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Eric Holder's wise choice on fighting marijuana

BY RONALD FRASER Published: October 19, 2013

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, commander in chief of Washington's failed war on drugs, recently issued what looks a lot like a domestic version of Vermont Sen. George Aiken's famous 1966 face-saving formula for exiting from America's lost war in Vietnam: Declare victory and get out. After more than 58,000 U.S. deaths, that's exactly what we did.

And now a timely American Civil Liberties Union report, titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” explains why Holder's similar announcement is especially good news for blacks nationwide and in Oklahoma.

Sensing that the U.S. war on marijuana is also unwinnable — and after more than 8 million marijuana arrests in the past 10 years — Holder declared in late August that his department won't challenge the statutes in Colorado and Washington state legalizing marijuana for recreational use or the laws that permit medical marijuana in 16 other states.

Black and white Americans paid a dear price in Vietnam. But the war on drugs has taken a much larger toll on blacks than whites here at home, even as the rates of marijuana use among the two groups is roughly equal. In 2010, for example, 14 percent of blacks and 11.6 percent of whites reported using marijuana in the past year, but blacks were nearly four times more likely to be stopped and arrested on marijuana charges.

In its first report, issued in 1989, the Office of National Drug Control Policy said, “To prevent people from using drugs, drug enforcement activities must make it increasingly difficult to engage in any drug activity with impunity. … Effective street-level enforcement means dramatically increasing the number of drug offenders arrested.”

Troop levels escalated again and again in Vietnam before we finally declared “victory” and pulled out. The war on marijuana followed a similar trajectory as the nation desperately tried to arrest its way to victory. In 1995, 520,000 persons nationwide were arrested for possession (not selling) marijuana; in 2010, that number skyrocketed to 784,000.

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