Drug War

My position on this issue is to face it directly, though other politicians run away from it. I agree with the many law enforcement officials and experts in the field that we must find a new way of dealing with illegal drugs.

I have studied the issue for decades and recognize that our “War on Drugs” has failed. In fact, because our War on Drugs drives up the price, it encourages violence. Prohibition simply doesn’t work. It only creates thousands and thousands of Al Capones. Prison should be for people who hurt other people, not themselves. We don’t jail people for merely drinking. We jail people when they drink and drive or hurt another human.

Drug use can and should be reduced. But a continuation of our current War on Drugs will not do it. Instead, the current policies have only helped increase drug use and foster violence across the country. California was able to cut teenage tobacco use in half with a straightforward ad campaign that was financed by a tax on cigarettes. Not a shot was fired.

The supporters of the drug war have only one solution to this debacle — more money for law enforcement, more people, more power, more prisons — with no end in sight. Of course, these happy drug warriors who justify their living hunting down drug users come on TV and promise us that they see light at the end of the tunnel. They promised us a drug-free America by 1995, and instead we see new and more exotic drugs constantly being added to the mix.

I know that proponents of the Drug War will say that I am pro-drugs. I am not. As mayor of Cleveland, I saw first-hand the damage done by addiction to drugs, including alcohol. I also witnessed that the wasted resources and collateral damage did not promote a safe society. It is unconscionable that only one bed exists for every ten people that apply for drug treatment. Our priorities and our resources are being put in the wrong place. The primary job of law enforcement should be protecting our country and its citizens — not protecting people from themselves.

The shredding of our rights to privacy and property promoted by the Drug War is inconsistent with a free society. Criminalization of private or self-destructive behavior is not acceptable in a free nation.

The racism evident in the Drug War, and the clearly preferential treatment for offenders with connections, undermine our concept of a just society. Draconian prison sentences that dwarf those for violent crimes, like murder and rape, destroy respect for our laws.

The rampant corruption of the criminal justice system spawned by the $400 billion-a-year black market could be ended with the stroke of a pen. So also would be the wholesale devastation we have brought to other countries. Countries like Colombia, where we send billions of dollars of military aid and spray hundreds of thousands of acres of populated land with dangerous herbicides in a country with nearly a million displaced people. And each military campaign or spraying is like a squeezing a balloon; production merely shifts to another site or goes into a temporary hiatus.

Drug addiction is a medical and moral problem that should be treated by professionals, not dumped on the criminal justice system. Setting up a national commission of medical professionals to develop an intelligent program, based on the experience of drug experts from around the world, would be a first step. Allowing doctors to treat drug addiction humanely and intelligently, including the prescription of maintenance doses, would allow us to quickly eliminate most of the black market and much of the damage to a safe, free, and just America.

It is time for an honest dialogue on this issue. Time to stop the documented lies, half-truths, and propaganda that got us into this mess in the first place. It is time to face the facts.

Floor Statements, 109th Congress:

Aid to Africa

It is an outrage that President Bush is proposing to cut core funding for overseas humanitarian aid while millions in Africa and worldwide face the threat of hunger and poverty. The United States should fully fund efforts to improve the lives of the world’s poor by dramatically increasing our allocations to international relief organizations such as the UN World Food Program, whose work saves countless lives in over 80 countries through school feeding projects, nutrition programs for HIV/AIDS sufferers, refugee food relief and many other vital tasks.

But aid is not enough. Impoverished countries are being ravaged by debt payments to global institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. $2.5 billion is transferred every year from Sub-Saharan Africa to foreign bankers and creditors, while 40% of its population experiences some form of malnutrition. We must push for the immediate cancellation of all bilateral debts of poor countries as well as cancellation of debts to the IMF and World Bank.

In addition, the economic policies dictated to poor countries by the IMF and the World Bank — so-called “structural adjustment programs” — have devastated Third World economies. Last year’s food crisis in Malawi, where as many as several thousand died of hunger, followed IMF-mandated cutbacks in agricultural aid to small farmers and in food subsidies for families. It is time that we end this cruel betrayal of the world’s hungry by working to end structural adjustment.

Less than a year after President Bush and the GOP made headlines promising a commitment to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, their backsliding is already well underway. After pledging up to $3 billion per year to combat the epidemic in his State of the Union address, President Bush submitted a budget request calling for only $2 billion in next year’s budget. Thankfully, my colleague, Rep. Dick Durbin, introduced an amendment adding an extra $289 million and shamed the Republican leadership into supporting the measure. We won that fight, but the president still has not demonstrated that his high-minded words mean anything when it comes to battling the great plague of our times.