Drug War Madness: Smoke a Joint and Your Whole Family May End Up Homeless

The application of the government's zero-tolerance prohibition policies on drug use in public housing are overtly racist, classist, ineffective and inhumane.
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Drug addiction is bad. But the war on drugs is worse.

Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post wrote a heart-breaking story that exemplifies the wasteful and counterproductive way our society deals with illegal drug use. Mr. Milloy talks about Frances Johnson, a 68-year-old grandmother in Washington, D.C. who faces eviction simply because her grandson was arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana. The federal government's public housing system has a "one strike and you're out" policy for any drug law violation -- even if that violation occurs miles away from home.

How does our society benefit from making homeless a whole family because of a little bit of marijuana? Why are we punishing Ms. Johnson who herself did nothing wrong? Does anyone really believe such draconian policies will help reduce marijuana use? How will an eviction affect her grandson's chances for recovery? Should any family be kicked out of their home for a loved one's drug use?

Though they contain no racist language, the application of the government's zero-tolerance prohibition policies are overtly racist, classist, ineffective and inhumane. The New York Civil Liberties Union released a report earlier this month that found 83 percent of those charged with marijuana possession over the last 10 years are black or Latino even though federal surveys show that whites are more likely to use pot. If you are poor and live in public housing, your whole family is punished for a drug offense--even for smoking a joint. But if you are middle class and do not rely on public housing or other benefits it is a "personal" issue. Despite our arresting a staggering 800,000 people for marijuana last year, marijuana is as easily available as ever--to find some, just inquire around your local high-school.

For 40 years, we have been waging a "war on drugs." Just what does our $40 billion-a-year drug war get us? Our prisons are exploding with nonviolent drug offenders; families are kicked out of housing when many have done nothing wrong; thousands die from street violence generated by prohibition's lucrative black market; and drugs remain as plentiful and easy to obtain as ever.

Enough is enough. Ms. Johnson should not be more "collateral damage" from this unwinnable war.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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