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Cops Say Forty Years of War on Drugs is Enough [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #688)

This week marks the 40th anniversary of America's contemporary war on drugs, and the country's largest anti-prohibitionist law enforcement organization is commemorating -- not celebrating -- the occasion with the release of report detailing the damage done. Members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) hand-delivered a copy of the report, Ending the Drug War: A Dream Deferred, to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office) Tuesday after holding a press conference in Washington, DC.

LEAP members pass by the White House as they deliver their report to the drug czar's office.
[Editor's Note: This is merely the first commemoration of 40 years of drug war. The Drug Policy Alliance is sponsoring dozens of rallies and memorials in cities across the country on Friday, June 17. Look for our reporting on those events as they happen.]

On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon (R) declared "war on drugs," and thousands of deaths, millions of arrests, and billions of tax dollars later, drug prohibition remains in place -- the Obama administration's declaration two years ago that it had ended the drug war in favor of a public health-centered approach notwithstanding. Ending the Drug War details how the war on drugs continues unabated, despite the recent administrations' less warlike rhetoric, and the ways it has hurt rather than helped drug users and society at large.

"When President Nixon declared the 'drug war' in 1971, we arrested fewer than half a million people for drug offenses that year. Today, the number has skyrocketed to almost two million drug arrests a year," said former Baltimore narcotics officer and LEAP executive director Neill Franklin. "We jail more of our own citizens than any other country in the world does, including those run by the worst dictators and totalitarian regimes. Is this how President Obama thinks we can 'win the future'?"

The report shows that despite the drug czar's nice talk about ending the drug war, Obama administration spending priorities remain highly skewed toward law enforcement and interdiction -- and it's getting worse, not better. In 2004, the federal drug budget was 55% for supply reduction (policing) and 45% for demand reduction (treatment, prevention). In the 2012 Obama budget, supply reduction has increased to 60%, while demand reduction has shrunk to 40%.

The report also demonstrates through arrest figures that on the street level, the drug war continues to be vigorously waged. In 2001, there were almost 1.6 million drug arrests; a decade later, there were slightly more than 1.6 million. Granted, there is a slight decline from the all-time high of nearly 1.9 million in 2006, but the drug war juggernaut continues chugging away.

"I was a police officer for 34 years, the last six as chief of police in Seattle," retired law enforcement veteran Norm Stamper told the press conference. "At one point in my career, I had an epiphany. I came to the appreciation that police officers could be doing better things with their time and that we were causing more harm than good with this drug war. My position is that we need to end prohibition, which is the organizing mechanism behind the drug war. We need to replace that system guaranteed to invite violence and corruption and replace it with a regulatory model," he said.

Nixon made Elvis an honorary narc in 1970. Nixon and Elvis are both dead, but Nixon's drug war lives on.
LEAP slams the Obama administration for its forked-tongue approach to medical marijuana as well in the report. The administration has talked a good game on medical marijuana, but its actions speak louder than its words. While Attorney General Holder's famous 2009 memo advised federal prosecutors not to pick on medical marijuana providers in compliance with state laws, federal medical marijuana raids have not only continued, but they are happening at a faster rate than during the Bush administration. There were some 200 federal medical marijuana raids during eight years of Bush, while there have been about 100 under 2 1/2 years of Obama, LEAP noted.

And LEAP points to the horrendous prohibition-related violence in Mexico as yet another example of the damage the drug war has done. The harder Mexico and the US fight the Mexican drug war, the higher the death toll, with no apparent impact on the flow of drugs north or the flow of guns and cash south, the report points out.

Sean Dunagan, a recently retired, 13-year DEA veteran with postings in Guatemala City and Monterrey, Mexico, told the press conference his experiences south of the border had brought him around to LEAP's view.

"It became increasingly apparent that the prohibitionist model just made things worse by turning a multi-billion dollar industry over to criminal organizations," he said. "There is such a profit motive with the trade in illegal drugs that it is funding a de facto civil war in Mexico. Prohibition has demonstrably failed and it is time to look at policy alternatives that address the problem of addiction without destroying our societies the way the drug war has done."

Ending drug prohibition would not make Mexico's feared cartels magically vanish, LEAP members conceded under questioning, but it would certainly help reduce their power.

"Those of us who advocate ending prohibition are not proposing some sort of nirvana with no police and no crime, but a strategy based in reality that recognizes what police can accomplish in cooperation with the rest of society," said former House Judiciary Crime subcommittee counsel Eric Sterling. "The post-prohibition environment will require enforcement as in every legal industry. The enormous power that the criminal organizations have will diminish, but those groups are not going to simply walk away. The difference between us and the prohibitionists is that we are not making empty promises like a drug-free America or proposing thoughtless approaches like zero tolerance," he told the press conference.

Drug prohibition has also generated crime and gang problems in the US, the report charged, along with unnecessary confrontations between police and citizens leading to the deaths of drug users, police, and innocent bystanders alike. The report notes that while Mexico can provide a count of its drug war deaths, the US cannot -- except this year, with the Drug War Chronicle's running tally of 2011 deaths due to US domestic drug law enforcement operations, which the report cited. As of this week, the toll stands at four law enforcement officers and 26 civilians killed.

It was the needless deaths of police officers that inspired retired Maryland State Police captain and University of Maryland law professor Leigh Maddox to switch sides in the drug war debate, she said.

LEAP's Leigh Maddox addresses the Washington, DC, press conference Tuesday.
"My journey to my current position came over many years and after seeing many friends killed in the line of duty because of our failed drug policies," she told the Washington press conference. "This is an abomination and needs to change."

While the report was largely critical of the Obama administration's approach to drug policy, it also saluted the administration for heading in the right direction on a number of fronts. It cited the reduction in the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses and the lifting of the federal ban on needle exchange funding as areas where the administration deserves kudos.

Forty years of drug prohibition is more than enough. Police are getting this. When will politicians figure it out?

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.


Malcolm_Kyle (not verified)

Occasionally, some unfortunate people end up with a job that make other people dislike or even hate them. It’s no fun and can be very stressful. It’s really hard to go and do something that you know is doing nothing but harm seven days a week and it can become quite depressing, dangerous even. It may also lead to you not only feeling guilty as hell but also very insecure at the thought of all those angry citizens that have generally become pissed off at the thought of all the mayhem you've caused to their lives.?

What can you do? Easy; humbly hang your head in abject shame, and come clean. Admit you have unwittingly become part & parcel of one of the most horrific government policies in the history of mankind, and then hope you'll get to keep your pathetic shrunken testicles.

Wed, 06/15/2011 - 2:36pm Permalink


The War on Drugs failed Billions of dollars ago!  This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles.  Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy.  Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red!  Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it.  Voice you opinion with the movement and check out my pro-cannabis art at

Wed, 06/15/2011 - 4:49pm Permalink
Carlos (not verified)



I fear that in Miami, Florida there are way too many yahoo cowboy cops that loves this war. It keeps them in dilution that the are fighting crime and they are doing something good for humanity and the community. They are oblivious to the harm and devastation they cause.


God, cops have a lot to learn about life and the damage that they do. 

Thu, 06/16/2011 - 12:22pm Permalink
joebanana (not verified)

Treason against the united states shall consist only in levying war against them.

So, who is the criminal? Why can't any of these elected officials understand such a simple statement? Does that make them conspirators? Nothing like using crime to fight crime. Who's job is it to "protect" the people from criminals? Who isn't doing their job? Who is encouraging this criminal behavior by letting it continue? American's are nothing but a bunch of pussies by letting criminals run loose, and not standing up for their constitution. We deserve what we get.

Thu, 06/16/2011 - 1:10pm Permalink
Kathy Wedzik (not verified)

In response to joebanana:

americans are not pussies....

Thu, 06/16/2011 - 4:56pm Permalink
Anonymouss (not verified)

In reply to by Kathy Wedzik (not verified)

Americans are pussies. Instead of rallying for stuff like the drug war they would rather riot over a stupid hockey game, what a joke that's what America has come too. 

Thu, 06/16/2011 - 6:55pm Permalink
Carl (not verified)

I supported Obama on this site in 2008. Sadly for me he has not lived up to my hopes or my expectations. And not only with regard to the drug wars and drug policy. Also with the petroleum wars and other fundamental issues. McCain would have been no better and probably would be even worse. Sorry.

Obama has kept his word about governing as a centrist. A Republicrat?

I also speculated that he might withhold implementation of his "true agenda", a more radical agenda until his second term. Am I wishing on a star? It's looking that way if he won't even stand up for an issue as un-radical as medical Cannabis.

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 3:21am Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by Carl (not verified)

Now instead of supporting the authoritarians the media and the political parties try to promote as the only viable candidates, start promoting the only two candidates for 2012 who WILL end the drug war -- Ron Paul and/or Gary Johnson.  Write about them everywhere you can, talk about them whenever politics comes up in conversation, send money to their campaigns, and vote for them in the primaries/caucuses (and in the actual election if they succeed in getting to it). 

Sat, 06/18/2011 - 3:10pm Permalink
Plant down Babylon (not verified)

In reply to by Moonrider (not verified)

I'm amazed how many people got suckered into the whole 'hope & change' bull that obummer spewed!

Until Americans do their own research and quit listening to the media, things will never change!

Ron Paul or Gary Johnson in 2012!!

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 3:05pm Permalink
G (not verified)

I'm an addict who sold smaller amounts(in the spectrum of the black market) of cannabis(qp to hp a week) and worked at a grocery store to have enough money to afford my drug of choice(meth).  More recently I got arrested for trafficking cannabis at work which resulted in me losing my job.  The cops have left me, an addict without a job and without a source of income.  I had never resorted to real crime(stealing, fraud, or violence) for money in the past, but with a criminal record, no job, and a lot of free time what do these cops expect me to do?  They did know I was selling weed to pay for my addiction.

If all drugs were legal the price of my addiction wouldn't be so inflated($450 for a quarter ounce), I wouldn't of had to keep selling at my store to supply everyone with the high quality kush(the people I used to sell to still smoke weed just of a lesser quality now), and I definately wouldn't be out of a job as I was one of the best workers at the grocery store I worked at.  If I go back even further I probably wouldn't of started smoking weed at the age of 13 because it wouldn't of been so easy to get.  I remember at the age of 15 i could get E, shrooms, weed, crack, coke, but alcohol and cigarettes were tricky.

I remember saying, on the day before I got arrested, I wish the government would legalize weed so I wouldn't have to keep selling.  It is my honest opinion that this war on drugs made me the addict and "criminal" I am today.  It was hard enough being an addict, but these drug laws have made it THAT much harder.  Hopefully these politicians do whats right for the people soon, and not the prison industrial complex, or the pharmaceutical industry or what have you.

If they legalize every drug, it is my strong opionion that addiction rates will go down dramatically, and cops will be able to investigate the real criminals like the punks in the park who jumped me when I was walking home from work one day.

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 1:48pm Permalink
smokingspirit (not verified)

May the torch of freedom burn bight into the next generation

smokingspirit | 14 June, 2011 17:55

  1.) Is it too much for the Christian to ask for the God given right to honor the “power over the plants and animals” granted to man in the first page of the Christian bible? 

2.)Is it too much for the Christian Not to be forced to condemn God and all his creations because some gay conquistadores misinterpreted Gods word? 

3.)Is it too much for the American to ask for the right to the American declaration of independence“God and his natural goodness” there in declared?  

4.) Is it too much for the American Not to be forced by the Talibomb to condem 4 of Americans most infulencial people T.Edison, T. Jefferson, G. Washington, and Henry Ford all illegal Drug users.

Wed, 06/22/2011 - 9:35pm Permalink

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