Forty years ago, President Nixon used the unfortunate phrase “War on Drugs,” launching a misguided crusade that has encouraged street violence, eaten away at state budgets and packed our prisons with non-violent offenders. The nation’s punitive approach to drugs has turned us into a penal colony. We lock up more of our citizens per capita than brutal dictators like Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro.
There’s an old saying about seeing the opportunity in a crisis. Perhaps the multiple crises caused by the Great Recession — which has bled state and local treasuries and swelled the federal deficit — will prompt lawmakers to end this futile era of prohibition, which has been costly far beyond the money spent.
Much of the social cost has been borne by black men, who use illegal drugs at rates about equal to whites but are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as adult white men, according to a Human Rights Watch report released last year. That’s because