End the drug war on women

Once again Nevada legislators are trying to win the unwinnable war on drugs by putting the burden on ordinary and innocent citizens.

This year, Washoe County Sen. Sheila Leslie is sponsoring legislation to change over-the-counter cold medicines into prescription drugs, thus increasing the cost of health care in order to make the ingredients for meth more difficult to obtain. This legislation was not requested by health care professionals, drug counselors or anyone who knows anything about how to combat drug use. Rather, it was requested by the Nevada District Attorneys Association as one more step in a punitive enforcement strategy that has failed for decades, designed by law enforcement officials with little knowledge of this health care issue.

It is worth remembering that when the United States handled drug abuse as a health care problem, it had a tiny problem. But since drug prohibition was enacted, drug abuse has become a gargantuan problem.

The Nevada Legislature, instead of enacting more foolish anti-drug bills, should instead enact a resolution memorializing Congress to end the drug war once and for all before the family unit is destroyed.

As the National Organization for Women has described the situation, “the incarceration rate of women convicted of low-level drug-related offenses has increased dramatically in the past decade as a result of our nation’s relentless ‘War on Drugs,’ and poor women and women of color have been disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement and receive long mandatory prison sentences that have little relationship to their actions or culpability. … [T]wo thirds of women in prison have at least two children who are displaced as a result of their incarceration, often forced to live in the care of family, friends, or state-sponsored foster care where they may be at increased risk of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.”

Prohibition always has those kinds of unintended consequences on low income people. Consider, for instance, Connecticut’s 1950s policy of prohibition of birth control. One scholar has written, “Enforcement of the statute against those working in clinics kept birth control clinics closed in Connecticut for twenty-five years. The lack of birth control clinics may not have greatly affected middle-class and wealthy people who could afford private medical care, since doctors would often ignore the laws. The lack of clinics primarily harmed lower-income women who needed the free or low-cost services birth control clinics provided.”

In her essay “Moms United to End the War on Drugs,” Gretchen Burns Bergman wrote, “This is an appeal to mothers who have seen first hand the devastation of the drug war. Please join together now and lead the charge to end drug prohibition, just as a previous generation of mothers did to end alcohol Prohibition in the 1930s.”At a rally where she spoke in Sacramento, Burns said, “While it may seem counterintuitive that a group of mothers would say such a thing, it’s because we love our children and we really feel the war on drugs is more harmful than the drugs themselves.”

It was this week in 1939 that Nevada lawmakers repealed prohibition of alcohol for Native Americans on grounds that tribal members should not be treated differently than whites. There was also the fact that prohibition had failed. Some lessons have to keep being relearned.