April 27, 2016

MALPASS | The War on Drugs Has Failed

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Or at the very least, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s policies and classifications have. Drug legalization is a tired old argument that I hate hearing about, if only because at a certain point the claims on both sides reach a level of absolute absurdity (I’ve heard the claim that smoking marijuana cures cancer as many times as I’ve heard it leads to teens and overdosing). However, the DEA’s policies continue to cause more damage than good for our society and need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Before I begin, I feel I should say that I frankly don’t care who uses what drug and for what reason. If someone wants to while away their days on a permanent high, that’s not my business. I’m fine with the sale and possession of highly addicting drugs such as heroin remaining illegal; physical addiction should not be an economic opportunity. I believe the real issue at hand is that we have allowed a significant government agency to institute continue a campaign that operates on fear mongering and misinformation.

First, the DEA’s drug campaign has harmed and is harming disadvantaged groups. Richard Ehrlichman, one of President Richard Nixon’s advisors, said as much in comments given to Harper’s Magazine two decades ago. He states that the war on drugs was nothing more than a means by which the government could criminalize “the anti-war left and black people.” Nixon did not care about protecting the children or the so-called “moral fabric” of the country, he only wanted a means by which political dissidents could be arrested. Thus the government’s anti-drug movement was born; a corrupt political maneuver from one of our shadiest presidents. Moreover, the racial bias continues today, considering that black Americans are still more likely to be picked up on marijuana charges than white Americans, despite the fact that both groups have about the same usage rates.

And let’s drop the pretense that smoking marijuana leads to harder drugs solely by virtue of using it. According to a Pew Research Poll, 49 percent of Americans have admitted to trying marijuana in their lifetimes. If marijuana really led to harder and more addicting drugs, then our country would have a far bigger problem than it actually does. What’s more, in 2013 the use of marijuana increased while the use of cocaine decreased. Marijuana usage is higher than any other illegal drug. Smoking weed will not by itself predispose someone to take harder drugs later on, but forcing them to purchase it from illegal sources (who often have plenty of other substances on hand) might.

Regardless, what purpose does locking up someone for drug possession accomplish? A methamphetamine addict is not going to quit because of the risk of arrest. That’s the whole thing about addiction; getting a fix takes precedence over all other concerns. At best, locking someone up for drug use forces them to go cold turkey, but that’s a steep price for the taxpayer. Still, even if an addict cleans up in prison, they now have a record and as such are virtually unemployable. Not being able to secure a job leads to desperation, financial trouble and likely a relapse to drugs and a return to prison. Not a very cost effective model for the country when we could instead simply utilize treatment centers, which are both effectual and allow the user to keep a clean record.

Marijuana is becoming more commonplace in the medical field and state laws at least are relaxing, but that is far from sufficient; we need a fundamental shift in how we treat drugs in general, especially those that are not physically addictive such as hallucinogens and other substances containing psychoactive compounds. Other non-addictive substances have the strong potential to be medically useful, but research is barred because of how the drugs are classified. Researchers believe that both mushrooms containing psilocybin and LSD could be used to treat a variety of disorders, but it’s difficult to find out due to the illegality of their use. Simply put, fear is getting away of medical progress, and that’s inexcusable.

We have spent enough on the war on drugs.  Not only is it a waste of money, it is a racially biased program and it has no place in our political system. It is an embarrassment that American tax dollars have been used as such for so long and it’s time to end it.

Soren Malpass is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at skm94@cornell.edu. Sorenity Now appears alternate Thursdays this ­semester.

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