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October 13, 2008

Senator Webb continuing his important focus on US drug policy

I am pleased to see from Senator Jim Webb's website that he will be hosting this Wednesday morning at George Mason University a symposium entitled "Drugs in America: Trafficking, Policy and Sentencing."  The symposium details are set out on this official flier, and the event is described on Senator Webb's webpage: "Moderated by Senator Webb, three panels of experts will examine drug distribution in the U.S; law enforcement practices; and punitive vs. public health responses to drug abuse."

As regular readers know, I have frequently praised Senator Jim Webb for being one of the few national politicians giving serious (and much-needed) attention to mass incarceration and criminal justice policies connected to the "war on drugs."   And, after reading this interesting recent post from the TierneyLab titled "The Drug Czar's Report Card: F," I plan to step up my criticisms of other national policy-makers for failing to give these issues the serious attention they deserve.  Here is the start of Jon Tierney's post:

In 2002, the Bush administration’s National Drug Control Strategy set a goal of reducing illegal drug use by 25 percent in five years.  This was followed by an unprecedented campaign of persuasion (more than 100 different anti-drug advertisements and commercials) and law enforcement as the number of annual arrests for marijuana possession climbed above 700,000 — higher than ever before, and greater than the combined total for all violent crimes.

Now that the first five years’ results are available, the campaign can officially be called a failure, according to an analysis of federal drug-use surveys by Jon Gettman, a senior fellow at the George Mason University School of Public Policy.  The prevalence of marijuana use (as measured by the portion of the population that reported using it in the previous month) declined by 6 percent, far short of the 25-percent goal, and that decline was partially offset by a slight increase in the use of other illicit drugs.  As a result, the overall decline in drug use was less than 4 percent....

In 1991, [Dr. Gettman] noted, the official National Drug Control Strategy’s goal was to reduce number of illicit drug users in America to 7.25 million within a decade.  But a decade later, in 2002, the number was actually 19.5 million, and by last year it had risen to 19.9 million, Dr. Gettman said.

Whatever else one might say about the "war on drugs," it clearly has been a very costly battle measured in either economic or human terms.  And there seems to be little evidence that the considerable costs of this war are producing significant and lasting benefits.  I continue to hope that the next president might try a different kind of surge in the drug war — a surge focused on public health realities rather than criminal justice rhetoric.  I also hope that Senator Webb can and will be committed to leading a new battalion of troops in this seemingly never-ending war.

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October 13, 2008 at 02:08 PM | Permalink


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If we stopped the impossible to win war on marijuana use (just like prohibition), it would free up a tremendous amount of resources to fight other drug crimes. We should also stop going after the user in a criminal manner in regards to other drugs and go hog wild after the dealers and distributors. This would free up tremendous resources for drug-addiction treatment and law enforcement to go after dealers and distributors.

Our present drug war policy is useless, idiotic, untenable, and a total waste of resources used mainly to get votes because the politicians can say: "I'm tough on crime." I hope the new president wises up.

Posted by: Dr Linda Shelton | Oct 13, 2008 7:28:57 PM

I am a woman, a Unitarian Universalist, a public health professional, acommunity organizer and activist, and most importantly now the mother of a 31 year old school teacher, father of twin girls not yet three, who has been indicted by the Feds in Seattle (and has already entered a guilty plea to 1 count of conspiracy to move marijuana) and is possibly facing sentencing under the mandatory minimum guidelines.

Posted by: Lynda Bluestein | Jan 23, 2009 9:57:07 AM

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