Rebalancing Drug Policy

DrugWar_AP_mthumb_0 Over at The Nation, Ethan Nadelmann, Marc Mauer, Bruce Western, Tracy Velázquez, David Cole, and Laura Carlsen in a forum discuss the war on drugs. Western:

Drugs are intensively criminalized among the poor but largely unregulated among the rich. The pot, coke and ecstasy that enliven college dorms, soothe the middle-class time bind and ignite the octane of capitalism on Wall Street are unimpeded by the street sweep, the prison cell and the parole-mandated urine tests that are routine in poor neighborhoods.

The drug war is nitro to the ghetto's glycerin. In neighborhoods of mass unemployment, family breakdown and untreated addiction, punitive drug policy (and its sibling, the war on crime) has outlawed large tracts of everyday life. By 2008 one in nine black men younger than 35 was in prison or jail. Among black male dropouts in their mid-30s, an astonishing 60 percent have served time in state or federal prison.

The reach of the penal system extends beyond the prison population to families and communities. There are now 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail. There are 1.2 million African-American children with incarcerated parents (one in nine), and more than half of those parents were convicted of a drug or other nonviolent offense.

In the absence of any serious effort to improve economic opportunity, particularly among young men with little schooling, drug control has become our surrogate social policy. For all the billions spent on draconian criminalization, addiction remains a scourge of the disadvantaged in inner cities and small towns, drugs are still plentiful and the drug trade remains a ready but risky source of casual employment for low-education men and women with no legitimate prospects. Though drugs are at the center of an array of serious social problems in low-income communities, things are made worse by a dysfunctional policy in which arrest, imprisonment and a criminal record have become a normal part of life.