War on Drugs: an insult to common sense

The elections are here. Before we forget about politics for another few years, let's dredge up one of the many recurring nightmares.

Can anyone possibly tolerate another politician saying "it's time to get tough on drugs" without being thrown into instant nausea? What does "get tough" mean? An average annual federal expenditure of $9 billion in the early 1990s increasing to a proposed $15.1 billion in 1997 isn't tough? What about the $100 billion price tag on the incarceration of drug law offenders? Federal forfeiture laws, a disgustingly blatant violation of the Bill of Rights, have seized over $1 billion in private property without d ue process. Is fascism tough enough?

What about federal paramilitary organizations that wield automatic weapons, armored vehicles and attack helicopters against American citizens? How much tougher do we need to get before this political child realizes that the square block just doesn't fit i n the round hole?

Most of us figure out the square block deal after a couple of tries. However, our federal government has been unable to realize that the War on Drugs has been, is, and will continue to be a failure. It's not because we haven't tried hard enough; but becau se the concept of waging war on the desires of citizens is simply not a viable solution to the problem.

The methodology of our government to identify, investigate, arrest and imprison an estimated 85 million Americans who are, or have been, in violation of drug laws is abhorrent. A 1989 Congressional report summarizes the details by first noting that while most recreational users pose no real hazard to themselves or their community, 70 percent of real drug addicts have mental problems, many compounded with alcohol addiction. While it costs $25,000 to $50,000 annually to maintain a prisoner, drug abuse inpat ient treatment costs only $15,000.

Another national study concluded that for every dollar spent on drug rehabilitation in lieu of imprisonment, society saved $11.54. The study estimated that it would require only $5.6 billion to rehabilitate those currently in prison, saving the country ov er $90 billion immediately. The 1993 cost in crime, solely due to the illegal status of drugs, was estimated at $67 billion, while Americans only spent $49 billion on the substances. And for a final statistic, over $20 billion was spent in the past decade on drug interdiction which captured only 10 percent of the total volume of drugs entering this country. What a pathetic investment.

Clearly we must reevaluate our stance on the legality of drugs. Now understanding that the current legislation is irrational, the first question to ask is who is profiting from it. Government opinion is dependent upon lobbyists, and in this case the major players are U.S. pharmaceutical companies.

What possible interest does this economic juggernaut have in the legal status of non-medical drugs? Certainly one concern is that they do not control the production or sale of these products. It must turn the stomachs of the wealthy white corporate aristo cracy when they consider our South American brothers making a profit in their game. I would wager that if the majority of these products were grown on farms owned by affluent southern gentleman, the government might feel differently. If you disagree, just ask R.J. Reynolds.

There's another more insidious point. The major profit margin of pharmaceuticals in this country relies solely on our government's policy concerning prescriptions, a non-existent entity in most countries of the world. The U.S. pharmaceutical lobby has bee n incredibly effective at maintaining this pseudo-illegality at the expense of nearly everyone. If recreational drugs were to be legalized, it brings the regulation of other products into question. Backed by one-tenth of this nation's gross domestic produ ct, drug illegality is BIG business that will not yield to common sense.

It is incredibly naive to think that government legislation exists for the well being of the people. Both current candidate's plans, not a different hue of puke than any other before them, revolve yet again around the idea of "drug wars." Since most wars are fought over territory and money under the guise of ideological good, it's an appropriate title.

The maintenance of freedom obligates us to question authority. We must be continually critical and vocal about the encroachment of government into our private lives. It is in opposition to everything a free country represents when a ruling body dictates t o us the morality of our actions within the privacy of our homes; whether it be people we love, the religion we practice, or the substances we take.

Remember to deny hypocrisy and cast your vote.

Jason Pyle is an engineering physics senior. His column, 'Critical Point,' appears every other Monday.