Drug policy more dangerous to men than drugs

In Lebanon, Tennessee a 61-year-old black man, John Adams, and his wife were sitting at home watching TV. Suddenly there was a thunderous pounding at the door. The couple thought it was a home invasion, and they turned out to be right. The intruders burst through the door with guns. Adams, who had retrieved a shotgun, fired once at them but was immediately gunned down in a hail of bullets. He later died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

The police investigated the case but it was an internal investigation because the intruders, the killers, were the police.

They were out that day, as they are all across the United States, kicking in doors, looking for drugs, arresting and sometimes shooting people. As has happened so many other times, when they launched the paramilitary style attack on the Adams’ home, they were at the wrong address. They were “supposed” to be attacking the house next door.

The official response from police? Lebanon Police Chief Billy Weeks said the officers who pelted John Adams’ body with bullets were not at fault.

And perhaps he was correct, in what I would assume is a remarkably myopic interpretation of the word “fault.” The police, after all, are following legal and political instructions. They do not make laws, bad or good. They just have the job of enforcing them. We can debate the merits of whether doing evil things is to be excused under the premise of “doing your job,” at another time.

Right now, however, let’s examine those “legal and political instructions,” and the tragedies they are inflicting on society, particularly in the world of men. Just like current social hysteria of “rape culture” has its roots in the racism that affected the Scottsboro Boys and countless other black men, the so-called War on Drugs was conceived as a weapon against minority men and has now crossed the lines of color to put all men in the crosshairs.

Most of the attacks upon white women of the south are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed negro brain.”

That is not taken from a KKK introductory manual. It was a small part of similar, lengthy testimony given before congressional panels on drug policy. This particular quip was from Dr. Christopher Koch of the Pennsylvania Board of Pharmacy. That was in 1914. The wheels had been in motion for a racist and sexist drug policy, however, earlier than that. In 1910 the US Government released an official report stating:

It has been authoritatively stated that cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes.”

It is easy to infer a great deal from the mentality in the nascent stages of US drug policy, particularly the idea that both racism and misandry are intersectional; that both rape hysteria and drug hysteria have their roots in targeting minority men and have now begun to consume the entire population. The numbers in the United States, the most incarceration prone nation on earth, are ominous. Here are some statistics provided by drugpolicy.org.

  • Amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs: More than $51,000,000,000;
  • Number of people arrested in 2013 in the U.S. on nonviolent drug charges: 1.5 million;
  • Number of people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2013: 693,482;
  • Number of those charged with marijuana law violations who were arrested for possession only: 609,423 (88 percent);
  • Number of Americans incarcerated in 2013 in federal, state and local prisons and jails: 2,220,300 or 1 in every 110 adults, the highest incarceration rate in the world;
  • Proportion of people incarcerated for a drug offense in state prison who are black or Latino, although these groups use and sell drugs at similar rates as whites: 57 percent;
  • Number of students who have lost federal financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction: 200,000+;
  • Number of people in the U.S. who died from a drug overdose in 2013: 43,982;
  • Tax revenue that drug legalization would yield annually, if currently illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco: $46.7 billion;
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that syringe access programs lower HIV incidence among people who inject drugs by 80 percent;
  • One-third of all AIDS cases in the U.S. have been caused by syringe sharing: 354,000 people;
  • U.S. federal government support for syringe access programs: $0.00, thanks to a federal ban reinstated by Congress in 2011 that prohibits any federal assistance for them.

In short, the War on Drugs is adversely affecting and killing far, far more people than drugs themselves. Most all of them are men. Without a doubt they are affecting minority men disproportionately. It is much easier for police to kick in doors with guns blazing in places where the victims cannot afford legal representation. This obviously makes drug policy, especially of this particularly virulent strain, a men’s issue.

But how, you may ask, does this related to men’s general emotional and psychological health?  Well, it does in many ways. Prison is a physically and psychologically devastating “solution” to men with addiction problems or for casual users. It effectively takes nonviolent “offenders” and puts them in one of the most violence inducing environments possible.

The overwhelming majority of incarcerated drug offenders are men. There are many factors affecting this, primary among them is that men are twice as likely to be arrested and incarcerated for the same crimes as women. Women’s “criminality” is much more likely to be treated as a mental health issue, while the same behavior in men is viewed and treated as simply criminal.

There is much more than this but it would take a book to get to all of it. Still, the possibility of the therapeutic effects of illegal drugs needs to be part of this discussion. Cannabis has shown significant theoretical promise for a number of physical and emotional ailments but being a Schedule I drug according to the US government it is dismissed, by law, of having any possible medicinal value. Serious research on its medical benefits is nearly impossible to fund.

Throughout history, human beings have used drugs, legally sanctioned or not, for recreational and medicinal purposes. Our knowledge of addictions points directly to the conclusion that those who live with a great amount of stress, trauma or who come from dysfunctional backgrounds are more prone to seek relief in that way. It is ludicrous to assume that the appropriate reaction to that is to punish people with more stress, trauma and dysfunction, which is all our criminal justice system has to offer.

It is time that we rethink our position on supposedly illicit drugs of all kinds and sensibly approach this with damage control in mind instead of just creating more damage. The criminal model of drug abuse response is a deadly and utterly mindless approach, rooted in both sexual and racial bigotry. A mental health model which respects individual freedoms could do more damage control, quit lining the pockets of the prison-industrial complex, save billions in wasted dollars and would literally save lives every day.

The worst that would come from it is that it would offend the puritanical sensibilities of the modern temperance movement. I am betting the grieving widow of John Adams would agree.

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