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News :: Politics
Public hearing to investigate the War on Drugs
14 Nov 2004
This Monday, November 15th, the Boston City Council will hold a hearing to investigate the effectiveness of our nation's War on Drugs, and the Boston component of it. The questions to be raised and addressed will include how much money has been spent nationally and in Massachusetts since 1973 and in the last ten years on the "war," this will include drug rehabilitation paid for by the state in this year's budget. The information gathered from these and other questions will be used to attempt to answer the ultimate question of this hearing, which is whether it is now time to admit that the War on Drugs has failed and that it is time to develop a new and more effective approach to the use of drugs in this country.
Another issue likely on the agenda is that of drug forfeiture money; recently an initiative to set up a Massachusetts Drug Treatment Trust Fund, into which all money forfeited from drug crimes would be deposited, failed to win on a state ballot. The money currently goes to police and district attorneys. "I would like to see drug forteiture money split in half between the DA and police and a city fund for detox and treatment," says City Councilor Chuck Turner.

In attendance will be representatives from the Boston Police Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the ACLU, among others. Also in attendance and testifying will be Art Nicoletti from a Philadelphia organization called Consent of the Governed, described in its mission statement as a growing national grass-roots citizens movement to capture the imagination of the American people and create a national resolve to expose and eliminate those governmental policies, decisions, and regulations that "are allowing illicit drugs to enter our communities and destroy the lives of our loved ones." According to Nicoletti, the "war on drugs" should be renamed "America's own Apartheid," as it constitutes "a massive human and civil rights violation."

Critics of our national drug policy contend that it creates more problems than it fixes; according to the Drug Policy Alliance, "(m)any of the problems the drug war purports to resolve are in fact caused by the drug war itself. So-called "drug-related" crime is a direct result of drug prohibition's distortion of immutable laws of supply and demand"Drug abuse is bad, but the war on drugs is worse." The drug war is seen by its dissenters to be the prime cause of prison overcrowding, with a disproportionately large number of jailed drug offenders being African-Americans and other minorities. It is also seen to give rise to inner city gangs and organized crime. Nicoletti sees this Monday's hearing as "part of a call for equal time [to address] the cause of drugs in communities, not the effect."

"We need to focus on a sane policy," says Turner. "We're trying to strengthen a national dialogue and create a local dialogue. Not just about marijuana legalization, but whether punitive drug policies are a good thing for our community."

The hearing is on Monday, November 15, at 5:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers in Boston City Hall and is free and open to the public.

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Re: Public hearing to investigate the War on Drugs
14 Nov 2004
Boston City Councillor Chuck Turner is calling for a public hearing this Monday to investigate the War on Drugs. The purpose of the November 15th hearing is to gather data on the resources devoted to the war on drugs by different city, state, and federal agencies...
The high cost of the drug war, both monetary and human, is the primary motivation for the public hearing.

President Nixon declared the current global War on Drugs and created the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973. The law enforcement budget has since inflated from less than 100 million dollars to tens of billions of dollars per year. In parallel, the number of incarcerated people has quadrupled in the United States, going from 500,000 to over 2 million people. Almost a quarter of state and federal inmates are in prison for drug-related offenses, and minority populations are heavily overrepresented among them. According to a 2003 Justice Department report, a black male in the United States has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison during his lifetime.

However, according to Councillor Turner, despite law enforcement and incarceration measures, the supply of drugs seems unrelenting. Chuck Turner wants to use the public hearing on Monday to find out whether the current war on drugs has failed, like its infamous predecessor, Prohibition. (Starting in 1920, alcohol was prohibited in the United States. Prohibition was a massive failure in limiting access to alcohol, and moreover was a boon to organized criminal organizations, which took over the distribution of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933.)

Councillor Turner's goal is to develop a responsible drug policy, using the data gathered in the public hearing. He believes that a responsible drug policy approaches drug use as a medical rather than a criminal issue. He hopes to get an assessment from the law enforcement agencies on the cost and effectiveness of the current drug war. Many law enforcement leaders are growing disillusioned with the methods and results of the drug war, as the founding of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in 2002 attests.

Ultimately, Councillor Turner hopes to gather support for a home rule petition for the city of Boston, allowing it to spend part of the monies from drug seizures on recovery centers for addicts. "I think we should move towards a policy of legalization," he said, "as we look at money spent on law enforcement and incarceration, people will move in that direction."

However, Chuck Turner is not optimistic about the possibility of promoting change through a state-wide popular vote. Indeed, a ballot initiative calling for a fund from drug seizure money to be used for drug treatment, and for the possibility of treatment alternatives to prison sentences, was defeated in 2000 in Massachusetts. This defeat was partly due to the opposition by a large segment of the law enforcement community to the initiative.

Councillor Turner believes that popular pressure can be used to persuade the Boston delegation of the Massachusetts Congress to advocate for an alternative drug policy in Boston.

The public hearing will also address the issue of drug-related violence, especially in minority neighborhoods. The prohibition against drugs artificially inflates their price. The struggle over the large profits from drug sales results in violence, primarily gang violence in minority neighborhoods. This is analogous to the rise in organized crime during alcohol prohibition. "The increase in gang violence goes hand in hand with the development of the war on drugs," said Councillor Turner, "and the beefing up and militarization of the police has grown hand in hand with gang violence since drugs became illegal."

The equipment, training, and tactics of the Boston Police Department have come under scrutiny due to the recent death of a young woman resulting from the use of "non-lethal" weapons. Victoria Snelgrove, a 21-year-old journalism student at Emerson college, was hit in the eye by a projectile fired by the police during the celebration following the Boston Red Sox qualification for the baseball World Series on October 20th. The Boston police has taken "full responsibility" for her death, and an investigation is under way.

Many police officers are uncomfortable with the militarization of their work. The War on Drugs framework encourages armed confrontation, which more and more law enforcement leaders see as detrimental to their profession. Indeed, part of the mission statement of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) is to "restore the public's respect for law enforcement that has been diminished by our involvement in enforcing drug prohibition."

Monday's public hearing to investigate the war on drugs may help citizens as well as law enforcement and other agencies to better understand the consequences of the war on drugs in Boston, and hopefully motivate them to pursue alternative policies.


The time, location and text of the hearing follow:

WHAT: Public Hearing to Investigate the War on Drugs.
WHEN: Monday, Nov 15 2004, 5:00 pm
WHERE: City Council Chambers, Boston City Hall



Whereas, during the last thirty years, trillions of dollars have been
distributed to federal police agencies, state police, and local police
throughout the country including Boston and its metropolitan region to stop the
flow of non prescription drugs; and

Whereas, incarceration for the sale, possession, and distribution of these
drugs has been a major factor in the increase in the number of people in jail
from 500,000 in 1973 to over 2 million today; and

Whereas, despite the trillions of dollars spent and the ever increasing number
of people being incarcerated for crimes involving nonprescription drugs, the
flow of these drugs seem to continue unabated into cities and towns throughout
the country, including Boston; and

Whereas, the continued flow of non prescription drugs and arrest of their
retailers seems to indicate that despite the trillions of dollars spent, our
federal, state, and local police are unable to arrest the major national and
international suppliers and the financial institutions that launder their
money; and

Whereas, it appears that drugs are distributed in the white communities of
Boston by organized crime while those same organizations supply it individuals
in communities of color to create distribution units called gangs;

Whereas, the drugs and guns being brought into Boston's communities of color and
method of drug distribution has been and continues to be the major source of
the violence among youth in communities of color; and

Whereas, statistics indicate that there are 1 million men and women of African
descent and hundreds of thousands of men and women of Latino descent in jails
throughout the United States, the vast majority for drug related crimes; and

Whereas, billions of dollars continue to be invested in the failing effort to
stop the flow of drugs while national and state funding is critically needed
for education, youth services, programs, and workers; health services including
drug rehabilitation, job training; and public works programs, to name only a
few critical areas of need; Therefore be it

Ordered, that the appropriate committee of the Boston City Council hold a
public hearing and invite representatives of from the offices of:

the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency;
the Federal Bureau of Investigation;
the Alcohol Tobacco, and Firearms Administration;
the Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety;
the Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services;
the Massachusetts State Police;
the Massachusetts Commissioner of Prisons;
the Massachusetts Department of Public Health;
the Massachusetts Attorney General;
the Suffolk County District Attorney;
the Suffolk County Sheriff, and
the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department

to address the following questions:

1) How much money has been spent nationally on the "War on Drugs"
since 1973; and in the last ten years?

2) How much money has been spent in Massachusetts on the "War on
Drugs" since 1973; and during the last ten years?

3) How many people are in Massachusetts jails on drug related
crimes today; in Suffolk County jails today? Describe the demographic
percentages by race, age gender, etc.?

4) What is the cost to the state and Suffolk County of those who
are incarcerated for drug related crimes?

5) How much money is being spent on drug rehabilitation by the
state in this year's budget?

6) Is it a fair assessment to say that drugs continue to flow into
the country, state, and City of Boston despite the efforts to stop the flow?

7) Is it time to admit that the "War on Drugs" has failed and that
it is time to develop a new and more effective approach to the use of
drugs in this country?
Re: Public hearing to investigate the War on Drugs
14 Nov 2004
great idea,however the law enforcment agencys will never allow,you to take away the job security and money that comes from this fiasco
CIA Must Stop Smuggling Drugs.
15 Nov 2004
Until the CIA quits smuggling drugs into this country? And demand decreases? Drugs will prevail.
The war on drugs is like the war in Iraq. Losing battle.
Changing the subject.
S.89 is going to be voted on by March. Is little Johnny and Janey ready for the draft?
There Is No War on Drugs
15 Nov 2004
If narcotics ceased to be a $500 billion a year business in this country, our entire economy would collapse.
Re: Public hearing to investigate the War on Drugs
15 Nov 2004
I think this is a great thing as long as the feds don't send a bunch of 'experts' to bias the hearing.
Maybe after this, the state government will look at medical marijuana programs which have gained public approval and passed several non-binding votes.
Re: Public hearing to investigate the War on Drugs
16 Nov 2004
Actually, there was police support of ending the "war". LEAP- Law Enforcement Against Prohabition- was there leafletting, they seem to have a strong campaign.
Re: Public hearing to investigate the War on Drugs
18 Nov 2004
That was a great forum, i'm glad someone has the cojones to actually say this in public.
Re: Public hearing to investigate the War on Drugs
18 Nov 2005
We have all the facts and figures that support the argument that the drug war is a failure. The only solution is to end prohibition now and work toward regulation and taxation, as we did with alcohol, tobacco and fire arms. This is a duh. Check out
27 May 2006
Pretty nice site, wants to see much more on it! :)