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TheRootDC
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Posted at 12:43 PM ET, 11/23/2011

Supercommittee failed: legalize drugs and save billions

Save our souls and our nation by legalizing your way to deficit reduction is my recommendation to the Super Committee members attempting to curb our national debt and bolster the economy.

Ending the war on drugs—pragmatic, sensibly humane and post racial—would alone save our nation billions of dollars. The Cato Institute, which examined the budgetary impact of ending the drug war in a recent report, finds that a whopping “$88 billion could be saved each year if prohibition [of drugs] were ended.”

Not swayed by dollars and cents? Then think about Rocrast Mack, of Alabama, who has become a poster child for everything that’s draconian and wrong about the drug war and our nation’s non-rehabilitative penal system. Mack, 24, was serving a 20-year sentence for a petty drug crime and savagely beaten to death by prison guards after a minor disciplinary infraction. Prior to being killed, Mack appealed to the sentencing judge for greater leniency, citing the birth of his son. His appeal was denied.

Mack’s 2010 homicide is under federal investigation, but the system that put him in prison deserves similar scrutiny. He was in prison because many systems failed to protect him as a child.

Mack was raped by a family member as a child, abandoned at the age of seven and shuttled through foster care and group homes. Poor, under-educated, and under-resourced, Mack became a minor drug offender. In 2009, he was sentenced to 20 years after pleading guilty to selling $10 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover officer.

To have a young man waste away and deteriorate in prison until middle age for a minor, non-violent drug offense is disproportionate, cruel and unusual punishment.

If our best and brightest were being subjected to prison, we’d hold town hall meetings and super committees in efforts to fashion an agenda that would bolster education and employment as an alternative to mass incarceration. It happened in 1933 when the “great experiment” with alcohol prohibition ended after leaders realized that it had fueled organized crime, murder and mayhem.

A similar action is needed now.

The war on drugs has undermined our sacrosanct Fourth Amendment right to privacy, to be free from warrantless searches and seizures. The Supreme Court over the last two decades has upheld significant exceptions to the warrant requirements in drug cases.

As a result, we have allowed considerable narrowing of our collective and cherished privacy rights from government, quasi-government, and even private institutional intrusion. As private prison profiteers continue to ratchet up profitable lobbying efforts against decriminalization, Mack serves as a powerful metaphor for the callousness that imbues our over- all political climate, as well as the Super Committee’s current deadlock.

Their inability to act could result in result in higher taxes for middle and working class Americans and end extended long-term unemployment benefits.

Indeed the failed war on drugs is a watershed for our legislators’ failure of conscience to turn away from big money interests to adequately respond to Americans evolving needs for adequate health care, jobs, and equal opportunity to advance.

Joy Freeman-Coulbary, a Washingtonian, is a pacifist, lawyer and blogger. You can reach her at freemancoulbary@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @enJOYJFC.

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By Joy Freeman-Coulbary  |  12:43 PM ET, 11/23/2011

Categories:  The Root DC Live

 
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