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Why Are We Losing the War on Drugs?

According to the Huffington Post, Richard Nixon's "War on Drugs" may be on the losing side of popular opinion, in part because of concerns about the law enforcement tactics used to conduct the war. A former Seattle police chief wrote that many police officers believe that the drug war has undermined the role of a non-military police force in a democratic society.

Ordinary citizens find themselves appalled by home invasions conducted by law enforcement in pursuit of drug crimes. Print and broadcast news media frequently report stories of police misconduct that both violates civil rights and lets the bad guys get away.

There are at least 130 paramilitary-style raids in the United States every day. Most of these are for marijuana warrants. Most police departments use SWAT teams when they conduct any type of drug raid, from marijuana possession to major trafficking. They arrive in the middle of the night equipped with night vision goggles, body armor and military boots. They batter down doors and employ flash-bang grenades when entering. And they shoot at almost any provocation, including "suspicious movements" from terrified residents.

They frequently kill family pets, as drug dealers are known to use guard dogs. And sometimes police get the address wrong and terrorize people with no connection to the drug trade. But the federal government keeps giving local law enforcement money, equipment and its approval of methods that could be mistaken for those used in Latin American and African dictatorships and military governments.

The distinction between soldiers and police is becoming blurred, and individual civil liberties are being trampled. And the result: the war on drugs has lost the support of the people who pay for it. Moreover, the war has had little overall effect on the drug business in the United States, except that many law-abiding people fear the police. Was that the intent 40 years ago?

Source: Huffington Post, "Losing Hearts and Minds in the Drug War", by Norm Stamper, Nov. 14, 2011.

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