The United States, the nation that calls itself “the land of the free” has the highest percentage of its citizens in prisons than any nation on Earth. With only 5% of the world’s population, the United States has 25% of the world’s prisoners, and 1 in 52 adults are either on probation or parole. The primary cause is the Drug War.
Since its inception, the Drug War has been used by the government to unjustly target certain segments of society. The have practically always been “temperance movements” which sought to use legislation to regulate or prohibit “vices.” Initially, the government attempted to legislate morality by prohibiting the Anglo-American’s drug of choice: alcohol. The United States passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting alcohol, but after seeing the destruction caused by the War on the Drug of Alcohol, when crime rates and criminal enterprises skyrocketed, the government quickly repealed alcohol prohibition by passing the 21st Amendment. As the majority in the United States were white, alcohol prohibition quickly ended. Nevertheless, that experiment set precedent to later establish rules and regulations governing other “vices,” especially those used or perceived to be used by minority populations.
History shows that in 1971 Richard Nixon initiated the War on Drugs to target those groups he wanted to extinguish from challenging his political power. Today, even merely being charged with a felony can effectively remove an individual from participation in the political process. Statistics clearly show that minorities are disproportionately charged, convicted and incarcerated for drug crimes. A greater percentage of African American males are incarcerated than any other segment, though Hispanic Americans account for a great percentage of those newly incarcerated due to the War on Drugs.
Most crimes associated with drugs today are merely the avoidable consequences of drug prohibition. Drug War Crimes are the easiest crimes the government can prove. There are usually no ‘victims’ that need to testify as the government is the victim. Only very rarely does the government need to prove intent. When indicting, prosecutors overcharge in order to obtain a conviction. Legally speaking, if there is not a Fourth Amendment challenge, the person charged with a drug crime will usually be found guilty. If the case makes it to trial, other than a chemist, there is very little scientific evidence required. And defense attorneys are prohibited from arguing the morality of the sentence, otherwise known as Jury Nullification, at trial. Many are convicted and serving life in prison today merely on charges of conspiracy without any evidence beyond the testimony of co-defendants, who have often been promised significantly reduced prison sentences in exchanges for their testimony – true or not.
The system is designed to ensure that convictions occur easily and remain undisturbed, as the chance of being freed on appeal or clemency is extremely rare.
The purpose of Drug War Stories is not necessarily to be controversial, though many of our positions may ultimately be just that. The purpose is to expose the inequities of the criminal justice system, known to some as the “criminal injustice system.” Juxtaposed against the ideals of individual liberty and freedom espoused by our democracy, the Drug War is often a profound violation of both individual and human rights.
Drug War Stories will examine the War on Drugs with a legal perspective that respects the ideals of liberty while focusing on the consequences of laws that far too often contradict and run counter to those ideals. Drug War Stories will examine the history of the Drug War, from the Marijuana Tax Act of the 1930s, to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, to the “get tough on crime” legislation of the 1980s and 1990s that resulted in mass incarceration, restrictions on appeals, and draconian mandatory minimum sentences after “three strikes.” These laws, almost without exception, are misguided at best and at worst a complete and utter rejection of the ideals of liberty we espouse.
Drug War Stories calls for the end of the War on Drugs. Criminalization and prohibition must be replaced by reason, compassion, and scientific and medical based practices focused on harm reduction.