ORLANDO — A new report calling the war on drugs a big failure is being welcomed by those who have long come to the same conclusion, but always felt like they were a lonely voice in the wilderness.
“We spent $40 billion on the war on drugs, and we’re creating more problems than we’re solving,” said Mark Schmidter, a Libertarian activist in Orlando. “The war on drugs is the biggest example of what can go wrong.”
Dorothy Gaines takes a similar view — and she knows about this issue first hand. The resident of Mobile, Alabama spent five years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, until President Clinton granted her a pardon in 2000 after she saved the life of a corrections officer. Today Gaines is an activist against what she considers to be drug sentencing laws that unfairly target minority communities.
The war on drugs, she said, has destroyed families but done little to get controlled substances out of urban neighborhoods.
“It’s terrible,” Gaines said. “You’re tearing up families. You’re leaving the families to hurt. You’re leaving the children to hurt. You’re locking up the parents for 20, 30, 40 years. Some kids have never seen their parents.”
On Thursday, the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a report claiming the war on drugs has failed worldwide.
“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” the report states. “Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed. Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers.”
The report recommends ending the criminalization of people who use drugs but don’t hurt other people, and encourages governments to experiment with drug legalization, especially marijuana.
“Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations,” the report notes. “Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere. Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences.”
Schmidter said the report’s conclusions should have been obvious to everyone years ago.
“It’s been a miserable fialure and it’s impossible to win,” he said of the war on drugs. “They ought to scrap the whole thing. Drugs are plentiful and cheaper than they’ve ever been.”
Gaines said the drug war has been particularly harmful to families hauled into federal court, as she was, where prosecutors file conspiracy charges and base their evidence almost exclusively on drug dealers informing on one another.
“Only the federal government is doing this because at the state level, you have to have evidence,” Gaines said. “It’s a numbers game. All you have to do is plot how you’re going to get out of serving all those years in prison. I knew one man, he wanted to get out of his 15 years, so he started singing. They should get rid of the conspiracy laws. If you don’t have evidence, don’t go to trial.”
The drug war has been as devastating to some communities, she said, as the actual drugs used there ever will be.
“You’re destroying families, and you’re wondering why the world is the way it is now,” she said. “You’ve got people incarcerated who need to be at home, being a mother.”
Freeline Media contributor Dave Raith countered that legalization would only make the nation’s drug problem even worse, since the government would be giving its blessing to substance abuse.
“I’ve never done drugs, I’ve never used drugs, and I think drugs should be illegal because they have the potential for killing people,” Raith said.
Legalization and decriminalization would also establish a more dangerous social environment for raising a family, Raith said.
“In my personal opinion, I wouldn’t want my child raised in a society where they could go buy crack legally,” he said. “I wouldn’t want a society where they can legally buy drugs and then go drive a car dangerously that could hurt my child. If they legalize, people will be walking down the street smoking crack.”
Schmidter dismissed that argument, noting that the Prohibition movement against alcohol in the 1920s, which got repealed under President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, should have taught this nation that sweeping government bans simply don’t work.
“Their big fear is if we decriminalize it and just stay out of the whole drug mess, then everybody will end up being druggies because now they can,” Schmidter said. “But after 11 or 12 years of Prohibition, then they said it’s legal to have a drink and consume alcohol. Well, everybody didn’t become an alcoholic overnight. They didn’t change. Then the government just figured it was something they could tax. It would make sense to let the private sector figure everything out.”
Think again, Raith said.
“You pose the question to him, you wouldn’t have a problem with your wife and child walking down the street next to someone smoking crack?” Raith asked. “Then obviously there’s something wrong with your head.”
But as Schmidter noted, it’s legal today to buy certain drugs that can lead to addictions, including pain medications like Oxycontin and Oxycodone. A growing number of local counties, including Orange and Osceola, are cracking down on so-called “pill mills,” where doctors write prescriptions for pain killing medications that in some cases can be highly addictive. Prescription drug abuse is considered one of the nation’s fastest growing drug problems.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office made headlines last October when Sheriff Grady Judd announced his office would crack down on convenience stores that sold products like Spice and K2. Marketed as an incense, the product is often smoked as a synthetic form of marijuana by teenagers who can buy it legally. Judd said he was enforcing a Florida statute that makes the sale of an “immitation controlled substance” a third degree felony.
But not all counties are taking aggressive action against K2 and Spice products sold legally in local stores.
“I’m not aware of any cases of it being a huge concern in Osceola,” said Twis Lizasuain, public information officer for the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. “I don’t believe any specialty agents have worked on cases for that. It’s not something that is a big issue here in Osceola.”
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