EL PASO — The year was 1969, and as suburban American teenagers explored the exotic possibilities of the $10 lid — about an ounce of marijuana, seeds, stems and all — Vietnam vets were coming home as addicts and inner cities were being hit by heroin epidemics.Ah, never let it be said that Richard Millhouse Nixon was not possessed of an imagination. But let us continue:
In June that year, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “a serious national threat,” and the mass media images of stoned Woodstock hippies that followed in August reinforced his warnings.
The broad enforcement program he launched soon became known as “the war on drugs,” and grew to become a multibillion-dollar effort focused on interdiction, destruction of foreign crops and harsh penalties for even minor offenses.
On its 40th anniversary, the drug war continues at a cost in blood, ruined lives and public dollars that Nixon could never have imagined.
“After 40 years and all the money spent, with U.S. consumption as high as ever, people languishing in prison for possession of soft drugs like marijuana and the violence in Mexico worse than ever, it seems to me that something has to change,” said Kathleen Staudt, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, which hosted the “U.S. War on Drugs” conference.Hahahahahahah! Oh, excuse me...(cue Vincent LaGuardia Gambini): You were serious about that?
More than two dozen drug experts, academics, border journalists and law enforcement officials gathered to compare notes for three days about drug policy, coming from Mexico, the United States and even Colombia.
Two seemingly unlikely advocates of radical change at the conference were Terry Nelson, a retired federal agent, and James Gray, a California state judge, both of whom once sent drug offenders to prison.
“The global war on drugs is probably the greatest public policy failure of all time,” said Nelson, who stalked traffickers in the Caribbean and Latin America during three decades with the U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Department of Homeland Security.
“The drug war has brought us the militarization of our police force,” Nelson said. “And it's killing our families when you put a mother or father in jail for smoking small amounts of marijuana.”
Nelson said the answer is legalization, education and regulation, the treatment given two other dangerous but popular legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
Citing a public policy study that is best known for being ignored, he said, “Sixteen years ago the Rand Corporation found that we get seven times more value for drug treatment than we do for law enforcement.Stop! You're killing me!
“We cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. Maybe we should stop being moralists and start being managers,” he said, despite the entrenched economic interests involved.
Over three days of discussion, one voice was heard loudly defending the present policy.Now you're sounding like a proper Texas Republican!
“Ultimately what we are talking about is the obligation of the state to protect its citizens,” said Anthony Placido, who leads the Drug Enforcement Administration's intelligence program.
“It's about mind-altering substances that destroy human life and create the violence you see only a few blocks from here,” he said.
His presentation depicted meth-ravaged American housewives, the butchered bodies of Mexican drug soldiers and brain scans that purported to show “dead spots” caused by heavy marijuana use.
“We went to war after 9-11 when 3,100 people were killed. Thirty-eight thousand die every year in this country from drugs,” he said, adding that decriminalization would bring further harm.
The conversation was more choir practice than robust debate, as a consensus emerged that the enforcement-driven policy isn't working.Reality rears its ugly head, but is quickly dispelled by a return to High Comedy:
But, as one speaker reminded everyone, just talking about loosening drug policy remains the dangerous “third-rail” of American politics.
“You touch it, and you're dead,” she said.
Among the options examined were decriminalizing drug possession, with options ranging from marijuana to hard drugs, and treating drug abuse as a medical and social problem, rather than a crime.Hahahahahahaha!