Republicans Promise a Bigger and More Expensive Ineffective Drug War

By Kevin B. Zeese,
President, Common Sense for Drug Policy

Since 1979, when Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took office, the federal government has spent $200 billion on the war on drugs. You'd think by now he would know throwing more tax dollars at the drug war will not make it work. Instead of facing up to the failure of the drug war he is leading an election year call for a bigger drug war budget. During eight years in office President Reagan spent $22.3 billion, if the Speaker has his way the federal government will be spending nearly that much in one year.

The announcement of the Republican drug strategy last week came with a set of sound bites produced by the "Speaker s Task Force for a Drug Free America." A memorandum to participants in the kick-off urged them to incorporate and emphasize war-sounding "communication ideas." Some of the specific phrases the Speaker urged were: epidemic, crisis, scourge, poison, mobilize, modern-day plague, front lines, call to arms, deployment, battle plan, attack, fight, engage, conquer and declare victory. The theme was to have "A real War on Drugs; Not a war of words but a war of action." Their goal is a drug free America by 2002.

These militaristic slogans were justified by a backdrop of children. Of course, it is not new to use children as the excuse to justify the drug war. And, in these days of drug war failure it is particularly necessary for drug warriors to use children as pawns as they pretend the drug war is being fought for them. After-all the last six years of record drug war spending, record arrests and record incarceration have also seen consistent increases in adolescent drug use. The fact is the drug war does more to hurt our kids than help them. Since the drug war has failed America s children the drug warriors need to use kids as props in their drug war posturing.

Even if all of the recommendations of the Republican drug war plan were enacted they would have virtually no impact on availability of drugs. Some of the proposals are embarrassingly silly. For example, since a fence between Mexico and the United States has not controlled the drug flow they propose putting up two fences! Another is symbolic, like drug testing members of Congress and their staff. Others are efforts to create a federally funded "grassroots" drug war movement by doubling a grant program for drug war parent groups. Perhaps the silliness of their battle plan is why The Washington Post and New York Times did not even cover the announcement and other papers merely carried an AP story.

But the plan should not be ignored. It continues to do great damage to traditional freedoms in the United States. All of the useless proposal mentioned in the previous paragraph continue the erosion of civil liberties and American values. Others like using active duty military troops on the border and providing funding for drug free workplaces (i.e., mass urine searches of American workers) are frontal assaults on traditional constitutional rights. They certainly will not be successful in creating a drug free society but they are moving us rapidly toward an un-free one.

The truth is everyone knows the drug war has failed. Record spending and becoming the world s largest jailer send signals that the drug war has not worked, will not work and cannot work. Drug warriors fight tooth and nail to keep medical marijuana away from Americans suffering with serious illness, prevent needle exchange even though they admit it saves lives and require mandatory minimum sentences rather than allow judges to sentence based on their view of justice. Why do they fight when they are obviously wrong on these issues? Because they fear that giving in a little will mean the end of the drug war. They sense that the people already know the drug war is a political charade.

The drug warriors are insecure.

Reformers are making progress but don't expect the prohibitionists to give up their annual tens of billions of dollars in drug war spending easily. They will fight tooth and nail on every issue. In the end their lack of confidence in their own policy will be their undoing. It will become more and more obvious that they are drug war zealots who really do not care about children, health or American values.

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