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40 Years of Drug War Hasn't Worked; "Time for a Change," Says 9-Year Veteran

The public understands how disastrous it's been -- now it's time for the politicians and law enforcement to change course.

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On June 7, 2011, the Connecticut legislature voted to decriminalize possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana and the governor has promised to sign the law. In November 2010, in California, 46.5 percent of the voters supported legalizing marijuana, and polls revealed that 30 percent of “no” voters said they supported legalization but not in the form of Proposition 19 that was the regime on the ballot.

I have been involved in making drug policy professionally for more than 30 years -- three-quarters of the war on drugs. On June 14, I joined five veteran police officers (local, state and federal), a former judge, and a corrections commissioner -- all speakers from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – to bring to ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske LEAP’s indictment of the failures of war on drugs policy. We held a press conference on the sidewalk outside his office near the White House. As it was breaking up, four construction workers asked my chief of staff what it was all about. She told them it was about legalizing drugs. Immediately they started telling her all the various reasons why our drug policy is a failure.

For 10 minutes they described the racial disparity in arrests, the drug violence in Mexico and in American neighborhoods, the deaths from drug overdose, the pointlessness of arresting a drug dealer who gets immediately replaced or putting drug users in jail. They noted the parallels between the failure of alcohol prohibition and drug prohibition. They noted the tax revenues from drug sales that we are losing. This telling anecdote reveals how broadly the public understands that Nixon’s “war on drugs” has been a widespread failure.

The next step is for the drug policy reform community to present concrete proposals for analysis to legislators and the public. Surely most of us can agree with prestigious groups such as the Global Commission on Drug Policy that the facts of the war on drugs after 40 years are clear signs we need a very different strategy.

 

Eric E. Sterling has been president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation , a private non-profit educational organization, since 1989.

 
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