Washington State Representative Roger Goodman stopped by the University of Montana campus to discuss a possible exit strategy for the longest lasting war in American history. The ‘War on Drugs.’
Offering vast amounts of information and very interesting insight into what lawyers across the country and government officials are really starting to do, Representative Goodman had a lot of good things to say. This began with a brief history of the war on drugs, and concluded with question and answer portion in which Goodman was confronted with tough questions about a very complex problem. The discussion took place in the basement of a liberal arts building on the University campus.
He started off in the early American historical drug use:
“The Chinese were the first targets in the late 1800s and 1900s. The opium laws. Against smoking it.”
He continued with:
“They built our railroads and smoked opium at the end of the day to relive the pain, but then there were too many of them.”
His history then started to highlight the racial turn that the laws on drugs took.
“Plantation owners fed their black slaves cocaine to make them work better.”
Goodman continued by stating some very interesting statistics by proposing the following explanation for what people are imprisoned for:
“Imagine possession of vegetable matter is a crime. Transferring vegetable matter from one person to another is a crime.”
He continued along these racial lines saying:
“71-72% of drug users are white, and they are do their drugs indoors…but 75% of Americans in prison for drugs are Latino or African American.”
He later made a similar comparison in the regards to crack: “65% of crack users are white. But 90% of criminal crack offenses are black.”
He then began to move the discussion towards the economic side of things. Using marijuana as an example he stated: “marijuana is illegal solely because of economic reasons.” He then went on to discuss how William Randolph Hearst brought the Mexican sounding word to Americans to begin a war against the hemp plant. How Hearst worked with Harry J. Anslinger against the hemp industry as it threatened the giant paper-making and timber industry. After all,
“…you can make around 10x as much paper from hemp than from wood pulp.”
Hemp can even be processed to create plastic, according to Mr. Goodman, which led the DuPont company to get patents on products so as not to allow hemp-based products to compete with their rapidly growing petroleum-based laden industry.
“1937 is where we branched…we could be either a biomass based economy or a petroleum based economy. And look what happened.”
He jumped forward to the Nixon administration where the phrase “war on drugs” really started to take flight. Here, Goodman said, is where the war became “about vulnerable groups.” However, the vulnerable groups were colorblind. Even white America was being dragged into the mix and people were
“…treating social dislocation of poor whites as a drug problem.”
This, however, did not address the problem at hand. He said that we “need to address the economic roots” to get anything done.
So, what did Representative Goodman say are some of the necessary components in an exit strategy for the war on drugs? The first, was offering treatment to drug users instead of prison time. This, he stated, was a very necessary and missing component in the state of Montana. Since becoming a representative in the state of Washington, he has seen the direct payoff in the investment of treatment. Two years ago, they changed the funding for prisons from 200 million dollars to 269 million dollars in one year. Savings were yielded almost right away. Because they did the research, and realized that if you treat someone, they are not going to get in trouble again and/or harm someone. The state saved 84 million dollars as a result. that’s 15 million dollars in a year. Imagine the possibilities if this were done at a federal level. What does the government spend money on when it comes to drug prevention?
Programs like D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Goodman stated that %75 of schools have the D.A.R.E. program in them. However, this is the only program that has been evaluated at a federal level. What did Goodman have to say about this program?
“Exposure to the D.A.R.E. problem means increased drug use.”
In his opinion, the program offers “no attention to the kids needs.” Kids needs, is something that also needed to be looked at. While we wage war on drugs in their minds, we feed them drugs such as Paxil. Goodman jokingly offered that we prescribe this kind of drug for “generalized anxiety disorder, otherwise known as shyness.” Goodman went on to say that we should not “just say no,” but we should “Just say know. K-N-O-W.” His humorous undertones to the discussion continued offering that “We have given kids a choice, in school, between crack and diet crack.”
“As a result of 50 billion dollars spent in the war on drugs, drugs are plentiful, cheaper, and more pure than ever before. Imagine what the 50 billion dollars could have done for early childhood education or health care for Americans. We just have to keep fighting this war on drugs…prohibitions have not worked.”
Representative Goodman called for a “regulatory scheme” stating that an exit strategy to the war on drugs needs to examine fiscal policy as well as family policy. One of the biggest hurdles in developing an economic regulatory scheme in the trade and sale of drugs was the fact that interstate commerce falls under law of the Federal Government. Or, in the words of Attorney General Robert Spire:
“The Commerce Clause gives the United States Congress full plenary power to regulate interstate commerce, and therefore, Federal statutes passed by Congress and Federal administrative rules and regulations passed under proper authority from Congress are capable of pre-empting any state legislation or regulation of the same subject.”
An amendment to this rule, Goodman stated, would help to allow states to come up with their own laws about how to regulate the sale of drugs which offer medicinal purposes such as marijuana.
So, does Representative Goodman want all drugs to just be legalized? No. He says:
“People should be allowed to say, ‘I want sovereignty over my own mind.’ But the end of my liberty ends at the end of your nose.”
“A drug should be regulated according to its propensity for harm.”
The current classification of drugs exist in a series of schedules. Schedule 1, being the one needing to be most examined. Drugs within this schedule are under complete prohibition in this country in terms of laws; drugs such as cannabis, crack, ecstasy. Even though some of the drugs were originally developed to help people. “Ecstasy,” Goodman said, “is the number one treatment for post traumatic stress disorder experienced by soldiers in the military.”
What does the rest of the world think? It seems that the trends are leaning towards Goodmans beliefs. Goodman stated that in Germany if you are a drug addict you are given a certificate that states as such which entitles users to drugs administered in a safe, controlled environment. Because of programs like this, Amsterdam has around the same number of heroine addicts in the country that they did in 1976. Around 25,000 people.
It seems that America may be leaving itself in the dust again. It’s nice to know that we have people in the government that don’t want to just give up and not talk about it. We need more Representatives who are willing to talk about regulation and control instead of legalization. There were over 850,000 arrests for marijuana last year. Goodman hopes that through the results of many years of discontinuous change, there will be a breakthrough akin to the falling of the Berlin wall.
So what can we do?
Talk to people. Write letters; hand-written letters stating your feelings and opinions to anyone you think can make a difference. Educate people. Get the conversation started.
You can start here by sharing ideas about what you think are necessary components in getting America out its war on drugs. Here are the results from the grupthink.com topic so far:
Here are some links to additional information in relation to Representative Goodman:
- King County Bar Associations Drug Policy Project
- Friends of Roger Goodman
- Official Washington State Gov. site for Mr. Goodman
- Effective Drug Control: Toward a New Legal Framework – an informative 149 page report released in 2005 outlining much of the information Goodman covered in his speech as well as an in-depth look at topics related to the war on drugs
Additional links to organizations devoted to this kind of work:
- Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
- Voluntary Committee of Lawyers
- The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
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