The anti drug movement in this country has created a system where we're basically encouraging people to go back to drugs - selling and using. Earlier today, I watched a documentary called How To Make Money Selling Drugs, and it talks a lot about this. I didn’t really know anything about it before I started watching it – I read about it in the news last night and thought I would see what it was about. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be serious and was really going to try to tell people how to make money, or if it was supposed to be ironic and wasn’t promoting drug use or drug dealing whatsoever. I assumed it was going to be more of an irony, but with all of the things that are made today, you never know.
Simply put, the documentary was pretty fascinating. This isn’t a political website of any sorts, but I do tend to have strong opinions about drug laws, sentencing and treatment, or lack thereof, for drug addicts and anti drug laws. The film really does start out explaining how someone can make millions dealing drugs. The clips that are interspersed throughout the video, though, are people who have been in prison for drug offenses and/or were addicted to drugs at some point in their life. Sure, some of them made millions and knew people who made millions, but they all end up in the same place – prison.
The documentary is mainly taking aim at the Rockefeller drug laws that were passed in New York decades ago, as well as the similar stance that many states in the United States have taken. The stance, in so many words, is that the possession and distribution of narcotics is unacceptable, and people who break these laws deserve to spend more time in jail than people who rape and murder people. That’s not officially what any law says, but that’s pretty much what it should say. By promoting these incredibly harsh laws, we aren’t even giving people a chance to change. Prison isn’t treatment, and when someone gets out of prison with a drug offense on their record, what are their options? They don’t have many, so a lot of people go back to doing whatever landed them in prison in the first place. Everyone has choices, but the anti drug laws make it pretty difficult to see these choices.
To be fair, you have to be carrying and selling a huge amount of drugs to be given a mandatory sentence – sometimes of 25 years to life with no parole. That being said, there are sometimes non-violent first time offenders who get themselves into situations that they didn’t really anticipate. Sometimes the people who are transporting drugs are people who really have never been in trouble before. But when they get caught, they could end up going to jail for the rest of their lives. Sometimes just being in the same room as someone who is selling drugs, even if you didn’t know about it, can get you put in jail for many many years if the cops show up looking for this person. It’s easy to say that a person just shouldn’t put themselves in situations like this, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. It’s not as simple as just locking up every person who breaks our federal drug laws.
Not only are we putting people in jail for possession of narcotics, or being associated with someone who has or is selling narcotics, but we aren’t even doing it fairly. African Americans are sent to prison on drug offenses 10 times more often than white people, despite the fact that there are more white people, multi-millions more, who report using drugs. African Americans are more likely than white people to be searched, arrested, and convicted. Aside from the racial disparities, non-violent drug offenders make up about a quarter of all inmates in the US. There’s no question that a drug dealer selling huge quantities of drugs and someone who is a violent offender should be put in prison – that seems productive to me. Putting first time non-violent offenders in jail does not make sense to me. Mandatory sentencing also does not make sense to me.
No matter how you want to look at it, everyone’s situation is unique and deserves to be looked at in this way. People in this country, even suspected or convicted criminals, should be treated fairly. I think being treated fairly entails looking at someone’s entire life rather than one moment in their life.
For the lower level non-violent drug offenders, treatment should be the main goal. Treatment should be mandatory instead of prison sentencing when it is deemed appropriate. To figure out if it is appropriate or not, though, everyone has to be looked at individually and mandatory minimum sentences don’t fit into this equation.
If you break the law, you are punished – I get that. I’m not really disputing that, and I'm not saying that it's a bad thing to be anti drug. All I’m saying is the way our justice system and prison system works is not only unfair, but it doesn’t work, especially for someone who really needs treatment instead of prison. Education, prevention and treatment should be a priority, and although this has improved a little bit over the last few years, it hasn’t improved enough. Not even close. What will it take to stop the drug war and start investing in things that can actually help the people in our country? The anti drug movement may have started out well-intentioned, but the war is has caused needs to end.