Thomas Lucente: Drug war a deadly exercise in futility

September 25, 2009

I have little sympathy for governments complaining they do not have enough resources for their criminal justice systems.

It’s hard to feel bad for something suffering from a self-inflicted wound.

The criminal justice systems in the United States today have little to do with crime and more to do with naked power.

The U.S. imprisons more of its population than any other nation in the world, and that includes such wonderful countries as China, Libya, Iran, Russia and Cuba.


The failed war on drugs.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the war. Four decades and hundreds of billions of dollars later, what do we have to show for it?

Nothing but death, destruction and a growing disrespect for the law and those tasked with enforcing it.

We can debate until we are blue in the face about the cost of drugs to our society, but that debate is meaningless without a frank discussion of the cost of the drug war to our society.

A large percentage of those in state prisons, and the vast majority of those in federal prisons, is there on nonviolent drug offenses.

It is time the federal government and the states stopped waging war on the citizens of this country.

The war on drugs has caused more harm to the fabric of our society than the drugs themselves. More people are killed as a direct result of this nation’s ill-considered prohibition on drugs than are ever killed by drug abuse.

Take, for example, the drug methamphetamine. It is perhaps one of the most destructive drugs available.

Then why is it so popular?

Ease of access. The government has made the obtaining of other drugs a risky proposition. Meth, on the other hand, is easy and cheap to make. You can find many recipes online.

Given the choice between risking arrest or violence at a crack house or making your own high in your own kitchen at a cheap rate, and you can see why meth becomes a popular choice.

One disturbing aspect of the drug war is the federalization of our criminal justice system. In our republican form of government, criminal law has always been the purview of the states. The federal government did not even have its own prison until 1895.

Today, however, many drug laws are prosecuted in federal court and offenders sentenced to federal prisons.

Of the estimated 179,204 inmates as of Sept. 30, 2007, 95,446, or 53.26 percent, were there for drug offenses.

The federal government also ignores the will of the people. For example, California voters chose to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, the federal government has continued to arrest those selling and possessing marijuana in accordance with state law. Those raids continue despite President Barack Obama’s promise to end that policy.

Another disturbing trend stemming from the war on drugs is the growing militarization of our municipal police forces. Increasingly, specialized units wielding machine guns, body armor and even tanks and other military hardware are used to execute search and arrest warrants when it comes to drug violators.

Federal law wisely prohibits the military from engaging in most forms of domestic law enforcement. However, when police forces are armed with military weapons and engage in military-style tactics on American streets, is there really a difference?

In more enlightened nations where drugs have been legalized, or at least decriminalized, drug violence disappears and drug usage decreased.

There are valid reasons to oppose drug use. For example, drug use is unhealthy.

However, in creating laws, that is irrelevant. It is not government’s job to tell us what we can and cannot put into our bodies with a threat of a loss of liberty.

There is no legitimate state interest in drug prohibition. It certainly does not rise to the level of a federal offense.

It is time to end the drug war. All the police do is move the drug dealers around. Police close one drug house, two others open. Meanwhile, drug use in the United States continues to increase despite the $200 billion a year we spend fighting it.

If there is a government activity more futile than the drug war, I have yet to discover it.

Lucente blogs at and, and he can be heard on “Talk with Ron Williams” on WCIT-AM at 3:10 p.m. Thursdays (listen at

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