Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that people convicted of certain “low -level” drug crimes will no longer be given severe mandatory prison sentences. The nation’s top cop has not gotten soft on crime; he is simply confronting one of the realities of the war on drugs, namely overflowing prisons.
Criminalizing victimless free choice not only creates crime, often violent crime, but it also makes criminals of otherwise decent people. This nonsense has filled the nation’s prisons beyond government’s carrying capacity. Private prisons have now become a $3 billion per year industry, growing by 1,600 percent between 1990 and 2010.
The cost to state and federal governments of building, maintaining and staffing prisons now exceeds $50 billion each year. Additionally, the cost of apprehending and prosecuting drug law offenders costs tens of billions more dollars annually. By the sheer weight of numbers, the futile war on drugs is beginning to undermine the entire justice system. Each year in the United States, about 750,000 people are arrested and prosecuted for use and possession of marijuana alone. While most are put on probation, some go to prison.
Doesn’t our nation have better uses for tax dollars than to incarcerate folks for artificial crime? With more than 2.3 million prison inmates, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world — 50 percent of those inmates were convicted of drug offenses.
The contrived war on drugs is a sinkhole of waste that will never end drug use, but it does enrich a select group of people who are determined to continue the war regardless of the collateral damage it inflicts on others. These greed ghouls include both law enforcement and the drug cartels, neither of whom wish to see drugs decriminalized because it would derail their gravy train.
For more than a year, Gov. Jerry Brown has been fighting a federal court order to relieve overcrowded state prisons. The court has ruled that the overcrowding creates conditions tantamount to inhumane punishment. Brown has resisted releasing as many as 30,000 inmates back onto the streets.
There is a solution. Brown is a pretty smart guy. He knows that about 25,000 inmates in California’s prisons were convicted of drug offenses. He should also know that the war on drugs is not only a chronic failure but is also egregiously unjust on so many levels. It has corrupted and militarized our law enforcement, made victims of innocent citizens, strained our criminal justice system, and made Mexico and many of our inner cities war zones.
His solution to complying with the federal court order should be to end California’s participation in the war on drugs. He should release all but the most dangerous inmates convicted of drug offenses, and then, going forward, pardon everyone convicted of nonviolent, nonchild-related, drug offenses. That should keep the state’s prison population down to compliance levels. If the federal drug warriors want to keep fighting this insane war, they can do it by themselves.
What the government’s drug warlords have done very successfully for so many years now is to convince much of the American public that free choice of drug use presents a grave threat to society. Any facts and science that refutes the government’s contentions about drugs are vehemently rejected, even vilified, by the government in its campaign to maintain myths about the danger of drugs, such as how inevitably addictive they are and how use of any are “gateways” to greater use of other even more dangerous drugs.
The available data indicate that with all banned drugs, including opiates, less than 25 percent of users become addicted. Tobacco, at 30 percent, has a greater incident of addiction than any narcotic and poses greater health risks. Imagine if we imprisoned all tobacco users. Most marijuana users do not become habitual users of narcotics.
The public’s growing acceptance of marijuana use, particularly for medicinal purposes, has the drug warriors in a reactionary, spittle-flecked, panic. Especially after the erstwhile marijuana opponent, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, after meeting with medical experts and medical marijuana patients around the world, recently admitted that "we have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that."
The troubling part of Gupta’s admission is his observation that the American public has been “systematically misled." “Systematically” more than implies that the authorities responsible for continuing the war on drugs are doing so for ulterior motives. Given all the damage the war on drugs has done to America, those doing the misleading are the real criminals — war criminals.
In a nation founded on personal freedom, why should anyone be prosecuted and punished for engaging in a victimless personal choice? When there is drug abuse or addiction, it should be a matter between user and family or user and physician, not user and the police power of government.