Normally when I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I eventually descend into a thoughtless stupor, precipitated by a parade of endless “selfies” and platitudinous status updates.
Every once in a while my social media-induced coma is interrupted by something intelligent or remarkable. I recently read an article detailing new legislation in the state of Oregon, which would amend current statutes designating minor drug possession as a felony.
Under the new legislation, minor drug possession would be a misdemeanor and people arrested for possession would be granted easier access to drug treatment programs.
Progressive legislation from a republican and a cop… am I dreaming?
The state of Oregon is attempting to shift public policy towards treating drug addiction as the public health crisis that it is, and not a criminal justice issue. Republican state Senator Jackie Winters, co-chair of the public safety committee also referenced some of the negative consequences of the “war on drugs” approach such as racial and socioeconomic disparities in policing and rates of incarceration.
The bill also saw support from Kevin Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police. Executive director Campbell wrote “too often individuals with addiction issues find their way to the doorstep of the criminal justice system when they are arrested for possession of a controlled substance” a sentiment which mirrored that of Senator Jackie Winters.
He also went on to say “unfortunately, felony convictions in these cases also include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities” which highlights one of the major consequences of the war on drugs; the destruction of minorities, people of color and low socioeconomic neighborhoods.
Personally, I look at the issue of the war on drugs from multiple perspectives; I look at it through the legal framework of the US Constitution, I look at it from a public policy standpoint and consider how effective it is, I look at it through the lens of the minority community and of course I look at it as a former drug addict in recovery.
The war on drugs is wrong on all fronts; it allows the state to operate outside the legal confines of the United States Constitution, it wreaks havoc on low socioeconomic communities, it has created and perpetuated the prison industrial complex, clogged the judicial system and it makes it more difficult for drug addicts to find their way into recovery.
This should be enough for American citizens and informed government officials to fight back and end this war. It would be one thing if the war on drugs worked, but we are now over forty-six years into this disastrous public policy and all we have to show for it is an opioid addiction epidemic and the highest incarceration rate in the entire world.
Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it
It’s hard to believe that America could forget its own history so often.
With the ratification of the eighteenth amendment, America saw alcohol prohibition, a dress rehearsal for the eventual war on drugs. It is now widely accepted and understood that alcohol prohibition was a complete failure; alcohol production, distribution, sale and possession was simply driven underground, creating a brutal and dangerous black market dominated by organized crime.
Organized crime syndicates experienced an enormous economic boost as a result of alcohol prohibition; when a very popular commodity is criminalized, the most ruthless men and women will step up to the plate to provide this hot commodity and indeed they did. Since alcohol was illegal, the only recourse criminals had during disputes was violence and intimidation.
What followed was over a decade of unrelenting violence due to power-struggles related to who had control over portions of the booming alcohol trade. Criminals don’t talk it out or let the judges decide, they hold court in the street. The prohibition era didn’t last long in the United States, and in December of 1933 with the twenty-first amendment, they altered the Constitution once again to legalize the production, distribution, sale and consumption of alcohol. The prohibition era foreshadowed what was to come in the early 1970s; a war on drugs that made prohibition look like childs play.
Why does any of this matter? Who cares if drugs are illegal, they’re bad for you anyway right? Wrong, drugs are not bad, drugs are drugs; they are inanimate substances that we humans misuse, abuse and unfortunately get addicted to. Most people who use drugs are not addicts and never will be. More importantly, what business is it of the state to tell adults what they can and can’t do with their own bodies?
But addicts are immoral and bad aren’t they? Don’t they do bad things and deserve to be locked up in a prison in the middle of nowhere? Absolutely not, drug addicts are unique people with a condition precipitated by very specific external circumstances, genetic predispositions and a gradual rewiring of their brain that leaves them with their backs against the wall. They do bad things to support their habit, so treatment should be the primary focus. Addicts need help, and incarceration is not helping. If we continue putting drug addicts in cages this problem will only get worse and worse, as we can see.
Let’s stand up for our people
Drug addicts in active addiction are very vulnerable people.
They can very easily be taken advantage of, and after decades of propaganda and failed policies, they are not a very well liked segment of the population. Making and keeping drugs illegal does not stop addicts from getting high, it just keeps them in a vicious cycle of incarceration, unemployment, homelessness and addiction.
All criminalization of drugs has done is created a system in which the top 1% of society profits off of the prison industrial complex. The war on drugs has also created institutions that live off of the war on drugs budget, a budget that should be allocating all of its resources towards harm reduction and treatment, but it doesn’t.
Over 2/3 of the drug war budget goes towards various punitive measures. This has resulted in many more prisons being built, many of which are private. This has also resulted in legislative lobbying efforts on the part of correctional officer and law enforcement unions for tougher laws that allow these people to keep their jobs secure.
If we’re going to have a real war on drugs, let’s allocate all of our resources to harm reduction efforts and treatment. If we’re going to have a real war on drugs, let’s stop putting adults with health problems into cages, let’s stop giving them convictions that keep them from finding housing, employment and other benefits that allow them to get back on their feet, and more importantly away from drugs.
It seems as though Oregon and a handful of other states are moving in the right direction. Let’s do our part to make sure our representatives are moving in the right direction too. They are supposed to be our representatives, let’s make them do their job.
Let your voice be heard, write them, call them, speak out on social media and inform your friends and family. Make sure you’re representatives know that you’d like the current drug war to be replaced by something that operates within the legal framework of our founding documents, and a policy that actually works!