THE BLOG
01/28/2016 03:05 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

El Chapo, Sean Penn and the Failed War on Drugs - Part 3

So now, finally, I come to the real issues that Mr. Penn wished to raise, and in doing so, I again turn to Glenn Greenwald; this time in his speech Century of Lies, 2011 at Rice University's, Baker Institute for Public Policy:

The War on Drugs is, in my view by far, the most profound and destructive policy failure of the last 50 years. Every generation has various policies that future generations look back upon -- not with just disagreement -- but with bafflement as to how the citizenry could possibly have failed to realize the irrationality and evil of very conventions and orthodoxies...

Advocates of drug prohibition typically cite a variety of problems grounded in drug usage and related pathologies as to why that policy is justified and yet the amazing thing about the War on Drugs, about drug prohibition is that that policy, at best, has no effect on those problems and, in most cases, exacerbates them and makes them far worse.

One of the most comprehensive studies on drug prohibition was issued this year by the Global Commission on Drug Policy and it was composed by some of the world's leading experts in the area including people like former UN Secretary Kobi Anan, the former Secretary General of NATO, multiple former presidents of a variety of countries, people like George Schultz, Paul Volcker and the report was incredibly well-documented but it's bottom line was as stark and it is obvious. And that is:

"The global war on drugs has failed."

Not is failing, not is likely to fail -- but has failed.

I think the easiest way to understand why that's so and the magnitude of the failure is to compare it to a historical precedent which is alcohol prohibition because alcohol prohibition, like the War on Drugs, did almost nothing to alleviate the problem it was intended to address which was the decision by many adults to consume alcohol. And yet what it did instead was spawn extreme amounts of violence in the form of gangs and others who, because alcohol was driven underground, engaged in violence to compete for dominance over the industry.

And there really are only two differences between alcohol prohibition and drug prohibition that I can see. One is that only took Americans 13 years to realize back then what a grievous error prohibition was and they repealed it -- whereas we are now going on 40 years of this incredibly failed drug war. And the second is that the violence spawned by drug prohibition is so much greater than the violence spawned by alcohol prohibition....

So let's look at the cost of this War on Drugs that has now been going on for decades. The first cost is that it has turned the United States into the world's largest prison state. We imprison 2.4 million citizens -- more than any country on the planet, by far -- including countries that have larger populations than the United States such as China and India.

I think the most striking statistic in this regard is that the United States accounts for just under 5 percent of the world's population and yet 25 percent of the world's prison population is on American soil. 1 out of every 4 prisoners is in an American prison. The primary reason for that development, there are several, but the primary reason is our obsession with drug prohibition and the Drug War. In federal prisons, for example, 57 percent of inmates are serving time on drug charges and most of them were convicted on charges of possession not distribution.

Beyond this sprawling prison state the War on Drugs is indescribably racist both in application and effect...

As a result of these racial disparities he said, "America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace."...

Now there are economic costs of the drug war which are astronomical. When you add up the costs of law enforcement, of arresting drug users, bringing them into the criminal justice system, prosecuting them, imprisoning them, and then add to that the extraordinary and always growing interdiction efforts that the U.S. government engages in both domestically and internationally -- it's called a drug war because we employ our military to a vast extent in order to find drug supplies and disrupt them. The costs are in the hundreds of billions of dollars...

And so the economic costs, this hundreds of billions of dollars that have been expended in a variety of ways over those decades has huge opportunity costs -- think of the things we could do with that money...

Then there's the fact that the drug war has spawned a very under-discussed and yet glaring evil and that is the privatized prison industry. Our prison populations are simply too great due to the drug war for states to manage any longer...

Then there is the destruction of civil liberties that the War on Drugs has brought and ushered in and continues to usher in. I write a lot about the erosion of civil liberties and the War on Terror but the precursor to almost every one of those abuses is the War on Drugs.

These are the issues for which Mr. Penn and Ms. del Castillo risked their lives. However, instead of being praised by fellow journalists for having attempted to initiate a debate on the failed "War on Drugs", these two people have been berated and chastised by journalists and citizens, alike.

I hope people, and journalists, will cease and desist from deviating the public, and other journalists, from the important issues at hand. And, rather than squabbling over semantics and personal attacks on Mr. Penn's writing style and personal opinions -- which quite frankly have more logic and sanity to them than most of the other ones I have heard, or read, to date -- address and discuss the issues laid forth by the esteemed lawyer and journalist (who is not a real journalist either), Glenn Greenwald in his speech above.