As the war on drugs escalated in recent years, advocates against it have become more active.
A talk show host on Houston’s alternative Pacifica radio station says the drug war is a complete and unnecessary failure that is doing more harm than good.
According to a national survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, 19.5 million Americans were illicit-drug users in 2002.
“For one thing it’s been an ever escalating war,” said Pacifica’s Cultural Baggage host and former President of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Dean Becker. “It has been that way for the last 88 years. It’s never had one bit of recognized success. Drugs are cheaper, purer, more available than ever before.”
Sgt. J.G. Pohlman, a 28-year veteran in the Narcotics Division of the Houston Police Department, says he believes the drug war is an ever-escalating vicious cycle of competing tactics between drug smugglers and U.S. officials.
“I personally think we’re losing ground in the United States,” said Pohlman. “We’re doing the best we can, but as long as we got people who want drugs, there’ll be people getting them in here.”
While only 169 drug-trafficking arrests in Houston are reported by the 2003 report of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 18,000 arrests per year are made for drug possession.
“I wouldn’t say we’re winning the drug war,” said Pohlman. “[But] it’s gonna be fought, yeah, there’s no question. I mean we can’t give up. You can’t just open the door and say ‘Hey, anybody who wants to bring drugs into the United States, go ahead! Anybody who wants to use it, fine! Go ahead!’ You know, you can’t do that.”
In 1972, former Governor of Pennsylvania Raymond Shafer advised President Nixon, in a report from the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, to remove criminal penalties on the possession and non-profit distribution of marijuana concluding that neither the marijuana user, nor the drug itself, constituted a danger to public safety. Nixon did not heed Shafer’s advice.
Ever since, 13.2 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges creating a large population of non-violent criminals in the U.S. prison system.
According to the executive director of Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Jerry Epstein, drug traffickers export to the United States because the drug war increases the smuggling difficulty, which increases its price and makes it monetarily worth it.
“The most obvious damage begins with the fact that without the drug war, there are no drug lords, there are no drug cartels, there are no black markets,” said Epstein.
According to the office of drug policy, 526 drug-related deaths were reported in Houston in 2001. The office contends if drugs were legal, that number might have been closer to the 1,618 alcohol-related deaths reported that year.
A 2002 U.S. Department of Justice report indicates that 71.5 percent of high school seniors use alcohol while only 36.2 percent use marijuana.
“The Drug War does not stop drug use,” said Epstein. “It simply influences the market share of various drugs.”