STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Surprise! Britain Discovers the War on Drugs Doesn't Work
By Staff News & Analysis - March 22, 2011

War on drugs has failed, say former heads of MI5, CPS and BBC … The "war on drugs" has failed and should be abandoned in favour of evidence-based policies that treat addiction as a health problem, according to prominent public figures including former heads of MI5 and the Crown Prosecution Service. Drug availability and use has increased with up to 250 million people worldwide using narcotics such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: This is a terrible war that is not doing anybody any good. We've just figured this out!

Free-Market Analysis: Bankruptcy has a way of concentrating minds, and Britain is near bankruptcy. The pound is not a reserve currency, so British elites cannot print endless amounts of notes secure in the knowledge that the world will be forced to absorb them for energy-purchasing purposes, as the almighty US Fed can. Accordingly, British leaders are suddenly discovering that endless warring of all types – affordable until the Anglo-American monetary system crashed in late 2007 – is increasingly less feasible. Enter a "war on drugs" rethink and a "meme rollback."

One would like to be charitable and offer up the notion that British political elites have suddenly – because it is rational – discovered that the war on drugs is illegitimate and counterproductive; but, no, the timing is too suspicious. Britain is struggling with deficits that approach those of the Europe's Southern PIGS; the situation is so grim that one of the most bellicose governments ever to have ruled the world has wacked its military expenditures by up to 50 percent.

And now enter the "peers" according to the royalist UK Telegraph, who have somehow been blessed with the collective insight that Britain's war on drugs is a waste of money and energy, and counterproductive besides. The Telegraph summarizes the damages: "Despite governments worldwide drawing up tough laws against dealers and users over the past 50 years, illegal drugs have become more accessible. Vast amounts of money have been wasted on unsuccessful crackdowns, while criminals have made fortunes importing drugs into this country. The increasing use of the most harmful drugs such as heroin has also led to enormous health problems."

The British peers and political pundits involved with this miraculous epiphany have formed a so-called All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform. They wish to use "scientific evidence" to redraw Britain's drug policies. (One shudders to think what has been in use until this point. Opinion? Prejudice? Ignorance?) The result, we are informed, may be a call to decriminalize drugs or at least to minimize penalties for recreational use.

The Telegraph article (excerpt above) adds that such sudden notions may receive a "sympathetic audience in Whitehall, where ministers and civil servants are trying to cut the numbers and cost of the prison population. The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has already announced plans to help offenders kick drug habits rather than keeping them behind bars."

Sorry. It is hard to avoid cynicism. The sudden reasonableness of the British establishment as regards the war on drugs surely has to do with financial calculations. The Telegraph quotes the head of the new group, Baroness Meacher, as saying, "Criminalising drug users has been an expensive catastrophe for individuals and communities. In the UK the time has come for a review of our 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. I call on our Government to heed the advice of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that drug addiction should be recognised as a health problem and not punished."

Meacher points to Portugal as an example of a country that 10 years ago decriminalized drug use and has reaped the benefits: a very low drug addiction rate and a diminishing prison population as well. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lawson is quoted as saying, "I have no doubt that the present policy is a disaster. This is an important issue, which I have thought about for many years. But I still don't know what the right answer is – I have joined the APPG in the hope that it may help us to find the right [one]."

The Telegraph mentions that the group unveiling coincides with the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Thus we learn that in addition to all the other proto-authoritarian gambits for which the UN is responsible, this august body "paved the way for a war on drugs by describing addiction as a ‘serious evil.'" The upshot of UN rhetoric, in fact, was an effort to encourage Western governments to "limit production for medicinal and scientific uses only" and to "coordinate international action against traffickers."

But today is a new day. Britain has discovered that despite "vast resources" being spent on anti-drug programs, drug-use around the world has increased. Somehow the peers come up with the figure that 250 million people worldwide may have used marijuana, cocaine or heroin recently. The group also estimates that drug trafficking generates some US$400 billion for "criminals and terrorists." The group is working with something called the Beckley Foundation, a charitable trust, review scientific evidence and come up with original thinking to "deal with the problem." Say, how about legalization?

One country where such thinking should be occurring – but is not so far – is the United States. Like Britain, the US has waged a determined war against drugs, only difference being the US "war" has been much bigger and managed to destabilize whole countries such as Mexico and Afghanistan. Libertarian writer Radley Balko, who has specialized in writing about the war on drugs, recently published a major article on the subject in Reason Magazine that was excerpted (of all places) in the conservative Washington Times.

Balko points out (as he has before) that the sheer firepower that US authorities are devoting to the war on drugs is startling and discouraging. SWAT teams and special paramilitary forces regularly pursue raids on civilians suspected of ingesting cocaine or marijuana, and the results, often, are tragic. Here's an excerpt from the article:

On Jan. 12, four days after the Tucson massacre, Sal and Anita Culosi settled a lawsuit against Fairfax County, Va., police Detective Deval Bullock. Five years earlier, Detective Bullock had fatally shot their son, 38-year-old optometrist Sal Culosi, during a SWAT raid on his home. The reason for the raid: Culosi was suspected of wagering on college football.

Later the same month, Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo settled his civil rights lawsuit against Prince George's County, Md., and its police department. In 2008, a SWAT team from that department raided Mr. Calvo's home after intercepting a package of marijuana that had been sent there. Police broke down Mr. Calvo's door, fatally shot his two Labrador retrievers and held Mr. Calvo and his mother-in-law handcuffed and at gunpoint for hours before realizing they were innocent. The drugs were supposed to have been intercepted by drug smugglers before they arrived at the mayor's home …

Official government violence against nonviolent Americans and residents occurs daily. And for the past 30 years, it has been increasing at an alarming rate. From the early 1980s to the mid-2000s, University of Eastern Kentucky criminologist Peter Kraska has conducted an annual survey on the use of SWAT teams in the United States. Until the late 1970s, SWAT teams generally were used in emergency situations, but beginning in the early 1980s, that changed. Police departments began using SWAT teams to serve drug warrants. Mr. Kraska found that the number of SWAT deployments in America increased from 3,000 per year in the early 1980s to about 50,000 by the mid-2000s. That's about 135 SWAT raids per day. The vast majority was for drug warrants …

The massive increase in SWAT tactics during the past 30 years has been driven by several factors. The first … is the martial rhetoric of the "drug war," which public officials utter daily … The second factor driving the increasing use of SWAT teams is a federal policy that allows local police departments to procure surplus equipment from the Pentagon for free or at a fraction of its cost. Millions of pieces of equipment designed for war are now deployed to crack down on neighborhood poker games, illicit massage parlors, even businesses operating on outdated permits. Doctors accused of overprescribing pain medication have faced SWAT teams, as have Buddhist monks who overstayed their visas.

In my own research, I've found 46 examples over the past quarter-century in which a SWAT raid led to the death of a person who hadn't committed any crime, much less a violent one. These include people killed when a SWAT team raided the wrong house and bystanders caught in the crossfire when a SWAT team raided the right house. I've found another 25 cases in which a nonviolent offender someone suspected of violating laws against gambling, marijuana or the like was killed.

Mexico, bordering the US and most influenced by US policies, has adopted drug war rhetoric and militant opposition to recreational drug use. The result is gradually turning Mexico into a kind of failed state, where millions have had their lives upended by narco-terror. Such are the "victories" of the drug war and its endless illogical prosecution by US (and Mexican) authorities.

After Thoughts

There will come a time when America's top heavy intelligence-industrial complex and penal-industrial complex with all its tragedy and waste will finally become insupportable. That time is closer now than in the 20th century, but so long as America's central bankers can create money-from-nothing and rely on the world to absorb it, the financial crisis that has so concentrated the minds of the British political elite will not occur in the US. Until it does, the incarcerations, murders and authoritarian destablizations of whole countries will continue. One is tempted to suggest that the inevitable deepening of the US financial crisis cannot come soon enough.

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