Throughout the past two years our Governor has been making the case for the importation of the War on Drugs here to our streets in Maine. Last week’s sarcastic remark about bringing back the guillotine for punishment and his restless commitment to increasing the presence of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents here in Maine forced me to reflect deeper on this issue. I brought it up to my students enrolled in my “Narcotics in the Construction of Western Civilization” course and we came to a unanimous conclusion that if a true solution is to be given to drug addiction in our nation our political leadership and our cultural beliefs must shift from a supply-side to a demand-side analysis that centers on the human, the drug addict, the person that has fallen deep into the habit. We need to ask deeper questions that bring us face to face with our cultural and socioeconomic realities; that shed light on the realities of our family, community and institutional fiber. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask the simple question: Why do our brothers and sisters consume drugs? Why are we a pharma-dependent culture? Why is it that our society needs to find new and more diverse ways of altering their reality? Answering these and other deeper and complex questions requires time, resources, and a will to change our cultural world-view regarding the relationship of humans and narcotics, but the power structures of our system impede this possibility.
The answer is not in the hands of ten more DEA agents or in longer and more severe punitive measures. The solution is not found in more firepower, more aggressive police enforcement or the empowerment of a vigilante culture. There is no quick solution to a problem that is rooted in the historic realities of Western Civilization and our consumer-based capitalist societies. The remedy is definitely not found in our Governor’s guillotine.
His current solution to this escalating public health issue may not be resolved by importing the federal government’s War on Drugs model to Maine. I know this because I spent my teenage years moving back and forth between Colombia and Brownsville, Texas, two of the biggest fronts of the U.S. War on Drugs. Thirty-five years ago U.S. taxpayers were sold the idea that a billion plus worth of their taxes geared toward a frontal war against foreign drug traffickers would eventually eradicate narcotics from the face of the earth. Instead of solving the problem, what the policy left behind was an escalation of violence that moved from the streets of foreign urban centers such as Medellín to U.S. cities such as Miami, New York, and Chicago.
Three decades of the implementation of supply-side policies against cocaine resulted in a shift in favor of other substitute substances including alternative stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens. As long as there is a demand there will be a supply, and when the supply is cut other alternatives are created by the market. Such has been the case of locally made drugs such as methamphetamines and LSD. The problem is not heroin, as our Governor indicated, the problem is the systemic demand of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs that are increasingly consumed and that have been historically consumed by Western societies for centuries. The problem is the federal institutional system that implements the War on Drugs and that have become more and more concerned with preserving their own budgets, as well as the financial entities, real estate industries and other private interests that have historically gained from the lucrative nature of this market; a network of local and global interests that benefit more from the existence of informal narcotics trafficking and consumption than from its eradication.
This eternal War on Drugs that began with President Richard Nixon’s declaration of drug abuse as America’s “public enemy number one” more than forty years ago may now be seen as a failed war that has only generated taxpayer waste and violence. The death toll, now in the hundreds of thousands, may only continue to increase as the war continues to move to U.S. soil. Now our Governor wants to bring the federal government’s war to Maine, even though he has always claimed to be against greater federal intervention on local matters. His latest call to action for Mainer’s to use their concealed weapons against drug traffickers is proof of his interest to escalate the war.
What kind of strategic and well thought out policy initiative is this? The guillotine and civil gun fights on our streets together with an escalating presence of DEA agents disconnected with our local realities is not going to solve the problem. The solution is not to bring the War on Drugs here to Maine. We need to care about our brothers and sisters that fall into the abyss of drug addiction. We need to dig deep within our communities and our social realities and find out why our communities are willing and eager to sometimes take that destructive path. We need to create positive solutions and not violent ones. We need to target the problem of addiction.
Luckily Maine has stayed away from the violence that has been experienced by urban centers across the United States that leaves behind daily casualties, no longer accounted for by a desensitized media system. We cannot follow the same failed path of Medellín, Cali, Lima, La Paz, México City, Matamoros, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and many other urban centers across the United States. We cannot just bring in ten DEA agents and expect the problem to disappear, only to find out that it has escalated, and then reevaluate the policy the next year by bringing in another ten DEA agents in incremental fashion. We cannot have a “Fast and Furious” type of policy move into our state.
What we need to find out is how drug addiction is linked to family violence, to poverty, to unemployment, to social disenfranchisement, to the decay of communities, and to our own cultural realities. We need to invest in treatment and rehabilitation for everybody, moving away from the current economic constraints that limit this health option to the wealthy members of our society. We need to turn this into a health policy issue and not a security issue.