On 40th anniversary of drug war, condemnation from Carter

Alec Jacobs Contributor
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On the 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs, one of its oldest opponents has once again come out swinging.

In a New York Times op-ed titled “Call Off the Global Drug War,” former President Jimmy Carter called the global antidrug campaign a “total failure” and said U.S. policy in particular was “more punitive and counterproductive” than in other democracies.

Carter endorsed recommendations released by the Global Commission on Drug Policy earlier this month, which he said were “courageous and profoundly important.”

Among the recommendations: substituting treatment for imprisonment for individuals who abuse drugs without harming others and concentrating global efforts on violent criminal organizations, not low-level offenders.

In the op-ed, Carter recalls his own message to Congress in 1977, when he pushed for the decriminalization of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and insisted that America stop filling prisons with “young people who were no threat to society.”

And these ideas were widely accepted, Carter writes. But Ronald Reagan began to “shift from balanced drug policies…toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.” The result of all this, according to Carter, has been a “terrible escalation in drug-related violence,” as well as enormous cost in terms of police and military resources.

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Carter cites some pretty grim statistics: Three-quarters of new admissions to state prisons are for nonviolent crimes, with the greatest cause of growth in prison populations being the drug war. The number of people arrested for nonviolent drug offenses is more than 12 times what it was in 1980.

When Carter left office, 500,000 Americans were imprisoned; today, the number is nearly 2.5 million. And more than 3 percent of all American adults are in prison, on probation, or on parole.

The recommendations Carter endorses come from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group comprised of the former presidents and prime ministers of five countries, a former secretary general of the United Nations, and leaders from the worlds of business and government, including Richard Brandon and Paul Volcker.