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Bruce Elfant

Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - May 2010

Former president Richard Nixon first used the term “war on drugs” 40 years ago when he declared drug use in America to be a “national emergency.” In 1969, while just 15% of Americans said that they knew someone who had used drugs, drug use was on the rise and a significant percent of U.S. soldiers were becoming addicted to marijuana, heroin and other narcotics. In launching the war on drugs Nixon said, “If we cannot destroy the drug menace in America, then surely it will destroy us.” That year the federal government appropriated about $65 million for the war on drugs and just under 200,000 people were arrested for drug offenses.

In 2008 federal, state and local governments spent in excess of $50 billion for direct costs of the war on drugs and about 1.7 million people were arrested for drug offenses. According to the FBI, an American is now arrested for drug possession every 18 seconds. More than half of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States are serving time for drug offenses, most for possession. Much has also been written about the permanent underclass which has been created by the war on drugs.
It consists of tens of millions of people with criminal drug records who are no longer eligible for some government services, have trouble getting jobs, finding housing or even staying clean.

In addition to the money spent at home, the U.S. government also spends billions funding foreign wars to destroy poppy crops in Columbia, Guatemala, Panama, Ecuador, Afghanistan, Mexico and other countries. About 80% of drugs bound for the U.S. come through Mexico. And now the battle for control of the highly lucrative Mexican drugs cartels is spilling over into Texas and other southern states. We have learned that it is not easy, cheap or even possible to effectively eradicate crops or significantly restrict the transportation of drugs - even from the friendliest of countries.

For 40 years law enforcement officers have arrested and incarcerated millions of people for possession and trafficking of drugs, implemented “Just Say No”, DARE and other anti-drug programs, interdicted millions of tons of drugs and destroyed millions of acres of poppy crops in dozens of countries. Yet after spending about a trillion dollars to “destroy the drug menace” U.S. citizens now consume about two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs. The drug war has inflicted heavy casualties on American, Mexican and other citizens. It has created a lucrative cottage industry of gangs, drug cartels and terrorist organizations, and has adversely affected our national priorities, economy and national security interests - but it has not reduced drug use in America.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Before committing to continue a costly strategy that has failed to produce desired results, President Obama and Congress should conduct a thorough review of our efforts over the last 40 years, seek out the best practices of all nations and develop a more effective international strategy to reduce drug use. If our strategy does not change we should not expect a better result.

Please send me your thoughts to bruce.elfant@co.travis.tx.us. Next month I will discuss various proposals to reduce drug use that you and others have suggested.



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