Intro Audiocast

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What's That Smell... The Smell of It Surrounds You...

America's fascination with War on Social issues, like crime, poverty and the American working class, didn't start with the War On Drugs, but it would be hard to find a more costly or societally damaging "War" in our history.The War on Drugs officially began with President Nixon, in 1971, but in reality goes back much further than that. The first laws regarding drug regulation go back to 1906, with the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. Unfortunately for aesthetics reasons, we weren't really creative or Orwellian in our legal naming conventions back then.
One thing the U.S. was already getting pretty good at, was finding ways to push our philosophies on each other. Nixos didn't like drugs, he didn't like drug culture, and didn't like people who partook of their volition for no better reason than,"Because".When he got on in office, he made that one of his pet projects, and he had a lot of money to play with.

The War Comes Home
The History of the War on Drugs and War on Crime are inextricably linked in U.S. exceptionalism. We have this collective thought that any thing that we believe is wrong should be illegal. If it can harm you, and you do it anyway then you are stupid, and therefore you have to be protected from yourself. Since it was instituted as U.S. Domestic Policy, in 1971 by Richard Nixon, the Ware on Drugs has the cost more than $1Trillion. 40 years of failed policy has put more than 1% of the total U.S. population behind bars, and ruined lives.
Not only has it increased the prison population, for incarceration, due to drug offenses, by more than 1000%, but it also costs as much as 6% of our entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We, currently, have incarcerated almost as many people as the entire state of Wyoming, for drug offenses. That makes the War on Drugs the largest single contributor to a population in the world. No other factor increases a population demographic faster than drug offences.

Nixon Just Says No

Nixon, Haig, Ford, Kissinger:
 Kind of like the Beatles
 if those guys hated
Brown people and the poor.
According to, Nixon decided to ramp up the entire U.S drug enforcement community, and started Mandatory Minimums, and No-Knock Warrants. He also setup a commission that was intended to tell everyone how evil marijuana is, and they came back with a serious case of the munchies, saying that the Weed ain't that bad, and not to classify it as a Class 1 substance. Nixon obviously had them arrested and thrown in jail, (unconfirmed, but I think that is what happened.)
The U.S. had a problem with people using drugs previously, but this is the point where we started to tie the idea of race and poverty into drugs. As such it is the first time that we really saw a concerted effort on the part of the Republicans to disenfranchise voters based on lifestyle. You have to remember that up until this point the Republican party was the party of peace and equality. It was started by Abraham Lincoln who ran on the Abolitionist platform.

And Then...
Ronald Reagan's Political Career was born in the fires of the California Governorship, and was wracked by conflicts with the Berkley protests, and declaring war on the poor, those receiving welfare benefits. When he won the 1980 Presidential bid, he did so with the help and support from the Religious right, and the hard right wingers of the time, that felt threatened by the power of the former Soviet Union. In the late 1970's Reagan juxtaposed his failed bid for the Presidency with Jimmy Carter's stance on legalizing marijuana.
Throughout his Presidency, Reagan had a hard-on for drugs and drug use. He decided the current amount of people in prison for drug use, just wasn't enough. He also decided to implement mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, death penalty sentences for certain drug offences and other crimes that involved drugs, and also created rules for financially ruining those convicted of drug use, which was never abused by those who would benefit from the seizures.
Not only did the police now have the excuse to size billions of dollars of property and money, but it also opened the floodgates for institutional racism to be expressed in the laws that were enforced more strongly in largely minority areas. According to Kenneth B. Nunn:
Then you have Nancy Reagan, the First Lady, telling kids the biggest joke in the history of PSAes, "Just Say No." This was the message the first lady was trying to impart. If you say No, then you'll be okay. Just a firm but polite, "Please kick me in the nuts" will suffice, kids. As anyone with children knows, the best way to get a kid to do something is to tell them not to do it. 

LEAP out of the Way
A group of former and current law enforcement officers have even decided that the War on Drugs is basically the social equivalent of the Vietnam War. It is unattainable, a drain on the coffers, is costing more lives than it is saving, and was never properly instituted or focused in the fist place.

These local, state, and federal cops are telling us that the war is not, and never was a good idea, but it continues to be public policy. This is the best case I have seen for ending, not this video, but this group. Regardless of my personal feelings regarding drugs, or those of my friends that have been negatively affected by this failed, corrupt, and laughable policy, the fact that the men and women who are in the the thick of it can't see a way out, is most telling.

Drugs vs Drunk
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 2.5 million deaths each year from alcohol abuse. In 2010, according the CDC, there were over 10 thousand deaths from car crashes, caused by one more people being impaired by alcohol, which is appr. 31% of all vehicle related deaths, compared to just 18% being caused by other drugs, which the same study says are usually used in combination with alcohol. The numbers from the National Institutes of Health on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction add another disturbing piece of information, in that more than half of all High School Students have tried alcohol and each year alcohol related deaths, for people under the age of 21, number in the thousands. This includes deaths from "car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning, and other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning." 
Compared to marijuana, according the NIH on Drug Abuse, death due to overdose of marijuana is nil. The only deaths that seem to occur from using pot, comes from external sources, such as vehicle related wrecks, and depression related self-harm. These do happen, and can be signs of addiction, but most experts agree that it is a symptom of mental addiction, rather than a physical addiction. There are drugs that can do long term harm and cause death such as, cocaine (powder and crystalized), methamphetamine, barbiturates, and heroine, but the usage of these has declined over the last 30 years, except meth, which has dramatically increased.  

Drugs are Racist... or Maybe Drug Policy is Racist

According the group, Human Rights Watch, by percentage population, blacks and other minorities comprise a majority of the prison population, due to drug offences. This is contrasted with the fact that whites, again by population, compromise more than five times the percentage of drug users and abusers. This is due in large part due to the war on drugs and the institution of higher mandatory minimum prison sentences for those drugs used more in minority communities, such as crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. 
Crack was developed in the 80's a cheap, more potent version of cocaine, and was marketed in minority communities at a higher rate than in white communities. 
These policies are encouraged and instituted, due in large part to the privatization of the prison U.S. prison system. Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison company, has spent over $19 million in political contributions, lobbying efforts, and in turn receives approximately $1.7 billion in revenue for running over 60 correctional institutions across 20 states and the District of Columbia. That is a return of $8 for every $1 spent. Not bad, since most service industries can expect, maybe a 3/1 return on investment. When you consider the fact that most of the prison population for certain offenses are much higher than other offences, by overall population, it's hard to imagine how lobbying wouldn't be focused on ensuring the bottom line. According to the Boston Phoenix, CCA spent almost $3 million from 2006-2008 lobbying for stricter sentencing laws, even though the company denies this.

The Beginning of the End
 The first signs and the best hope for finally ending this untenable, unwinable farce that is the War on Drugs, comes from the recent report that Eric Holder has finally instructed his attorney's to list as few facts as possible in drug offences. This will allow him to not have to prosecute on mandatory minimums, since those policies are based largely on quantity and type of narcotic. Barack Obama has specifically stated that he is working on decriminalizing marijuana, which is a good first step, but there are miles to go.
Another step in the right direction is the 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana, as well as Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational usage of small amounts of marijuana. This will decrease the incarceration rate by a magnitude of thousands each year. Especially once the rest of the states realize that taxation and regulation will bring more in profits than criminalizing, because once you make something illegal, regulation stops right there. You create a black market for the product, which is subject only to market forces, rather than legal limitations.This was demonstrated best during the years of alcohol prohibition, but the lesson was not learned.

My Thoughts
There are many aspects of our society that benefit from the War On Drugs, ranging from local and state law enforcement companies that can confiscate your property on the flimsiest of evidence, to the private prison industry that gets paid based on the amount of beds they can fill. I used to be a bail bondsman in Oklahoma and made a lot of money on drug offenses, most of them marijuana offences. I could make anywhere from $100 to $10,000 depending on the amount, the the type of drug, and the record of the suspect, as well as other mitigating factors. Business was good in the communities I worked in, which was largely Black and Hispanic. I know first-hand how much money is on the line, since the Oklahoma Bail Bondsman Association, the Industry Union, spent several hundred thousands of dollars on lobbying efforts each year fighting Own Recognizance policies were defeated. These would have allowed certain non-violent, non-repeat offenders to spend a couple of days or even a few hours in jail, to be processed, then could post a small cash bond, or no bond other than a promise to return to court, and go home or go back to work. There was a lot of return on investment for these efforts.
It's just not profitable to invest in treatment rather than punishment. If people get treatment and counseling, they might stop using, which would decrease the prison population. The racism comes from the fact that during the 4 years I was a bailbondsman the ratio of my customers was at the very least 10 to 1, in terms of Hispanic and Black versus Whites, when it came to bail amount, detention and sentencing. Of the very few White suspects that I bonded out of jail, over 90% were eventually given a fine, a very small amount of jail time, or no punitive measures at all, whereas the majority of People of Color I dealt with received large fines, and years in prison.
This is anecdotal, but you could take a very short survey of any Bondsman's files and find the same figures of long term incarceration versus release and break it down along the same racial percentages. I know this, because I worked for most of the major companies during my time. It's fucked up, and it's not right, and it needs to change.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this overview of the war on drugs, it's great to have both a list of stats to have to hand and I learned some more fucked up aspects of US legal policies