce rates of addiction and overdose deaths.
Richard Branson, the billionaire CEO of Virgin recently wrote for CNN,
In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don’t do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem.
Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn’t in terms of real evidence and data.
In the United States, if illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco, they would yield $46.7 billion in tax revenue. A Cato study says legalizing drugs would save the U.S. about $41 billion a year in enforcing the drug laws.
Have U.S. drug laws reduced drug use? No. The U.S. is the No. 1 nation in the world in illegal drug use.
As with Prohibition, banning alcohol didn’t stop people drinking — it just stopped people obeying the law. Treating drugs as a health issue could save billions, improve public health and help us better control violence and crime in our communities. Hundreds of thousands of people have died from overdoses and drug-related diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, because they didn’t have access to cost-effective, life-saving solutions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that syringe access programs lower HIV incidence among people who inject drugs by 80 percent.
One-third of all AIDS cases in the U.S. have been caused by syringe sharing; a total of 354,000 people.
U.S. federal government support for syringe access programs is currently $0.00, thanks to a federal ban reinstated by Congress in 2011 that prohibits any federal assistance for them. Source
Six former presidents, Richard Branson, and other world leaders have concluded that the drug war fuels the global HIV/AIDS pandemic:
The global war on drugs is driving the HIV pandemic among people who use drugs and their sexual partners. Throughout the world, research has consistently shown that repressive drug law enforcement practices force drug users away from public health services and into hidden environments where HIV risk becomes markedly elevated. Mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders also plays a major role in spreading the pandemic.
Today, there are an estimated 33 million people worldwide living with HIV – and injection drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
The case against the drug war couldn’t be any more clear.
Ending the War on Drugs – With Compassion!
“The video footage was taken by a CIA surveillance plane over the Peruvian jungle in 2001. It shows Peruvian fighter jets opening fire on the light Cessna carrying American Missionaries Jim and Veronica Bowers and their children Cory, 6, and adopted baby Charity, who was just seven months, as well as pilot Kevin Donaldson.”
U.S. Marines, sponsored by the U.S. taxpayer, stand vigilant watch over poppy fields in Afghanistan ensuring that the world is supplied with plenty of heroin.