Fast Facts About the War on Drugs

Fast Facts About the War on Drugs

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The current war on drugs, a brief: with brief history, test results, and facts included

Today we are going to be approaching drug control policies and the facts involved with this. As many of you know drugs and the effects of them are a large contributor to crime as a general whole in the United States today. It is our duty as law enforcement to prevent when possible, and enforce the law when prevention fails. To better approach, our duties we must be able to look for potential flaws in the system and work to change those to benefits instead. Many cases of public policy exist in the United States today that have been formed based on flawed generally accepted opinions or worse policy based in moralistic views that have not been reflected in the facts. One of these policies is the ban against drugs and drug use. Currently in the United States, there is a "war" being fought against drugs and according to President Reagan and his wife Nancy it was "just say no" time for drugs. Of course, medical, scientific, and sociological persons know this is not nearly as simple as these politicians wished it to be. However, the drug war did not start in the 1980's it started much earlier in this country, even though the very public war against drugs began in the 1980's. With the advent of new "designer" drugs came, new waves of crime, and Reagan began the war in force. Current politicians carry the mantle concerning drugs and the United States drug control policy high, many are proud of their stance and continue to hold that stance regardless of potential cost in lives and money spent.

As far back as 1914 and the Harrison Narcotic Act (Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, 1914) which outlawed cocaine usage the United States government has based its legislation regarding drugs on flawed moral reactions to something it could have been making a good tax revenue from. Cocaine was introduced to the United States in the form of "tonics," coughs syrups, and even as a flavored drink called "Coca Cola." Cocaine was one of the largest drugs of choice for many Europeans and upper class people all over the world for a very long time. It was actually touted as a non-dangerous beneficial treatment by many physicians and pharmacists during the mid 1800's to very early 1900's. Even after its illegalization because of the Harrison Narcotics Act, people from the higher end of society tended to use it and still to this day do. One drug that came from cocaine was crack, a derivative and watered down version of true cocaine. At the time crack cocaine first hit the streets in force in the early 1980's many saw the devastation resulting in the attempts by drug "cartels" grabbing their shares. Of course, if this drug were legal there would have been no reason for the crime waves in the first place, however thanks to the Harrison Narcotics Act, several other Laws passed over times this, and many other drugs were illegal. Another drug was amphetamines known in the modern world as Methamphetamines, or crystal, crystal meth etc. This drug was first formulated in the late 1800's and was used by medical, scientific personnel to help them "keep going" the army soon picked it up and eventually it "morphed" into the drug we now know as Crystal Meth. Another major issue for the legal side of the drug war was PCP, and Marijuana.

Marijuana is the most interesting drug of all the plant that it grows on can be used for many things that we currently use petroleum-based products. One of the largest myths regarding marijuana is that it is a gateway drug. This has been shown to be false, "Marijuana does not cause people to use hard drugs. What the gateway theory presents as a causal explanation is a statistic association between common and uncommon drugs, an association that changes over time as different drugs increase and decrease in prevalence." (Morral, McCaffery, Paddock 2002) There are several other studies as well showing that Marijuana is actually less harmful than cigarettes in moderate portions. One of those studies shows the following information "There have been no reports of lung cancer related solely to marijuana, and in a large study presented to the American Thoracic Society in 2006," (Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse 1995) Another common misconception regarding marijuana is that it is extremely harmful to a persona health. According to "In 1995, based on thirty years of scientific research editors of the British medical journal Lancet concluded, "the smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health." (Deglamorising cannabis 1995) Another portion is the medical benefits of marijuana, "Marijuana has been shown to be effective in reducing the nausea induced by cancer chemotherapy, stimulating appetite in AIDS patients, and reducing intraocular pressure in people with glaucoma." (Vinciguerra, Moore, Brennan 1988) and it is good for patients with neurological disorders. (Nerve Pain included) "There is also appreciable evidence that marijuana reduces muscle spasticity in patients with neurological disorders." (Baker, Pryce, Croxford 2000) Now according to the United States government each of these "myths" is being cited as fact, sadly people believe that our government and the politicians making public policy are never wrong. When it comes to medical usages the government says the following "no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of smoked marijuana for general medical use." (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2009) When it comes to the harm (or lack thereof) being caused by marijuana the government states the following, "Marijuana has a high potential for abuse and can incur addiction. Frequent use of marijuana leads to tolerance to the psychoactive effects and smokers compensate by smoking more often or seeking higher potency marijuana." (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2009) This statement directly contradicts the actual medical facts associated with marijuana. There are several other common myths regarding marijuana and as important, as it is to provide all the facts the above mentioned will suffice for the time being. However, as you can see public policy is being swayed away from factually based evidence and utilizing old "myths" instead.

When it comes to crime, the federal government is very clear that they believe drug related crimes are wrong, as most law-abiding citizens will agree with. However, what is commonly not mentioned is that being on drugs does not necessarily cause crime so much as the drugs themselves being illegal. According to the United States government "Drug-related offenses and drug-using lifestyles are major contributors to the U.S. crime problem" (Drug-Related Crime, 2000) When we look at the facts regarding this one must agree a very large percentage of crime in the United States is drug related. Unfortunately, our political appointees tend to approach it from the wrong angle, "Government spending related to smoking and the abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs reached $468 billion in 2005, accounting for more than one-tenth of combined federal, state, and local expenditures for all purposes, according to a new study." (Eckholm, 2009) Currently in the United States according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations "In 1973, there were 328,670 arrests logged in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) for drug law violations. In 2007, that number rose to 1,841,182 arrests for drug law violations logged in the UCR. Also in 2006, there were a reported 597,447 arrests for all violent crimes and 1,610,088 arrests for all property crimes, out of a total 14,209,365 arrests for all offenses." (FBI Uniform Crime Reports 2008) These numbers account for almost 4% of the total population in the United States and over 25% of the crime committed in the United States. Whether we like it or not a "war" against drugs may not be the best solution to this problem. Especially considering that, crime rates skyrocketed following the enormous crackdowns on drugs and drug users, directly following the Reagan administration. Currently, in the United States, we spend more money "fighting" this war that has increased crime and addiction than on our schools, and health care, and social programs combined instead of looking to treat addiction and stop crime our politicians have increased both.

The potential long-term implications of the current Drug Enforcement policies are more far reaching than we currently believe. While it is impossible to foretell the future, one could reasonably assume that in the case of the current "drug" war we are failing miserably. The future will see major changes occurring over a longer length of time. We will see de-criminalization and eventually legalization with taxation. Though this may take several years to implement, it will happen. It is my recommendation that the individual precincts and states begin to take the facts regarding this into account and refuse to incarcerate simple drug offenders treatment is a valid and far better option in many cases. Rehabilitation is possible and necessary in many cases for drug offenders. Currently this country has a glut of prisoners and a large part of them is directly related to drugs. To reduce crime even further and prevent reoccurrences of it rehabilitation must be approached within the system. It is necessary to approach this issue as professionals and not as moralists. We can all agree that our personal values system drives us. However, we can also see that when we disregard facts and approach controversial issues such as this with our moral hat on versus our logical hat we are in fact ensuring that we will never move forward and actually reduce crime. It should be the goal of the States and local law enforcement to reduce crime by attacking the real problems, while rehabilitating those who can be.

Rehabilitation is a controversial issue, and unfortunately, there is not enough hard data to move forward on a broad scale, it is necessary to create this data. I propose that we begin rigorous testing procedures within our current jail population, utilizing monitoring and Twelve Step programs at first. If we take a percentage of the minor, drug related offenders and instead of jailing them, place-monitoring devices on them there are a few good monitoring bracelets that offer the ability of the offender to work, and perform tasks while being under the guidance of their respective probation officers. One of those monitoring devices is the following "The SleepTime 24/7 Alcohol and Other Drugs of Abuse Monitor allows 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week alcohol and other drug abuse monitoring." (StreeTime Technologies, 2009) The second part of the program would include ensuring they are attending a twelve-step program or in some cases sending them to a dry out clinic. This can be done by revoking their licenses, issuing state ID's and driving them to the program meetings. Other changes may be relocation, job searching etc. all of these must be approached and an SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) introduced.

By using the above approach we stand to benefit from a decreased amount of repeat offenders, it would be necessary to follow up and track those that enter the program to see if there are any identifiable changes in behavior and actions. Obviously, this will require community input and assistance, however, in the end we could potentially benefit from a significant reduction in crime as well as raised productivity and long term affects associated with the families and circle of influence each offender wields. It is should be our goal to see a new standard approached concerning drug control and the current enforcement policies in place. Criminal Justice in meant to preserve justice, and enforce when necessary to do so effectively we must begin to approach some of these issues from alternative standpoints.

In conclusion, we have learned some of the history connected to the current "war on drugs" as well as facts connected to usage and crime rates as well. It was the goal of the author to present a balanced viewpoint and offer an alternative to current law enforcement approaches in regards to drug related crime. While there are laws in effect that regulate much of this is it is possible to approach this from a State or local level as well. It is the hope of the author that we approach reducing drug related crime from a perspective that offers treatment and rehabilitation. By understanding the causes of the crime, and treating that, we stand to reduce it far more with much wider reaching implications.

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Racism's Hidden History in the War on Drugs

The first anti-drug law in our country was a local law in San Francisco passed in 1875. It outlawed the smoking of opium and was directed at the Chinese because opium smoking was a peculiarly Chinese habit. It was believed that Chinese men were luring white women to have sex in opium dens. In 1909 Congress made opium smoking a federal offense by enacting the Anti-Opium Act. It reinforced Chinese racism by carving out an exception for drinking and injecting tinctures of opiates that were popular among whites.

Cocaine regulations also were triggered by racial prejudice. Cocaine use was associated with blacks just as opium use was associated with the Chinese. Newspaper articles bore racially charged headlines linking cocaine with violent, anti-social behavior by blacks. A 1914 New York Times article proclaimed: "Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' Are a New Southern Menace: Murder and Insanity Increasing Among Lower Class Blacks Because They Have Taken to 'Sniffing.'" A Literary Digest article from the same year claimed that "most of the attacks upon women in the South are the direct result of the cocaine-crazed Negro brain." It comes as no surprise that 1914 was also the year Congress passed the Harrison Tax Act, effectively outlawing opium and cocaine.

Marijuana prohibition also had racist underpinnings. This time it was the Mexicans. Just as cocaine was associated with black violence and irrational behavior, in the southwest border towns marijuana was viewed -- beginning in the early 1920s -- as a cause of Mexican lawlessness. A Texas police captain suggested that marijuana gave Mexicans superhuman strength to commit acts of violence:

Under marijuana Mexicans [become] very violent, especially when they become angry and will attack an officer even if a gun is drawn on him. They seem to have no fear. I have also noted that under the influence of this weed they have enormous strength and it will take several men to handle one man while, under ordinary circumstances, one man could handle him with ease.

The American Coalition -- an anti-immigrant group -- claimed as recently as 1980: "Marihuana, perhaps now the most insidious of narcotics, is a direct byproduct of unrestricted Mexican immigration."

The racial fallout from our drug laws has persevered. In her article, The Discrimination Inherent in America's Drug War, Kathleen R. Sandy reported in 2003 that black Americans then constituted approximately 12 percent of our country's population and 13 percent of drug users. Nevertheless, they accounted for 33 percent of all drug-related arrests, 62 percent of drug-related convictions and 70 percent of drug-related incarcerations.

The country's concerted crackdown on drugs -- and the imposition of increasingly harsh punishment for illicit usage, importation, and distribution -- probably owes its genesis to the appointment in 1930 of Harry Anslinger as the commissioner of the newly created United States Narcotics Bureau. He started a media campaign to classify marijuana as a dangerous drug. For example, he wrote a major article titled "Marihuana, the Assassin of Youth." It was rife with accusations that marijuana was responsible for encouraging murder, suicide, and insanity. Anslinger's campaign was wildly successful. Before he took office only four states had enacted prohibitions against non medical usage of marijuana--California (1915), Texas (1919), Louisiana (1924), and New York (1927) -- but by 1937 46 of the nation's then 48 states had banned marijuana.

Since then Congress has enacted a spate of comprehensive anti-drug laws with strict penalties. For example, today one can be sentenced to life for distributing one kilogram of heroin 40 years for distributing 100 grams, and 20 years for distributing any quantity at all. Nevertheless, this has not stemmed the country's appetite for illicit drugs in spite of every administration's continued "war on drugs" since President Nixon established the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1972, which has grown through the years to a staff of almost 10,000 employees and a budget of $2 billion.

According to data from the 2010 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost 120 million Americans 12 or older -- roughly 47 percent of that population -- reported illicit drug use at least once in their lifetime 15.3 percent admitted to using an illegal drug in the prior year and 8.9 percent -- roughly 23 million people -- did it within the prior month. The New York Times recently reported that one out of every 15 high school students smokes marijuana on a near daily basis.

When it comes to sentencing, the main culprit is drugs. About half of the roughly 220,000 criminals in the federal prisons have either brought them into our country, have distributed them here, or have otherwise associated themselves with this illicit activity. This means that probably half of the $6.8 billion of the Bureau of Prisons budget is eaten up by incarcerating the criminal druggies. Half of the prison population is there because of drugs, costing us billions of dollars a year to keep them in jail.

Frederic Block has practiced law for 34 years. He was appointed to the federal district court as a judge in 1994 by President Clinton. Block is the author of Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge.

Drugs and Gangs Fast Facts

National Drug Intelligence Center
a component of the
U.S. Department of Justice.

What is the relation between drugs and gangs?

Street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), and prison gangs are the primary distributors of illegal drugs on the streets of the United States. Gangs also smuggle drugs into the United States and produce and transport drugs within the country.

Street gang members convert powdered cocaine into crack cocaine and produce most of the PCP available in the United States. Gangs, primarily OMGs, also produce marijuana and methamphetamine. In addition, gangs increasingly are involved in smuggling large quantities of cocaine and marijuana and lesser quantities of heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA (also known as ecstasy) into the United States from foreign sources of supply. Gangs primarily transport and distribute powdered cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, MDMA, and PCP in the United States.

Located throughout the country, street gangs vary in size, composition, and structure. Large, nationally affiliated street gangs pose the greatest threat because they smuggle, produce, transport, and distribute large quantities of illicit drugs throughout the country and are extremely violent. Local street gangs in rural, suburban, and urban areas pose a low but growing threat. Local street gangs transport and distribute drugs within very specific areas. These gangs often imitate the larger, more powerful national gangs in order to gain respect from rivals.

Some gangs collect millions of dollars per month selling illegal drugs, trafficking weapons, operating prostitution rings, and selling stolen property. Gangs launder proceeds by investing in real estate, recording studios, motorcycle shops, and construction companies. They also operate various cash-based businesses, such as barbershops, music stores, restaurants, catering services, tattoo parlors, and strip clubs, in order to commingle drug proceeds with funds generated through legitimate commerce.

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What is the extent of gang operation and crime in the United States?

There are at least 21,500 gangs and more than 731,000 active gang members in the United States. Gangs conduct criminal activity in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Although most gang activity is concentrated in major urban areas, gangs also are proliferating in rural and suburban areas of the country as gang members flee increasing law enforcement pressure in urban areas or seek more lucrative drug markets. This proliferation in nonurban areas increasingly is accompanied by violence and is threatening society in general.

According to a 2001 Department of Justice survey, 20 percent of students aged 12 through 18 reported that street gangs had been present at their school during the previous 6 months. More than a quarter (28%) of students in urban schools reported a street gang presence, and 18 percent of students in suburban schools and 13 percent in rural schools reported the presence of street gangs. Public schools reported a much higher percentage of gang presence than private schools.

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What are the dangers associated with gang activity?

Large street gangs readily employ violence to control and expand drug distribution activities, targeting rival gangs and dealers who neglect or refuse to pay extortion fees. Members also use violence to ensure that members adhere to the gang's code of conduct or to prevent a member from leaving. In November 2004 a 19-year-old gang member in Fort Worth, Texas, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for fatally shooting a childhood friend who wanted to leave their local street gang.

Authorities throughout the country report that gangs are responsible for most of the serious violent crime in the major cities of the United States. Gangs engage in an array of criminal activities including assault, burglary, drive-by shooting, extortion, homicide, identification fraud, money laundering, prostitution operations, robbery, sale of stolen property, and weapons trafficking.

What are some signs that young people may be involved in gang activity?

Changes in behavior such as skipping school, hanging out with different friends or, in certain places, spray-painting graffiti and using hand signals with friends can indicate gang affiliation.

In addition, individuals who belong to gangs often dress alike by wearing clothing of the same color, wearing bandannas, or even rolling up their pant legs in a certain way. Some gang members wear certain designer labels to show their gang affiliation. Gang members often have tattoos. Also, because gang violence frequently is glorified in rap music, young people involved in gangs often try to imitate the dress and actions of rap artists.

Finally, because substance abuse is often a characteristic of gang members, young people involved in gang activity may exhibit signs of drug or alcohol use.

Other products of interest:

  • 2C-T-7
  • 5-MeO-AMT
  • AMT
  • BZP
  • Crack cocaine
  • Crystal methamphetamine
  • Drug abuse and mental illness
  • Drug-facilitated sexual assault
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Drugs and the Internet
  • DXM
  • Fentanyl
  • Foxy
  • Fry
  • GHB and analogs
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Jimsonweed
  • Ketamine
  • Khat
  • LSD
  • Marijuana
  • MDMA
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Meth lab ID and hazards
  • OxyContin
  • PCP
  • Powdered cocaine
  • Prescription drugs
  • Psilocybin
  • Ritalin
  • Rohypnol
  • Salvia divinorum
  • Soma
  • Steroids
  • Teens and drugs
  • Triple C
  • Yaba
  • Huffing--The Abuse of Inhalants
  • Prescription Drug Abuse and Youth
  • Drugs, Youth, and the Internet

Contact us

Our addresses:

National Drug Intelligence Center
319 Washington Street, 5th Floor
Johnstown, PA 15901-1622
Telephone: 814-532-4601
FAX: 814-532-4690

NDIC Washington Liaison Office
8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 1001
McLean, VA 22102-3840
Telephone: 703-556-8970
FAX: 703-556-7807

What Might the Punishment Be?

In 1970, President Richard Nixon, signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) into law. It aimed to consolidate all of the previous laws (which numbered in the hundreds) that concerned illegal drugs and controlled substances into a single law. It is mandated that state laws must be in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act, but they may be narrower or more strict than federal law. They may not undermine or contradict federal law. As we have seen with marijuana for example, this is often not the case.

The CSA is a federal drug policy that regulates the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances. These include narcotics, depressants, hallucinogens, and stimulants. Drugs are categorized into 5 schedules. This makes it relatively simple to add a new drug to the schedule or to change the classification of a drug without enacting new legislation. It also makes it easier for state legislatures to develop sentencing guidelines for the five categories rather than for each individual drug.

Criteria for where to place a drug include how addictive the substance is and if it has any medical benefits. Schedule 1 contains the most addictive drugs and carries the most severe penalties while Schedule 5 drugs are not very likely to be addictive and carry much milder punishments. The schedules are as follows:

  • Schedule 1 – Ecstasy, LSD, and Heroin. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug in spite of its demonstrated medical uses. Marijuana is the only prescription drug with this classification.
  • Schedule 2 – Cocaine, morphine, Demerol, OxyContin, Percocet, and Dilaudid
  • Schedule 3 – Anabolic steroids, Vicodin, Tylenol with Codeine, and Marinol
  • Schedule 4 – Ambien, Xanax, Soma, Klonopin, sleep medications, and Valium
  • Schedule 5 – Lyrica and cough suppressants containing low concentrations of codeine

Penalties for possession of drugs largely depend on what schedule the drug in question belongs to. The federal penalty for trafficking less than 50KG of marijuana (a Schedule 1 drug) is a felony and carries up to a 5-year prison sentence and up to a $250,000 fine for the first offense. A person who is in possession of a Schedule 5 drug will most likely be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor and will spend less than a year in jail.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was also created by President Richard Nixon in 1973 as the agency responsible for enforcing the Controlled Substance act as well as regulating the use of controlled substances. The DEA monitors drug production, distribution, import, and export. It also works with state law enforcement to curtail drug trafficking and gang related drug violence.

Depending on the state in which one is convicted of drug possession, there is a wildly varying range of penalties imposed. In California, which has some of the lightest sentencing guidelines, first-time offenders will be fined between $40 and $500, and may be sentenced to serve 15 to 180 days in jail. On the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky, which has the most stringent guidelines will impose a fine of up to $20,000 and a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years.

Both federal sentencing and state sentencing guidelines are driven by the class of drug (which schedule it belongs to), the amount of drug that was possessed, and the number of prior convictions.

Regardless of the state, simple possession of illegal drugs carry the lightest sentences while intent to distribute drugs or to produce them (whether by manufacture or cultivation) carry harsher penalties.

Many states have created drug courts for felony drug defendants. This system was developed to help alleviate the overburdened prison system in which almost 75% of prisoners were incarcerated for drug-related crimes. The purpose of these courts is to rehabilitate habitual drug users and offenders while keeping them out of prison. In lieu of going to trial, a drug defendant who agrees to drug court spends time in a drug (or alcohol) rehabilitation program, undergoes random drug tests, and appears before the drug court on a regular basis. Defendants who do not adhere to this program can be arrested and sent to trial. Judges who preside over drug court have a great deal of control over the operation of the court and what it mandates to defendants.

The War on Drugs

The ‘War on Drugs’ refers to the recent trend in United States political and military systems of sweeping prohibition efforts to end illegal drug trafficking. The first use of the term war to describe these policies occurred when President Richard Nixon gave a speech on June 18, 1971 in a press conference for the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control, in which he referred to drug abuse as “public enemy number one.” However, Nixon was not the first U.S. President to support stringent drug control policies his actions were a continuation of existing policies.

One of the most significant aspects of the U.S. Drug War can be traced back to 1952, when Congress passed the Boggs Act. This act established the U.S. policy of mandatory minimum sentencing. With mandatory minimums, courts are required to sentence first-time offenders with a minimum sentence depending on the drug. The Boggs Act referred specifically to Cannabis possession, and many of its elements were later repealed. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 strengthened the system of mandatory minimum sentencing, and added provisions for other types of drugs. Mandatory minimum sentences have been criticized for being inflexible and unfair, and have contributed to the overall trend of prison overcrowding in the United States. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 49.8% of inmates, about 100,000 people, are currently incarcerated due to a drug offense. Less than 30% of inmates are violent offenders.

Though there have been drug prohibition laws in the United States since 1860, the Drug War is strongly associated with President Ronald Reagan. In 1986, Reagan signed into law the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which, in addition to strengthening the mandatory minimum sentencing policies, appropriated $1.7 billion to fund the war on drugs, and also shifted the federal supervised release program from a rehabilitative focus to a punitive one. The supervised release program refers to the measures that inmates must do when they are released on probation. These programs usually consist of regular drug tests and meetings with probation counselors. Historically, these systems were in place to help recovering drug addicts stay on track once they were out of prison. However, the shift to a punitive focus reflected a desire to punish those involved in illegal drugs, rather than help them recover and get their lives back on track. During Reagan’s presidency, the First Lady, Nancy Reagan began a campaign called ‘Just Say No’, which was focused on educating youth about the dangers of drug abuse and on different ways they can say “no” to drugs.

One of the most notable aspects of the war on drugs is its apparent targeting of lower income and minority communities. With the passing of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, possession of 28 grams of crack cocaine warrants a five year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time offender. In order to get the same sentence for possession of powder form cocaine, someone would have to have 500 grams. While some argue that crack cocaine is more addictive and therefore deserves a higher sentence, some medical experts dispute this by stating that there is no pharmacological difference between the two forms of cocaine. Many people assert that, because crack cocaine is statistically linked to impoverished Black communities while powder cocaine use is most common among affluent White communities, the legal disparity between powder and crack cocaine is potentially rooted in racist beliefs. While both forms of the drug are harmful and addictive, the drastic differences between the mandatory minimum sentences reflects a devotion to punish drug offenders at all costs, rather than on working to find a solution that would land less people in prison. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

10 Facts about Mexico’s Drug War

ATLANTA, Georgia – Mexico’s war on drugs has been raging for over seven years with devastating results. Thousands are dead, chaos reigns in the streets, and its citizens live in the fearful shadow of the powerful drug cartels. Unfortunately, the brutal violence, as well as the power of the cartels, has not decreased.

There seems to be plenty of blame to go around for the current state of violence in Mexico. For example, there is no question that America’s hunger for illegal drugs puts money directly into the pockets of violent cartels allowing their operations to continue, while Mexico, for decades, was complacent with the presence of cartels at almost every level of society.

In addition to cartel violence, Mexican citizens find themselves suffering under a militarized police force that commits frequent human rights abuses. Despite knowledge these abuses exist, the legal mechanisms designed to prevent such abuse are known for their weakness and corruption. Accounts have surfaced of forced confessions, beating, electrocutions, and medical examiners downplaying injuries from torture in reports to authorities.

Out of the 3,671 investigations that have been initiated by prosecutors only 15 soldiers have been prosecuted.

To spread awareness regarding the devastation wrought by the drug war, here are 10 important facts.

1. Drugs make up 3-4% of Mexico’s $1.5 trillion GDP.

2. The Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked Mexico as the 8 th deadliest country for reporters.

3. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms states that 90% of weapons confiscated in Mexico come from the United States.

4. The cartels reap $19 billion to $29 billion from U.S. drug sales alone.

5. Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world. An average of 70 people per month are abducted.

6. In 2012, Joaquin Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, made Forbes list of billionaires. Sinaloa controls up to 25 percent of the drugs that enter the United States through Mexico. The annual revenues produced by Sinaloa are over $3 billion.

7. In 2008, the U.S. created the Merida Initiative to provide assistance in the drug war. It consisted of sending $1.4 billion of aid to Mexico, Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In 2010, the partnership was extended and renamed Beyond Merida.

8. The drug industry is estimated to employ at least half a million people.

9. From 2006 to 2012, President Felipe Calderón deployed 50,000 troops confront the cartels.

10. Over 47,000 people have been killed since the war began in 2006.

Several options have been put forward to address the drug war from a policymaking perspective. Decriminalization remains the most popular prescription advocated by many officials in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Three former Latin American presidents have publicly stated they wish to see a “paradigm shift” toward decriminalization, which is seen by many as the most effective way to eventually curb demand and violence related to drugs.

Others contend that decriminalization would help support the cartels export market, and instead favor enforcement against violent dealers while also trying to reduce demand.

President Felipe Calderón’s successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, intends to continue the fight against the cartels. However, he has stated he intends to shift policies toward reducing violence instead of apprehending cartel members and drugs.

18 Facts About America’s Long and Costly War on Drugs

US troops parachute into Panama during Operation Just Cause, an invasion to arrest Manuel Noriega. US Air Force

12. Operation Just Cause and the arrest of Manuel Noriega

In 1971 the DEA attempted to indict Manuel Noriega of Panama, only to the thwarted by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA had allowed Noriega to conduct his drug trade activities for years because of his support of the Contras in Nicaragua. The CIA, under its director at the time, George H. W. Bush, funded Noriega and looked the other way as the Panamanian dictator shipped illegal drugs to markets which included the United States. In 1986 a CIA pilot and former Marine named Eugene Hasenfus was shot down in Nicaragua during a flight in which he had been delivering weapons covertly for the CIA to the Contras. Ronald Reagan denied that Hasenfus had any connection with the United States government, but papers discovered in the wreckage of the aircraft he had been flying revealed otherwise, including the links between the CIA and Noriega.

With Noriega then a liability to the American government, and an embarrassment to both Reagan and his vice-president, the same George Bush, the DEA was encouraged to indict Noriega, and with the indictment in hand the United States sent 25,000 troops to Panama to secure his arrest and overthrow his government. Hasenfus was indicted by the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, convicted, imprisoned, and pardoned in December. Noriega was tried in Miami for drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, convicted, and sentenced to 40 years in federal prison. During his trial evidence reflecting his relationship with the CIA and George Bush was not allowed to be presented. Noriega was later extradited for trial in France, again convicted, and returned to the United States to serve his sentence.

Alarming Facts about The War on Drugs

The United States has a larger percentage of its population in prison than any country on Earth. Over 1.7 million human beings languish behind bars. Well over sixty percent of federal prisoners , and a significant fraction of state and local prisoners, are non-violent drug offenders, mostly first time offenders. Due to the War on Drugs, we have become the world's leading jailer. 1 out of 35 Americans is under the control of the Criminal Justice System. If present incarceration rates hold steady, 1 out of 20 Americans, 1 out of 11 men, and 1 out of 4 Black men in this country today can expect to spend some part of their life in prison.

Sources: Bureau ofJustice Statistics, Nation's Probation and Parole Population ReachedAlmost 3.9 Million Last Year, (press release), Washington D.C.: U.S.Department of Justice (1997, August 14).
Bonczar, T.P. & Beck, A.J., Lifetime Likelihood of Going to Stateor Federal Prison, Washington D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics,U.S. Department of Justice (1997, March), p. 1.
Currie, E., Crime and Punishment in America, New York, NY:Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, Inc. (1998), p. 3.

American Apartheid

One out of three young African American (ages 18 to 35) men in the United States are in prison or on some form of supervised release. The drug war is clearly a race war. Our country has more African American men in prison than in college.We call ourselves the Land of the Free, yet we have a four times higher percentage of Black men in prison than South Africa at the height of apartheid, an official national policy of institutionalized racism.

Sources: Substance Abuseand Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Population Estimates 1996, Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (1997), p. 19,Table 2D
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1996, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office(1997), p. 382, Table 4.10, and p. 533, Table6.36
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 1996, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (1997), p. 10, Table13.

Prison Orphans

One out of nine school-age children has one or both parents in prison. At the present exponential increase in incarceration, this number will be one out of four alarmingly soon. We are breeding an entire generation of embittered and disenfranchised prison orphans. We are losing an entire generation of young people.

Sources: Califano,Joseph, Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population,Forward by Joseph Califano. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (1998).

Violent vs. Non-Violent Crimes:Prison Sentences

The average sentence for a first time, non-violent drug offender is longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter. As our prisons rapidly fill to bursting, rapists and murderers are being given early release to make room for no parole drug offenders. While law enforcement continues to go after relatively easy drug violation arrests, every major city in this country has a record number of unsolved homicides.

Sources: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
The Consequences of Mandatory Minimums, Federal Judicial Center Report, 1994.
The Lindesmith Center Ethan Nadlemann, Director

500,000 Deaths from Legal Drugs

Every year, 8,000 to 14,000 people die from illegal drugs in this country. Every year, over 500,000 people die from legal drugs (Tobacco, liquor and prescriptions). This is roughly a fifty to one ratio. Alcohol alone is involved in seven times more violent crimes than all illegal substances combined. Yet our Government continues to hugely subsidize alcohol and tobacco, while demonizing those who would exercise a different choice.

Sources: Califano,Joseph, Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population, Forward by Joseph Califano. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (1998).

Treatment, Not Punishment

It's been empirically shown that education and treatment is seven times more cost effective than arrest and incarceration for substance addiction, yet we continue to spend more tax dollars on prisons than treatment. In this 'Land of Liberty', we spend more money on prisons than on schools. We are clearly addicted to mass punishment of consensual 'crimes' on a staggering scale. The sheer magnitude of all the human misery generated in our government's war on it's own people is truly terrifying.

Sources: Rydell, C.P.& Everingham, S.S., Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army, SantaMonica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND (1994).
The Lindesmith Center Ethan Nadlemann, Director

98% Conviction Rate?

Federal prosecutors reportedly have a 98% conviction rate, and federal appellate courts reject 98% of appeals. The American Bar Association says this number should be closer to 60-70%. Does this mean that over 30% of those jailed are technically or literally innocent? (Do we really trust our government to do anything with 98% efficiency?) The nearly limitless and clearly unconstitutional powers that have been handed to the U.S. Attorneys by Congress is mind blowing in the extreme. The Bill of Rights is rapidly becoming a fond memory.

Sources: TheConsequences of Mandatory Minimums, Federal Judicial Center Report,1994.
H.R. 3396, The Citizens Protection Act of1998, sponsored by Rep. Joseph McDade.
The NationalAssociation of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).
Punch and Jurists: The Cutting Edge Guide to Criminal Law
The American Bar Association (ABA).

Shot or Beheaded?

If Newt Gingrich has his way, you can be given the death penalty for 'trafficking' in two ounces of marijuana. Former 'Drug Czar' William Bennett (author of 'The Book ofVirtues'!) has advocated the public beheading of convicted drug offenders. LA Police Chief Daryl Gates has publicly stated that casual drug users should be taken from the court room and summarily executed. We are rapidly approaching a totalitarian police state, where absolute power flows directly from wealth, and any deviation from the officially mandated status quo can mean incarceration,torture or even death.

Source: H.R. 41: TheDrug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1997, by Rep. Newt Gingrich.
Ain't Nobodies Business If You Do, by PeterMcWilliams. (Prelude Press)

Prohibition And Violent Crimes

The prohibition of alcohol in the early part of this century financed the birth of the present day criminal underground. The prohibition of drugs has given incredible power to the inner city street gangs, and put hundreds of millions of dollars into their hands. A generation ago, they fought with knives and brass knuckles. Now they have submachine guns and high explosives. We have turned our cities into war zones.

Source: Drug Crazy, byMike Gray, [Random House, 240 pages, $23.95 Publication date June15, 1998]
The Lindesmith Center Ethan Nadlemann, Director


Because drug crimes are consensual, with no citizens filing charges, the Government has had to get very creative to motivate suspects to testify against each other in trial. Known criminals are routinely paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and offered virtual immunity, luxurious perks, and drastically reduced sentences for their information and testimony. Our prisons are full to bursting with innocent victims. More and more, Federal prosecutors are acquiring almost unlimited powers in the courtroom. They set sentences they dictate trial protocol they have turned purchased betrayal of family and friends into a high art form. Judges in Federal trials are fast becoming mere automations.

Sources: TheConsequences of Mandatory Minimums, Federal Judicial Center Report,1994.
H.R. 3396, The Citizens Protection Act of1998, sponsored by Rep. Joseph McDade.
Ain't Nobodies Business If You Do, by Peter McWilliams. (PreludePress)

(Rich Bargains)Poor Prison Terms

I have reviewed and studied literally hundreds of cases in preparation for this project, and I keep seeing the same alarming trend. The drug kingpins and professional criminals continually plea-bargain their way to freedom, or leave the country with all their wealth, while the low level offenders and innocent patsies, with no information to trade for leniency, and no resources for an adequate defense, are sentenced to insanely long terms. We are warring on the afflicted and the vulnerable.

Sources: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
The Consequences of Mandatory Minimums, Federal Judicial Center Report, 1994.
H.R. 3396 - Citizens Protection Act of 1998 -A bill to establish standards of conduct for Department of Justice employees, and to establish a review board to monitor compliance with such standards.

Just Say No

In thirty years of The War On Drugs, our government hasn't managed to accomplish even a small reduction in drug dealing and abuse, yet we have spent almost a trillion dollars. That is a huge fraction of the total national debt. All we've done is fill up our prisons at a terrifying rate, and pay homage to meaningless, mean-spirited rhetoric, like Zero Tolerance and Just Say No and Tough on Crime. By current estimates, we need to build a complete new Federal prison every two weeks just to keep up with the demand. At the present exponential rate of incarceration, we will have half of our population in prison within fifty years. Is this how we want to greet the new millennium? We will rip this nation to pieces.

Sources: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
The Lindesmith Center Ethan Nadlemann, Director

International Drug Trade

It has been estimated that almost 10% of international trade is in profits from illicit substances. Some third world countries count narco-dollars as a significant fraction of their gross national product. While the drug war destroys countless lives among the working and peasant classes, the privileged elite grows wealthy beyond imagining. There is a strong economic incentive to keep the war going ad infinitem. While our elected officials pay lip service to 'a drug free America', the CIA is routinely involved with massive international drug-trafficking to finance its covert operations.

How You Can Help

“Where life is precious, life is precious.” – Ruth Wilson Gilmore

We need to re-imagine how we respond to crime in this country. The Fair Fight Initiative is engaged in that effort through litigation, advocacy, and awareness campaigns that uncover injustices in our prisons and jails. The organization also provides support to victims of law enforcement violence so they can effectively pursue justice.

Please consider donating to the Fair Fight Initiative to support a society that truly values all human life.

Fair Fight Mission: Through litigation and community advocacy, Fair Fight Initiative exposes mistreatment in the law enforcement system and works to end mass incarceration.