Is the War on Drugs Over??

Here in the Twin Cities, the local U.S. Attorney, B. Todd Jones, has announced that his office will decrease its prosecution of drug offenses and, instead, focus on more complex, white-collar crime.  Does this mean an end to the War on Drugs?  See the article at:

Started in the 1970’s, the War on Drugs spawned a huge federal/state law enforcement apparatus that has taken on a life of its own.  Thousands of people are involved:  not only the obvious law enforcement people and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), but also all the prosecutors, judges, and Public Defenders across the country.  Then, once convicted, the defendants go to prison which has led the United States to the dubious ranking of one of the highest incarceration rates in the world!

Mr. Jones, in my opinion, is making the correct choice.

I have worked for over 30 years as both a county prosecutor and Public Defender.  Although, I’ve not worked in federal court, the local state courts still handle more drug-related cases than the feds.  I can tell you that in all these years, very few “drug kingpins” have ever been convicted.  The majority of drug offenders are low-level users who may sell in order to meet their habit.  Even at the federal level, I doubt the convictions are of many high-level drug lords.  

Mr. Jones’ office has the resources to go after more complex crime–and he should do so.  The state courts will still prosecute the drug offenders.

What’s going on in the war on drugs?  At the state court level, the largest county in Minnesota has started something called “Drug Court.”  Instead of automatically jailing drug offenders, several rehabilitation efforts are offered to the accused.  If they successfully overcome their addiction, their cases may be dismissed.  Of course, if they fail, they must proceed with their criminal cases.  In spite of ever-onerous sentences for drug possession/sale, the state courts have effectively circumvented these draconian penalties by allowing drug offenders to clean themselves up and get out of the criminal justice system.

Did you know that some of the toughest sentences in the country are for federal drug offenders?  Has it made a difference in the drug problem in the U.S?  Did you know that the majority of inmates in federal prisons are not there for violent or white-collar crimes, but are there, instead, for low-level drug offenses?  Has this approach decreased the drug problem in the U.S?

I don’t think so.

Another issue that Mr. Jones may be considering is that the federal prison population is made-up almost entirely of African-American drug users.  Many people in the black community view this as a modern day extension of slavery because of the ultimate effect of all the federal drug laws–that act to imprison an inordinately high percentage of the African-American community.

Should the War on Drugs be declared over so we can “bring our troops home?”  Let me know what you think.


About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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