Gathering Place

Ray Gagner

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

All the numbers prove
war on drugs is working

Advocates of drug legalization claim that the "war on drugs" is a failure, that marijuana is a harmless drug, that prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders and that anti-marijuana efforts lead to hard drug use. Here are some hard facts that contradict this nonsense.

>> Despite all the "harmless marijuana" propaganda, there is ample evidence that pakalolo is a dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse and dependence. What would you call a product that sends 20,000 people to the hospital every year? In calendar 2000, 96,447 Americans got into enough trouble with marijuana that they took themselves, or were taken, to emergency rooms for treatment for overdoses, adverse reactions, or other problems. Of these people, 22,665 were using marijuana alone and 73,782 were using pot in combination with alcohol or other drugs. (Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2000, March 2001)

>> What about addiction and dependence? In calendar 2000, 237,206 Americans were having enough trouble with marijuana that they entered a substance abuse treatment program to overcome their dependence on the drug. More than 15 percent of all drug treatment admissions in 2000 were for marijuana abuse. (Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, Treatment Episode Data Set, 2000, Computer file )

>> Are we locking up people who just got caught smoking a little pot on their back porch? Despite the scare stories, our prisons are not full of nonviolent drug offenders. The overwhelming majority of people in prison are violent offenders or career criminals. According to the latest survey of prison inmates (1997), more than 91 percent of inmates in America's state prisons were either violent criminals or repeat offenders. Only 11 percent of state prisoners were drug traffickers and less than 9 percent were behind bars for drug possession.

Even the 9 percent figure may overstate the number of people in prison for simple possession since this includes drug dealers who may have plea-bargained down to possession. It may also include people caught in possession of drugs who were on probation or parole for drug or other offenses and were returned to prison. (Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site

>> The claim that marijuana eradication efforts drive people to use methamphetamine or other hard drugs by reducing supplies of pot is bogus. What pot shortage? In 2002 the Hawaii Department of Health surveyed more than 25,000 students in public and private schools. Nearly 63 percent of 10th-grade students and nearly 72 percent of high school seniors said that it was "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain marijuana. If the average high school student is having no difficulty getting pakalolo, it is difficult to believe that a marijuana shortage is driving people to use hard drugs. (Source: 2002 Hawaii Student Drug and Alcohol Use Survey, available on-line at the Hawaii DOH Web site,

>> Perhaps the most pernicious lie of the drug legalizers is the allegation that we cannot win the war on drugs. As a matter of fact, we are winning the struggle against drug use in America. Throughout most of our history, drug use has been confined to a small, deviant subculture. In the mid-1960s the recreational use of drugs, particularly marijuana and hallucinogens, exploded into mainstream American culture.

The drug epidemic in the United States peaked in the late 1970s and has declined sharply since the 1980s in response to local community efforts and government supported prevention, treatment and enforcement programs. In 1979, there were 25.4 million drug users in America. By 2000, this number had dropped to 14 million, a 45 percent decrease. In calendar 2000, adolescent drug use had declined to nearly half the 1979 level. (2.3 million youth vs. 4.1 million). (Statistics presented above are from the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy,

These numbers are still too high, but they show steady and significant progress.

Ray Gagner lives in Kailua.


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