The war on drugs, declared by President Nixon in the 1970s, has played a major role in shaping today's society. According to a report by the Pew charitable trust, more than one in every 100 U.S. adults is behind bars. Many consider the war on drugs to be a devastating failure. This seems like a logical enough conclusion. The "war" was declared on our country's own citizens -- it was always a zero-sum game. Like any zero-sum game, it could only be won by the enemy's losses.
But if we are the enemy, who really wins? Our collective losses have been great since the 1970s, and we have all seen them and borne their weight. Overreaching governmental intrusions into our personal privacy, criminalization of minor drug offenses and an extremely overpopulated prison are realities we've all begrudgingly come to accept. But why? Is any of this working?
The United States contains five percent of world's population, yet 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the entire world. In 2012, about half of those in federal prison were there for non-violent drug offenses. Of those, marijuana arrests made up 48.3 percent, 87 percent of which were for possession only. Clearly something has to change.
Here's what we know: 80 percent of offenders abuse drugs or alcohol and nearly 50 percent of inmates are clinically addicted. The war on crime has been phenomenally successful in arresting and prosecuting individuals. However, it has not made a dent in addiction, the consumer demand for drugs, or the trafficker's ability sell them. According to the CIA, the United States is the "world's largest consumer of cocaine (shipped from Colombia through Mexico and the Caribbean), Colombian heroin and Mexican heroin and marijuana."
So what's the answer? It's difficult to say. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions to help figure out our priorities as a country. Are we satisfied with spending more money on incarcerating our citizens, than educating them? Are we ok with our current parole/release system, or do we think the rate of recidivism (67.5 percent) is troubling? Do we agree that the United States has the highest rate of criminality in the world, or is there another explanation for why we have had the highest rate of incarceration since 2002?
There have been positive steps in the right direction. On April 23, the Justice Department released new clemency guidelines for non-violent drug offenders. Amongst other requirements, the offenders, must have already served 10 years to be eligible. While this program may be taking an important step in the right direction, many others' rights are being trampled right back over every day under prevailing state and federal law.
As a country, we can do better. As people, we can do better. In the 1970s, war was waged unwittingly by the United States on its own citizens. Today its time to call a cease fire.
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