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Prohibition: San Francisco Mayor Says Drug War an "Abject Failure," Sheriff Agrees

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #505)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has harshly criticized current drug policies, calling them unworkable and counterproductive. The crime rate would go down if the government spent money on treatment instead of arresting and jailing people, he said. Newsom's remarks came last Thursday as he addressed reporters at city hall.

Gavin Newsom
"If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs," he said. "You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs."

Local jails are stuffed with people arrested for drug offenses, leaving little room for violent criminals, Newsom said. As a result, dangerous offenders are cut loose.

That's right, said Sheriff Mike Hennessey, who said between 60% and 75% of San Francisco jail inmates are there for drug offenses or because of substance abuse problems. "No, the war on drugs is not working. The war on drugs is not working because we are relying on law enforcement instead of on treatment," Hennessey said.

Newsom told reporters that politicians lack the guts to take on the failures of current drug policy. "It's laughable that anyone could look at themselves with a straight face and say 'Oh, we're really succeeding.' I mean it's comedy. And as I say, shame on my party, the Democratic Party, because they don't have the courage of their private thoughts, because we don't want to appear weak on this topic," Newsom said.

Newsom said that politicizing drug policy prevents real discussion about how to deal with drug use and abuse. "End this war on drugs," he said. "Now, that is an attack ad by any politician, what I just said, they would be desperate to find that tape of what I just said," Newsom said.

But Newsom was also quick to point out that he wasn't calling for blanket drug legalization. "I'm not saying that," he said. "I'm saying get real about it," he explained. "So what does that mean? Well, it means a lot of things. It means this war on drugs is an abject failure."

A representative of the San Francisco Police Officers Association begged to differ. "I don't think that you give in to a problem by just acquiescing," said Gary Delagnes. "I think that there does have to be control and I don't think legalizing drugs is the answer," he said.

But Delagnes also made it clear that he and his fellow officers can't see the forest for the trees. "When we see the homicides in San Francisco, I mean this all centers around drugs," Delagnes continued. "This is gangs and drug violence, this is money. It's all about money all the time."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

As a San Francisco resident and taxpayer, I am entirely fed up with cop lobbyists like Delagnes apologizing for SFPD's focus on nuisance crimes like drugs and homelessness, while violent crime and murder rates here skyrocket.

Maybe, just maybe, SFPD might examine re-directing its resources to addressing violent crime, or more ideally, PREVENTING violent crime.

Fri, 10/12/2007 - 6:05pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Ha Ha preventing crime. The police just get ridiculed for preventing crime. This police department is watched by every watch dog agency in this country. This city enables crime. It's culturally cool to hate cops, disrespect government and who gives a rats #@$ss about laws. Now in that climate you want to prevent crime. Move to Walnut Creek dreamer. Drugs in this city is the end result of the food chain. Money, power, intimidation, violence, needless death. All thats left to see when the smoke clears is the addict who just took a steamer on your porch. OOOps sorry, even he pays sales tax.

Wed, 10/24/2007 - 1:03am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Is there any way a reasonably intelligent adult might be expected to believe the reason why drugs in SF are so cheap and potent and available ISN'T because SFPD is complicit in the local drug trade at every level of the department?

Fri, 12/07/2007 - 3:52pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Seem kinda ironic that Gavin's making statements like this after stonewalling speculation about his own cocaine use, in the wake of his confessed alcoholism and sexual trysts with his former campaign manager's wife.

Fri, 10/12/2007 - 6:08pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

To be painfully obvious, Mr. Delagnes, if it's all about money all the time, then it's about the war on drugs + black market prices, not about the drugs themselves. This seems so easy to understand...

Fri, 10/12/2007 - 6:11pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

There is absolutely no way that San Francisco can continue to suffer the highest rate of ER mentions and overdoses in the US without widespread police complicity in the local drug trade. So, it IS about money, after all...

Fri, 10/12/2007 - 6:28pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

My impresion is that you twisted this quote to serve your own perseption. But do not be so surprised that a AK47 goes off in your neighborhood. Where do you think it came from? You must be in the know to get something like that. The higher the drug dealer the more money he has to buy such things as: cars, clubs, low end record labels, guns, more coke, more heroin, more meth etc.
Protection can also be bought the higher you climb. Is this any different than corporate. Money is not hard to make, the supply is there. I'll bet you think when we legalize drugs that corporations will not own them. Hell they will be the first to get patents. The smarter the buisiness man the safer his climb is to the top. Ever see a russian slinging dope on you corner? Ever see a asian hanging out in front of a liquor store with all his friends throwing gang signs? They are high on the food chain. All the complaints, all the fear and fall out from drug sales and use stem from overt, "don't give a F#$%&k" behavior. I do not have the answer, but meth, heroin, and crack ruin lives. If you don't belive that you have not done enough yet.

Ever buy a used car from a sleezy guy in a bad neighbor hood? No. I'll guess you went to a reputable dealership where it was nice and safe did'nt you?

Wed, 10/24/2007 - 1:09pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, I am Erin, a grateful recovering alcoholic. Alcohol is a very dangerous drug, although it is legal. My husband Joe, is also a recovering addict and alcoholic. We are both disabled with back injuries, as well as other illnesses. He had been arrested for theft many years ago, due to his drug addiction and although everything was returned, he was given a huge amount of money to pay the courts while he was on probation, so that it was almost impossible to make ends meet and pay the huge amount of fines. He gave up the drugs years ago, and began his first attempt at sobriety from alcohol several years ago. He remained sober for several years.
Because of strict rules, he was denied pain management, because he did not fill out a form correctly. Only from learning from his mistake, I was put on pain management, and I am not tempted to drink to take away my severe pain anymore. I manage to stay sober because the majority of my pain is relieved, and I stay active working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous to the best of my ability. He relapsed on alcohol a year ago, and while on his one-day relapse, he was pulled over because his car had a headlight out, and in his alcoholic state, he forgot that he was not allowed to carry a gun. He may have been suicidal because of his severe pain. He was given his first DUI, and the State turned the gun issue over to the Federal Court System.
His court appointed attorney and his supervisor told us that he would serve 2 to 3 years in Federal Prison. He was given 15 years without parole, which I believe to be excessive, as he has no violent points on his record.
He is the most gentle and kind man that I have ever known. He is also a veteran, and attended Bible School to become a minister. We are separated and I cannot afford to visit him very often, as he is two hours away, and gasoline is expensive.
The facility he is in does not allow Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to be brought into the prison. His disability was taken away, because he is incarcerated, and he can barely afford to purchase writing materials and toiletries. Telephone calls to me are very expensive also. To my knowledge there are no classes or recovery meetings available to any of the inmates there.
We are praying that the laws will change and they will reduce every inmate's sentence from 85% to 65%.. The point that I am attempting to make is that the problem of addiction is not being addressed in the Federal Prison Facilities. I believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is our only hope for sobriety. We are broken-hearted being separated. Is there anything that I can do to help my husband and these prisoners? As you know, many are imprisoned due to alcohol and drug arrests. They are separated from their families, and they can only earn one dollar per day if they have a job. Inmates must pay for everything except food.
Please tell me what I can do to help.

Sat, 10/13/2007 - 2:41am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Why is it assumed that the best way of dealing with the drug situation is legalization (with which I strongly agree) AND treatment? I am a drug user, not an addict. I do not need a nanny to "get me off drugs and keep me off." I am quite capable of managing my own affairs, thank you very much. What I WOULD like to do is be able to buy any drug from a pharmacy without a prescription. I don't that is too much to ask in a "free" country.

Tue, 10/16/2007 - 9:43pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe one shouldn't bitch about the food unless they are willing to get into the kitchen and cook something up. I have earned my right to bitch about the current situation regarding prohibition as I ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor for the state of Vermont in the 2004 election on a platform that included pardoning ALL non-violent drug offenders currently locked up in Vermont's prison industrial complex (which includes out of state for-profit prisons).

It is one thing for SF Mayor Newsom to point out the obvious when it comes to the failure of prohibition, but talk is cheap! As the chief executive of the city of San Francisco is it not within his power to grant a "get out of jail" card to any resident of the city facing prosecution for a non-violent drug offense? Such a policy would certainly put the brakes on the war and prove that acts are much louder than words.

As far as San Francisco Police Officers Association Representative Gary Delagnes is concerned, he strikes me as an inarticulate boob who exemplifies the tired rhetoric of prohibitionists. As someone who has sworn to protect and serve his community, a community whose taxes make his livelihood possible Mr. Delagnes ought to grow a sack and admit the hollowness of his argument. If he is not capable of that then perhaps he would like to argue we outlaw tobacco as it kills at least 400,000 people a year, is addictive, and provides no medical use-the criteria for designation as a schedule one substance.

Both Mayor Newsom and Mr. Delagnes need to exercise courage or immediatly resign their office for the sake of their souls. time is of the essence and life is short.

Good luck boys!

Sincerely yours, Peter Stevenson.

Thu, 10/18/2007 - 3:38am Permalink

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