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Drug War

July 27, 2001

We all have our pet peeves, such as unshielded “security” lights, barking dogs, loud music in public places.

One of my pet peeves has long been the “Drug War.” It bears similarities to the examples above, believe it or not. All of them are examples of escalating effects — similar to the Arms Race in nuclear weapons or in neon lights along highway strips — in which the unintended consequence is to have more of something nobody really wants.

The glare of unshielded light actually makes it harder to see at night. One glimpse at a bright light and your night vision is gone. In order to see well at night against a background of such glare, you need a supplementary light yourself. Bright lights breed more lights.

If you keep barking dogs, you’ll find that the every alarm requires interpretation: Is that an intruder or a cat outside? If you have more than one barking dog, you can’t be sure that a false bark didn’t set them all off. The insane, fevered cacophony of a pack of barking dogs can mean terrible danger, or it can mean nothing. How useful.

How many times have you sat down in a bar or cafe only to have your conversation drowned out by loud music? Voices are raised. Conversation is reduced to what can so subtly be expressed by shouting. No one’s listening to the music, but everyone hears it. Proprietors, take note.

The Drug War is a similar folly. Over several decades, the War on Drugs has escalated into a $19-billion effort that has failed to reduce drug use or drug importation. In fact, they have increased as fast as our expenditures to stop them.

But the War has suffused our society with an incredibly charged crime culture. It has prompted the erosion of our personal liberties. It has distorted our laws and our justice system, and this is only part of the “collateral damage,” to use a war term.

In 1997, 695,201 arrests were made over marijuana alone. But 87% of them were for possession only. This is almost as many arrests as for all the murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults combined: 717,720. Think about it.

A similar absurdity: The 1998 Higher Education Act disqualifies anyone from student loans who has been convicted of possession of marijuana. But there is no such disqualification for rape, robbery, or manslaughter. I just love whimsy.

There are so many insanities about the Drug War that it could send your head spinning if you were to read about it. Nevertheless, I suggest you do.

Judge James P. Gray is preaching to the choir with me, but I dare say that very few people of any political or moral persuasion would fail to be convinced of the problem after reading his book, “Why our drug laws have failed and what we can do about it.”

The only real argument is what we should do about it. The current course is folly.

Every facet of the Drug War is one of escalation involving criminals, police, courts, and collateral damage to our communities. The violence, danger, and anger has infected our culture–in television, movies, news, style. Even the baggy pants your children wear that sag below their bottoms are correctly called ‘prison chic.’

The “prison-industrial complex,” with it’s $19 billion budget in 2000, can not manage to keep drugs out of prisons. The whole thing is nutty.

I bring this up not to convince you of something. I’m suggesting this book as an example of the kind of discourse we can have in our country, as an example of the kind of reporting and analysis that much of the world’s population can not read.

Even if the criticism would be tolerated, this kind of analysis could never happen in a country such as China because the information is not available. However, in America, you can get most of this information at or through your public library.

In this particular case, Judge Gray has gathered and presented the evidence for you. Half the book is the evidence, the other half is what to do about it. If you’d like to stretch your jaw by having it drop, read this book.

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