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This Is Your Country On Drugs - July 4, 2001

By by Charles Rappleye & Judith Lewis
Originally Published in the LA Weekly

GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
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Published On: July 4, 2001          Updated On: August 07, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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Introduction

As we celebrate July 4, 2001 - Independence Day - it is important to remember that over two million people are in prison within the United States.  Two million is too many.  One in four (25%) are serving an average of seven years for the non-violent drug offenses of the personal possession and use of an illegal drug.  In other words, they're incarcerated for being an addict.   Fifty percent are doing time for committing a crime in order to get money to buy and use illicit drugs.  This means 75% of our inmates are incarcerated for drug related offenses.  Less than 12% of them get treatment in spite of undeniable evidence that treatment works.  We spend billions of dollars on law enforcement and international military activities to stop the flow of drugs.  Yet drugs are more available than ever.  We build more prisons and hire more probation and parole officers.  Yet we are cutting the budgets of our community based treatment programs.  Drug treatment is less available today than it has been since 1970.  This story by Charles Rappleye & Judith Lewis can help us to reflect.  Then we need to decide what, if anything, we are going to do.

Terence T. Gorski

This Is Your Country On Drugs
By by Charles Rappleye & Judith Lewis

The guns are muffled by distance and the casualties kept from view, but there’s a war going on, declared by President Reagan in 1982 and unabated since. We may be inured, but the war continues. We’ve armed our cops and our allies, we’ve filled our prisons and then built new ones, and still the contraband flows. Prices for cocaine are at an all-time low, suggesting that quantities have reached an all-time high.

What are we to make of this? What are the moral implications of a society that outlaws drug use while indulging in it? What is the imperative to punish inebriation? And why are we so committed to creating a black market where the smugglers flourish?

We don’t claim to have the answers, but we do come at these questions from a unique perspective. While we don’t advocate drug use per se, we don’t reject it either, as inherently evil, or even wrong. We look at the issues in human terms, in light of what people need and want and do, and we weigh the questions of policy and punishment, of judgment and morality, in that light.

Herewith, some inquiry, and some responses. We take a close look at the hard line of “zero tolerance,” the all-or-nothing maxim for so much public policy. We tour the battlefront we’ve opened in Colombia; here in California, we examine the effort to forge a new alternative to criminalization, a project that begins statewide this week.

Nothing here is automatic. There are no easy answers. But we want to examine this crisis in our midst, so easily overlooked, unfolding in slow motion, often behind the scenes. Perhaps this week, as we continue to celebrate our War of Independence, you will join us in taking a moment to reflect on the war America is fighting today.

 

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