The War on Drugs Reassessed – AG Holder Rethinks Sentencing

BY: Sameer Nath

It has been about 42 years since President Nixon declared a war on Drugs. Since that time, in the name of public health, public safety and national security, state and federal governments at several levels have relentlessly pursued and prosecuted  gangs, cartels, terrorist organizations, and unaffiliated street dealers, growers, suppliers and clandestine laboratories.

Drug use at its worst is a bane of civilization, leaving in its wake helpless shells of human beings who are willing to rob, cheat and even kill in order to sate their addictive impulses, and to protect their black market operations. Many of these people are a drain on our national economy, unable to work due to side effects of their addictions, languishing in prisons where they cost taxpayers up to thousands of dollars per day to treat, house, feed and clothe on the public dollar, and clogging up local court calendars as multiple offenders. The illegal drug industry, at its worst is an international series of powerful clans interwoven into sophisticated criminal enterprises that appropriate and use all the tactics, equipment and personnel at their disposal to see that the flood of revenue from their wares remains unfettered. As US government technology and tactics to fight this “war” evolves in its breadth and sophistication, so too do those used by those clans. ($35 million Russian submarine sold to a prominent cartel in the late 90s.)

However, in order to fight this endless “war” against an inanimate enemy whose very definition changes with each pharmaceutical or medical breakthrough, we have been faced with difficult choices.  We have sacrificed many of the founding principles of this country and have decimated American communities with incarcerationand criminal stigma, and wehave fueled this war with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer funding.  It can be argued that the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments are casualties in the War on Drugs, and the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington State imperil the 10th as well, as the federal government has shown no sign of intent to acquiesce to the will of these states.

The sheer number of cases that are brought into inner-city criminal courts in New York City and its immediate surroundings for marijuana and ‘harder’ drug possession are an impediment to community growth and to judicial economy.Taxpayer-funded courtrooms are clogged with what often amount to victimless offenses. Those same taxpayers have to foot the bill for the prosecution of their relatives, friends and community members, and in the end, it can be validly argued that the domestic War on Drugs does little to actually promote the public health and public safety. (Arizona SWAT Team Kills Marine In Botched Raid.)

I have yet to hear a plausible explanation as to how incarcerating a young, repeat marijuana offender in prison, among more sophisticated criminals, or sentencing them to rehabilitation among harder drug addicts will better the chances of that young marijuana offender gaining employment skills, finding a job and getting their life on track; let alone improve the quality of life in their community. Feel free to disagree, but I adamantly believe that the purpose of the criminal justice system is to improve the quality of communities and better the lives of the governed, not to just put people in cages and rack up high arrest and conviction numbers.  However, drug dealers and criminal organizations are willing and able to use gruesome violence to establish dominance in an area, and have racked up enormous body counts through atrocity after atrocity. (Seven decapitated heads found in Mexico.) One glance at the modern inner-city drug-war-battlefield readily reveals this “war” to be largely failed under that paradigm, in spite of the occasional high-profile drug bust.  We, as a nation, are not any safer, healthier or moral as a society after 42 years of drug war. Here are the available numbers from the bureau of justice statistics.   Our communities, particularly minority communities, are hardest hit by constant police intrusion and surveillance diametrically opposed to the libertarian republic which this nation was designed to be.

Attorney General Eric Holder took a major step toward rationalizing drug sentencing, following in the path of several states. He recommended that prosecutors change charging practices to avoid long sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

One comment

  1. Bradenton Criminal Defense Attorney

    It is about time! While federal sentencing laws are bad enough on drugs, there are too many States, like Florida where I practice, in which the drug crime sentencing guidelines bear no relation to the offense. So-called drug-free zones are expanded so they overlap (schools, churches, parks, etc.) communities, so the mandatory minimum is a hammer in every case. While there is some movement toward easing sentencing in some States, too many are increasing the time for drug offenses. We cannot afford this.

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