The war on drugs has failed, is unjust

Applause for the opinions pieces about drugs, “Is drug legalization the answer?” in the Nov. 18 issue of the Daily.
I’m a University student currently on exchange to Hunter College in New York City where I’m taking a class on drug policy in the United States. This class, combined with my experience in New York, has shown me that the federal government’s war on drugs has definitely taken its toll.
Unfortunately, the toll is not what it is supposed to be. The drug war has not eliminated drug supply and use, it has aggravated racial and class divisions.
Take a minute and think — who do you see when you think of a drug dealer? Do you see someone who’s poor? Do you see someone who’s black? Latino? Inner-city or suburban?
The drug war has failed because it targets people with no other means to get by and it targets people with addiction. It attempts to cut the supply of drugs and tries to lower drug use by raising the prices of drugs to a point where they’re unaffordable. It hasn’t worked.
People find ways to afford drugs no matter how high the cost. Since interdiction alone doesn’t work, the courts punish the individual user and street dealer. This hasn’t solved the drug problem either because there are just too many people using and selling drugs to possibly prosecute them all effectively.
The drug war is a practice in futility, and a frightening one. Do we realize the gravity of what we’re saying when we ask the government to get tougher on drugs? Reagan amended the posse comitatus act (an act that has kept the military out of civil law for a hundred years) so the military could get involved in the drug war. Shouldn’t this scare us? Once the military becomes involved in one civil arena it’s easier to become involved in another.
Our constitutional rights are also suffering: fourth amendment rights not to be subject to unlawful search and seizure and Eighth Amendment rights not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment.
Is it not unlawful search and seizure when the police “sweep” the Lower East Side of New York City by gathering up a group of people with no probable cause? If a person has no drugs, authorities let them go; if a person has drugs, more “offenders” are arrested.
Isn’t it odd that the Lower East Side is a very poor area and sweeps never happen in the area just north of it, which is middle class? Is it not cruel and unusual punishment when a young woman, with no previous record, is arrested for driving a relative to purchase drugs and is sentenced to ten years in prison because of federally mandated minimums. Judges have quit the bench because they disagreed with this “justice.”
Why aren’t people angry over this? Why do they feel the need to propel it? The drug war has obviously been lost and the harm that it’s doing is going to take a long time to repair.
Look at our own cities — St. Paul and Minneapolis have very small minority populations, yet they fill the majority of our prisons. Shouldn’t this terrify people? We’re just prosecuting instead of searching for a new way to deal with the drug issue? It frightens me.

Sara Hurley is a CLA sophomore living in New York City.