Prohibition, cities, gangs, violence, and poverty

Veterans of drug policy reform are used to the accusation that the only motive for advocating reform is some kind of irresponsible libertine desire to be a druggie. And yet, in reality, even those reformers who do desire the legal right to responsibly use their drug of choice also tend to have powerful altruistic motives for making it legal.
The more we study the issue — the more we learn — the more we realize that the corrupting power of prohibition poisons every aspect of society and our world.
As Mary so nicely said in comments recently:

Until I started reading this site a little over a yr ago, I never even thought of the prospect of ending prohibition for all drugs. Medical MJ got me here… [… ] I’ve learned so much from y’all that I can speak to anyone intelligently about the issue, from a perspective that the individual can appreciate. Whether they are concerned about crime, civil/human rights, illegal immigration and border chaos, spending/deficits, taxes, healthcare, foreign policy, jobs, or education, I can relate the issue to the drug war and tell them why ending prohibition would be beneficial to their cause. I do it whenever I get the chance.

Exactly. We see the failures of drug policy everywhere we look.
Via TalkLeft comes an important report: Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies. In a nutshell:

Mass arrests, stiff prison sentences often served with other gang members and other strategies that focus on law enforcement rather than intervention actually strengthen gang ties and further marginalize angry young men, according to the Justice Policy Institute…

Now, for those of us who have been studying drug policy reform, this is no surprise. And the drug war implications are obvious.
Seeing the New York Times editorial on this today, Sam from Ithaca immediately catches what’s missing

Gets many things right, but fails to make the link to drug prohibition.

Both the editorial and the report are right. Enforcement is not the long-term solution that law-and-order advocates delusionally promote, whether it’s related to problemmatic drug use or gang activity. But both the report and the editorial miss the powerful potential strategy of drug policy reform to reducing gang violence. (Note: the report does spend some time discussing drug trafficking in gangs, saying that it’s not so much gang controlled, but rather that gang members tend to be heavily involved in black market drug trafficking individually and that influences overall gang action. Eliminating prohibition would be a major public safety strategy related to gangs that is overlooked in this otherwise good report.)
And this brings me in a slightly meandering way to a major proposal on poverty unveiled yesterday by Presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Now Barack Obama, in many ways, has been one of the most frustrating political figures to me. He should be a magnificent leader. Having grown up with the difficulties of race and having used marijuana and cocaine as a youth, Obama found a way to get past that and become a United States Senator. He, of all people, should understand how prohibition robs hope and yet he has a history of actually bragging about pushing for tougher sentences for drug violations, effectively denying others the same opportunity he had. He is, after all, a politician. And a politician who has admitted to using drugs tends to demand that others be punished for doing that same thing — it’s political cover. So while Kucinich and Gravel call for major reform, and Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton call for some reform, Obama is silent.
But on to his speech yesterday.

What‰s most overwhelming about urban poverty is that it‰s so difficult to escape š it‰s isolating and it‰s everywhere. If you are an African-American child unlucky enough to be born into one of these neighborhoods, you are most likely to start life hungry or malnourished. You are less likely to start with a father in your household, and if he is there, there‰s a fifty-fifty chance that he never finished high school and the same chance he doesn‰t have a job. Your school isn‰t likely to have the right books or the best teachers. You‰re more likely to encounter gang-activities than after-school activities. And if you can‰t find a job because the most successful businessman in your neighborhood is a drug dealer, you‰re more likely to join that gang yourself. Opportunity is scarce, role models are few, and there is little contact with the normalcy of life outside those streets.
What you learn when you spend your time in these neighborhoods trying to solve these problems is that there are no easy solutions and no perfect arguments.

Read it again as a drug policy reformer and note how prohibition permeates the situation — fathers, jobs, streets, gangs, opportunities, role models.
To us, it’s self-evident. We need to do something about the drug war. Obama, however, unveils a multi-part proposal involving early childhood progams, jobs programs, earned income tax credits, affordable housing funds and small business loans. Good stuff. But incomplete.
He notes that his proposals will not come cheap (his urban agenda comes in at about $6 billion per year) but says “we will find the money to do this because we can‰t afford not to.”
And still the obviousness of the potential solutions are screaming at us. Without even getting into the specifics of how good Obama’s individual recommendations are, just consider how ending prohibition would fit into this…
We keep fathers in homes with their children instead of in prison. We de-fund black-market drug trafficking, eliminating the criminal role model and much of the gang incentive. With violence reduced, businesses are more apt to move in, resulting in more legitimate jobs and less poverty. Staying in school becomes more valuable. Opportunities increase. Now, on top of that, imagine taking some portion of the $30-$60 billion spent each year on the drug war and channeling it into early childhood programs and small business loans and you’re looking at an urban agenda that has some real power.
A leader with vision would see this.
But for now, we the people have the vision — a crystal clear image that we must painstakingly attempt to describe to our political servants… pathetic creatures infected with hysterical blindness and deafness, stumbling about in their own darkness.

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One Response to Prohibition, cities, gangs, violence, and poverty

  1. Hey there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

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