Opinion: Rep. Steve Cohen calls the war on drugs ‘insane,’ notes how pot helped a Navy SEAL


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Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) took to the House floor last week to ridicule the 40th anniversary of the U.S. war on drugs.

‘The war on drugs was initiated by President Richard Nixon,’ Cohen said. ‘... And the fact is 40 years later, we’ve spent nearly $1 trillion on the war on drugs, we have just as much as drug use in this country as ever before, we’ve incarcerated millions and millions of people for victimless crimes, and when we get people who sell drugs, which we need to do, all that happens is like a shark’s teeth, they’re replaced by the next in line ... somebody else wanting to make money from a program that the public endorses and supports.’


This is in direct contradiction to the White House, which this month said the war was making an impact.

‘Drug use in America is half of what it was 30 years ago, cocaine production in Colombia has dropped by almost two-thirds, and we’re successfully diverting thousands of nonviolent offenders into treatment instead of jail by supporting alternatives to incarceration,’ Rafael Lemaitre, communications director of the White House drug policy office, said June 2.

Cohen said ‘the war on drugs has been a terrible mistake,’ mostly because ‘our approach in treating it as a law enforcement and not as a health matter, a healthcare issue, has led to prison populations increasing, racial disparities ... in the arrest process, and a lost generation of people with no education and no job prospects because those arrests haunt them for the rest of their lives.’

The Southerner pointed to the mighty metropolis of New York to see how the war on drugs was working:

‘I was shocked recently to read that the New York City Police Department arrested 50,000 people for low-level marijuana offenses last year. New York City. Fifty thousand arrests for low-level marijuana offenses. More than during a 19-year period between 1978 and 1996 combined. Marijuana use has not skyrocketed in the last year, but arrests are ramped up and they use arrests as a basis to get people, particularly people of color, where it’s seven times more likely you’ll be arrested if you’re African American and four times more likely you’ll be arrested if you’re Latino, and more likely if you’re African American or Latino that you’ll spend a night in jail than if you’re Caucasian, as a way to take people and arrest them and deprive them of what should be their basic civil rights to go around the city. Our local budgets are straining like never before, and yet we see more arrests,’ Cohen said. Perhaps the most compelling argument Cohen had was when he shared how a friend of his, a veteran, a Navy SEAL specifically, used weed to regain his appetite and good spirits.

‘I had a good friend named O.J. Mitchell. O.J. Mitchell was a Navy SEAL and one of the strongest, toughest, best friends I’ve ever had. When O.J. was 54, he got pancreatic cancer, and pancreatic cancer destroys a person, just whittles them away. And the guy was 210 pounds, can do all those things SEALs can do, the hand-to-hand, the paratroops, and he used medical marijuana, and his grandmother and his mother said, ‘Thank God for the marijuana.’ It allowed him to have a sense of humor and to eat. It worked,’ Cohen said.

Candidate Barack Obama in 2004 called the war on drugs ‘an utter failure,’ and said that although he did not believe marijuana should be legalized, he thought it should be decriminalized.

Of all the 2012 presidential hopefuls, the only major candidate who favors the end of the drug war is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).


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-- Tony Pierce