Is There A War Brewing on the War on Drugs?

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNS) - From both the right and left, elected officials, policy experts, and advocacy groups have begun to question some of the fundamental practices and assumptions of the so-called "War on Drugs" launched in the 1970s and 1980s.

Recently, both Ira Glasser, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, and David Boaz, vice president of the Cato Institute, have testified before the House Subcommittee on Justice calling for the lifting of minimum mandatory drug sentencing, an end to the seizure of financial assets of drug offenders - and urged Congress to consider a rethinking of drug policies that might include the decriminalization of some types of illegal drugs.

Boaz called the war on drugs "a failed prohibition policy" and urged Congress to "let the states set their own policies with regard to currently illegal drugs."

Glasser called attention to what he called the "tragic mistake" of punitive drug laws, noting that federal funds spent on drug interdiction have risen from $1.65 billion in 1982 to more than $17 billion in 1998 - a figure that does not include state expenditures.

Drug incarceration, Glasser also noted, has accounted for 85 percent of the increase in incarceration rates between 1985 and 1995.

"Three-quarters of the swollen federal drug policy budget remains devoted to law enforcement, much of it interdiction, despite the fact that no serious student of interdiction thinks it has worked or thinks it can work," said Glasser.

Meanwhile, a bill to reform the practice of seizing the assets of drug offenders has been introduced in the Congress by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and is co-sponsored by a group that, in ideological terms, ranges from Rep. Robert Barr (R-GA) to Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).

House Resolution 1658, due to be voted on this week, would require the government to meet more stringent reporting requirements concerning assets seized in drug busts.

Presently, assets may be seized by the police without a defendant being convicted, upon suspicion of such property being used to manufacture or distribute illegal narcotics.

Between 1985 and 1995, the Departments of Justice and Treasury seized nearly $4 billion in assets from US citizens, according to government reports.

"Civil asset forfeiture laws are being used in terribly unjust ways, are depriving innocent citizens of their property, with nothing that can be called due process," said Hyde in a release.