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Rev. Bob Olmstead
First United Methodist Church
Palo Alto, California
July 8, 2001
"He said to them, '?Go your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into
the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals;?cure the sick who
are there, and say to them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you." But
whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its
streets and say, "Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe
off in protest against you?"'"
There came a time in the Vietnam War when the effort needed to be
reassessed. Were we accomplishing our goals? Was victory possible? Was the
cost too great? Some said once war was declared we should fight to the end..
Others said we never should have entered the war. Many who supported the war
initially came to agree that the cost of continuing was too great.
Eventually we retreated and withdrew our military forces.
The time has come to ask those same questions of the War on Drugs. Are we
accomplishing our goals? Is victory possible? Is the cost of continuing too
great? What are our options?
One option is to fight on to the bitter end. Drugs are a lethal enemy.
We must accept no compromise nor give up on the fight. Another option is to
pull out, make drugs legal, and admit that it is an individual choice whether
a person uses or abuses drugs.
There are a number of options that lie between these poles.
The War on Drugs has had unforeseen results which lead me to think that
the cost of continuing is too great. Almost one of out every four
African-American males in our country is in prison or awaiting trial. Almost
one in four. The vast majority are accused of drug use or drug trafficking..
We have told our politicians and our courts to "get tough on drugs". We have
enacted laws requiring mandatory prison sentences for drug offenses. These
have filled our nation's prisons beyond capacity. Prisons are breeding
grounds for future crime. Prisons are where young men - boys really - learn
from older men how to be better criminals. Prisons do not deter crime;
prisons breed and train criminals. Prisons are an extravagantly expensive
way of dealing with drugs. The Law of Unintended Consequences has kicked in..
Mandatory prison sentences are a key element in the War on Drugs; they have
proved ineffective, self-defeating and unprofitable.
Our horror about drugs has blinded us to almost everything else. Did you
know that convicted rapists and murderers can still get food stamps but
convicted drug addicts cannot? Does that make sense? Is drug addiction worse
than murder and rape? That punitive twist to federal law does not affect
big-time drug dealers. They don't need food stamps! It hurts the poor and
it hurts their children.
We just sent $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, the most
virulent anti-American violators of human rights in the world today. This is
the same government that sends out religious police to stone - sometimes to
death - women who do not completely cover their bodies or men who refuse to
grow beards. The Taliban have recently destroyed centuries old Buddhist
shrines. Afghanistan is one of the "rogue states" cited as reason for
building a missile shield in outer space lest they some day bomb America. Why
do we support this same "rogue" government with a gift of $43 million
dollars? Because the Taliban have declared that growing opium poppies is
against the will of God. War makes for strange bedfellows. We all know
that. Is the War on Drugs worth climbing into bed with the Taliban?
Colombia is one of several South American nations who export coca. Coca
is the source of cocaine. The American market for cocaine makes coca the
principal cash crop in Colombia. It is the foundation of the nation's
economy. Coca is more important to Colombia than General Motors, General
Electric, Microcoft and Cisco are to America. $43 million to the Taliban in
Afghanistan is peanuts when compared to the $1.3 billion which we will give
to Colombia over the next two years so they can fumigate the soil on which
the poor farmers grow coca. A poor farmer whose land has been fumigated is
not a happy camper. His fumigated land will now grow nothing, no food for
his family, no crop for export. Planes bought and paid for by the U.S. and
piloted by the military of his own government (with American pilots sitting
inside to offer "advice") fly over his land and bomb it with chemicals which
make it barren. Shortly after the fumigation of his land left wing
paramilitary groups sweep through the village to enlist him and his neighbors
in an uprising against the elected government. Right wing paramilitary
armies, financed with drug money, then sweep through the village shooting the
left-wing farmers. The government is powerless to help because the drug
trade in Colombia produces more money than the remainder of the entire
Imagine what it feels like to be that farmer, or that farmer's wife, or that
farmer's children. We charmingly label this destruction of life and land
"collateral damage". After all, this is war! Is this collateral damage
acceptable? Or has the cost of our War on Drugs become too high? With
billions of dollars spent, with millions of lives ruined, is there "light at
the end of the tunnel"? Is there any evidence that we are winning the War on
Drugs? If we drive a million South American peasants into the arms of
left-wing revolutionaries in order to save the lives of half a million U.S.
youth, is that an acceptable price? Is anybody counting the cost? Is
anybody calculating whether we might want to sue for peace in the War on
Drugs and try another approach?
Why not legalize drugs? Whiskey, gin, tobacco, aspirin, beer - these are
legal and regulated.
Drug related crime is because drugs are so expensive. They are hard to get.
This makes them very very profitable. Users steal or kill to get the money
to buy drugs. The illegal business of supplying drugs is outrageously
lucrative. What if drugs were cheap and available? Would we see an enormous
increase in drug addiction? I don't know the answer to that.
I do know that Prohibition didn't work. Alcohol and drugs have been
grown, brewed, produced, ingested and drunk since the beginning of (human)
time. We are not going to win the War on Drugs.
The failure of Prohibition does not mean that alcohol is good for us, or good
for society. The legalization and regulation of drugs would not make them
less harmful. Drugs are harmful. They are especially harmful to the young
because of the physiological damage they do and the false happiness they
Drugs do physiological damage.
Drugs provide fake happiness.
Youth and immature adults are especially prone to fake happiness.
This week a new California law went into effect. It was passed by public
initiative. The majority of California voters favored it. Known as
Proposition 36, it mandates treatment instead of jail for thousands of drug
offenders in our state. It means that up to 6,000 first and second time
offenders in our county alone during the first year will be sentenced to
treatment programs rather than prison. That statistic reveals the extent of
the problem. It's enormous. Six thousand people in Santa Clara county alone
in one year who will go into treatment rather than go to jail because we
passed Proposition 36. Praise God for small favors!
It is peculiarly American to think that no problem is too big for us to
lick. Going to "war" on drugs is a uniquely American way of approaching the
issue. Unfortunately we're losing the war. What are our options?
I pondered today's Gospel lesson to see if it provides specific insight
for the issue of drug addiction and the War on Drugs. It contains a jarring
note. Jesus sends the disciples off to get their feet wet. They have heard
his preach. They have seen him heal the sick. They have watched him
confront the authorities. They have marveled as he cast out demons. (Why,
it would seem like the power of Jesus would stop a drug addict in his
tracks!) Jesus thinks it's time to test the disciples. Are they ready to
wield this Gospel healing power? He says, "See, I am sending you out like
lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals? Whenever
you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure
the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to
you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into
its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we
wipe off in protest against you?'" (Luke 10:3-4,8-11)
Jesus knows that not everybody is going to heed the Gospel message; not
everybody will welcome the healing the disciples offer. Jesus counsels the
disciples not to waste their time in such towns with such people. Wipe the
dust of the town off your feet! Go on to some place where the message is
heeded, where health is wanted, and the kingdom of God is wanted!
I tried to paste that advice like a template over the vexing problem of
drugs. But pieces of the problem kept hanging out. It wouldn't fit. That's
too libertarian for me. The libertarian says make drugs legal. It's up to
individuals whether to use them or not. People should be free to ruin their
lives if they choose. I discovered there's still an old finger-pointing
preacher in me who rose up and shouted, No, no, no! That's not right! I am
not a libertarian!
A previous administration promoted the "Just Say No!" approach. Remember
that? Media types derided it. But that is at the heart of it. I don't care
if you are 14 or 40 you ultimately have to make a decision for yourself.
Drugs are harmful. That includes marijuana which destroys brain cells and
statistically speaking, tends to lead to experimentation with harder and more
Does that mean we ought to criminalize the use of marijuana by cancer
patients? Why do we reduce things to black and white? Our fear of drugs
once made the use of morphine illegal, forcing hundreds of thousands of
people to die in long and excruciating pain. What does it matter if a
terminally ill person becomes a drug addict? Good grief!
Having said that, should marijuana be prescribed for despondent or distraught
teen-agers? No! That's the dispensation of false happiness. Adolescence is
when we typically learn that life is not all happiness; that there are
obstacles and disappointments to be overcome. That's life. And life is
lived best in the warm embrace of family and the caring concern of church.
Neither of which guarantees freedom from drug abuse or addiction.
State Senator Liz Figueroa recently held the California legislature
spellbound as she described her brother's recent death from a heroin
overdose. Sixteen years earlier she helped her mother make the decision to
end life-support for another brother in a coma from the same addiction. Why,
she wondered aloud, did she turn out so different from her brothers. All
three had devoted, principled parents as they grew up in San Mateo. They all
went to good schools. One of her brothers spent most of his adult life in
prison on drug related convictions. It didn't help him. Would increased and
improved drug treatment programs have helped her brothers? There is no
guarantee, but it seems like a better option than draining our resources in a
losing war that is destroying as many people as it is saving.
Alcohol is a contributing factor in automobile accidents, family violence and
many illnesses. We are learning to treat alcoholism as a disease and to
educate and regulate the consumption of alcoholic beverages. We allow the
distilling of alcoholic beverages and brewery stocks sell on Wall Street, but
we prohibit the advertising of alcoholic beverages in many locales.
Smoking is a major cause of lung cancer. But if you are a smoker and you get
lung cancer we do not put you in jail. Your medical policy will still pay
for your treatment. Why do we treat tobacco addiction as a medical problem
and heroin addiction as a crime?
The criminalization of drugs has made them very very profitable. Just as
Prohibition "created" rumrunners and illegal stills, so the War on Drugs has
"created" drug-lords and vast networks of pushers.
Marijuana kills brain cells. But between marijuana and a martini I don't
know which kills more. Alcohol kills brain cells too. And it distorts
judgement. And it impairs reflexes. And it lowers inhibitions. That's why
people drink! I'm not suggesting that we make marijuana free. But maybe we
should make it available and regulated, in the same manner as whiskey and
gin. Not because I want to encourage marijuana smoking, but because it might
actually make it more difficult for teen-agers to obtain.
Has anybody crunched the numbers to figure out if it might not be cheaper to
add drug addiction to our medical plans, rather than put addicts in jail for
years at tens of thousands of dollars per prisoner paid for by our tax
dollars? Might it not actually be less expensive to treat it as a medical
problem instead of a crime?
For $1.3 billion over the next two years we could probably pay all the
farmers in Colombia NOT to plant coca crops or opium poppies. We pay
American farmers NOT to plant crops. We call it price supports. Republicans
and Democrats try to outdo each other for the farm vote by manipulating the
economy of agriculture. Why don't we just pay the Colombian farmers not to
plant drug crops; surely that would be cheaper than sending the U.S. Navy to
bomb their land with fumigants and defoliants. $1.3 billion dollars!
The War on Drugs has made drug dealing extremely profitable. It has put tens
of thousands of American youth in prison where they are exposed to hardened
criminals and a life of crime. The collateral damage in poor nations - like
Colombia - includes destroyed economies, devastated agricultural
environments, political instability, and the loss of life (including a
missionary family flying their little plane along a remote jungle river; we
heard about them because they were Americans; we don't hear about the people
who have always lived there and whose lands are being destroyed).
The War on Drugs is the most expensive and destructive war in the world
today. It takes an enormous human and economic toll. The time has come to
re-evaluate. Are we accomplishing our goals? Is victory possible? Is the
cost of continuing perhaps too great? What are our options?
If we were to destigmatize drug addiction, we could treat it more
effectively. (We have done that with alcoholism.)
If we were to decriminalize drugs they would not be so profitable and many
pushers and drug lords would go out of business.
Alcohol and morphine are regulated. Medical drugs require a doctor's
prescription. Alcohol and tobacco are restricted by age and advertising.
Similar constraints might be effective with marijuana and heroin.
Help poor nations build their economies; if necessary use the War on Drugs
money to pay their farmers not to grow coca and opium poppies - yes, even the
Afghanistan farmers ruled by the Taliban.
We haven't won the War on Drugs. It doesn't look like we are going to.
Compromise is honorable. It's time to try a different approach.
i was suspended for possession but later on that week on an unexpected visit to the veterinarian i went across the street and bought half an ounce with my grandmother right across the street my point being that it is incredibly easy to get while on the other hand it takes me a week to get the alcohol to throw a party i feel it wouyld be harder to get if treated like alcohol or even tobacco the government makes huge profit off it taxes and the tickets given tyo minors are horrendous they ussually dont fine minors for drug possession they just give them community service or like 3-6 months probation you break they send you to rehab that simple but why spend money when you can make money ticketing and taxing
i can believe its not butter but why would you do that
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