For more than 50 years, America has been fighting the “war on drugs,” an endeavor that began under the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, who had the avowed purpose of arresting and incarcerating as many Blacks and other minorities as possible, especially for simple possession of marijuana.
The war on drugs has been a failure by any measure. Not only have we spent hundreds of billions of dollars on failed law enforcement efforts both in this country and around the globe, directly leading to the destabilization of many nations that has had profound effects both for those countries and ours, but it is fair to say that the drug war has destroyed the lives of more individuals, families, and communities than the drugs themselves.
Thanks to the war on drugs, the prison population in the United States exceeds every other nation on earth, both in terms of sheer numbers and based on population.
At long last, after 50 years of fruitless and costly failure, things are about to change.
Voters in the State of Oregon recently approved a ballot question that decriminalizes the possession of illegal drugs. Instead of throwing people in jail, the state will view drug use as a health issue, offering addicts treatment instead of prison time.
In Portugal, this approach has been used for 20 years. The result has been stunning. Drug overdose deaths and HIV and other drug-related infections have decreased dramatically. In addition, the removal of criminal penalties did NOT increase the rate of drug use.
The time has come for our society to acknowledge that the war on drugs, which was based on racism to begin with, must come to an end. Oregon is leading the way — and change is coming none too soon.