I pray people realize our 50-year “War on Drugs” has been a disaster, and that this truth has not come too late. There are positive signs in New Jersey. On Monday the Marijuana legalization Committee will hold hearings with the goal of passing legislation in weeks. Nationally Senator Cory Booker was a key player in the enactment of “The First Step Law” passed in December and is now working on the “The Second Step Law.”
Don Winslow’s new stunning book The Border is the final work in a trilogy about the “War on Drugs.” The protagonist, a fictional head of the D.E.A., eloquently says,
“We have fought the wrong war. The war on drugs has been going on for fifty years. We have spent over a trillion dollars, put millions of people, most of them black, brown and poor, behind bars – the largest prison population in the world. The war on drugs has become a self-sustaining economic machine. Towns that once competed for factories now vie for prisons. We are more addicted to the war on drugs than to the drugs against which we wage war. We send sixty billion of dollars a year to the violent sociopaths of the cartels. Drugs are now more plentiful, more powerful, and more available. Fatal drug overdoses are at a record high. It’s not “the Mexican problem.” It’s the “American problem.” We are the buyers and without buyers there can be no sellers. We need to end this war. We need to legalize all drugs and spend our time, money and effort on addressing the root causes of drug abuse. We have to ask ourselves what is the pain in the heart of of American society that sends us searching for drugs. Is it poverty? Injustice? Isolation?“
Although the answers as to the “why” are many and elusive, New Jersey has taken positive steps. The problem is still far from solved, but we already have drug courts which divert minor offenders to treatment, medical marijuana shops, needle/syringe exchange sites, extensive use of Narcan and more recently expungement of records. If enough votes are there the marijuana bill could be passed by the end of the month. The next goal is safe injection sites. State lawmakers have proposed a yearlong pilot program that would create four safe-injection sites where intravenous drug use would be allowed and supervised in an effort to reduce the risk of death and disease.
Nationally Sen. Cory Booker was a key architect of the landmark First Step Act bill signed into law in December. A key provision made retroactive a 2010 law which reduced the egregious sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. These disparities overwhelmingly and disproportionately affected African-Americans. He and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman have just introduced The Next Step Act with numerous provisions which include ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunging records, and reinvesting in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs.
As a NYT reviewer said, “The Border is a book for dark, rudderless times, an immersion into fear and chaos.” The protagonist concludes, “A border is something that divides us but also unites us; there can be no real wall just as there is no wall that divides the human soul between its best impulses and its worst.”
Don Winslow’s trilogy: “The Power of the Dog,” (named after a biblical intimation of evil), the Cartel which cements the ambition and the “Godfather” caliber of this whole multigenerational undertaking, and lastly The Border.
The quote which the protagonist uses, “Hell is the truth seen too late,” comes from Thomas Hobbes. Credit for the preview image: Drug Policy Alliance