Police State/Civil Liberties

It’s the End of the War on Drugs as We Know It

By Joel Mathis


After decades of pain, some sanity.

Kids, gather round. Let me share with you the horrors of my youth.



Back in the 1980s, these commercials were on a near-constant loop — especially on Saturday mornings and any other times kids might be watching TV. It was a steady drumbeat: Don’t do drugs. Don’t do drugs. Don’t do drugs. Don’t do drugs. Somehow, people kept doing drugs.

This was the friendly, smiling version of the War on Drugs we got in my small, white midwestern town. It wasn’t anything like the crack epidemic or the crackdown that swelled prison populations with black men between 1980 and 2000. The choices were clear: Say no. And if you didn’t say no, go to prison.

It wasn’t always wise policy — sometimes it hurt more than it helped. But maybe the darkest days of the War on Drugs is over.

Consider what the news landscape looks like in Pennsylvania this week:

On Thursday, the City Council gave final approval to a plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Mayor Nutter has promised to sign the bill, and Police Commissioner Ramsey to abide by it. Smoking pot still isn’t in official favor — you can get a $25 ticket for possessing and a $100 fine for smoking publicly — but it no longer necessarily puts an arrest on your record, ruining your future.

In Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania House on Wednesday voted to combat a rise in heroin overdose deaths with a bill that would A) make an overdose antidote more readily available and B) offer limited immunity from arrest for people seeking emergency help in the event of an overdose.

• And while passage is far from assured, the Republican-controlled (!!!!) Pennsylvania Senate is seriously considering a bill to make medical marijuana available to sick residents.

For a child of those aforementioned 1980s, this is nothing short of stunning. We’re witnessing the end of the War on Drugs.

What happened?

A few things, probably. Building prison after prison after prison got expensive. It’s possibly no coincidence that the move to liberalize pot laws got its real momentum only after  state governments found themselves choking on state budgets during the Great Recession and its reduced-expectations aftermath. We’re also less comfortable with our own hypocrisy on the matter, it seems.

And that’s fine. It’s not that getting high is a great thing, but maybe we can evaluate different ways of doing it on their own merits. Smoking pot? More nuisance than anything, and that’s how it’ll be treated under city law. Heroin? A health threat — and that’s the way it might soon be treated under state law. Sometimes, the drugs that used to scare us can even be a benefit: If we’re lucky, we’ll soon see medical marijuana.

Making distinctions is smart. Refusing to waste energy, lives, and way too much money on the War on Drugs? Even smarter.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.
Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/09/19/beginning-end-war-drugs/#AaQWb4oqyD7oHyvs.99

Leave a Reply