A War on Whom?

When I was in high school I took Latin as my language requirement. It was the course that gave Cs just for attending class. There, I was the shy girl who wore oversized sweaters to cover her voluptuous chest. I was sitting in the back of the class reading “Mein Kampf” (no, I wasn’t a Nazi, just curious) when my classmate poured a line of cocaine onto his desk. He had done so covertly, darting his head around the room like a paranoid bird making sure the teacher wasn’t looking. He rolled up a dollar bill, stuck it to his nose, and snorted. Oh, the memories.

There is no doubt that dopamine had flooded my classmate’s brain with a pulsated energy that pumped his heart with streams of cocaine blood. And I can reasonably assume his mind had spiraled into euphoria; after all people take drugs because it recreates contentment and not self-hating depression.

As I remember it, my classmate wiped away the powdered sprinkles on his desk then smiled at me. At the time, reading Hitler’s autobiography seemed twice as frivolous and hugely irrelevant. The question remains the same now as it did then: how does a community combat such a cerebral effect?

The United States’ solution to the War on Drugs is punishment and deterrence. We incarcerate dealers, users, growers and traffickers. Police officers bust through doors raiding the homes of growers and dealers while drug addicts either die by their own poison or are jailed.

Granted, I’m aware that my explanation is an over-simplification of our justice system. But for the sake of space, we can agree that since the ’70s, the United States has adopted the strategy of force to combat the drug problem. What is the alternative?

While Secret Service agents were throwing back Budweiser’s and gypping prostitutes, President Obama attended the Summit of the Americas in Colombia. In typical news fashion, the salacious has undermined the relevant. Conservative leaders in Latin America, specifically Colombia and Guatemala, have proposed a new strategy for the War on Drugs. They want the United States to be more active in drug prevention/rehabilitation, but their more controversial request was asking the U.S. to legalize certain drugs in order to limit the power of cartels within Central America.

Rather than punish and deter, leaders are proposing rehabilitation and legalization. The tactic is justified by a report published in 2011 by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which investigated the effectiveness of various drug policies. The commission concluded that nations, like The Netherlands and the United Kingdom, which emphasized non-violent approaches had less drug users, less drug related crime and showed a decrease in drug-related HIV infections.

If the world were a family, the United States would be the no-bullshit father who thinks love and understanding are a lazy sissified alternative to the belt-to-ass method. Europe would be the the sweet, hug-her-kids-to-death mother whose spoiled brat throws a crying fit in the grocery store. The question remains, to beat your kid or to not beat your kid?

Punish and deter seems to be working. In California, roughly 18 percent of incarcerated adults are drug offenders, while nationally the number drug offenders in federal prisons are near 20 percent. New studies by the Drug Enforcement Agency shows drug abuse decreasing among teens and adults. Meth use has dropped to 67 percent among teens, while cocaine use among adults has dropped 68 percent between 2006 and 2010. But here the issue morphs from solving drug abuse to evading reality.

The information is purposefully misleading. While illegal drug use has declined, prescription drug abuse is a problem lost in legality. We can all name a few celebrities who have overdosed on illegal and legal drugs. But I find it interesting that communities have not rushed to the streets shouting for the imprisonment and incarceration of prescription drug sellers and addicts. Of course, to ask an officer to arrest the soccer mom and a drug company would mean a tumultuous earthquake rattling a house built on stilts.

“Just Say No” is just a meaningless phrase that California taxpayers paid millions to program into my elementary mind. We have been raised to believe that the War on Drugs is a fight against cartels, but cerebrally, the fight is against human addiction.

If we were to really fight addiction then who we fight is transformed. Addicts are no longer inhabitants of a foreign world. They become familiar faces of the well-to-do, the addict becomes the college student and his dealer the doctor sitting in an air-conditioned office with a pen and pad waiting for a junkie — oh I mean, patient.

Ultimately whether we decide to beat our child or not, is determined by who we believe we are punishing. If the drug cartel is a pharmaceutical company and the addict is a stay-at-home mother, how a community responds will definitely change.

Nidia Sandoval is a third-year history major. She can be reached at nidias@uci.edu.