Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Care Part III

What would you do to further health care and education if you had, oh lets say, $19 billion a year? Think you could come up with a plan to give people who need health insurance? Yeah. Me too.

Actually, nowadays, its closer to $22 billion, and if you want to do the math, you'll see that there's enough money there to make sure every man, woman and child in the country gets (1) a decent education and (2) health care.

One hundred billion dollars--give or take a few billion--is the yearly aggregate cost of the war on drugs. William Buckley, who is not my favorite spokesperson, nevertheless go it right a few years ago when he wrote, "Most people can use most drugs without doing much harm to themselves or anyone else. Only a tiny percentage of the 70 million Americans who have tried marijuana have gone on to have problems with that or any other drug. The same is true of the tens of millions of Americans who have used cocaine or hallucinogens. Most of those who did have a problem at one time or another don't any more. That a few million Americans have serious problems with illicit drugs today is an issue meriting responsible national attention, but it is no reason to demonize those drugs and the people who use them. We're unlikely to evolve toward a more effective and humane drug policy unless we begin to change the ways we think about drugs and drug control."

My thought has always been to legalize every drug that comes along. If you're truly stupid enough to get yourself addicted, considering all the information out there today at every level on the evils of drugs, well go ahead and shoot up, snort, smoke, swallow, huff and puff to your heart's delight. No amount of persuasion will work on you, and you're not worth a war. But the rest of us? Some of us got into trouble and got out of it, and most never got into trouble at all.

We are, and have been, fighting a losing war that has enriched the coke, marijuana and heroin dealers. The very fact that drugs are illegal is what makes them expensive. Were we to legalize, oversee and tax the import or dissemination of drugs, we would immediately put the illegal dealers out of business, save billions, and free up thousands of law enforcement personnel to fight crime and enforce laws that really matter. But, wait! Isn't a lot of crime drug-related? Yes indeedy, it is. The violence associated with the drug-trade would vanish as well. If it's legal and can be purchased, why kill people for it?

And then, of course, there's the billions of dollars involved in prosecuting and imprisoning drug offenders.

It was in 1986, during Reagan's presidency, that mandatory minimum sentencing laws were passed for drug offenses. Mandatory minimum sentences require a certain amount of jail time for drug offenders depending on the type of drug, the weight of the drug involved, and the number of prior convictions. Judges are not allowed to decrease the amount of jail time for any reason other than acting as an informant to help the prosecution.

The intent of minimum sentencing laws was to get to the drug king pins, but these folks are also the ones with expensive lawyers who know how to bargain. The ones who do get nailed are low-level, non-violent drug offenders who cannot provide helpful information to the government or afford top-notch legal help..

According to the Department of Justice, over half of all sentenced federal prisoners are drug offenders. Over 80% of the increase in the federal prison population was due to drug convictions between 1985 and 1995. In addition, a 2006 report claimed that 17% of State prisoners and 18% of Federal prisoners committed their crimes in order to obtain drug money. According to a 2001 report, the average sentence for all offenses was 56.8 months. The average sentence for drug offenses was 75.6 months, while the average sentence for violent offenses was 63.0 months.

Someone is arrested for violating a drug law every 17 seconds. Someone is arrested for violating a cannabis law every 38 seconds.

Over $19 billion was spent on the war on drugs by the federal government in 2003, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This equates to $600 per second. Another $30 billion was spent by state and local governments.

According to the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, it costs approximately $450,000 to put a single drug dealer in jail. This cost includes the costs of arrest, conviction, room, and board.

We really don't need to say a lot more about this, do we? All that money could create a healthy nation, with a sound drug education policy and insurance for all.

Here's an amazing website: http://www.drugsense.org/wodclock.htm. Go to it now and see, second by second, the costs of the government's war on drugs. What could you do with $600 a second?

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