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OUR CALL TO END THE "WAR ON DRUGS" AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCEFor more than
thirty years, American public policy has advanced an escalating "war on drugs"
that seeks to eradicate illegal drugs from our society. It is increasingly clear
that this effort has failed. Our current drug policy has consumed tens of
billions of dollars and wrecked countless lives. The costs of this policy
include the increasing breakdown of families and neighborhoods, endangerment of
children, widespread violation of civil liberties, escalating rates of
incarceration, political corruption, and the imposition of United States policy
abroad. For United States taxpayers, the price tag on the drug offensive has
soared from $66 million in 1968 to almost $20 billion in 2000, an increase of
over 30,000 percent. In practice the drug war disproportionately targets people
of color and people who are poverty-stricken. Coercive measures have not reduced
drug use, but they have clogged our criminal justice system with non-violent
offenders. It is time to explore alternative approaches and to end this costly
The war on drugs has blurred the distinction between drug use and drug abuse.
Drug use is erroneously perceived as behavior that is always out of control and
harmful to others. Illegal drug use is thus portrayed as threatening to society.
As a result, drug policy has been closed to study, discussion, and consideration
of alternatives by legislative bodies. Yet many people who use both legal and
illegal drugs live productive, functional lives and do no harm to society. As
Unitarian Universalists committed to a free and responsible search for truth, we
must protest the misguided policies that shape current practice. We cannot in
good conscience remain quiet when it is becoming clear that we have been misled
for decades about illegal drugs. United States government drug policy makers
mislead the world about the purported success of the war on drugs. They tell the
public that success is dependent upon even more laws restricting constitutional
protections and the allocation of billions of dollars for drug law enforcement.
They mislead the public about the extent of corruption and environmental
degradation that the American war on drugs has left in its wake in other
As Unitarian Universalists committed to affirming the inherent worth and
dignity of every person and to justice, equity, and compassion in human
relations, we call for thoughtful consideration and implementation of
alternatives that regard the reduction of harm as the appropriate standard by
which to assess drug policies. We seek a compassionate reduction of harm
associated with drugs, both legal and illegal, with special attention to the
harm unleashed by policies established in the war on drugs.
As Unitarian Universalists committed to respecting the interdependent web of
existence of which we are a part, we find irresponsible and morally wrong the
practices of scorching the earth and poisoning the soil and ground water in
other countries to stop the production of drugs that are illegal in the United
As a community of faith, Unitarian Universalists have both a moral imperative
and a personal responsibility to ask the difficult questions that so many within
our society are unable, unwilling, or too afraid to ask. In asking these
questions and in weighing our findings, we are compelled to consider a different
approach to national drug policy.
A DIFFERENT APPROACHTo conceive and develop a more just and compassionate
drug policy, it is necessary to transform how we view drugs and particularly
drug addiction. Drug use, drug abuse, and drug addiction are distinct from one
another. Using a drug does not necessarily mean abusing the drug, much less
becoming addicted to it. Drug abuse issues are essentially matters for medical
attention. We do not believe that drug use should be considered criminal
behavior. Advocates for harsh drug policies with severe penalties for drug use
often cite violent crime as a direct result of drug use. Drugs alone do not
cause crime. Legal prohibition of drugs leads to inflated street value, which in
turn incites violent turf wars among distributors. The whole pattern is
reminiscent of the proliferation of organized crime at the time of alcohol
prohibition in the early twentieth century. That policy also failed.
We believe that the vision of a drug-free America is unrealistic. Many
programs for school children have misled participants and the public by teaching
that all illicit drugs are equally harmful in spite of current scientific
research to the contrary. "Just Say No" is not a viable policy. The consequences
of the current drug war are cruel and counterproductive. At issue here are the
health and well-being of our families and our communities, our society, and our
global community. Alternatives exist.
ALTERNATIVE GOALS Based on this perspective, we believe appropriate and
achievable goals for reformed national drug policies include
We can recognize that drugs include not only currently illegal substances but
also alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, over-the-counter pain relievers, and
prescription drugs. We can learn to distinguish among use, abuse, and addiction.
We can support one another in recognizing drug-related problems and seeking
help. We can seek to understand those among us who use drugs for relief or
escape. With compassion, we can cultivate reflection and analysis of drug
policy. In the safe space of our own congregations, we can begin to prevent
destructive relationships with drugs. We can lend necessary support to
individuals and families when their loved ones need treatment for addiction
problems. We can encourage our congregations to partner with and follow the lead
of groups representing individuals whose lives are most severely undermined by
current drug policy--people of color and people of low income. We can learn from
health care professionals what the unique patterns of substance abuse are in our
local areas. We can go beyond our walls and bring our perspective to the
interfaith community, other nonprofit organizations, and elected officials.
Our Unitarian Universalist history calls us to pursue a more just world. Our
faith compels us to hold our leaders accountable for their policies. In calling
for alternatives to the war on drugs, we are mindful of its victims. Drug use
should be addressed solely as a public health problem, not as a criminal justice
issue. Dependence upon any illegal drugs or inappropriate use of legal drugs may
point to deep, unmet human needs. We have a moral obligation to advocate
compassionate, harm-reducing policy. We believe that our nations have the
imagination and capability to address effectively the complex issues of the
demand for drugs, both legal and illegal.
We reaffirm the spirit of our social witness positions taken on drugs in
resolutions adopted from 1965 to 1991. Recognizing the right of conscience for
all who differ, we denounce the war on drugs and recommend alternative goals and
policies. Let neither fear nor any other barrier prevent us from advocating a
more just, compassionate world.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Wednesday, August 24, 2011.
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