Friday, December 13, 2013


Our War on Drugs has been fought to a draw



(Friday December 13, 2013 NY, NY)  It has been a good while since we have last won a war; not the military variety.  In that type of conflict we can kick the asses of any army on the planet, bomb the hell out of even the remotest of outposts, exercise complete dominance and control of the high seas with our modern Navy and generally win any conventional skirmish, conflict or flat out war in short order.  The wars that concern us herein are those other endeavors and initiatives we declare “war” on because, supposedly, such a designation means we’re pretty dammed serious about whatever it is and we will go to any lengths to conquer it.

The first of these types of wars was declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971. He declared a “war on drugs” specifically ilicit drugs that were “undermining” the law and order of our society, “corrupting our youth” and causing everything from the horrid “generation gap” to prickly heat. Then, in 1973 as the first inklings of the depth of what would come to be known as Watergate were being made public, Nixon declared a “war on cancer” and directed the vast medical – scientific – research apparatus of the federal government to “aggressively” and fully engage the enemy.  There was just too dammed much cancer for the President who was oddly enough, in the process of disengaging from our long, bloody campaign in Viet Nam.  But cancer, that was another story, that was a war we could win with very generous funding and grant money to academic and research facilities in addition to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Everyone was all for it.  Who wouldn’t be?

As we all know Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace from the Presidency and his Vice President, Gerald Ford took up the head job.  Ford managed to put the final nail in the coffin of our “long national nightmare” in Viet Nam and he managed to get through the remainder of his term without declaring any wars.  He did get pissed off and upset in 1975 when New York City was literally on the brink of utter bankruptcy and Mayor Abe Beame asked Ford for some federal money to keep our City solvent and Ford told him to famously “Drop Dead”.  Okay, it wasn’t exactly a declaration of war against Beame or NYC as a whole, it was simply that Ford had served decades in Congress and did not believe the federal government should “bail out” any city.  That was alright; we rebounded with a vengeance thanks to some very smart Wall Street attorneys, bankers, financiers and hustlers.  In 1976 the voters of the United States told Ford to; in essence, drop dead by electing the soft spoken Georgia Governor, Jimmy Carter to replace him.

As President, Jimmy Carter did not initially seem to be a war monger of any sort.  He liked to give homey radio and TV addresses to the Country wearing a hand-knitted cardigan in his own FDR-esque fashion.  But, that cardigan shouldn’t have fooled anyone.  Jimmy Carter was one tough cookie and to start with he declared a war on foreign oil.  This was a decidedly ill-advised move since we relied so heavily on oil imports primarily from the Middle East.  So his war on oil or war on energy (whichever you prefer or remember) really backfired and we suffered through a prolonged period of gasoline shortages and rationing.  This, of course, sent our entire economy teetering and brought skyrocketing inflation levels along.  Carter’s war on oild was not going well at all.

Then, the Iranian Revolution erupted.  The United States supported Shah of Iran was deposed and legions of hardline Islamists under the direction of their spiritual and political leader, Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini, the man known to us as Ayatollah Khomeini, assumed power and began taking Americans in Iran as hostages.  Now Carter had a real conflict to manage.  Carter’s war on oil was linked to the situation in Iran primarily due to logistics and geography but also because this was the height of the infamous “Cold War” between the USA and the USSR that began in the early 1950’s.  So, yes, Carter did inherit the Cold War and it certainly escalated during his Presidency so, we can give him partial ownership. 

There were several conflicts going on simultaneously during the Carter Administration known as “proxy wars”.  This was the manner by which the USA and the USSR chose to engage each other without actually engaging each other.  These proxy wars were fought in far flung countries with one side or another having US support and the other with the support of the USSR.  It remains debatable to this day whether or not any of those half-assed proxy wars actually contributed to the “national interests” of the United States or increased our “safety and security” as they were touted to at the time.

Near the end of Carter’s first and only term the Mother of all Proxy Wars ensued as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  Yes, that Afghanistan; the very same country from which the Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden and his al Qeada minions who our own CIA supported.  We, the United States provided our proxy partner, the ragtag tribal forces who were battling the mighty “Super Power”, the Soviets, with shoulder-fired missiles known as “Stinger Missiles”.  Once the defenders of Afghanistan, the mujahedin who fought the Soviets with incredible ferocity and our support sent the Soviets packing in defeat, we completely disengaged from that region and left those we had so vigorously supported as proxies to their own destiny.  That did not work out very well in the long run.  Those very same zealots mutated and became the bastardized forces that delivered the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 upon us here in Our City, Washington, DC and Shankesville, Pennsylvania.  Instead of overtly declaring war on the Soviets Carter did the next best thing; he boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games.  Take that, you dammed Soviets.  But this was no small matter and the Cold War was increasingly edging towards a full blown “hot” war until Carter was landslide out of Office and replaced with the Alzheimic Ronald Reagan.

As the result of some very clandestine, astute and crafty diplomacy, once Reagan was sworn in to Office the Iranians released the American hostages they had held for so long and bedeviled Jimmy Carter every day of his Presidency.  Now, there was a real cowboy in the White House and, if wars need to be declared, by God, let’s just up and declare them. Reagan had his own private collection of little fracases and proxy wars to tend to from El Salvador to Angola, from Nicaragua to Guatemala and Grenada, across the globe to Cambodia and the Falkland Islands.  Yes indeedy, Reagan was one tough cookie and wasn’t the least bit shy about using our military might as long as the public did not learn the totality of our involvement on all these little wars.  The one big war that Reagan did declare with his wife Nancy at his side was “The War on Drugs”.  This was going to be a for real, smash mouth, bone breaking, barn-burner of a war.  The Reagan Administration saw a foe they thought they could ultimately defeat and they locked, loaded and told all the bad guys they were coming after them.  Talk about a war?  It is still on-going to this very day.  Despite the billions (possibly trillions) of American dollars spent in waging this amorphous somewhat ephemeral “war” we really are no closer to “victory” today than we were on December 13, 1984.  Almost 30 years, incalculable costs in bloodshed and national treasure and the war on drugs may finally be in its end stage.   

It is safe to say the war on drugs has been an unmitigated disaster.  How anyone ever truly believed that we could unilaterally put an end to the illicit drug trade is hard to fathom.  The war on drugs was as much of a junk term as the war on cancer.  Cancer is the catchall word for over 144 distinct malignant illnesses each of which has its own identity pathologically, morphologically and clinically.  The war on drugs has involved a wide array of federal agencies working both here in the United States and in countries around the world.  The lucrative trafficking of illicit drugs is inextricably linked with a complex plethora of issues ranging from diplomatic and military cooperation with countries that export the drugs that hit our streets, international money laundering, corruption of every ilk and at every level, social ills here and in drug producing nations, border security, immigration control, law enforcement methods and tactics, the penal code, incarceration, and a veritable grocery list of dozens of tangential issues.  Posed as a “war on drugs” all our efforts to disrupt, interdict and combat the flow of drugs into the USA, address  the pathologies of drug dealing, usage and related crime have all failed abysmally.   

There are many ways to perceive the matter of “illegal drugs” in our society and culture each of which leads to a dead end.  The time has come to reevaluate the entire war on drugs especially now since the country of Ecuador has legalized marijuana.  Our jails and prisons are bursting at the seams with men and women arrested and convicted for possession of very small amounts of marijuana.  A recent California Department of Corrections report stated that the cost per incarcerated inmate is $50,000 a year.  In New York State the ratio for dollars spent on public education of our children and incarceration is 1:8; for every dollar spent on paying our teachers, maintain our schools, providing up to date texts and other ancillary costs $8 are spent in keeping a person in prison.  This is more than an untenable reality; it has grave and serious consequences for our society in the long term.  Our incarceration rates on “minor possession” are striking.

The states of Colorado and Washington are well on the way towards “decriminalizing” the possession of certain amounts of marijuana and allowing the medicinal legal prescribing of marijuana for patients suffering from specific illnesses has become law in more than a dozen localities.   Surveys and polls conducted in the United States over the last 12 years show that a significant majority – upwards of 63% - of Americans believe marijuana should be a legal commodity in the US of A.  From a purely economic standpoint, if the United States was to declare marijuana a legal substance akin to alcohol, the tax revenue alone would add over $500 billion to the national treasury.  If marijuana was just another regulated substance and was legally available to, let’s say, people over the age of 18 or 21, the savings alone from the reduction in expenses on the law enforcement front as well as the courts – correctional – and adjunct spending would more than pay for itself.  If marijuana was permitted to be sold like tobacco products our federal and state governments would more than benefit from the legalization; actually, the feds and states stand to reap substantial profits.  It has been estimated by several objective studies that if marijuana was to become legal it would be the fourth most lucrative domestic crop only behind corn, wheat and soy beans.  That is one hell of a lot of money.  In this time of fiscal austerity and shrinking budgets just imagine the windfall our country would reap from regulating the sale of marijuana.

However, we all recognize it will not be easy; it will not become legalized with the scrawled signature of a President or without fierce legislative battles in all 50 states and in Congress.  No sir; it will be an uphill battle but the slope has begun to decrease in pitch.  It is far more possible today than at any other time in our history. 

For the record we must admit we gave it our best shot.  The DEA, FBI, ATF, state and local law enforcement agencies have sweat blood over the past decades combating the scourge of illegal drugs.  In all the years of our war on drugs marijuana has come to be seen by the majority of Americans as a relatively “benign” substance not on the same level as cocaine, crack, crystal meth and the new synthetic “designer drugs” popular today.  No one wants to legalize any of those substances and the efforts to combat their spread and usage will remain rigorous.  But we as a society find ourselves at an important crossroad’ we have arrived, perhaps, at a junction where we have a choice to make.  Clearly our war on drugs is financially unsustainable, practically unwinnable and largely futile.

We need not wave the white flag of surrender but absolutely need to incrementally withdraw from the entire sordid mess that is the war on drugs.  To expend anymore of our blood or treasure is foolish at best; negligent at worst.  The world community is country by country evolving in their approach to illicit drugs particularly marijuana.  We seem to turn a blind eye to our alleged “allies” in the most prolific opium producer, Afghanistan and the belligerent drug lord Harmed Karzai  but will spend an average of $30,000 to put some kid from The Bronx in jail for a year or more for having a few joints in his possession.  There is something drastically wrong with this reality and it is well past the time to acknowledge the reality of pot usage. 

Let’s just concede that our war on drugs is at an impasse, that we have fought the good and noble fight and ended up in a draw.  There are no winners or loosers, just victims on every side of this Gordian Knot.  Let’s cut our loses and move on.  The time HAS come.


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