Thursday, January 24, 2008

Drug Wars VI

The politicians in this country have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in the war on drugs. In an effort to cover the budgetary shortfalls in the State of New York, Democratic Governor Elliot Spitzer has included in his new budget a provision requiring taxes to be paid on illegal drugs sold in the state. Now while this tactic is nothing new and is currently being used by 29 states, it illustrates to me the bankruptcy of our political system and the true nature of the war on drugs. This war has never had anything to do with the health and safety of the public, but has always been a red herring for the politics of racism and for economic gain.

The bill sets a tax stamp rate for marihuana of $3.50 per gram, and of a controlled substance at $200 per gram or fraction thereof, whether pure or dilute. The tax is paid by the dealer, in advance of his or her receipt of the marihuana or controlled substance, through the purchase of tax stamps from the Department of Taxation and Finance (“Department”). Upon receipt of the product, the dealer must affix enough stamps to the packages of marihuana or the controlled substance in order to show the tax has been fully paid.

The Spitzer administration projects that the proposal would raise $13 million in the 2008-9 fiscal year and $17 million each year thereafter. According to the Spitzer administration, 29 other states have already passed laws imposing tax liability for controlled substances: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.[1]

The problem I have with this law and similar laws in general is that they penalize people for being poor. It’s like the idea of having inmates pay for their own incarceration, it is another way to make people who are already poor take the burden of society as their own. In the process they remove the burden from the society that is supposed to be offended by their behavior, another kick while they’re down. The majority of people caught selling or using drugs are not major distributors or kingpins usually it is someone in a poor neighborhood with few other opportunities trying to survive. While I don’t condone the selling or the taking of drugs, it is not and never has been a criminal issue.

Let’s face it the majority of drug users are adults and while we may not agree with their decision to take drugs, it is still their choice. There are many people who make bad decisions everyday that I don’t agree with, but I don’t consider putting them in jail for them. The problem is that in America everything has political connotations and many times racial as well. The war on drugs has given the law enforcement community unprecedented rights to override the constitutional rights of many Americans and like most laws in America they have been used in a uneven and biased fashion. The war on drugs has allowed the police to declare a war on whole communities with impunity.

The propaganda is that the dealers and users are holding the communities hostage, the truth is that it is the police that are holding the communities hostage by their heavy-handed tactics and selective enforcement of the laws. By using their militaristic tactics the communities have evolved into a siege mentality where the residents are caught in a viscous circle, they have the dealers on the one side threatening their lives and their families and the police on the other side treating everyone as a suspect no matter how ridiculous the circumstances. We need to step away from this war mentality and recognize this issue for what it really is; a public health issue. It should only be a criminal justice issue if the user commits another offence, just like how we treat other people who choose to do unsafe behavior. The war on drugs allows the already bias criminal justice system to target those they consider undesirable and sentence them to a life of almost hopelessness.

Rather than blaming the drug users and dealers for the budget shortfall, maybe the Governor should look a little closer to home. To my knowledge drug users and dealers are not allowed to make state policy or spend state funds, so to try and balance the state budget at their expense is punitive and unfair. I’ve got an idea, why don’t the politicians learn how to spend only as much money as they have in the State treasury then they won’t need to pander to the mob mentality. It amazes me how whenever these politicians run short of funds because they spent too much they attack the easy targets. The ones like smoking, alcohol, and drugs that no one complains about.

Until we take the money out of drugs we will never be able to deal responsibly with the issue. It is not just the illegal money from drug dealers that must be shutdown, but also the legal money that so many states and local communities have become addicted to. The war on drugs has never been about people and today the truth of that is self evident, this war is about money. It is about money to militarize the police forces, it is about money to provide rural communities jobs, and it is about money to fund the political ambitions of politicians. Let’s face it just as the illegal money is a scourge against our economy, so the legal money is a scourge against our citizenry. Instead of addressing this issue as the health issue it is it has been reduced to economics. The war on drugs makes money and as long as it continues to make money it will continue to go on. Laws like these only perpetuate the myths and continue to promote the lies. This isn’t about criminals; it’s about dollars, period.

UPDATE 1/24/08 - ALBANY — Gov. Eliot Spitzer has agreed to a pay raise for legislators, even as he has called for cuts elsewhere to help close a $4.4 billion deficit, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has told Assembly Democrats.[2]


1 comment:

Nick said...

Great post and nice blog. I am an advocate for the disassembly of the Drug War and enjoyed the read. Great quote as well at the top of the page. If you'd be interest in exchanging links please drop me a line.

Nick @

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