The drug war: No more lies

By Arianna Huffington

By Salon Staff
Published August 14, 2000 7:28PM (EDT)

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I must disagree with Arianna Huffington that incarceration for "non-violent" drug offenders is wrong, and drug "treatment" is the best way to handle the problem. I am a police officer fighting the "ground war" on the war on drugs. I arrest dozens of people for "non-violent" drug charges (often linked with serious violent felonies) and very many of them have been through "treatment." It does not work. Like "anger management" classes for domestic abusers, they are an ineffective "feel-good" way to approach a problem. Finally, something we should not forget is that drug use IS ILLEGAL! Breaking the law should get people sent to jail, not to some cushy "treatment center" when they have no real intentions of stopping their drug use anyway.

-- Robert Matson

Alas, Huffington misses the real reason the war on drugs continues year after year: Our government employees profit immensely from it. Whether it is the local and state police forces that confiscate property and then sell it for a profit or federal agents doing the same while also cushioned by record budgets that have dramatically expanded our president's private army and conveniently armed them with machine guns, no law enforcement official is likely to raise their voice against the abuses or failures.

Every civil servant or private contractor that profits from the asset seizures will cheer on the "war" despite its legendary lack of success because they can live like royalty from this hidden tax on American society. A shift to treatment over criminalization and asset seizures will cripple the little kingdoms Congress and the president have so carefully created. For that reason I very much doubt that the "war" on the American people will end very soon. After all, it is ultimately greed that drives all wars!

-- Randy Hofland

I don't understand why more conservatives haven't turned on the drug war already. As a libertarian, I see the drug war for what it is: the ultimate liberal government program to protect people from themselves. Like most government programs, its real purpose is to increase the power of the federal government over more aspects of our lives.

-- Richard Carpenter

Arianna Huffington is quite correct in stating that America's so-called war on drugs is a dismal failure. I am a clinical psychologist, active in forensic psychology, who evaluates inmates in the jails on a daily basis. The vast majority of individuals that I see have a substance abuse problem, most frequently crack cocaine. Many have 20, 30, 40 arrests, only to be released and start the cycle all over again. So many have told me that they consume as many drugs in prison as on the streets. The substance abuse "treatment" they receive in prison is phony, with many inmates going to 12-step meetings to reduce their sentences. Violations of confidentiality, a cornerstone of treatment, are commonplace. Incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders also produces jobs and incomes for mental health professionals, attorneys, criminal justice employees and companies that service incarcerated inmates.

It is time for our political leaders to step up and face the obvious. We must have bold new approaches, and be willing to consider solutions that heretofore were taboo. These include, but are not limited to, selective legalization, decriminalization, extraordinary efforts at primary prevention, funding for drug therapies, vaccinations, and funds for new approaches for treatment and research. If they do not work after a trial basis then throw them out without recriminations and start something else.

In order for progress to be made, these efforts should be undertaken in a bipartisan effort, with the endorsement of law enforcement officials. Demagogues need not apply. Are our political leaders up to the task? Let's hope so or we will continue to fight a lost war.

-- Michael S. Greenberg, Ph.D.

Salon Staff

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