From the Bottom Up

All About the Benjamins

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Smoking Young Obama
Barack Obama puffing during his good ol' days.

OThe Benjaminskay, I’m over the whole Tyra Banks publishing a novel before me thing. Maybe not really, but for the sake of my audience and my sanity I’ve decided to move on, for now. Back to more pressing issues.

As I mentioned during my Tyra tirade, President Obama finally released his long awaited drug policy last week. Trust me when I tell you that it’s long and boring. You can find most of the relevant information in the summary. More interesting was an extensive story by the Associated Press, also released last week, investigating the cost and effect of our forty-year War on Drugs. The costs are staggering.

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Thus far, our government has dropped a trillion dollars in fighting its anti-drug campaign. When Richard Nixon declared his war on by signing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, he originally budgeted $100 million. Today’s budgets top out at $15.1 billion. Even when adjusted for inflation that’s a 31-fold increase. Sadly, if you pay attention to the news (or if you’re a city dweller like me,  just take a good look around) you’ll realize that most of that money has gone to waste. If you’re talking bang for the buck we might have just as well spent it all on the biggest 4th of July fireworks display this nation, not to mention the rest of the world, has ever seen.

So where did all that dough go? Here’s a breakdown of some of the expenses:

  • We’ve dropped $33 billion on all those Just Say No campaigns. A lot of good that did considering drug use among teens has stayed fairly level since 1970 and overdoses have continued to go up, peaking at around 20,000 last year.
  • We’ve dropped another $49 billion to stem the flow of drugs over our borders. Also pointless considering that this year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970. Where are most of those drugs coming through? Mexico.
  • $121 billion of your hard-earned money was used to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders. Nearly 10 million of were arrested for simple marijuana possession. Studies indicate that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • It cost another $450 billion to keep those people locked up in federal prison. As a matter of fact, half of all federal prisoners are there for drugs.

Add another $20 billion to fight drug cartels in their own countries, $ 6 billion of it dropped in Colombia alone and $215 billion PER YEAR in intangible costs like “an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction” and you can begin to get the picture.

Smoking Young Obama

Barack Obama puffing during his good ol' days.

You might imagine that our wonderful, former pothead, former community organizer president recognizes all this. After all, unlike the AP, Obama doesn’t have to file under the Freedom of Information Act to compile all of these numbers. He can just call up his appointed drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, to analyze the data and try to turn this titanic around before it slams into an iceberg. Keep dreaming.

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You see, while the talk has changed, it’s the money that does the real talking. Kerlikowske himself admits the War on Drugs has been, on a whole, a failure. He states, as does the president and his policy, that more effort has to go into treating our drug problem as a public health issue as opposed to a criminal justice issue. Yet Obama is requesting a record $15.5 billion for the drug war. Two thirds of that will still go to enforcement. So for all the bluster about shifting the focus in how to best handle America’s drug problem, not much has changed.

I’m prepared to give our buddy Barack the benefit of the doubt here. He’s not stupid. If he is to be reelected in 2012 he has to continue to appeal to the center. He’s still reeling from being accused of trying to socialize Wall Street and Healthcare. So I’ll settle for his administration’s talk about changing strategy, for now. But if I’m still hearing the same shit in three years, I’ll— Okay, I need to be careful here. I don’t need the Secret Service breaking down my door. Let’s just say that Mr. President might almost regret the whole Freedom of Speech thing. Hey, it’s not my fault the truth hurts.

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The Word Pimp
Fernando Quijano III is the former President of the Maryland Writers Association, Baltimore Chapter. His work has been featured in Welter, Smile Hon, You’re in Baltimore & the poetry anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire. An excerpt from his unpublished novel, Forever, Lilith was included in the Apprentice House anthology Freshly Squeezed. He has been featured at the Baltimore Book Festival, Stoop Storytelling, & The Signal on WYPR, Baltimore's local NPR station. In his spare time, Fernando volunteers to lead workshops for Writing Outside the Fence, a program for the ex-offender community, as well as at the Brock Bridge Correctional Facility. Fernando was recently awarded a B grant for his writing by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund.

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