Time To Declare War On The Drug War?

Ariela Martin PhotoThe war on drugs is crowding prisons, creating crime and violence, and breaking up families, Cliff Thornton said, then added to the list:  “with drugs, come guns.” It’s plain and simple.” And most importantly, it has to change”

“It’s plain and simple.” And most importantly, it has to change,” Thornton, Connecticut’s leading drug-legalization advocate (who in 2006 ran for governor on the issue), told people gathered at the Hill neighborhood’s Courtland Wilson Branch Library Tuesday night for a forum sponsored by the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Among the statistics shared by speakers at the forum: 2.5 million children in the U.S. have a parent in prison because of arrests on drug charges; 500,000 are in foster care. Half of those children are African American.

Thornton, co-founder of the drug reform group Efficacy, moderated the discussion. Featured panelists included Assistant Police Chief Thaddeus Reddish, Connecticut ACLU Legal Director Sandra Staub, New Haven state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, and Robert Painter, a retired surgeon and former Hartford Councilman. Over 30 people attended the discussion.

The discussion’s thrust: It’s time to declare war on the war on drugs.

The panelists agreed that the only way to solve the drug war is for everyone to come together, through community policing, education, prevention, and treatment.

“If we’re truly going to change the drug war, we all have to be committed,” said Thornton in his brief introduction.

Before the discussion commenced, Thornton left a question for the audience and panelists to think about: “Should these drugs be legalized, ‘medicalized’, or criminalized? Why or why not?”

“I won’t go to war against my own people,” Chief Dean Esserman told the audience in brief remarks at the beginning of the discussion. “We are not the enemy or the outsiders. We’re a part of New Haven.”

In 2010, U.S. law enforcement agencies arrested more than 1.6 million peoplefor drug offenses, 80 percent of those arrests were for simple possession. These provoking statistics, provided by the ACLU, led the ACLU to favor “the decriminalization of the distribution and manufacturing of drugs,” said Staub. “Drug criminalization is imposed mainly on people of color.”

“We can’t afford to do what we’re doing now,” Holder-Winfield remarked. It’s stupid and costs money.”

Assistant Chief Reddish—whose department receives many requests from people living in poor neighborhoods to get drug dealers off the streets—did say that it also makes sense to arrest drug dealers.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m destroying lives with my arrests,” Reddish said. “But sometimes I feel like I’ve arrested the devil and taken him off the street.”

Ariela Martin, a student a Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, is an Independent contributing reporter.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 24, 2012  5:06pm

It will never happen in the U.S. There are too many folks making a handsome living associated with the socalled War on Drugs. Just think about all the attorneys, judges, jailers. numerous police organizations, rehabilitation rackets, medical organizations, insurance companies, bankers, smugglers, drug lords, growers, closet chemists, pushers and politicians to name a few who profit from the current war on drugs. The average person hasn,t got a cluenand never will. He or she is convinced it’s a morality issue. All you have to do is follow the dollar.Also if you have legalization of drugs there will still be illegal drugs sold to the under age people.

posted by: TryingToRemainAnonymous on October 24, 2012  5:58pm

One word: Portugal.

Google it with “Decriminalization” and you’ll be surprised at what happened.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 24, 2012  6:37pm

The Green Party has been on record for years as supporting a change in our ruinous drug laws that have criminalized a health problem, wasted billions and destroyed lives here and other countries.
  I feel sorry for the police for having to enforce these ineffectual laws that have resulted in the incarceration of people who used the equivalent of a glass of liquor and ended up in jail.
  Politicians are afraid to state their support for what they know is an erroneous policy, but in private acknowledge that decriminalization, regulation and taxation are the way to go.
  Why is is so hard to change when the facts of failure on every level are so evident?
  I guess we have to wait for the generation that put the 1970s version of Prohibition in place to expire and for a new generation to repair the damage.

posted by: Proud New Havener on October 24, 2012  7:47pm

It will happen in the U.S. It will just take an overwhelming majority to undo a century of policy. We’re almost there.

posted by: Wildwest on October 24, 2012  9:01pm

anything that coud keep 10,000s of non-violent druggies/dealers out of prison is Ok with me and about 100,000,000 other citizens out there. Cops need to speak up more often.

posted by: HhE on October 24, 2012  11:25pm

I find Assistant Chief Reddish to be one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and honorable people I have ever known.

I also think rather highly of Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield.

I take as dim of view of the war on drugs as I do drugs.

posted by: C Ross on October 25, 2012  1:39pm

The ACLU should be ashamed of so arrogantly claiming that they have concluded that the answer to mass incarceration is the legalization of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth. The advocates at this event seem to completely overlook the devastating impact that drug addiction currently has on millions of Americans and the way in which that impact would be multiplied if drugs were made as available as alcohol or tobacco. Even if you made them only as available as prescription drugs, say, prescription drug abuse is now our #1 domestic drug problem in terms of overdoses because of the semi-legal availability of those powerfully addictive drugs. We should not add cocaine, heroin and meth to that list.

Mass incarceration is at crisis levels and must be addressed, but to say that drug legalization and the mass addiction it would bring, rather than smarter policing, sentencing and more compassionate treatment of drug addicts, is the solution is dead wrong.

Also—@“TryingToRemainAnonymous”—Yes, Portugal has decriminalized drugs on an individual level, but it has in no way legalized their “distribution and manufacturing” as was proposed at this meeting. Portugal is just as on board with the basic premise of keeping drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth illegal as the US is, they’ve just chosen a very different approach to dealing with drug users.

posted by: random on October 25, 2012  5:31pm

As has been the case for the past 41 years of this so called “war on drugs” that is selectively enforced in poor communities and devastates the lives of millions is Jim Crow in disguise and those who are less likely to be impacted by it can afford to keep their head in the sand and deny it.As Threefifths stated, “too many benefit”. Legalizing drugs is about the crime and violence problem. Education and treatment addresses the addiction problem. I venture to say that those who are not interested in using drugs now will not begin using simply because they are legal. I’m always amazed at the stories police and others tell themselves to justify in their minds why they support this war on us (drugs).

posted by: jway on October 26, 2012  11:09am

Paranoid old men keep
marijuana illegal and
make our children LESS safe.