Home   About Us   PSAs   Reading   Research   Video   Contact Us


Reducing the harm caused by the War on Drugs is a big task. Years of rhetoric, political grandstanding and adherence to failed policies have led to bureaucratic inertia. Fortunately, researchers and scientists have clearly outlined a number of public policy areas that require attention.

The primary objective in reducing the harm from the drug war is reducing the crime, violence and disease it spawns. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 58.5% of the costs of illegal drug use are directly related to crime and the black market, and these costs can be greatly curtailed. There are a number of steps to take toward this end. A good first step would be to study the relationship between drugs, alcohol and violence to see if there is a pharmacological relationship, or if it is mostly a product of the black market trade. Next, we should begin clinical trials of drug maintenance therapy. Doctors in Switzerland have achieved great success in these programs and their nation has received the benefit of reduced crime and drug use. Since heavy users of cocaine, for instance, consume 8 times as much cocaine as light users, removing them from the black market would remove the bulk of the profit from street level sales, protecting everyone from street violence associated with the black market.187 Lastly, violence prevention programs should be taught to school aged kids to help them learn non-violent conflict resolution.

Ending the racial bias within drug enforcement is crucial to restoring the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. Today, one in four African-American men will be incarcerated in their lifetime, largely due to drug convictions and other black market effects. As an initial step, the 100 to 1 disparity in cocaine sentencing must be eliminated. Next, non-white communities should not be targeted for needle possession charges and paraphernalia laws which block successful needle exchange programs should be eliminated.

Mandatory minimum laws must be repealed and other existing laws reformed. Federal judges must have the authority to impose appropriate punishments, instead of being required to impose unnecessarily high jail terms for non-violent offenders. Women should not be criminalized for drug use during pregnancy, and family value-friendly policies should be required in addiction treatment and rehabilitation to maintain family units.

Finally, drug abuse must be seen as the public health problem that it is, and doctor and public health officials need to have greater freedom and power to participate in solving this health problem. As a first step, the Department of Health and Human Services (not the Department of Justice) should be given the authority to schedule drugs. Local authorities need to be empowered to deal with addiction at their own level, methadone should be made widely available and doctors need to have greater freedom in prescribing pain medication. States, doctors and patients should also be allowed to make their own decisions on the usefulness of medical marijuana. The federal government still provides 8 patients with marijuana to treat pain and glaucoma, yet it is denying this right to other seriously ill patients. Along with this, plans for the safe distribution of this medicine along with scientific studies of its potentials should be pursued.

Once drugs are dealt with as a public health problem, instead of a law enforcement problem, our nation can begin to restore civil liberties that were lost due to the need to “search and seize” drugs on people, and in houses, cars, planes and buses. We can end the misuse of forfeiture laws and greatly reduce the government corruption that drug prohibition has spawned. We can also re-prioritize our foreign policies so that we do not wage wars or ignore human rights violations in foreign countries due to a misguided attempt to control a drug supply problem that only flourishes in response an existing domestic demand.

187 Rydel, Peter and Susan Everingham. Controlling Cocaine: Supply Versus Demand Programs, p. xi. Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND

Previous  Contents  Next