Russ Jones, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the War On Drugs, has something to say about his life’s work: it is a complete failure that should be ended.
“The U.S. over the last four decades has spent $1 trillion of our tax dollars, made 38 million nonviolent drug arrests and quadrupled our prison population,” Jones said, reports columnist Tom Barnidge of the Contra Costa Times. “And the rate of addiction today, 1.3 percent, is the same as it was in 1970, when we started.”
Jones, 64, spoke to the Martinez Rotary Club last week on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a volunteer organization of 15,000 former judges, prosecutors, federal agents and police officers working for the end of drug prohibition.
He wasn’t specifically promoting California’s Prop 19, which would legalize marijuana in the state, but he said he welcomed any advancement toward the larger goal of legalizing and regulating all controlled substances.
Jones said he began to question the War On Drugs while working undercover on setting up major drug busts. He still has copies of the front-page newspaper headlines.
“The district attorney would announce that a major blow had been dealt to the drug network,” Jones said. “Then what would follow is some new drug dealer would take the old dealer’s place.”
The same pattern was repeated so often that narcotics officers winced whenever the district attorney claimed a “victory” over drugs, according to Jones.
“When I arrested a rapist or robber, the community was safer,” Jones said. “When I arrested a drug dealer, all I did was create a job opening.”
One of the unintended consequences of shutting down local dealers, according to Jones, was to create a void into which moved much larger, better-organized operations.
But then again, unintended consequences are a common product of the War On Drugs.
When amphetamines were outlawed, Jones said, users learned to cook up methamphetamines, which are far more potent. Because cocaine is water soluble, requiring special packaging that is difficult to get past authorities, dealers came up with the derivative crack in smaller, easier-to-hide “rocks.” Those smaller, cheaper portions made it affordable in poor communities, Jones said.
Jones reminds everyone that you can be against drugs and still favor drug law reform. He wants addicts to receive professional treatment and education, recognizing abuse as a health concern, not a matter for law enforcement.
“Doctors should be allowed to prescribe drugs to addicts, who can take their prescription to a clinic where they can get a pharmaceutical-grade dose administered by a health clinician,” Jones said. “When habitual users start going to clinics, you put violent drug dealers out of business, and addicts don’t commit crimes to support their habit.”
He cited as an example clinics in Switzerland, where heroin is dispensed to addicts. Deaths by overdose have been reduced by 50 percent, drug crimes by 60 percent.
To those who doubt the effectiveness of public education, Jones pointed to cigarette smoking. “With education, we reduced the use of tobacco in this country from 42 percent to 17 percent, and we did that without firing one shot or kicking in any doors,” he said.
While the Drug War is a moral and ideological issue for some, for others it’s just a matter of money, according to Jones.
He said the DEA, with a $2.6 billion annual budget and nearly 11,000 employees, would be out of work without illegal drugs.
Local law enforcement agencies would lose fat “anti-drug” federal grants, as well.
Privately operated, for-profit prisons, whose revenues are based on occupancy, would wind up with empty beds.
“A lot of people have their fingers in the bowl of money tied up in the Drug War complex,” Jones said.