June 17 will mark 40 years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as “public enemy No. 1,” officially declared a “war on drugs.” Activists say that a trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, the war on drugs shows no signs of ending — or of succeeding.
Drug policy reform advocates across the country will mark the date with a day of action to raise awareness about the failure of drug prohibition and call for an exit strategy to what they call a failed war.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary, drug policy reform organizations will hold a national day of action. Colorado joins 15 other states in holding events in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans. The day of action will be highlighted with a large-scale event with elected officials in Washington, D.C.
In Denver, a rally will be hosted by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and Drug Policy Alliance. A bipartisan group of speakers and concerned citizens, including Mike Krause of the Independence Institute, Mason Tvert from SAFER and Dr. Vincent Harding from the Iliff School of Theology, will discuss the impact of 40 years of drug prohibition.
“Since the declaration of this war, millions of people have been incarcerated for low-level drug violations, and trillions of dollars have been spent, but addiction, overdose and incarceration are more prevalent than ever,” says Pam Clifton, communications coordinator for the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. “Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in the United States due to drug overdose, Hepatitis C and AIDS because life-saving interventions were not readily available.”
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the federal government spent more than $15 billion in 2010 on the war on drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second. Individual states spent an estimated additional $25 billion. In 2009, 1,663,582 people were arrested across the country on drug charges. Since Dec. 31, 1995, the U.S. prison population has grown an average of 43,266 inmates per year, and about 25 percent of new inmates are sentenced for drug law violations. The U.S. incarcerates more people for drug offenses than the nations of the European Union lock up for all offenses combined. About 501 million people live in the E.U, and the U.S. population is about 309 million.
“Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Forty years after President Nixon declared his war on drugs, we’re seizing upon this anniversary to prompt both reflection and action. And we’re asking everyone who harbors reservations about the war on drugs to join us in this enterprise.”
In Colorado, 90 percent of incarcerated women were found to be in need of substance abuse treatment, and 69 per cent of people in Colorado prisons for drug offenses are people of color.
“The War on Drugs has created an environment in which police abuse civilians before asking questions,” says Art Way, Colorado manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The militarization and subsequent dehumanizing of law enforcement is a direct result of the political cover, equipment and resources provided by the war on drugs.”
For more information, see www.ccjrc.org.