Friday, April 06, 2007

Ending the other lost war

Via my dear friend and nearly constant critic, D.G. Hall at Cadillac Tight, I see Arianna Huffington is chiding the Democratic candidates for president for failing to address the longest running war in the U.S. -- the war on some drugs.

Unlike the other wars, this one is mostly prosecuted within our own borders, against our own citizens and disapportionately affects the black and Latino population - the very demographic the candidates seek to woo into the fold. But, it's not limited to that population. Our prisons are stuffed to the gills with non-violent drug offenders of every ethnicity, most of whom are serving sentences far out of proportion to the nature of their "crimes." Thieves, rapists and pedophiles are set free while non-violent inmates languish in jail cells for possessing a flowering plant.

In fact, this ill-advised war has bestowed on our country the dubious honor of being the primary jailer of the world. We imprison more people than China. More than Russia. We imprison more people just for drug offenses than the entirety of Western Europe does for all crimes combined. Many states are now spending more for prison costs than they do on education while law enforcement and judicial resources are increasingly diverted to pursuing non-violent drug crimes at the expense of crimes that actually endanger society.

Arianna notes the deafening silence among the leading 08 contenders on the issue. Politicians consider it a liability and prefer to remain silent for fear of appearing "soft on crime." Meanwhile, in poll after poll, the American people have indicated they think the war on some drugs has gone too far and the $50 billion a year we spend on it has been wasted on irrational and ineffective policies. As Arianna said, there's a major disconnect here between our politicians and the people. She runs down the pertinent numbers so I won't repeat them here but the Democratic field should heed her closing words well.
There's a talking point Hillary and Obama should adopt. It's both the right thing and the smart thing. Because of disenfranchisement statues, large numbers of black men who were convicted of drug crimes are ineligible to vote, even those who have fully paid their debt to society. A 2000 study found that 1.4 million African American men -- 13 percent of the total black male population -- were unable to vote in the 2000 election because of state laws barring felons access to the polls. In Florida, one in three black men is permanently disqualified from voting. Think that might have made a difference in the 2000 race? Our short-sighted drug laws have become the 21st Century manifestation of Jim Crow.

Shouldn't this be an issue Democratic presidential candidates deem worthy of their attention?

This is an issue all candidates, for every office, from President to the local dogcatcher should be embracing. The war on some drugs has destroyed the very fabric of our society. Further, the roots of government nannyism and the incremental destruction of our civil rights are planted in this war, as it has been prosecuted against the American people for the last eight decades.

The war on some drugs has failed miserably, even more so than the follies we're embroiled in now in the Middle East. Even as the prohibitionists bandy about meaningless statistics, our children are able to obtain marijuana more easily that cigarettes and the quality and quantity of drugs on our streets has increased. Even more importantly, the black market created under prohibition provides the best source of funding available to terrorist groups. One need look no further than Afghanistan, where the country's economy literally depends on the opium trade, to see evidence of that truth.

Ending the prohibition against drug use would not only serve us better as a society, it would eliminate an important source of funding for terrorism. If our politicians are serious about national security they should be embracing the issue as a primary plank of their platforms instead of hiding it under the table.

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