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War on Drugs – a trillion dollar debacle that must be terminated

If you google "the war on drugs is a failure" you may be surprised at how many world leaders, politicians,  businessmen, think tanks, commentators and police officers agree.

In June 2011 the Global Commission on Drug Policy (with former Secretary of State George Shultz and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan among its members) declared that "the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."

Before he became president, even Barack Obama said as much. In 2004 he stated that "the war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws… we need to rethink how we operate the drug wars."

According to a global poll conducted by Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson, over 90 percent of people surveyed around the world termed the ‘war on drugs’ a failure.

What will it take to pull the plug on a four-decades-long ‘war’ that has decimated communities throughout world and made America Number 1 in the extraordinary rate at which it locks up its own citizens, especially people of color?

The budget crunch is compelling change in many states. A thoughtful look at the “Cost of Prisons” was presented by National Public Radio’s “On Point” on February 20: if you missed it, you can listen to it here.

The high cost of the ‘war on drugs’ in Massachusetts for defendants, the entire criminal justice system and taxpayers has been brought home in the unfolding state drug lab scandal. The alleged tampering by chemist Annie Dookhan with as many as 60,000 drug samples involving some 34,000 defendants – or more – has thrown "prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and others into crisis mode."

It is not clear how this mess can be cleaned up. How do you re-try defendants when the drug samples used to convict them the first time around may have been compromised?

The ACLU of Massachusetts is urging the dismissal of all cases where there was no charge for a violent crime or a weapons offense, as well as those involving a police officer or prosecutor who communicated directly with Annie Dookhan.

If this advice is rejected, state prosecutors will be battling their way through a ‘war on drugs’ backlog for years to come, with taxpayers expected to pay an additional $332 million to re-try tainted drug cases.

If there was ever a time to call a halt to a fiasco of a drug war, surely this is it!

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© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.