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June  2,  2011    

June  17,  2011,  40th  Anniversary   President  Nixon’s  Message  to  Congress  Launching  the  “War  on  Drugs”     M  E  M  O  R  A  N  D  U  M:     To:   The  Managing  Editor     From:   Eric  E.  Sterling,  President,  Criminal  Justice  Policy  Foundation     Re:   Issues  for  Stories  and  Analysis     The  “War  on  Drugs”  is  40  years  old  this  month.  What  have  been  its  successes  and  failures?  How   much  has  it  cost?  Did  it  produce  a  strategy  for  victory  over  what  President  Nixon  called  “America’s   public  enemy  number  one”?     Do  the  dangers  of  drugs  warrant  a  war?  Have  the  fears  of  drugs  been  exploited  for  political   purposes?  Have  warnings  about  drug  use  been  properly  presented  to  the  right  target  populations?     Since  1971,  Presidents  Nixon,  Ford,  Carter,  Reagan,  G.H.W.  Bush,  Clinton,  G.W.  Bush  and   Obama,  and  the  Congress  have  initiated  a  variety  of  strategies,  most  under  the  label,  the  “war  on   drugs.”    They  have  had  White  House  coordinators.  Is  our  anti-­‐drug  effort  being  managed  any  better  now   than  when  President  Nixon  decried  bureaucratic  red-­‐tape  and  jurisdictional  disputes  among  agencies?       Have  Nixon’s  goals  to  reduce  the  number  of  deaths  from  drugs  and  to  expand  drug  treatment   been  accomplished?  Have  Nixon’s  goals  to  make  the  “traffic  in  narcotics…no  longer  profitable”  and  to   “destroy  the  market  for  drugs”  been  achieved?  Does  this  strategy  make  drugs  less  or  more  profitable?     In  your  community,  what  has  been  the  legacy  of  40  years  of  the  “war  on  drugs?”    Who  has   benefited  from  this  program  and  who  has  been  hurt?  How  much  does  it  cost  your  community  to  carry   on  this  fight?  Is  it  money  well  spent?     Have  the  burdens  of  drug  addiction  or  drug  enforcement  fallen  harder  on  people  of  color  or  the   poor?    In  your  area,  if  some  areas  suffer  more  than  others,  what  explains  those  differences?     What  is  the  prognosis  for  mitigating  or  solving  the  problems  created  by  the  “war  on  drugs?”     On  June  17,  1971,  President  Nixon  sent  a  5300-­‐word  message  to  Congress  “to  consolidate  at  the   highest  level  a  full-­‐scale  attack  on  the  problem  of  drug  abuse  in  America.”  He  warned,  “If  we  cannot   destroy  the  drug  menace  in  America,  then  it  will  surely  in  time  destroy  us.”     He  created  a  Special  Action  Office  on  Drug  Abuse  Prevention  (SAODAP)  in  the  White  House,   authorized  for  three  years  with  the  option  of  extending  its  life  for  an  additional  two  years.     This  new  coordinating  office  (we  use  the  short  hand,  “czar,”  for  such  efforts  now)  would   eliminate  “bureaucratic  red  tape,  and  jurisdictional  disputes  among  agencies”  in  order  to  “mount  a   wholly  coordinated  national  attack  on  a  national  problem.”    


While  Nixon  used  language  such  as  “I  will  ask  for  additional  funds  to  increase  our  enforcement   efforts  to  further  tighten  the  noose  around  the  necks  of  drug  peddlers,”  he  also  spoke  of  drug  users  as   “the  people  whom  society  is  attempting  to  reach  and  help.”  He  wanted  the  SAODAP  to  “extend  its   efforts  into  research,  prevention,  training,  education,  treatment,  rehabilitation…”     Costs     Nixon  asked  for  an  additional  $159  million  dollars  for  his  initiatives,  plus  an  unspecified  amount   to  pay  325  additional  positions  in  the  Bureau  of  Narcotics  and  Dangerous  Drugs  (forerunner  to  the  DEA).     Over  the  past  40  years,  with  leadership  from  successive  presidents  and  “drug  czars,”  and   enthusiastic  support  from  Congress,  the  Federal  government  has  spent,  cumulatively,  about  a  half   trillion  dollars  on  the  “war  on  drugs.”    By  FY  1975,  federal  anti-­‐drug  spending  had  climbed  to  $680   million.  For  the  past  20  years,  Federal  spending  on  drugs  has  exceeded  $15  billion  per  year  including  the   costs  of  imprisonment.     The  costs  are  now  so  high,  the  “drug  czar”  seems  to  conceal  almost  one-­‐third  of  the  anti-­‐drug   spending  by  excluding  it  from  the  formal  anti-­‐drug  budget.  ONDCP  says  that  $14.8  billion  was  spent  in  FY   2009  to  fight  drugs.  But  another  $6.9  billion  was  actually  spent  in  FY  2009  on  fundamental  anti-­‐drug   activity  such  as  the  incarceration  of  federal  drug  prisoners.     The  FY  2011  formal  anti-­‐drug  budget  request  is  for  $15.5  billion,  excluding  imprisonment  and   the  other  costs  which  remain  concealed  in  the  budget  submission.       The  cost  of  imprisoning  federal  drug  prisoners  has  been  over  $3  billion  annually  since  FY  2008.   On  May  19,  2011  the  total  federal  prison  population  exceeded  215,000.  As  of  April  23,  2011,  50.9%  of   convicted  federal  prisoners  were  drug  offenders.       Economic  impact   Nixon  wanted  research  and  “development  of  necessary  reports,  statistics,  and  social  indicators   for  use  by  all  public  and  private  groups.”  Do  we  have  sufficient  knowledge  of  the  drug  problem?       Do  we  know  what  it  has  cost  the  economy  that  tens  of  millions  have  criminal  records,  and  earn   so  little  that  they  are  unmarriageable  and  can’t  obtain  credit?  What  has  it  meant,  for  example,  to   American  automakers  and  unions  that  instead  of  the  200,000  prisoners  in  state  and  federal  prisons  in   1972,  there  are  about  1.6  million  adults  in  prison  now  (and  another  600,000  in  jails)?     Deaths     In  his  message,  Nixon  lamented  1000  narcotics  deaths  in  New  York  City  in  1970.  There  were  an   estimated  38,000  drug  overdose  deaths  nationwide  in  2007.      


Drug  use     Nixon  did  not  say  how  many  drug  addicts  there  were.  But  he  said  his  initiative  “must  be  judged   by  the  number  of  human  beings  who  are  brought  out  of  the  hell  of  addiction,  and  by  the  number  of   human  beings  who  are  dissuaded  from  entering  that  hell.”  He  did  not  say  how  many  non-­‐addicted  drug   users  there  were  but  he  said  these  steps  would  “strengthen  our  efforts  to  root  out  the  cancerous   growth  of  narcotics  addiction  in  America.”  The  reality  that  the  majority  of  drug  users  were  not  destined   to  become  addicts  was  not  understood  or  was  disregarded.     Notwithstanding  these  efforts,  drug  use  continued  to  grow,  especially  marijuana  use,  and  later   cocaine  use.  In  2009,  there  were  21.8  million  users  of  illicit  drugs.       Veterans     Nixon  asked  for  $14  million  “to  make  the  facilities  of  the  Veterans  Administration  available  to  all   former  servicemen  in  need  of  drug  rehabilitation.”  Are  we  anywhere  near  meeting  the  needs  of   Veterans  with  substance  abuse  disorders  today?     International  initiatives     A  major  feature  of  Nixon’s  message  stressed  the  need  for  international  cooperation.  He   imagined  that  it  was  realistic  to  propose  an  “end  opium  production  and  the  growing  of  poppies”  as  an   international  goal.  He  noted  the  strong  U.S.  backing  of  the  “United  Nations  effort  against  the  world  drug   problem.”       Has  the  “balloon  effect”  has  rendered  successes,  such  as  the  elimination  of  Turkey  as  a  source  of   illicit  opium  and  France  as  a  center  of  heroin  production  for  U.S.  consumption,  into  disasters  for   emerging  producing  states?  Was  the  bloodshed  in  Mexico,  and  increasingly  in  Central  America,   predictable?     Does  the  international  control  regime  continue  to  make  sense?  Are  nations  in  Europe  and  Latin   America  slowly  abandoning  the  principles  of  the  U.N.  narcotics  treaties  in  favor  of  harm  reduction,   recognition  of  individual  liberty,  and  regulated  distribution  and  use?     Conclusion     State  legislatures  continue  to  pass  medical  marijuana  laws.  In  November  2010,  in  California,  46.5   percent  of  the  voters  supported  legalizing  marijuana,  and  polls  revealed  that  30  percent  of  “no”  voters   said  they  supported  legalization,  but  not  in  the  form  of  Proposition  19  that  was  on  the  ballot.     Public  support  for  this  important  and  expensive  public  policy  is  in  flux.  Many  states  are   recognizing  that  the  costs  of  punishment  and  imprisonment  are  now  excessive.       This  40th  anniversary  is  an  opportunity  for  America’s  journalistic  leaders  to  examine  and   comment  on  a  serious  public  health  problem  that  still  suffers  from  the  stigma  once  associated  with   leprosy,  tuberculosis  or  AIDS.       Please  contact  me  if  you  are  interested  in  writing  on  this.  I  can  also  refer  you  to  additional   sources.  Eric  E.  Sterling,  cell  202-­‐365-­‐2420,  esterling@cjpf.org    


40th Anniversary of Drug War News Coverage Ideas  

To news outlets that may be thinking about reviewing the war on drugs

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