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Drug Wars: the 50 Year Challenge, Part II

The government has been remarkably successful at achieving the cultural and political destruction that our previous blog post argues were the original point of the drug wars. In pursuit of these goals, the US has put such a high percentage of its citizenry behind bars, and has swollen and militarized our police departments to such a degree, that not even the most socially repressive regimes in the world can compete in these categories. America first.

Some other stated aims included reducing drug related crime, decreasing drug related disease and overdose, and disrupting and dismantling organized crime. The tactics our government employed to reach these goals proved counterproductive. As in the days of Al Capone, drug related crime and the illegal businesses that deal in them are products of the prohibition, not of an availability of the drug in question. Without regulation, we cannot know the ingredients in any illegal drug or be sure of its strength, so the likelihood of illness or death by overdose go up with prohibition, not down.

There are a host of other crimes against the People we can lay at the feet of these same drug wars which, I’d rather believe, were not originally intended by drug war architects. I’m not suggesting that they’d have necessarily disapproved of the further carnage and heartbreak I’ll briefly describe, just that these offenses weren’t specified on the work order.

All of that organized crime that was supposed to be disrupted and dismantled? Among other local and international drug–fueled crime syndicates, we’re also talking about the sensationally violent and quite murderous cartels in Mexico and Central and South America. On top of the bloodshed and menace they commit among adults within neighborhoods, they force children into working under extremely dangerous conditions, torturing and killing many. This business practice drove untold thousands of children to migrate to the US’ southern border. On their own in a hostile environment, they’re kids trying and dying to escape the mobs our drug wars gave rise to.

Then, there’s the overall erosion of privacy laws based on our constitutional guarantees. Because of exceptions courts made in order to get evidence for crimes no one was reporting, we are no longer guaranteed against "unreasonable searches and seizures" or being served warrants based on anything but "probable cause,” as described in the 4th Amendment. Police may stop, seize, and hold anyone, without probable cause or warrant, for suspicion of drug activity based on any number of normal characteristics. While this burden, as with all domestic drug war harms, has been disproportionately borne by brown and Black people, the disregard our courts have shown for constitutional protections is a continuing threat for every American.

I suggest that the greatest unintended consequence is also the one that least lends itself to proper appreciation, because it’s all of what didn’t happen. It’s one thing to reflect on the scale of suffering inflicted on those criminalized, those victimized by criminals, and those relegated to shorter, sadder lives by drug use policies. It’s another thing to imagine what gifts, contributions and love has been lost to the world because the people who would have supplied them were diverted into the gaping maw of these infernal drug wars. What’s the magnitude of a father’s guidance or a mother’s direction that might have raised a healthier child, but couldn’t? How big is the scale of a sister’s or brother’s support that might have helped enable greatness, but didn’t? We can only imagine how each of us might have been changed by people or resources that burned up in all the different fires these drug wars have set.

If you or someone you know is a small farmer, or lives near or does business with one, consequences of the drug wars have directly affected your livelihood and welfare. We’ll write more about that in future posts.

J Jasper, Founding Member

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