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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

June 29, 2011 1 comment

Article V of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution (also known as ‘the fifth’) states quite explicitly that: “No Person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law… ” This prohibition is repeated in paragraph 1 of Article XIV (the fourteenth amendment) in admonitions to the States, and tacks the now famous ‘equal protection’ clause on to the end for good measure. We commonly interpret this to mean that, as U.S. citizens, we are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and that we should all be treated and tried equally under the law without regard to race, gender, religious affiliation, or wealth.

So when a cop showed up at his son’s school and clapped the irons onto Louis Gonzalez III without so much as a by your leave, he must have thought he’d been transported to a third world country. He received no Miranda warning, no explanation of why he was being deprived of his liberty and, as soon as he arrived in the jail holding cell, his property. Only after he’d been stripped naked and dressed in prison scrubs was he, hours later, dragged into a briefing room where a police detective told him why he was arrested and finally ‘read him his rights’. The cop was, as all cops are, convinced he was guilty. The LA Times, in an excellent piece of reporting, describes Gonzalez’s ordeal this way:

He was standing on the sidewalk outside the Simi Valley Montessori School, having just flown in from Las Vegas, hoping to get a look at his 5-year-old son’s new kindergarten. Standing there, waiting for the door to open so he could scoop the boy up in his arms and fly him to Nevada for the weekend.

The first officer arrived on a motorcycle and headed straight for him. He did not explain the charges as he snapped on the handcuffs. As Gonzalez stood there stunned, he noticed little faces pressed against the schoolhouse glass, watching, and asked if he could be moved just a bit so his son didn’t have to see.

Soon he’d surrendered all the items that tethered him reassuringly to the rational, workaday world. The BlackBerry he used a hundred times a day. His Dolce & Gabbana watch. His credit cards and photos of his son. His leather shoes and his socks, his pressed shirt and jacket, his belt and slacks and underwear. Naked in a holding cell, he watched his things disappear into plastic bags. He stepped into a set of black-and-white-striped jail scrubs, the kind his son might wear on Halloween.

A month passed in his single-bunk cell, and then another, and he had nothing but time to reckon all he’d lost. His freedom. His son. His job. His reputation. He had to wonder how much he could endure.

The other inmates in the solitary wing of the Ventura County Jail didn’t talk about their cases, because anyone might be a snitch, but his charges were well-known on the cellblock. More than once, they warned him about what awaited if he were convicted and sent to state prison. With a sex crime on his jacket, he knew, he would be a target forever.

“Like you’re waiting for death,” he said. “Dying would probably be better.”

[…]

If Gonzalez was presumed innocent under the law, the Ventura County Jail did not expect other inmates to honor that distinction. He was held in a segregated unit and received his meals through a slot in the heavy metal door. He wore a red-striped wristband denoting a violent offense. An hour a day, the doors opened so he could shower and make phone calls.

Now and then he could hear people going crazy in their cells, kicking their doors, screaming on and on until they had to be removed. He thought of himself as mentally sturdy, a survivor, but knew how easily anyone could crack. So he crammed every waking hour with routine. He read out-of-date newspapers and John Grisham novels and the Bible. He made a paper chess set and stood at the crack in his cell door, calling out moves to opponents down the corridor.

He listened to other inmates dwelling on the food they missed. One guy would say, “TGI Fridays, calamari,” the others would groan, and it went on like that for hours.

He learned a rule about surviving lockup: Never take a daytime nap, no matter how tired you are. Because you might not sleep that night, and you’d be left for hours in the dark of a cold cell with only your thoughts and your fear.

[…]

In his single-bunk cell in the Ventura County Jail, on a concrete slab desk, Louis Gonzalez III found himself compulsively writing letters to his 5-year-old son. They were a chronicle of their truncated time together. Telling him how they’d cheered for the Yankees. How his favorite toy had been a mechanical garbage truck. How he’d been a picky eater from the start, but crazy for Cheerios. He never mailed them.

He imagined his son in the cell with him, pushing around his Hot Wheels. In the silence and the isolation, his dream life had acquired surprising vividness. He could almost hear the little plastic wheels on the concrete.

He had a recurring fantasy. He saw himself in prison, 10 or 15 years from now, his conviction long since sealed, his appeals denied. His son, grown into a young man, would be his salvation, would take it upon himself to look into the case. He’d show up and say, “Mom admitted that she lied.”

Gonzalez, an innocent man, would spend 83 days in a tiny, solitary cell, deprived of everything that helps keep us sane: Family, useful employment, entertainment, interacting with other human beings, and for most of us, room to move around. (Most jail cells are no more than six feet by eight feet.) And he was treated better than many. I recently interviewed a young man, also innocent, who had spent ten days in the Sacramento County jail, fending off repeated rape attempts by other inmates. Being ignorant of the ways ‘inside’, he reported the first attempt to one of the jailers and was laughed at. “What do you want me to do? You’re in here to be punished,” the jailer scoffed.

Like Gonzalez, there had been no trial, no conviction by the Constitutionally mandated jury of his peers. But in the eyes of the jailers, the cops, the DA, and pretty much everyone else, both men were already “in [there] to be punished” for the crimes of which they were accused.

And in Gonzalez case, even having the charges dropped, even getting a judgment against his accuser ordering her to pay his legal fees for the false accusation didn’t undo the damage. Eventually his defense team would win a judgment of ‘factual innocence’ for him: A legal statement proclaiming his innocence. It would save his career, but the damage done to his reputation, the fact that he’d ‘done time’—83 days of time—with all that meant in the eyes of the public, could never be undone.

global prison populationSome will say that all of this is necessary for the public safety. To which I must reply: Is it? As can be seen from the graph at right, the United States incarcerates eight times the numbers of people found in European prisons. And yet, the crime rates are comparable. The French were furious when videos of former IMF president, and French citizen, Dominique Strauss-Kahn were broadcast around the world showing him being led around in hand cuffs by New York police. In France the accused are the accused, not the guilty. For a French citizen to be treated like a criminal before conviction is unthinkable. And yet somehow, even though they don’t attempt to drive those accused of a crime insane with solitary confinement, boredom, and constant threats to their safety, their society doesn’t seem to suffer from a constant plague of crimes committed by the accused.

America likes to think of herself as a shining beacon on a hill, as President Reagan once put it. An example for all the world to look to of liberty, with justice for all. But if the Gonzalez case proves nothing else, it shows us how far away from that shining beacon we have strayed. Had Gonzalez not been wealthy enough to fund out of pocket legal expenses greater than most of us could borrow for a new car; had he, like so many Americans, been dependent upon public defenders—who are known to the poor as “public defectors”—he most certainly would have been convicted. Because in American we do not get equal treatment under the law. We are not innocent until proven guilty. We are guilty until proven innocent, and that is exactly how we are treated; and we only have the best justice system money can buy.

Which is why our prisons are full of, not rich people, but of the poor.

New Bill in Congress to End Marijuana Prohibition

June 22, 2011 Leave a comment

A bill co-authored by Representatives Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) to be introduced tomorrow (June 23, 2011) would end the long standing Federal prohibition on Marijuana cultivation and use, returning control to the States, according to a breaking news story just out in the San Jose Mercury news. The bill’s co-sponsors are John Conyers (D-Mich.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland).

“The human cost of the failed drug war has been enormous -egregious racial disparities, shattered families, poverty, public health crises, prohibition-related violence, and the erosion of civil liberties. And of course the cost in dollars and cents has been staggering as well – over a trillion dollars spent to incarcerate tens of millions of young people,” Lee said Wednesday. “I co-sponsored this bipartisan legislation because I believe it is time to turn the page from this failed drug war.”

You can read the original article here.

 

Categories: War On Drugs Tags:

LP Press Release: The War On Drugs

June 17, 2011 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON – June 17, 2011 is the 40th anniversary of America’s War on Drugs. Libertarian Party Chair Mark Hinkle issued the following statement today:

“On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a ‘War on Drugs,’ which has become a relentless violation of the lives and property of Americans, including many who have never taken illegal drugs. These violations continue under President Barack Obama, an admitted former cocaine user who has shown no hesitation in throwing people into prison — a punishment he might have suffered had he been caught. Moreover, although promising to respect medical marijuana use in states where voters have approved it, the Obama administration has already conducted close to 100 raids on patients, growers, and compassion centers in those states.

“America’s first experiment in prohibition involved alcohol, and is widely recognized as a failure. Approved in 1919, Prohibition I led to a steady rise in both alcohol usage and violent crime. The murder rate rose 50% between 1919 and 1933, peaking at 9.7 murders per 100,000 population in 1933, when the country finally decided enough was enough. Immediately after the repeal of Prohibition I, gangsterism went into a swift decline, with all of the major gangs disappearing within 18 months, and the murder rate dropping every single year for more than a decade.

“Prohibition II — the War on Drugs — has been another tragedy. We applaud the efforts of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of current and former police, prosecutors, judges, DEA agents, and others, which issued a 20-page report this month detailing the tragic results of this misguided crusade, entitled ‘Ending the Drug War: a Dream Deferred.’

“In their report, LEAP documented some of the measurable costs: over a million people arrested each year, a trillion dollars spent, and drug gangsterism at a level that dwarfs its alcohol equivalent and which has led to a bloodbath in Mexico that is spilling over into the United States. Not because of drugs, but because of drug laws. And over 120 million Americans have used illicit drugs: only the most deluded observer believes the laws have curbed drug abuse, and only the cruelest believes that 40% of the American population belongs in prison. No wonder 67% of police chiefs say the War on Drugs is a failure.

“Ultimately, of course, this tragedy is the result of our government’s refusal to allow people to engage in peaceful choices as to what they consume. Even if drug use were to rise upon a return to the American tradition of tolerance that existed before the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act, our streets would be safer, innocent people would not have their homes raided and pets killed by narcotics agents entering the wrong house, victims of asset forfeiture laws wouldn’t have their houses and other assets seized without due process, and resources would be freed to spend on improving peoples’ lives instead of destroying them.

“Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drug use, including substances classified as hard drugs. As a Cato Report entitled ‘Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies’ showed, drug use dropped over the next several years and the Portuguese now use marijuana at lower levels than Americans use cocaine.

“It only took Americans 14 years to realize the insanity of Prohibition I. Both practical considerations and simple human decency demand that our government end Prohibition II now.”

2012 Election Here We Come! Yawn!

June 16, 2011 3 comments

I don’t know about you, but the 2012 election cycle is already winding up, and I’m seriously bored with it already. Last time the Democrats pilloried Bush, this time the Republican machine is busy pillorying Obama. Last time Bush couldn’t do anything right and in his eight years in office had ‘destroyed the country’, this time Obama has ‘destroyed the country’ in his short three year term. Of course. Bush didn’t do anything right; Obama isn’t doing anything right. Yawn! Bush had the country ‘headed in the wrong direction’ and now so does Obama. Spare me!

Can these idiots grow up already? Did President Bush make mistakes? Yes. Some doozies! Has Obama made mistakes? Of course. Did either destroy the country? Hell no. Get real! In point of fact, more damage is done by the Congress, which now runs in perpetual election mode (thanks in no small part to talk radio and the 24/7 news cycles), than gets done by the dude in the White House. The Republicans in Congress have turned (their limited understanding of) supply side economics into a ‘no new taxes!’ religion and have completely overlooked many of the important lessons of Austrian economics and economists such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Jude Wanniski, amongst others. Meanwhile the Democrats treat John Maynard Keynes as a God and think government manipulation (through spending, of course) can solve virtually every problem—including tooth decay. And in the end, we get not the best of both—which would be refreshing—but neither. We get a messed up hodgepodge that not only doesn’t deal with the very real economic problems we’re confronted with, but has an obnoxious habit of making them worse.

So color me completely enthused with this coming election cycle, where we get to repeat the finger pointing, the character assassination, the twin epidemics of selective recall and rewriting of history.

What I’d really like to see is a new drug: An injection that compels the candidates to debate the facts about the various theories surrounding the issues that face us.

Now that would be fun to see!

Categories: The Elections Tags: , ,

The World’s First Global Currency

June 9, 2011 2 comments

bitcoin logo

It actually started back in 2008 when a hacker named Satoshi Nakamoto (which is believed to be a pseudonym) got a crazy idea. Given the success and complete inability of the world’s governments to make a dent in bit torrent file sharing, why not have a bit coin: A digital currency that, like bit torrent, is traded peer to peer, buyer to seller, exactly like you trade paper money today. It became known as Bitcoin, an anonymous digital currency that is securely exchanged using encrypted keys. No third parties are involved: No banks or credit card companies taking their cut and recording your deposits and withdrawals, no “Fed” manipulating the money supply; just the “currency” that two parties agree to use as compensation for the exchange of goods and services.

The number of Bitcoins in circulation is always known, and following the Austrian School of economic thought, and the work of famed economist Milton Friedman, will slowly increase to some 21 million, where it will be capped. A fact that, as Bitcoin has increased in popularity, has led to its rise against all the major currencies.

Until recently, the only form of the e-currency was virtual. Your Bitcoins were kept in your “ewallet” on your computer, or in a third party ewallet, or both. But there was nothing physical to hold on to. No handbills were available that you could walk into a store with. But in mid 2011 a new site launched offering BitBills. “With Bitbills,” the site claims, “you can transfer bitcoins in person, just like cash!” As of this writing, the site was taking preorders for the bills.

So, just how important is Bitcoin? What difference does/can it make in our increasingly well policed and regulated world? Up until this week most people would have probably said very little. As MIT’s Technology Today put it back in May:

“It might have a niche as a way to pay for certain technical services,” says Roberts, adding that even limited success could allow Bitcoin to change the fate of more established currencies. “Competition is good, even between currencies—perhaps the example of Bitcoin could influence the behavior of the Federal Reserve.”  —Technology Today, May 25, 2011

Others have larger visions of what the digital currency is capable of:

The governments of the world are on the brink of losing the ability to look into the economy of their citizens. They stand to lose the ability to seize assets, they stand to lose the ability to collect debts. No application of force in the world is going to help: everything is encrypted, and destroying a computer with any amount of police firepower will accomplish zilch.

All the world’s weapons in all the world’s police hands are useless against the public’s ability to keep their cryptographic economy to themselves. Won’t make a scratch.

If you thought the wars over knowledge and culture were intense, I believe we’ll see much more interesting events unfold in the coming decade. The decentralized, uncontrollable economy where one lifetime employment is no longer central to every human being is something I’ve called the swarm economy, and I predict it will redefine society to an immensely larger extent than the ability to get rap music for free.  Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge calls e-currency “the Napster of Banking” (May 11, 2011)

Tech guru Jason Calacanis at LAUNCH recently claimed:

  1. Bitcoin is a technologically sound project.
  2. Bitcoin is unstoppable without end-user prosecution.
  3. Bitcoin is the most dangerous open-source project ever created.
  4. Bitcoin may be the most dangerous technological project since the internet itself.
  5. Bitcoin is a political statement by technotarians (technological libertarians).
  6. Bitcoins will change the world unless governments ban them with harsh penalties.

He goes on to point out the benefits. Benefits governments fear:

  • Your coins can’t be frozen (like a Paypal account can be)
  • Your coins can’t be tracked
  • Your coins can’t be taxed
  • Transaction costs are extremely low (sorry credit card companies)

Others disagree, and claim Bitcoin is nothing more than an empty box (rather like all Fed driven currencies?):

A BitCoin is a highly trustworthy certificate—or at least it would be, if there were any commodity to certify. A BitCoin is a little like a very well sealed, very well documented box with nothing inside. Now, if there were a way to put something in the box, BitCoins could become a very good currency, but the current incarnation of the technology does not allow for this to occur. A good analogy for a marketplace using BitCoins would be to imagine a group that plays “catch” with an imaginary “ball” (a game I remember playing a few times back in elementary school), except that instead of playacting, the group actually believes they are playing catch.  — Grant Babcock, OpenMarket.Org, June 3, 2011

Detractors not withstanding, the e-currency is starting to move in some pretty high circles. “The thing to note is that Bitcoin has real, and actual, value. Currently a Bitcoin (BTC) is trading at around $15,” Wall Street Journal blogger Ben Rooney recently wrote. “One other way you can tell that it is getting traction,” he goes on to say. ”is when politicians start to take note and then inevitably try to ban it.” Indeed, The Chicago Tribune reported this morning that “Two senators are pressing federal authorities to crack down on an online black market and ‘untraceable’ digital currency known as Bitcoins after reports that they are used to buy illegal drugs anonymously.” And the DEA, according to the same article, “is ‘absolutely” concerned about Bitcoins and other anonymous digital currencies, agency spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said when asked for a response to the senators’ concerns.” So, though at the moment it’s only a small contingent in the U.S. Government that is exorcised about “anonymous digital currencies,” it would appear that Falkvinge’s prophecies may, at least in part, come true. And, as Rooney rightly observes, there probably is something to anything a government fears.

Because even our right to buy and sell anonymously with cash has been restricted by the government. Deposit more than a few thousand dollars in cash into your bank account and it triggers red flags at the bank, who then reports the transaction, electronically, to federal authorities which, in turn, triggers an audit of all your accounts for “suspicious activity”. Proudly take those savings of yours down to the car dealer to buy a car in cash (a once proud American tradition) and the dealership, like the bank, must report you. Legal tender is, in our post 9/11 police state, only mostly legal.

So it should come as a surprise to no one that Big Brother takes a dim view of anything that might allow the masses to conduct their own lives in their own way without constant surveillance and supervision—all in the name of our “protection,” of course. True, all such unsupervised activity means, by definition, that there will be illegal activity. But it is worth noting that even after trashing our Constitution, spying on our own people, searching their cars, homes, and cell phones without warrants, and putting more people in jail than any other country on earth, little has been accomplished other than an exponential increase in government power and a massive shift in wealth to a very few, very powerful people. It has made no difference in the amount of crime.

Bitcoin may or may not be the end all and be all global currency of the future. But it is certainly easy to understand why it is finally gaining traction amongst those who believe that their right to run their own lives as they see fit, without Big Brother watching their every move.

Rhetorical Extremism—Again

June 6, 2011 Leave a comment

A politician can’t open his or her mouth these days without blaming “the other side” for everything that’s wrong with everything that’s wrong. Then there’s the endless trail of activist groups, each with their no compromise message on whatever it is they’re not going to compromise on, and you end up right where we are today.

Example? The Illinois Gambling legislation. The chowder heads who are supporting it claim it will put an apple pie on every table, clear acne, save the world, and even do your dishes. Meanwhile, the chowder heads who are against it claim it will turn your face into one big pimple boil, wither the apples on the vine, and of course, destroy the world as we know it.

It doesn’t take a wit the size of Einstein’s to realize the claims of both side are as wrong as they are ridiculous. But it does take some work to figure out where some concept of truth, or at least logical potential outcomes, might be found. And there in lies the rub. Most people aren’t even interested in educating themselves about issues, never mind getting off their fat, lazy asses and doing something constructive to participate in our democracy. For over half the population even going to a polling station once every two years is entirely too much work—never mind that, for a large percentage that do go, they have no more idea who or what they’re voting for than they can glean from reading what’s been printed on the ballot. Or maybe they’ll take some partisan “voter’s guide” to the polls with them because they identify as liberal or conservative and so whatever the fearless leaders of their band say must be right. Or worse yet, they’ll have “educated” themselves on the issues and candidates (I use that term loosely) by listened some drooling idiot on talk radio.

You want to know what’s “wrong” with our country? This is exactly it. A lazy citizenry who either can’t be bothered or no longer knows how to educate themselves on the critical issues in front of us. They either do not participate or, if they do, they spend all their time listening to the likes of Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh; what serves for news comes from equally partisan outlets like the Andrew Breitbart’s “Bigs” (Big Journalism, Big Government, etc.) or the Huffington Post. They don’t seek out the arguments of all sides; they don’t thirst for academic and research data on the subject; they’re not interested in facts or the reasonable theories of those who have spent their life trying to understand the issue and what the results of various proposed solutions might be. And yet, this is exactly what a functional democracy requires of its citizens.

We have, as I told a friend today, the government we deserve. Its shallowness echos the shallowness of the citizens. The uncompromising partisan divides in government are but echos the divisions of the people themselves who are no longer willing to consider that maybe, just maybe, the arguments of other side might contain some wisdom. And until we the people get beyond our laziness, our insistence that our side and our side alone holds the salvation of the nation in its hands, there will be no real solutions to anything.

The War On Drugs: A War On Who?

June 5, 2011 1 comment

Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this straight: We’ve been fighting the so called “War On Drugs” for forty years. Yet, despite the fact that we spend nearly $100 billion a year on this “war”; despite the fact that we now have the highest incarceration rate in the world (yes the world; that means more than North Korea, Vietnam, Iran, and so on), with 20% of the 2.5 million people serving time doing so for drug related offenses; and despite repeated studies by the RAND Corporation and the National Research Council dating back as far as 1986, and this last week the Global Commission on Drug Policy, all showing the inefficacy of drug interdiction and harsh punishments in reducing drug use…  Despite all this, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy still insists that “Making drugs more available … will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.” In other words, the “War On Drugs” must continue.

The question is, why?

It would be easy to, as many do, simply write it off as politics. There’s a lot of money being poured into many government agencies to “fight” this “war”, and government agencies watch their funding sources as closely as any mother hen her eggs. That’s undeniable. But it’s also only part of the story. Some actually believe that:

[Just because] the cost of engaging in a “drug war” is, in dollars and cents, a tremendous economic burden and, as a tool of public policy, of doubtful effect. That does not mean that because a government effort directed at solving a social evil is both costly and of little effect that it should be abandoned, but it does (or should) force us to conduct a very critical cost-benefit analysis as part of our decision-making process.

Ultimately, all of these points are component parts of the national public policy. The legitimate police power of the state, if you are a traditional, Blackstonian, common-law theorist, is that the civil government may not declare evil that which is good nor declare good that which is evil. Good and evil are determined by the revealed Word of God in the Holy Bible and Christianity is the expression of that revelation. —John A. Sterling

In other words, for those like Mr. Sterling, this is a Holy Crusade and efficacy is less important than doing (what these people believe to be) God’s Will.

Others claim that there is a direct correlation between the “War On Drugs” and drug use. Over on Opposing Views David Evans of the Drug Free Schools Coalition claims that:

The facts in the US provide for much optimism: drug control has reduced casual use, chronic use and addiction, and prevented others from starting to use drugs. Drug use in the US is down by more than a third since the late 1970s. This means that 9.5 million fewer people use illegal drugs and cocaine use has been reduced by an astounding 70% resulting in 4.1 million fewer people using cocaine.

This of course flies in the face of every major reputable study done in the U.S. (see above) and Europe and is a bit like President Obama’s statistically vacuous and oft repeated claim of how many jobs he has “created or saved.” There is simply no way to know how many people have opted not to use drugs directly and specifically because of the “War On Drugs” anymore than there is a way to know how many jobs were “saved” directly and specifically because of the Obama administration’s policies. The fact is, to quote from the Global Commission on Drug Policy:

Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use.

So let’s quit kidding ourselves, shall we?

Despite all interdiction efforts, marijuana is now “by far the largest cash crop in the United States,” according to data published by the USDA. In fact, it is “ …the top 3 cash [crop] in 30 states, and one of the top 5 cash crops in 39 states.” And somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 Americans (depending on who you believe) use marijuana either recreationally or medicinally, or both. It is now legal in 16 states and a phenomenal 80% of the public now approves of legalization for medical use, according to several major polls.

Clearly, while people aren’t interested in having their streets and towns invaded by drug gangs, or crack houses for neighbors, attitudes about drug use and what should be done about it are shifting, in this country and overseas. Tolerance for governments trying to pummel their people into submission on moral grounds as was attempted with the 18th Amendment (prohibition) is fading fast, and with it patience for treating victimless “offenders” the same as murders and rapists.

The irony here is that, this is a lesson that should have been learned centuries ago. In Utopia, one of the best read books in 16th Century Europe, Saint Sir Thomas More writes:

I must say, extreme justice is an extreme injury: for we ought not to approve of those terrible laws that make the smallest offences capital, nor of that opinion of the Stoics that makes all crimes equal; as if there were no difference to be made between the killing a man and the taking his purse, between which, if we examine things impartially, there is no likeness nor proportion.

If More’s first object in the discussion is to point out that the punishment should fit the crime, his second is that any punishment is a poor substitute for causal remedies. Incarcerating substance abusers doesn’t deal with their propensity for addiction. Branding the poor inner city kid who peddles dope as a trafficker for the rest of his life so he can’t get a job, can’t get funding for an education, and can’t get a drivers license to do any of those things anyway does little to encourage him to do anything but return to the street, embittered, wizened, and hardened. Insisting that a drug that almost as many people use like alcohol, think of as being no worse (and in some ways better) than alcohol, is equal to methamphetamine makes criminals of productive, law abiding citizens. It destroys careers and families; sucks the life out of local economies; and all to no positive effect.

And that’s a good summary of the “War On Drugs”. It has sucked trillions of dollars out of our economy. It has ruined millions of lives. And all to no positive effect that can be measured save through political dissembling or religious sophistry.