Evangelical radio host Pat Robertson piped up with a surprising statement last week about the war on drugs. “It’s time we stop locking up people for possession of marijuana,” he told listeners on his Christian radio program “The 700 Club.” “These young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals. The whole thing is crazy… It’s costing us billions and billions of dollars.”
The moralizing Robertson, who blamed recent Midwestern tornado victims for not praying enough, is one of the last people you’d expect to oppose the war on drugs, but there are many—politicians, academics, legalization activists, not to mention Dorito-chomping bong-hitters—who will gladly welcome him to the their ranks. Here are some trustworthy titles that will brief you on the debate.
Huge profits from drug trade present greater risk than individual drug use.
In his authoritative diatribe, “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed (and What We Can Do About It),” James Gray, a former federal prosecutor and judge, enumerates the myriad ironies and missteps of America’s war on drugs. The government’s tough policy on drugs has led to the incarceration of a disproportionate of non-violent offenders, he writes, and profits from drug sales are being used to influence governments and other agencies. Educating children and teens in areas where drug use is prevalent and finding ways to reduce profit margins in the drug trade are among his proposed solutions.
The drug war threatens civil liberties.
The prosecution and incarceration of non-violent offenders is harmful and unnecessary, argues Arthur Benavie in “Drugs: America’s Holy War.” And in the case of harder users, treating drug addiction as a crime instead of a disease both prevents rehabilitation and exacerbates prison overpopulation. As he charts the long history of America’s drug policing and legislation, Benavie draws alarming conclusions about its impact on not only the nation’s budget, but also our civil liberties.
We’re repeating past mistakes.
Looking at drug policies in Western Europe, as well our own laws from a century ago, may help us reassess the flaws in our national war on drugs, according to Robert J. MacCoun and Peter Reuter in their book, “Drug War Heresies: Learning From Other Vices, Times and Places.” What happened when heroin and cocaine were legal in the United States at the start of the 20th century? How does our attitude of intolerance compare with Prohibition during the 20s? MacCoun and Reuter investigate the history of international drug policy and present a compelling argument for the decriminalization of less risky substances.