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Drug War

This video by a Columbia University neuroscientist​ might be the best case against the drug war ever made

“I grew up in the hood in Miami in a poor neighborhood. I came from a community in which drug use was prevalent. I kept a gun in my car. I engaged in petty crime. I used and sold drugs. But I stand before you today also — emphasis on also — a professor at Columbia University who studies drug addiction.”

That’s how Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry, opened a recent TED talk he gave about his research into addiction. After his difficult youth, Hart said he toed the drug war line for a number of years: “I fully believed that the crime and poverty in my community was a direct result of crack cocaine.” He bought into the notion, pushed by policymakers in the 1980s and 1990s, that you could get hooked on crack and other drugs after just one hit.

But his research has disabused him of these notions. He recruited cocaine and meth users into his lab, and over a period of several days offered them some options: they could either receive hits of their drug of choice, or they could take payments of five dollars instead. Crucially, the payments offered were less than the value of the drugs they could consume.

Contrary to the notion of the craven drug fiend who will do literally anything for one more hit, Hart found that half of cocaine and meth users opted for the money over the drugs. And when he increased the payments to 20 dollars, closer to 80 percent of meth users chose the money. The lesson? “Attractive alternatives dramatically decrease drug use,” he said in his talk.

This speaks to another point Hart made, which is worth quoting at length:

80 to 90 percent of people who use illegal drugs are not addicts. They don’t have a drug problem. Most are responsible members of our society. They are employed. They pay their taxes. They take care of their families. And in some cases they even become president of the United States.

He’s right, of course. Among people who have ever used marijuana, only 9 percent become addicted. That rate is 11 percent for cocaine and 17 percent for stimulants like meth. Even the vast majority of people who use heroin — 77 percent of them — never get addicted to the drug.

When it comes to his own kids, Hart, who is black, is less worried about drugs and more worried about the people who enforce drug laws. He says the effects of drugs at the individual-level are predictable and easy to understand: you smoke some weed, you will experience X effects after Y amount of time. But interactions with the police are a different story. “I don’t know how to keep my children safe with the police because, particularly when it comes to black folks, interactions with police are not predictable,” he said in a recent Q&A hosted by Ebony magazine.

Hart says that many recent high-profile police killings have occurred under the aegis of the war on drugs. “In all of these cases, authorities suspected that the deceased individual was either intoxicated from or selling an illicit substance,” Hart writes. Overinflated claims about the dangers of drug use have “created an environment where unjustified police killings are more likely to occur,” he says. They’ve also created a world where DEA agents can interrogate public transportation passengers and take all their money when they don’t like their answers. Or where IRS agents can empty your bank account because they don’t like how you deposited your money there.

But black families and communities typically bear the brunt of these harsh measures. Hart offers a troubling statistic in his talk: 1 in 3 black men can expect to do some jail time over the course of their lives. This reality has hit him right at home: “I’m a father of three black sons,” he said. “One has spent time in jail for drug laws.”

© 2015, The Washington Post

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SirVivor

Excellent points! From an enforcement prospective, it is very evident that the US government is extremely out of touch with the vast majority of people world-wide who believe the “war on drugs” is a failure and reforms to the laws and enforcement of those laws is way overdue.

For example: roughly 80% of the population of the US now believe that marijuana should be legal for medical purposes and yet the DEA is still arresting people and the DOJ is still prosecuting and stealing from them for simply using their medicine, growing their medicine or supplying the medicine legally under state laws. Lawmakers are reluctantly and purposefully dragging their feet or opposing needed drug reform bills.

The major hurdle for needed reform seems to be corrupt elected officials who are not representing the views of their constituents (as they were elected to do) nor the science, but rather supporting the old “tough on crime” ideology driven by huge contributions to their reelection campaigns by industries built up around this failed war against the population.

It continues to be an uphill battle to force elected representatives to follow science, reason and compassion to change drug policy. Science be damned if it means they would lose donations from the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol industry, the prison industry, law enforcement agencies, addiction treatment industry and on and on.

Without needed election reforms in the US, the deepest pockets will continue to rule on this issue (and others) because the government has so much invested for so many years in this evil infrastructure of population control. Most congressmen and senators are basically “bought and paid for” cowards. They are afraid of doing the right thing. They are afraid of reform. They are afraid of losing this control. They are afraid of what might happen to their cozy relationships with big money that they spend 80% of their time trying to entice from them. If this was not true, reforms (in a true democracy) would already have taken place based on science, reason and compassion.

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