Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Jesse Jackson says it's time to end the war on drugs:
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the day Richard Nixon launched the "War on Drugs."…Four decades later, it would be impossible to invent a more complete failure.
About $1 trillion has been spent on the war. Millions of citizens who pose no threat to anyone have been incarcerated in prison. Some 2.3 million now overcrowd America's prisons — 25 percent of whom have been arrested for nonviolent drug crimes.
Our neighbors to the south — Mexico and Colombia — are being torn about by gang violence and corruption. In Afghanistan, where our soldiers risk their lives, fully one-third to one-half of the entire economy is generated by the opium and heroin trade. All of this is in reaction to nonviolent acts that were not even crimes a century ago.
Although that last line suggests not just calling off the "war" launched by Nixon but repealing the drug bans that the federal government began to impose in 1914, it's not clear exactly what policy Jackson favors. "What if we treated drug addiction like alcohol addiction as a public health problem?" he asks. Well, if the government actually did treat drug addiction like alcohol addiction, drug users would not be arrested, and treatment would not be mandatory (except maybe in cases of drugged driving or other offenses that harm or endanger others). Furthermore, production, sale, and use of the currently prohibited substances would be legal. Is Jackson ready for that? It doesn't sound like it:
Marijuana accounts for one-half of all drug arrests in the U.S.; decriminalizing it would save millions that could be used to treat addicts rather than arrest kids. Alternatives to incarceration should be preferred for those who pose no threat to others.
Harsh mandatory and minimum sentences should be repealed. Why not take drug addiction out of the criminal justice system and treat it in the public health system? It surely would be better to spend the money not on locking people up, but on clinics that might treat their illnesses.
"Decriminalizing" marijuana could mean treating it like alcohol, or it could mean (as it typically has in the U.S.) eliminating the possibility of jail sentences for possessing small amounts. While he is vague about the alternatives, Jackson's forceful condemnation of the status quo is welcome. It's too bad he didn't make these arguments when he was running for president.
Jackson mentions the recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which I discussed last week.
[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]