End Drug War, Says Jimmy Carter and Members of Congress

Former President Jimmy Carter called for an end to the war on drugs in an op-ed published in today’s edition of the New York Times.  “Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations,” said Carter.  Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon, declared drug use “public enemy no.1,” which, according to Carter, launched a failed effort to prevent widespread drug use and unnecessarily ruined millions of lives.

The “total failure” of the current global drug war, says Carter, has led to an increase in the worldwide consumption of opiates by “34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008.”  He also went on to say that in the U.S., the “single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980.”

In the op-ed, Carter specifically cited a recent report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy which recommended relying more on treatment for “people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.”  Along with treating drug addiction as a public health issue, Carter also reiterated a call he first issued in 1977 for the decriminalizing of less than an ounce of marijuana possession.

Some sitting members of Congress have also endorsed the notion of decriminalizing or even legalizing marijuana such as Representatives Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA).  Earlier today at an event on the drug war organized by the Institute of the Black World, Representative John Conyers said he now supports decriminalizing marijuana.  Conyers cited racial disparities in arrest rates for marijuana use as one of the reasons why he has adopted a new position on the issue.

Recent studies have found young African Americans and Latinos are prosecuted for minimal amounts of marijuana possession way out of proportion to their use rates.  In New York City alone, despite making up 27 and 26 percent of the population, Blacks and Latinos made up 52 and 31 percent of all marijuana arrests.  By contrast, whites, who make up 35 percent of the overall population, only accounted for 15 percent of all arrests, according to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union.  Government studies have also found young whites are more likely to use marijuana more than Blacks or Latinos.

In other news relating to the anniversary, Congressman Steven Cohen (D-TN) recently delivered an impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on the need for the United States to end the drug war.  His remarks also noted the racial disparities within the criminal justice system and expunging the records of nonviolent ex-felons who have remained law-abiding for the last 7 years.  Watch it here.