It's Official After 40 Years: War on Drugs Is a Bust!

Forty years after Richard M. Nixon launched the campaign against drugs, even blue-ribbon commissions are conceding that the mass arrests and the gun battles have not worked.

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Petitions to the Global Commission of Drug Policy to end the folly (Getty Images)

Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse the No. 1 enemy of the United States and launched the war on drugs. As we approach the anniversary, New York Times columnist Charles Blow points out that even blue-ribbon groups are conceding what the street already knows:

Last week, the Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a 19-member commission that included Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary general; George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state; and Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, declared that: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government's war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed."

The White House immediately shot back: no dice. The Obama administration presented a collection of statistics that compared current drug use and demand with the peak of the late 1970s, although a direct correlation between those declines and the drug war are highly debatable. In doing so, it completely sidestepped the human, economic and societal toll of the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, many for simple possession. No need to put a human face on 40 years of folly when you can swaddle its inefficacy in a patchwork quilt of self-serving statistics.

As Blow points out, African Americans have paid a heavy price for this fool's errand.

And no group has been more targeted and suffered more damage than the black community. As the A.C.L.U. pointed out last week, "The racial disparities are staggering: despite the fact that whites engage in drug offenses at a higher rate than African-Americans, African-Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that of whites."

There is a growing awareness of the fundamental unfairness of targeting one ethnic group for a "crime" that is committed by all Americans. Even as crime has fallen nationally, the number of black men in prison has exploded. The real question is whether politicians will have the courage to admit failure and change direction. So far, the sounds from the White House are timid and passive.

Read Blow's entire column in the New York Times here.

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