The War on Drugs Remains Literal by Lucy Steigerwald

On March 13, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued a ruling that may provide a benefit for a small but not insignificant number of the people arrested for marijuana in the state. Brandi Jessica Russell had her 2011 conviction for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana overturned, and this precedent could be applied to other specific cases where the defendants had appeals in process when Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed in November 2012.

The War on Drugs

The victory will be small, since most people charged with drug possession plead out instead. But it’s progress. And in spite of some handwringing about the legal precedent set by retroactively applying a law by such dissenters as The Denver Post editorial board, this is a good thing. As Tom Angell, the founder of the Marijuana Majority, told me by email, “The voters of Colorado … declared the war on marijuana a failure on Election Day 2012. It’s very good news that their sensible action at the ballot box will not only prevent more people from being arrested under senseless prohibition laws but will provide help to those who have been caught in the grips of those laws in years past.”

But Angell and his organization’s optimism notwithstanding, the war on drugs is still raging. And we need to keep remembering it’s truly a war. This means half the people in our bulging prisons are both casualties of and prisoners of war. And while we keep progressing with recreational legal marijuana laws and the loosening up of attitudes towards drugs, we cannot forget about the people who are still being punished due to the most dangerous moral panic in U.S. history. Legal precedent be damned; letting every single nonviolent drug criminal out of prison today would be the right thing to do.

The moment the scorched policy of the war on drugs slows at all, it is tempting to pull a W. on the aircraft carrier and declare “mission accomplished.” But in May 2009, the Obama administration’s drug tsar Gil Kerlikowske declared that they weren’t going to call it “the war on drugs” anymore. After all, said Kerlikowske, “people see a war as a war on them. We’re not at war with people in this country.” The Obama administration has made some token shifts towards less draconian methods of fighting, such as drug courts – which have their own problems – but Kerlikowske was basically lying. War is a nasty, disturbingly accurate, word for what the government has done for 40-plus years (mostly with public approval or at least indifference). The Korean War wasn’t a “police action,” and the door-busting, life-ruining parts of the war on drugs did not end after their general decided calling a spade a spade was bad PR.

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One thought on “The War on Drugs Remains Literal by Lucy Steigerwald

  1. muskegonlibertarian March 29, 2014 / 11:19 PM

    We used to believe that the people controlled the government. But it is increasingly government that controls the people. We used to believe everyone was innocent until proven guilty. Now you are guilty until you can prove your innocence! The “War on Drugs” is really more a war between the “State” and the “people”. The State operates on the basis of everything is forbidden unless allowed. The libertarian on the other hand believes that the only restrictions should be on the basis of harming other people through the use of force, fraud, or oppression. If we are in fact masters of ourselves, then we have a “property right” in ourselves that renders the very idea of drug laws (except for children, who are not able to make decisions of this nature) is a violate of basic human rights. To me, drug laws are “more” just laws regarding the use of a chemical or a plant, but a means by which some are given the power to rule over others. Prescription laws for example grant physicians a legal government enforced monopoly over access to medical drugs. Except for the opiates and the antidepressants, medical drugs are not “addictive” and while possibility harmful if misused, are no more so than any number of items. The “War on Drugs” is of course beneficial to some in that it provides employment and income for law enforcement, with local, state, and federal agencies. As a matter of fact, the producers of illicit drugs benefit too through being able to charge higher prices for their product. Additionally, since we imprison so many people for drug law violations, there is no doubt that those who build prisons, work in them, have anything to do with prisons also gain by our drug laws. I include in this businesses that use prisoners to produce goods for sale. Prison labor is even cheaper than that of workers in the most poor nations today! The more you study these issues, the more you become aware of how men of evil intentions use our laws to benefit themselves at the cost of everyone else!


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