Too proud to surrender, too dumb to know it's lost 

The War on Drugs

I guess I just look guilty — of what, I'm not sure. But over the last 25 or 30 years I have been pulled over at least six or eight times (always at night) by The Man, wanting to know who I was and where I was going and why I was driving on the public streets at that hour.

On several of those occasions, I was driving a red convertible, which was pretty alarming in a conservative Southern town. On another, I had a black friend in the passenger seat, and whenever you have a white guy and a black guy in a car together at night, you know they're up to no good. Of course, I was never charged with anything, but each occasion did give the officer the chance to check my papers, get a good whiff of me and my car, and use his flashlight to see the visible contents of my vehicle.

On each of these occasions, I asked the officer why I was being stopped. Each time I got some half-assed excuse — usually something about "weaving within your lane."

I always chalked it up to another encounter with America's endless war on drugs.

Richard Nixon declared that "war" in 1970. Since then we have spent over a trillion dollars arresting, trying, and incarcerating Americans. The result? Drugs are now cheaper and more plentiful than ever. And our civil liberties are more vulnerable than ever. In the war on terror you at least have to have a Middle Eastern look to be profiled and pulled over. In the war on drugs, you just have to have a pulse.

Think about it: If they would stop a middle-aged white guy in a Miata, what would they do to a young black dude in an old Bonneville with tinted windows and chrome rims? Indeed, part of the travesty of the war on drugs is the disparity in arrests, convictions, and sentencing between blacks and whites. In Charleston County, you are 24 times more likely to go to jail or prison for a drug offense if you are black than if you are white, according to the South Carolina ACLU. (To see more ACLU statistics on the human toll of the drug war in South Carolina, go to my blog.)

In 2006, South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a right-wing lobbying group based in Columbia, sent mailers to District 119 voters in West Ashley, accusing Democratic House candidate Leon Stavrinakis of giving money to a pro-drug special interest group. The flyer featured a picture of a tightly rolled joint.

The scurrilous attack was based on the fact that Stavrinakis had been a member of the Charleston County Council that had voted to give $500 to South Carolinians for Drug Law Reform, a registered lobbying group working to legalize all drugs. Stavrinakis said that he was appalled at the donation and appalled at the attack linking him to it, but the incident demonstrated the level of public discourse on drugs in this state.

Little has changed since 2006. Last Wednesday evening, the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area sponsored a forum on the Criminality of Drug Use at Charleston County Public Library. Speakers included retired St. Augustine, Fla., chief of police Jerry Cameron, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP); local pastor and former drug addict Thomas A. Dixon; and Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen and North Charleston Chief Jon Zumalt.

Cameron came equipped with a devastating array of statistics and a PowerPoint demonstration to show the wasted effort and wasted money of the four-decade-long drug war: In 1970, four million Americans had used drugs; today it's 114 million. In 1970, America spent $100 million fighting drugs; today we spend $70 billion a year. Cocaine costs 60 percent less and heroin 70 percent less than they did in 1970.

In 1914, when America passed its first drug law, 1.3 percent of the population was addicted to some form of drug, Cameron said. By 1970, when the war on drugs began, 1.3 percent of the population remained addicted. Today? It's still 1.3 percent. (See more stats at leap.cc).

The other three gentlemen gave personal anecdotes about seeing the suffering that drugs cause and the crime and mayhem that drug addicts commit to feed their habits. All were interesting stories, but totally irrelevant. The three men are too heavily invested in the war on drugs to see, or to admit, the futility and waste in what they are doing. To end the war on drugs would mean the end of much of their power, influence, and funding.

With political and law enforcement leadership such as this, the war on drugs will be with us for at least another generation. It's a gift we can pass to our children along with the national debt.

See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.


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