War on drugs aggravates crime, and inequality

As Ian Fleming once said, “Prohibition is the trigger of crime.”
Politicians seem to forget this on the campaign trail, where candidates cry, “I’m tough on crime” and “I’m tough on drugs.” As in the time of Prohibition, crime, gangs and illegal activities are flourishing, though now for one reason: the war on drugs.
Because the newest bandwagon for politicians to jump on is criminalizing drugs, nonviolent drug offenders are taking up huge amounts of space in prisons. Because of mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes” laws that guarantee ten years or more of imprisonment for “hard drug” use or sale, violent criminals are being returned to the streets. Our system of laws allows murderers to reduce their sentences or avoid punishment with defenses of insanity or sufficient provocation, but refuses to acknowledge that most drug users have compelling reasons to commit their crime.
Although the Drug Enforcement Agency argues that decriminalizing drugs would not reduce crime, the facts prove otherwise. For example, half of the crimes committed in 1988 in New York City were drug-related, according to the Judicial Process Commission based in Rochester, N.Y. Seventy-four percent of these crimes were not because of the effect of the drugs; in fact, there is irrefutable proof that the pharmacological properties of drugs rarely cause crime or death. Because of these facts, it is clear that crime rates would drop as prices, as well as the number of drug-money robberies, would plummet.
The war on drugs does more than keep crime rates high. It has other nasty side effects, including race- and class-based imprisonment, disease transmission and poor usage of forfeiture laws. By pressuring police departments to crack down on drug dealers, a racial and class imbalance in the rate of drug users jailed has become apparent. This imbalance can be attested to the probability that it is easier for the police to arrest drug dealers in the inner cities, where drugs are more visible. Controlling drugs and drug paraphernalia has also resulted in the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users. Because hypodermic needles are illegal without a prescription, old needles have to be re-used and shared. Forfeiture laws are particularly bad because in many states, such as California, the government can take possession of someone’s property for suspected drug use. The problems occur when property owners are killed in a drug raid or property is seized for minute amounts of marijuana.
Instead of spending huge amounts of money on prisons, law enforcement, punishment-orientated drug education, border controls, crime bills that call for the death penalty for drug dealers and the killing of drug kingpins, the government could reduce harm from drug use by controlling purity, making treatment easily accessible, providing needle exchange programs and introducing safe drug dens. These measures would help prevent crime and death from chemicals added to drugs, as well as help prevent deaths from fluctuations in concentrations, help control the spread of HIV and other diseases through intravenous drug users and keep people who are on drugs off the streets.
Although a drop in crime rates and an increase in the health and well-being of users would be enough reason to stop the war on drugs, the basic reasoning falls back to an ideal of free will and freedom of choice. The war on drugs is a push by the people and the government to set up a moral code and implement it by force. This moral code, which deems drugs evil, has created a society in which crime pays, gangs rule the streets and vast numbers of people are imprisoned. From overdoses and added chemicals to gang fights and quarrels over turf, prices and quality, the user is surrounded by death. All of this could be overcome by the decriminalization of drugs.

Melissa Rethlefsen,sophomore,College of Liberal Arts