In 1980 the Federal government spent $4 billion on the drug war. This year we are spending over four times that much, and the saddest part is that most of that money goes not to help people stop using drugs or get help for their addictions, but simply to throw them in prison.

Drug arrests have now pushed the U.S. jail and prison population to over 1.8 million people, almost the highest in the world, of whom an estimated 1.2 million are alcohol or drug abusers. In addition 2.3 million are on probation and parole. Few of these people are violent, high-level dealers. In fact, more than 90% of all drug arrests are of nonviolent offenders guilty only of possession or of dealing small quantities to support their own habits.

Our lack of an intelligent social policy and the fear that plagues elected leaders of being branded as “soft on drugs” has led to a crisis in America that should embarrass and shame us all with its cruelty and lack of both compassion and plain common sense.

Consider this – the annual cost to incarcerate one addict in prison is about $25,900. The annual cost to provide long-term residential treatment for one addict is about $6,800. The cost to decrease cocaine consumption 1 percent by eradicating the sources of supply is about $783 million. The cost to decrease cocaine consumption 1 percent by increasing drug treatment is about $34 million. Even someone as bad in math as I can instantly see how foolishly we are wasting our precious financial resources that could be eradicating illiteracy and providing parenting classes to reduce child abuse and family violence instead of this misguided “war.”

It is time to reassess the monumental waste of public funds that is destroying millions of families needlessly, incarcerating and taking father and mothers away from their children every day who pose no real threat to society. Instead we need to look seriously at how other countries have dealt in a compassionate way with addictions of all kinds including drugs, and stop punishing the very people who most are in need of our help.


Perhaps the cruelest casualties of our drug war and the arbitrariness with which one drug is classified “legal” and another “illegal,” are found among those who turn to marijuana for relief from their suffering from serious and terminal illnesses. The Federal Department of Health and Human Services has issued reports showing that two-thirds of all terminal cancer patients do not receive adequate pain medication.

When Californians voted for Proposition 215, now The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, we clearly intended that marijuana be legal for use by patients who suffered from AIDS, Cancer and other serious illnesses to relieve their suffering. It was an appropriate expression of the command in Jewish tradition to be “rahamim b’nai rahamim,” “compassionate children of a compassionate society,” yet our own Federal government has stepped in time and again to blindly punish those who have used marijuana even on the advice of their physicians to relieve lives of pain and suffering.

One such example is best-selling author Peter McWilliams who has been suffering with AIDS for several years and finding relief from his nausea and pain by smoking marijuana every day. With the passage of Proposition 215 he began cultivating medical marijuana which he believed was legal under the law.

In December of 1997, the DEA seized his computer containing his latest book which was critical of the war on drugs, and subsequently arrested him for growing an illegal drug under Federal law which still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance. In a move that further defies the most basic expectations of justice and compassion, Federal Judge George King ruled that he is forbidden to inform the jury of his medical condition, the medical uses of marijuana or California Proposition 215 which allowed the personal use of marijuana for medical purposes thereby making any defense at all impossible.

The irony of the Federal government prosecuting and persecuting marijuana users who are using the drug primarily for its medicinal affects while ignoring the scientific results of the widely publicized federally funded study that proved conclusively the medicinal uses of marijuana are hard to miss.

In the meantime, as if that ruling weren’t inhumane enough, McWilliams is being denied access to the very drug which relieves his pain and suffering. “I am needlessly dying in the prime of my career,” he recently wrote. I believe that our “war on drugs” has become instead, a war on our own private citizens, flying in the face of reason and science, denying them compassion and justice and further undermining our government’s credibility and integrity. Perhaps it’s time we have the courage to call for a reassessment of this misguided and morally bankrupt war.