The War on Drugs may have reached its pinnacle of absurdity when 94-year-old World War II veteran Douglas Ponischil was arrested for felony marijuana charges earlier this year. The pot had been mailed to his home on someone else’s behalf, and law enforcement swept him up with no further investigation.
The case against Mr. Ponischil, who miraculously survived a Nazi U-Boat attack, was dismissed on June 30 after months of negotiating with prosecutors by attorney Christopher Connelly.
Only in a thoroughly immoral and baseless system of prohibition can something like this happen. What began in the late 1970s as a crusade against “the devil’s candy” is now well-known as a miserable failure. That is, unless you are interested in giving the State tremendous power and billions of dollars in civil asset forfeiture. The shell of purported righteousness has fallen away from the War on Drugs to reveal its sickly core.
An analysis released five days ago by the Pew Charitable Trusts confirmed the ineffectiveness and waste of the drug war. The report, titled “Federal Drug Sentencing Laws Bring High Cost, Low Return,” describes how mass incarceration, mandatory minimums, and billions of dollars per year have done nothing to curb drug use or supply, while caging tens of thousands for minor roles in trafficking.
The stated goals of the drug war, misguided as they are, have never been met. Even the decreased crime rate since the 1990s has virtually nothing to do with it.
“The National Research Council concluded in a 2014 report that mandatory minimum sentences for drug and other offenders “have few if any deterrent effects.” Even if street-level drug dealers are apprehended and incarcerated, such offenders are easily replaced, ensuring that drug trafficking can continue, researchers say.
…research credits the increased incarceration of drug offenders with only a 1 to 3 percent decline in the combined violent and property crime rate. “It is unlikely that the dramatic increase in drug imprisonment was cost- effective,” one study concluded in 2004.”
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Recidivism, or the relapse into criminal behavior, has remained unchanged. One of the main goals of criminal justice is to reduce recidivism.
“Of the more than 20,000 federal drug offenders who concluded periods of post-release community supervision in 2012 (the latest year for which statistics are available), 29 percent either committed new crimes or violated the conditions of their release. This proportion has changed little since the mid-1980s, when sentences and time served began increasing sharply.
Conversely, targeted reductions in prison terms for certain federal drug offenders have not led to higher recidivism rates.”
While government has increased spending dramatically to cage people for possessing drugs or being involved in the trade, supply has increased, prices have declined, and potency has increased.
“From 1980 to 2013, federal prison spending increased 595 percent, from $970 million to more than $6.7 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.19 Taxpayers spent almost as much on federal prisons in 2013 as they paid to fund the entire U.S. Justice Department—including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and all U.S. attorneys—in 1980, after adjusting for inflation.”
The obsessive rise in spending coincided with sharp increases in sentence lengths and near disappearance of probation, swelling the federal prison population to nearly 800 percent higher in 2013 than it was in 1980. More than a quarter of drug offenders are “mules” representing the lowest-level trafficking role, and nearly a fifth were street-level dealers selling an ounce or less to users.
As we have described before, drug offenses are victimless crimes. This is highlighted by the fact that in 2014, less than 1% of drug cases featured violence or threats of violence, and only 16% of federal drug convictions involved a weapon.
There is nowhere for Drug War proponents to hide anymore. There is literally nothing they can use to support the case for continuing this crusade.
When Mr. Ponischil was floating at sea for days during World War II, hoping that the government he valiantly served would rescue him after the Nazi U-Boat attack, he never imagined that same government would be hauling him to prison decades later for inadvertently receiving a dried plant in the mail.