We like controversy here at the Drug Information Center. Why? It gets people talking. And cuz’ I got power of the printed word, I get a chance to direct what the conversation is about. And this stuff we’re about to talk about right now is Real. Capital R.
Frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn what your opinions are on the War on Drugs. That’s your business. But you should have one and they should be based in some kind of factual information. These policies are expensive, expansive and your tax dollars are what’s feeding the proverbial beast. You have a responsibility to know what they’re being used for.
The United States has a long history of legislating the consumption of substances which we choose to call drugs. Starting in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Act, through Alcohol prohibition and repeal and into the modern era; we are a nation obsessed with controlling what people put in their bodies.
Funding the War on Drugs is not cheap. You have to pay for cops to enforce the laws, judges and lawyers to enact the consequences of the laws, and prisons and jails to house the violators of the laws. Not to mention border patrol agents, the DEA, probation officers, and correctional officers.
It’s tough to get an exact number on how much is being spent by the various levels of government, but the annual estimates range from $35.2 billion to around $48.7 billion dollars. Anyway you slice it, that’s a lot of cheese.
So exactly how many people are getting arrested for drug law violations? Again, the numbers are substantial. The Department of Justice reports that in 2005 there were approximately 1.8 million arrests made on drug charges. Over 80% of those arrests were for possession. I used Microsoft calculator and figured that means around 1.4 million people are being arrested for possession.
Of those charges, 42.6% are for marijuana. I hit up the calculator again and figured out that means around 750,000 are arrested ever year for marijuana, 660,000 of those for possession. Almost 2,000 people are arrested everyday on marijuana charges.
So not all of these people are incarcerated, but a large percentage of our prison’s population are people in on drug raps. 55% of people in the federal prisons are in for dugs, as are 20% of the inmates in state facilities. All told, it’s over 300,000 people. That’s more people than live in the entire city of Tampa, Florida.
By this stage of your life you’ve probably heard that a disproportionate percentage of the prison population is people of color. Let’s analyze that.
African Americans make up the largest percentage of people incarcerated at around 47.5%, 23.3% are Hispanic, and 24.3% are white. Despite comprising 12.2% of the population African Americans make up 38% of drug offense arrests and 59% of drug offense convictions.
A government study was done to find out the racial breakdown of drug users, and they found that 72% of all users are white, 15% are black, and 10% are Hispanic.
The disparity in all of these numbers raises some huge red flags for people concerned about racial equality. These are concerns I can’t really address in the Buzz, but I urge you to really think about them. If you feel comfortable, then okay. If not, some basic googling could hook you up with like-minded individuals.
This is where I would like to talk about our Drug War foreign policy, gender issues, ways that other countries handle their drug issues, the constitutional implications, medical marijuana, and so many other things but unfortunately the laws of space confine me.
To be honest, this was the hardest Buzz to write thus far. Trying to sum up these policies and laws in 750 words is basically impossible to do while still doing them justice. If you aren’t satisfied, I don’t blame you. Neither am I.
So I hope if nothing else that this got you thinking about the Drug War. If you want to continue this quest for information, I can’t recommend enough that you come and see Mike Gray speak this Thursday in the PAC Concert Hall. He is a nationally recognized authority on this subject and his book has been a major inspiration to me both personally and professionally. The lecture starts at 7 pm and tickets are free and available at the PAC Box Office.
I’m a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.