Story by Clifford Wallace Thorton, Jr.
Clifford W. Thornton is a board member of NORML and head of Efficacy.

Racism, classism, terrorism, and the War on Drugs are inextricably parts of one huge lie. One cannot address one part effectively without addressing the others. The race issue is well documented, and black people as usual are the perceived primary pariahs, but the burgeoning class separation is also important. This is not a war on drugs but a war on poor people, primarily people of color.
Almost two-thirds of the six and half million people who are in the criminal-justice system—on probation or parole, in halfway houses, jail, or prison—are minorities. But there is one central theme. They are overwhelmingly of the same socioeconomic class: They are poor people.

Forty percent of those six and half million people in the system are there for possession or sale of drugs. When one looks at drug-related crimes, that proportion jumps to over 60 percent. Ten percent of the African-American population is in the criminal-justice system. In my state, Connecticut, black men are less than 3% of the population, but account for 48 percent of the prison population. Where is the black church and black America on this Drug War issue?

The religious community has always been the backbone of the black community. We have seen this throughout our history, through slavery, segregation, and the civil-rights movement.

• Why are black politicians, preachers, and leaders bemoaning racial profiling and not the War on Drugs, when racial profiling is a direct result of the Drug War?

• Why are they not talking about AIDS, and that the War on Drugs is the primary culprit for the spread of this incurable disease in their communities?

• Why do they have this dumb look on their faces when you mention that intravenous-drug users, through sexual encounters, are the primary conveyers of AIDS in prisons and in our communities?

Is it because the religious community is tied to local, state, and federal funding, and the authorities forbid discussion? Is it because they have become employers and employees of the Drug War through rehabilitation centers and drug counseling? Is it because they have become gatekeepers whose prosperity depends on not solving the drug problem, but on perpetuating it?

According to the Rev. Beatrice Walkout of Cleveland, “Black preachers have to be educated on this issue. They are basically following what the white establishment tells them to do, and it is not to end the Drug War.” She went on to say, “What we need is time to study this at length.”

My question is, “HOW MUCH TIME DOES ONE NEED?”

This Drug War has been going on for over 30 years, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. We have had almost nine decades of drug prohibition. Yet there are more illegal drugs at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before. When are we as a nation going to learn this is an unwinnable war? This is and will always be a public-health problem, not a law-enforcement one.

When considering alternatives to the Drug War, all conversation has to start with one question: Do you think that people are going to stop using illegal drugs? The overwhelming response is NO. Those that say “yes” are not of this planet.

So the next question becomes: How are we as a society going to create an atmosphere that will cause the least amount of harm, to the people who use these drugs and to society?

Anyone that says we should not, could not, would not, or that we would be “sending the wrong message to our children” by legalizing, medicalizing, and decriminalizing this handful of illegal drugs simply does not have a clue. The damage is not done by the drugs, but by the DRUG POLICIES. There is no drug known to man that becomes safer when its sale and distribution are turned over to criminals.

Our problem is not the drug dealers or drug cartels; they are just opportunists. Our problem is the self-righteous legislators in Washington and the apathetic nonvoting public who create the opportunity for the drug cartels and dealers. The people (black preachers, politicians, and leaders) who support the Drug War are indirectly responsible for this rise in crime, drugs in our schools, AIDS in our communities, and creating enormous criminal empires.

Let us be realistic. Without prohibition, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin would present no problem to me or to anyone else who chooses not to use them. But the illegality of these drugs presents a clear and present danger to everyone. Just ask the six-year-old boy in Cleveland, critically wounded when a police detective discharged his weapon while in a hand-to-hand struggle with a drug suspect. Just ask the thousands of parents who have lost their children who had absolutely nothing to do with drugs, but were innocent bystanders in Drug War zones, where dealers battle for turf and with the police.

Legalization, medicalization, and decriminalization of this handful of drugs won’t immediately solve the problems of drug abuse or addiction, but they will confine those problems to the people that choose to use those drugs. Perhaps the more important question is how do we as a society of reformers create an exit strategy for the authorities?