Is the Destructive Drug War Being Brought to an End?

Destructive Drug WarMaking positive change often seems impossible, but one area that should give people hope is the movement toward ending the war on drugs.

When I was in law school in the late 1970s, I did an internship at NORML, where one of my tasks was responding to mail from marijuana prisoners and their families. The harsh injustice of the drug war struck me then, and ever since I’ve been working to end the war on drugs — a war declared by Richard Nixon.

Majorities now support the outright legalization of marijuana and oppose the war on drugs. The public has overcome decades of misinformation to justify the drug war.

The transformation struck me a few years ago when I was in a medical marijuana dispensary in California. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. At the dispensary, people lined up — as if they were waiting for a bank teller — in a safe place to get medical-quality marijuana. The slogan of theHarborside Health Center was “out of the darkness and into the light.”

That slogan is true on many levels. Not only are people who were criminals able to come out into the light and purchase their medicine in a safe environment, but the nation is coming out of the darkness of false information. In May of 2013, theGreen Shadow Cabinet recommended the Obama administration allow state marijuana legalization to go forward, eight months later Attorney General Holder did just that.

Now, the light is shining on former drug war assertions, and claims like the one that marijuana causes crime are being proven false. Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, violent crime has fallen by 6.9 percent and property crime by 11.1 percent. A 2012 study, “California Youth Crime Plunges to All-Time Low,” credits a state marijuana decriminalization for plummeting arrests for all crimes. Meanwhile, an April 2014 study shows that legalization does not lead to increased adolescent use.

In addition, tremendous revenues are coming into Colorado from marijuana taxes.Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee projects revenue of $610 million from retail and medical marijuana sales from January 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, the end of the next fiscal year. And, the state is saving money on enforcement. The Denver Post reported “the number of cases filed in state court alleging at least one marijuana offense plunged 77 percent between 2012 and 2013.”

The lessons from Colorado: decreased crime, no increased use, tremendous law enforcement savings and massive new revenues. Ending marijuana prohibition has been a success on many levels.

There is an awakening regarding other drugs as well. President Obama, who has pardoned fewer prisoners than any other president, has announced he may pardon hundreds, if not thouands of drug offenders. This is occurring after the Department of Justice removed pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, a career drug enforcement official who provided false information in order to prevent pardons.

Granting clemency to thousands is not enough. The DOJ guidelines for pardons are extremely stringent (e.g. a person must have served at least 10 years to be considered); many tens of thousands who should be released will not be. More systemic change is needed, the country needs to change its sentencing laws and continue to dismantle the drug war.

Destructive Drug WarSince the ‘Just Say No’ era of the 1980s, both parties outdid themselves to see who could be tougher on drugs. Vice President Biden, for example, chaired the Judiciary Committee when harsh mandatory minimum sentencing became law. Eric Holder has recently highlighted, “since 1980, the federal prison population has grown at an astonishing rate — by almost 800 percent.” The United States needs to face up to the injustice that with just 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. That’s right, one in four of the world’s prisoners live behind bars in the “land of the free.”

By every measure the drug war has failed and done incredible harm. The U.S. has spent $1 trillion on it but illegal drugs are cheaper, addiction rates remain the same and overdose deaths are rising. One positive step is the “Smarter Sentencing Act” which removes mandatory sentencing for some offenders and reduces them for others. This bi-partisan bill will save money, improve public safety, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons, and begin to undo unproductive mandatory minimum sentences.

kevin zeeseThere continues to be resistance to reform from those whose careers and livelihoods depend on the failed drug war. Just as the Obama administration removed pardon attorney Ronald Rogers, the President needs to remove the current DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart. She is refusing to support the Smarter Sentencing Act, supported by Obama. She criticized the president for saying marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and opposed the Obama administration’s decision to let reform in Colorado and Washington go forward. She is out of step with the administration and needs to be removed.

An awakening is occurring, the U.S. is finally getting on the right path, people need to take advantage of the opportunity and push now to end the drug war.

Kevin Zeese
Huffington Post


  1. anon-imouse says

    Several years ago in our union newspaper I posted an article that pointed out that keeping drugs illegal, marijuana in particular, is good for big pharma, the drug cartels, the alcohol industry, the prison industry and the law enforcement industry. Each of these groups used the war on drugs to increase their revenues and profits or their taxpayer financed budgets. The use of marijuana was used by the law enforcement industry as a reason or excuse for bigger budgets, bigger budgets, and more technology to spy on the citizenry to stop the proliferation of drug use.

    I was on a drug abuse council for a four country area in the mid-1970s and worked on the council with police, sheriffs, social workers and others in planning drug abuse policies and oversee programs that requested money for drug use alleviation. As part of my participation in the council I received training at a drug abuse seminar in Texas presented by and paid for by the US government for police officers and non-police participants on drug use, possible strategies to lower drug use, etc (This was a four day program where we were flown to the location, put up in nice quarters, fed and provided with beverages, etc at taxpayer expense.). I asked pointedly during the training what evidence that we had that marijuana use posed any danger to users other than a record if they were caught. The top officials from the US government and the police and sheriffs present could not provide any evidence to show that marijuana was a danger. In fact almost to a person they conceded that the use of alcohol was much more dangerous because of drunk driving, violence by drunks, fighting and rape during drinking binges and on and on. Mostly marijuana users, “stoners” just wanted to kick back, relax and make love, not war. Of course some of the more righteous of the officers and trainers claimed that this was one of the problems with pot — young people didn’t want to work at poor paying jobs, many were against US foreign policy and had been against the American war against Vietnam, and they disliked tricky Dick Nixon (Think who was right about that piece of crap, the young who were against him.). It is about time that we got rid of the profit enhancing and budget busting war on drugs and the injustice that it has engendered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *