The Never-ending War On Drugs

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - January 18, 2006

Why are we losing the war on drugs? We spend millions on prevention, education and law enforcement. Yet, after generations of decrying the sale and use of illegal drugs, we are no closer to winning this so-called “war.”

The illegal drug trade will always exist and will never be eliminated. Sorry to be so blunt, but it is the truth. There is a combination of reasons why. Chiefly, drugs will be among us because we want them. Enough Americans desire, crave and use illegal drugs to perpetuate the drug trade. It is the basic principal of supply and demand. As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply.

A parallel reason why drugs will always be with us is the money. It is estimated that in 2000 the international illegal drug trade was valued at more than $400 billion. In 2003, the federal government spent more than $19 billion while states and local government spent at least another $30 billion.

Can anybody calculate the return on this investment? According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the federal budget for this drug war has been increased an additional $1 billion. If we continue with this strategy, more and more of your tax dollars will go up in smoke.

What about here at home? The much celebrated “War On Ice” seems to be over before it began. From the street protests in Kahaluu to the documentaries by Edgy Lee, you couldn’t get away from hearing something about crystal meth. The ice problem became the centerpiece of Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona’s responsibility. There were talk story sessions, updated PSAs and school rallies. There was a glimmer of hope there would be a real counterattack in the ice war.

That is not the case. Millions of dollars are being budgeted. The Democrats in the Legislature rejected the Lingle administration’s proposals to increase the penalty for drug possession and distribution. What emerged was another plan to concentrate on drug treatment programs.

Please. The justification for more money and programs is cruelly ironic. We need more programs because we have more demand, more users, more addicts.

So what is the solution? Whatever we are doing now is failing. There is no real consequence to possession of an illegal drug. Prison time has been replaced with mandatory treatment. And then what? We are fatigued with the revolving door arrests of criminals whose sprees are fueled by drugs. The inordinately violent crimes perpetrated by those who are immersed in illegal drugs are a grim reality of this battle.

Prioritization is the solution and courageous political leadership and courage are essential. Families must be accountable for their members. Where is the shame of being arrested and convicted of drug possession and use?

We have no prison space for offenders. We need immediate construction of correctional facilities to separate the criminals from the law-abiding citizens. I hear too often the lament that neighborhoods don’t want it and we can’t afford it. I have been told it is more cost-effective to send prisoners to the Mainland. Well, you are exporting that $65-per-day prisoner and the money to pay for him somewhere else. Keep the money here at home and privatize the corrections system. If we can fund a train that will not alleviate traffic congestion, why can’t we commit to battling drugs?

Treatment programs and counseling should be an integral part of our war on drugs, but not the predominant strategy. We must back up our position that drug use is illegal and carries great consequence. We must be in a position to back our words with action. Until that day comes, we will be engaged in a war on drugs we will never win.

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