San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Drug War

Decades of drug war have brought only crisis

The new visibility of police violence toward African-Americans in the United States has stoked public debate about policing: What about body cameras? Should we reform police training? Perhaps we should go slow on all that military gear?

I find it almost impossible to sit through any of this while the underlying issue goes unaddressed: It’s the drug economy, stupid.

It’s well past time to legalize marijuana. But it’s also time to consider decriminalizing nonviolent crimes involving other drugs, or at least to reclassify lower-level, nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors. We should also expunge felony convictions for many classes of nonviolent drug offenses — those involving marijuana but for other drugs, too — to re-enfranchise, economically and politically, those who have staffed the drug trade.

Before I make my case, let me pause to say that I write this as the last living American, or so it sometimes feels, never to have smoked pot or used any other banned substance. My motivation, in other words, is not my own recreational freedom but justice.

What’s the picture of use these days? According to the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy Data Supplement, as of 2009, more than 41 percent of people in the U.S. aged 12 to 64 had used marijuana sometime in their lifetime. In Canada, that figure was 51 percent. This contrasts with Mexico, where the figure is 4 percent, and Colombia (8 percent). Whereas in 2000, the United States consumed an estimated 3,000 metric tons of pot, in 2010 we inhaled or otherwise ingested 5,700 metric tons. And from 2011 to 2014, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, half of high school students reported using illicit drugs by 12th grade. This number is headed up.

Participation is pretty equal opportunity. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in that year the rate of substance dependence or abuse was 8.4 percent for whites and 7.4 percent for blacks. Yet, as is widely recognized, African-Americans are incarcerated for both the use and sale of drugs at far higher rates than whites. In 2011, African-Americans were arrested for possession at three times the rate as whites nationally and, for drug sales and manufacturing, at nearly four times the rate of whites. In Chicago, the black-white arrest ratio for marijuana is 15 to 1.

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

These enforcement disparities mean that the U.S. drug economy rests on a highly exploitative labor regime. If pot were an iPhone and the supply chain based in China, investigative journalists would be blasting the labor practices that delivered it. This is a point we have not yet focused on.

A memorial in Humboldt Park on Chicago’s West Side for a September 2013 killing. The victim was among more than 20 people shot in less than an eight-hour span in the U.S. city.

Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

According to researchers, marijuana constitutes about 80 percent of illicit drug usage, and an estimated 40 to 67 percent of that pot came from Mexico in 2008; most cocaine and heroin also passes through Mexico. Wholesale distributors in the United States include Mexican criminal organizations, Latino and African-American street gangs and domestic producers of marijuana, a rapidly growing part of the drug economy that includes plenty of non-ethnically-identified whites. Of course, other groups also operate at the wholesale level — Russians, Israelis, Italians, Chinese, Colombians and Jamaicans, to name a few. Producers, wholesalers and retailers are tied together by brokers, smugglers and couriers. It’s a commercial zone that looks pretty multicultural based on the limited information available.

At the retail level, however, most drug users buy from people who look like them. But this lets some white users turn a blind eye to the supply chain. A major portion of the pot inhaled by a white smoker has also passed through the hands of black or brown laborers in the drug economy.

In 1984, the Drug Enforcement Administration initiated Operation Pipeline to interdict drug trafficking on the nation’s highways through the use of traffic stops; this operation launched and provided national training for police in what we have come to know as racial profiling. Thanks to the racially disparate enforcement that was then set in motion, much drug economy labor is, for all intents and purposes, not free. This is especially true for the couriers, brokers and lower-tier wholesalers. Young people are recruited to handle low-level tasks, setting them up to be booked on a felony as an adult not long after they turn 18. Once that happens, they find themselves broadly unemployable — with one major exception: by the drug industry. How voluntary can we consider repeat participation in the supply chain, then, when a criminal record precludes other opportunities?

The libertarian vibe in the world of pot smokers and other drug users makes these issues all the more stark. Freedom for those who want a hit has been wrung from the exploitation of others. We have numbers for the price of that freedom: 1.5 million African-American men missing from U.S. cities. And this doesn’t count the men who are still in those cities but are trapped by the felonies on their records.

In the mid-1970s, the DEA conducted an anti-heroin campaign in Mexico called Operation Trizo. The DEA website reports, with no apparent sense of irony, that the campaign was called off at the request of the Mexican government because “The large numbers of arrests that resulted from Operation Trizo caused an economic crisis.”

Through decades of the war on drugs, we have indeed bought ourselves our own economic crisis with the drug economy’s impacts on poverty and education. But we’ve also delivered a human catastrophe, on par with the worst of our bad American habits. One of the hardest challenges of school reform in the context of low-income communities of color is to protect students from exposure to violence, even on their daily walks to school. The precise pathway to a legalized, decriminalized and nonviolent drug economy and to the reintegration of those formerly barred from participation will take much collective discussion to discern. But the general direction to pursue is clear.

Emancipation of our brothers and sisters requires both economic and political re-enfranchisement. These forms of re-enfranchisement require not only legalizing marijuana but also decriminalizing as many nonviolent drug offenses as possible and expunging those convictions. Call it Operation Equal Justice.

Allen is a political theorist at the Institute of Advanced Study and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

© 2015, The Washington Post

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Brian Kelly

The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

Even The President of the United States has used marijuana. Has it hurt his chances at succeeding in life? If he had gotten caught by the police during his college years, he may have very well still been in prison today! Beyond that, he would then be fortunate to even be able to find a minimum wage job that would consider hiring him with a permanent criminal record.Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

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Dan Gibson

The ”war on drugs” — a multi trillion dollar complete and total debacle!! On virtually any street corner in the US — you can obtain anything you want! Way way way too much money involved now — if the American people were to find out who — or better yet — what— is/are the main people or thing involved in the importation of drugs into the US — there would be a rebellion/revolution — tomorrow!!!!!

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Excellent comments. The propagandists will continue to try and cloud the situation. I appreciate your articulate voices on the reality of marijuana. Remember, in 1950 over 50% of the usa population smoked tobacco products. Today under 18% of the population uses tobacco products. This was a campaign of education that resulted in this change. We didn’t have to criminalize tobacco users to reduce use. Marijuana is proven to be over a 100 times safer than either alcohol or tobacco. In the USA over 693,000 people are arrested annually for marijuana, and 88% of those arrests are merely for possession. That is more arrests than for murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined. Stop the propaganda and follow the science. These funds need to be re-allocated for the common good of society. Law enforcement needs to be FORCED to focus only on violent crime and white collar crime, and that should be legislated.

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Good article! No one should be illegally spied on (stingrays) , stolen from (civil asset seizures) and brutally incarcerated (harsh mandatory minimum sentencing) for a victimless crime. Drug law enforcement becomes even more nefarious when you notice how harshly drug laws are enforced by masked thugs from the DEA brutally assaulting sick, disabled and elderly people just trying to survive by growing and using medical cannabis for various illnesses. No sane person believes this should continue (roughly 80% approve of legal medical marijuana) and yet the US government (despite overwhelming public opinion, science, reason and compassion) continues it’s “insane war on drugs” designed to control societies throughout the world. Instead of representing the citizens who voted for them. Elected officials in the US including the president are doing the bidding of some very wealthy and powerful corporations and agencies who want the insanity to continue their ill-gotten gravy trains and societal control.

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As ‘medical’ use marijuana becomes more accepted, the corporate production of marijuana will become the norm.
When it falls in the hands of the government string pulling corporations, legalized ‘corporate controlled pot will be the only acceptable product to use.
This will still keep us self sustainable pot growers on the ‘unlawful’ side of the pot user culture.
The example of this is what is being offered by Prime Minister hopeful of the Liberal Party of Canada in that election coming this fall. The incumbent Conservative Party is continuing to offer incarceration and profiteering for organized criminals.
The opposition New Democratic Party is offering ‘decriminalization’ for small amount possession.

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Brian Kelly

Don’t be fooled by “decriminalization” because citizens are still going to be treated like common criminals for marijuana under it.

Citizens will STILL be forced to the dangerous black market and a shady illegal street drug dealer to purchase their marijuana. Getting caught buying it is STILL a crime they will arrest and jail you for. Then, they will also most likely try to FORCE you to either mandatory community service and/or rehab, and if you don’t comply, guess what? JAILTIME!

They also fail to mention the additional huge cost of court costs which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars on top of the relatively small ticket/fine.

If you fail to pay these expensive court costs you will be in “the system” as a criminal. With a warrant out for your arrest and incarceration.

No thanks!

Also, we will still be wasting our tax dollars sending police around to ticket marijuana users and wasting police manpower and resources.

Instead of allowing our police the time, manpower and resources to protect us all from real, dangerous criminals who actually commit crimes with victims and pose a real threat to society.

Why else do you think some politicians are so EAGER to “decriminalize”, instead of LEGALIZE?

Don’t Let’em Fool Us!!!

If you can’t purchase it legally, then it isn’t legal.

If you have to fear a monetary fine/ticket which if you don’t pay and/or show up in court to handle, you then become a criminal with a warrant out for your arrest, and when convicted (yes convicted, as in crime.) you will then be forced into free manual labor and/or forced drug rehabilitation to be used as another statistic prohibitionists love to flaunt about supposed “marijuana addicts”, then….No, it’s not legal!

This will not suffice! Getting caught purchasing marijuana is still considered a serious “drug deal” and you will be prosecuted for it!


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Brian Kelly

Let’s not intentionally try to alarm and worry the public about legalizing “all drugs” right now.

That concept is often used as a scare-tactic by prohibitionists in an attempt to frighten the public away from marijuana legalization by clumping marijuana legalization in with the legalization of other drugs which are far more scary and dangerous than relatively benign,often healing marijuana.

Marijuana is just about the safest drug out there. Legal or not, and much less dangerous than perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised, often glorified alcohol consumption.

Which makes marijuana legalization unique, and certainly a much different, and far more urgent matter than the legalization of “all drugs” right now.

Let’s not lose focus on the real issue at hand here. Marijuana, the only currently illegal recreational drug that is much safer than perfectly legal alcohol.

Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

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Brian Kelly

In the prohibitionist’s world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are “stoners” and “dopers” that need to be incarcerated in order to to protect society.

In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about “saving us all” from the “evils” of marijuana use.

Who are they to tell us we can’t choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

People who use marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who “follow the law” also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it’s current prohibition of course) .

Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make us out to be. We are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their marijuana use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

Although that doesn’t mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like “dopers” and “stoners” about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it’s an All American pastime.

There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can’t enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

We’ve worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don’t appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

Has a marijuana user ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force us not to either.

Don’t try to impose your morality and “clean living” upon all of us with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won’t think you’re such prohibitionist hypocrites.

Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

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