The scene should be familiar to all of us by now. Huge piles of drugs and money stacked neatly on tables, as a camera pans across the the room. Law enforcement officers standing proudly next to the bounty of evidence for their photo to be taken. Newspapers and local television media eagerly inquiring about the charges and suspects involved. It's an American drug bust, and it's something that can be viewed somewhere in this country, on any given day.
A quick search of Google netted 2,330 results of stories within the last 24 hours using the search term "drug bust." Forty years into this War on Drugs and we still see the same old song and dance playing out before us, rarely missing a beat. Nothing over these last four decades has dented the progress of the drug trade, nor has it deterred many average Americans from spending their hard earned money to get high on their drug of choice.
Last week, Lock Haven had another of these so-called victories in the war on drugs. Four young men, three whom had never been in trouble with the law before, now find themselves facing long prison sentences and a record that will haunt them the rest of their lives, for allegedly dealing marijuana.
What exactly do we gain from this as a society? Have we stopped the drug trade? Are any of you out there naive enough to believe that we have even put a dent in it? The same game has been played for these 40 long years, and while people keep getting sent to prison, the drug trade rolls on, leaving a reality of destroyed lives in its wake. Lives, not destroyed by drugs themselves, but by failed policies and our collective stubbornness and unwillingness to acknowledge the harm we are inflicting on ourselves, our children and our society.
Since I have told you what will not happen as a result of this recent drug bust, let me tell you what will happen. These young men will likely go to prison and the market they supplied with their product will still have a demand. Someone else will step up and take their place. You don't get to choose who this person is. They won't fill out an application for a permit or license. There will be no background check. Who knows... they might even be a violent criminal seeking an opportunity to make quick cash. One way or the other, this arrest didn't send a message that will cause any criminal to cower in fear. Every news article about this story is simply a giant "HELP WANTED" advertisement practically begging any entrepreneurial criminal to step in and take charge.
How many times does this scenario have to play out before we realize that the losing side of the War on Drugs is the American people? How can we possibly imagine that we will ever keep drugs off of our streets when we cannot even keep them out of walled, maximum security prisons?
America currently has the largest prison population per capita in the entire world, largely fueled by ongoing arrests fighting this pointless war. We are overloading our justice system and wasting taxpayer money while corruption and crime flourish around us. Even if you don't believe in drugs as a valid source of recreation, you must look around you at some point and assess the damage we are doing to ourselves and see that it outweighs any good that could come from our current laws.
The consequences of these laws can be seen clearly by the outcome of the recent arrest of these four young men. Drugs will still be here in this town. People will buy them from someone else, someone you don't get to choose.
Justify it however you like. You can say the law is the law. You can condemn them for their choices. When the dust settles, whichever way you slice it, all our town is left with, is four ruined lives and a "HELP WANTED" sign.