|The War on Drugs Was a Great Idea|
|Written by Administrator|
|Friday, 05 September 2008 15:18|
Let's find out what works and how much it costs. Some plans will result in decriminalization of marijuana, others will retain a level of criminal prosecutions. Let the states experiment with different ideas and approaches. How else can we find out whether there is a better way to deal with our drug problem?
KCBA = King County Bar Association. King County is Seattle en omstreken in de staat Washington. De regionale Bar Association (orde van advocaten) is al enkele jaren actief de drugsprohibitie aan het bestrijden, ondanks dat ze, evenals veel advocaten elders, behoorlijk kunnen verdienen aan drugszaken. De directeur van hun Drug Policy Project, Roger Goodman, wordt hiervoor full-time door KCBA betaald. In 2006 is hij verkozen als Legislative District Representative voor de Democratische partij.
In this month's King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin - President's
Page, the new Bar president chose to highlight the Drug Policy Project
in his first address to the Association.
The War on Drugs Was a Great Idea
By Daniel Gandara
Who could argue with a plan to eradicate the scourge of illicit drugs
from America? The idea to dedicate the resources of our country to
eliminate illicit drugs was brilliant. In 1971, when President Nixon
proclaimed illegal drugs as Public Enemy No. 1 and that the country
would go to war to remove dangerous drugs from our society, the war on
drugs was hailed as a great plan, worthy of our support.
The war on drugs led to, among other things, the creation of the DEA and
the spending of billions of dollars by federal, state and local
governments. Over the years, they have purchased airplanes, helicopters,
vehicles, surveillance devices, herbicides for use in foreign countries,
and guns and weapons of every type imaginable.
You can't say that America hasn't spent enough money on the war on
drugs. Some estimate that today the combined federal state and local
governments spend more than an estimated $50 billion annually on the war
on drugs.1 The amount is staggering and yet most estimates don't include
indirect costs. For example, when a person is incarcerated for
possession, his or her family may need to rely on welfare and other
social services while that person is in jail.
Every day the police search men, women, children, vehicles, offices and
homes looking for drugs. Every day men, women and children are arrested
and many are jailed for possessing drugs. Some estimates put the number
of drug-related arrests as high as almost 2 million a year.2 There's
been no lack of effort in the war on drugs. It's hard to imagine that
our federal, state or local police could be doing anything more in their
fight against illicit drugs. The effort, the resources and the will have
been clearly at work in the unending war on drugs.
The problem, of course, is that this brilliant plan to eradicate drugs
just hasn't worked. If the war on drugs had achieved its goal by
removing the scourge of drugs from our society, then it might have been
worthwhile. Every penny spent, every aggressive search, every arrest and
every incarceration might have been worth it.
But can anyone truly argue that the billions and billions of dollars
spent every year have made drugs less available, more difficult to
purchase or less likely to ruin lives? Are fewer families torn apart by
drug addiction? Is the drug problem any less severe today than in 1971?
Indeed, there is a strong argument that the war on drugs is inflicting
greater social harm than the drugs themselves.3
Beginning in late 2000, KCBA embarked on a thorough examination of the
nation's drug policy. KCBA's Drug Policy Project has assembled a
coalition of lawyers, doctors, pharmacists and other professionals to
study the drug problem and to look for ways to reduce crime, improve
public health, protect our children and better utilize our scarce public
This effort has produced a number of reports and resolutions adopted by
the KCBA Board of Trustees. The Association has promoted expanded access
to drug treatment programs and sought to shift the emphasis away from
the primary reliance on criminal sanctions in dealing with drug use.
KCBA also has played a key role in drug sentencing reform passed by the
Legislature in 2002. A summary of the efforts, findings and
accomplishments of the Drug Policy Project can be found at KCBA's
The Drug Policy Project has turned its focus on the criminal enforcement
of marijuana laws. In May 2007, the Board of Trustees adopted the Drug
Policy Project's Federalism Resolution:
States should be allowed to adopt and implement legislation governing
the production, distribution and use of marijuana; federal law should
not impede or preempt the exercise of state authority in this area.
In December 2007, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution proposed by
the Drug Policy Project to the effect that marijuana should be regulated
and taxed, and most criminal sanctions should be eliminated. Exactly how
this is to be accomplished is left to the wisdom of the Legislature.
The problem, of course, is that state laws that purport to regulate
controlled substances such as marijuana can be ignored by federal
prosecutors. That is precisely the reason for the Federalism Resolution.
Until states are allowed to effectively carry out their own laws
governing the production, distribution and use of marijuana, true reform
The hope is that, given the opportunity, different states will devise
many different ways to deal with the production, distribution,
possession and use of marijuana, and hopefully there will be a state
program somewhere that actually works. Let's find out what works and how
much it costs. Some plans will result in decriminalization of marijuana,
others will retain a level of criminal prosecutions. Let the states
experiment with different ideas and approaches. How else can we find out
whether there is a better way to deal with our drug problem?
KCBA does not begin to suggest that it has a monopoly on good ideas.
Maybe there's a plan that isn't as ambitious or brilliant as the war on
drugs, but which results in fewer persons addicted to illicit drugs,
fewer persons jailed for possessing drugs and actually reduces crime on
the streets at a lower cost to society.
The KCBA believes that it's time to look for different ways to deal with
the drug problem. Hopefully, the country will find a better way to deal
with the scourge of drugs. Maybe there is a not-so-brilliant plan out
there that actually works.
Daniel Gandara is a shareholder with the firm of Vandeberg, Johnson &
Gandara in its Seattle office. His practice includes real estate and
business transactions and commercial and tort litigation.
1 Drug Policy Alliance Network (website at
2 War on Drugs Clock (website at www.drugsense.org/wodclock.htm).
3 King County Bar Association, Is it Time to End the War on Drugs? 2001.
Rachel E. Kurtz, Deputy Director
Voluntary Committee of Lawyers
King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project
1200 Fifth Ave., Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98101