California Senator Kamala Harris Contends The War On Drugs Is In The Past

Senator Kamala Harris at Women’s March in January 2017. Image: Kamala Harris Twitter

California’s new rising star U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, former Attorney General from California and a rising star in the Democratic Party, continues to imply that the war on drugs is over, and that Jeff Sessions is trying to revive it. In a recent Tweet, Harris commented, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions says we need to bring back the War on Drugs. Let’s be clear — the War on Drugs was an abject failure.”

Kamala Harris, War on Drugs, Tweet

It may seem to be a minor problem with the tense of her grammar, but it is a false narrative that should not be encouraged. Harris appears to be using the unbridled memo’s from AG Sessions to make political points against him and the Trump administration, but by doing so she minimizes the still dire situation in most states relating to the drug war.

Norml responded with a correction to her tweet:

Kamala Harris, War on Drugs, Tweet, NORML

Harris also made the abject failure statement in May at the Center for American Progress and continued to push a false narrative that the war on drugs was over. Harris discussed a memo released by Attorney General Sessions the day after Comey was fired where he pushed new guidelines for prosecutors nationwide. In her comments to the Center for American Progress, Harris said:

“The Department of Justice memo was entitled Department Charging and Sentencing Policy, a subject line that seems pretty tame. However, what it effectively did was to declare the reviving of the war on drugs … the failed war on drugs.

“As a young prosecutor just out of law school at the Alameda County DA’s office that Earl Warren once led, I started my work, and I saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure. It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet. Police officers and prosecutors dedicated extraordinary resources to non-violent drug offenses, which could otherwise been devoted to unsolved homicides and violent crime…

“During that time, and still, instead of focusing on prevention, we spent 80 billion dollars a year, in reaction … locking people up. That’s money that obviously could have gone to schools, to roads, and to healthcare.

“Instead of treating everyone the same, we created a system where Latinos are two times more likely than white men to be incarcerated for drug offenses, where African Americans are 12 percent of the population but are about 60 percent of the drug offenders in our state prisons, where when inmates get out there criminal record makes it almost impossible to get a job, which of course traps them and their families in never ending cycles of poverty. The fact is, the war on drugs did not work.”

Her comments are poignant and describe the situation the war on drugs created in America, and is still coping with. In her own comments she admits that we still continue to spend billions locking up non-violent drug offenders, yet she continues to pretend that Sessions is “reviving” something that had actually gone away. She couldn’t be more wrong.

In October last year, three months before Trump took office, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union released a report that showed little progress has actually been made. From the report:

“Every 25 seconds in the United States, someone is arrested for the simple act of possessing drugs for their personal use, just as Neal and Nicole were. Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime. More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year. And despite officials’ claims that drug laws are meant to curb drug sales, four times as many people are arrested for possessing drugs as are arrested for selling them…

“All US states and the federal government criminalize possession of illicit drugs for personal use. While some states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, other states still make marijuana possession a misdemeanor or even a felony. In 42 states, possession of small amounts of most illicit drugs other than marijuana is either always or sometimes a felony offense. Only eight states and the District of Columbia make possession of small amounts a misdemeanor…

“We interviewed over 100 people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York who were prosecuted for small quantities of drugs—in some cases, fractions of a gram—that were clearly for personal use. Particularly in Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors did more than simply pursue these cases—they often selected the highest charges available and went after people as hard as they could.”

And, in New York City, things are getting worse in 2016. After many years of unwarranted arrests for minor marijuana possession, the number had fallen to a seventeen year low in recent years. Last year, however, there was an increase of nine percent in marijuana possession arrests. In fact, the arrest rate for marijuana possession outnumbered those for violent crime in the city. And, that is just for marijuana.

No, Senator Harris, the drug war is far from over. You need to change your tense, and change your message to apply it more broadly than just AG Sessions. The problem is deeply ingrained in local police forces, local prosecutors, and in federal sentencing laws that are still on the books.


Here are some facts on the drug war (as of 2015) from Drug Policy Alliance:

  • Amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs: More than $51,000,000,000
  • Number of arrests in 2015 in the U.S. for drug law violations:1,488,707
  • Number of these arrests that were for possession only: 1,249,025 (84 percent)
  • Number of people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2015: 643,121
  • Number of those charged with marijuana law violations who were arrested for possession only: 574,641 (89 percent)
  • Number of Americans incarcerated in 2014 in federal, state and local prisons and jails: 2,224,400 or 1 in every 111 adults, the highest incarceration rate in the world
  • Proportion of people incarcerated for a drug offense in state prison who are black or Latino, although these groups use and sell drugs at similar rates as whites: 57 percent
  • Number of states that allow the medical use of marijuana: 29 + District of Columbia
  • Number of states that have approved legally taxing and regulating marijuana: 8 (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington)
  • Number of states that have decriminalized or removed the threat of jail time for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana: 22
  • Number of people killed in Mexico’s drug war since 2006: 100,000+
  • Number of students who have lost federal financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction: 200,000+
  • Number of people in the U.S. who died from a drug overdose in 2015: 52,404
  • Tax revenue that drug legalization would yield annually, if currently-illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco: $46.7 billion
  • Number of people in the U.S. who have acquired AIDS directly or indirectly from syringe sharing: 360,836 people, or 30 percent of all people diagnosed w/AIDS in the U.S.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that syringe access programs lower HIV incidence among people who inject drugs by: 80 percent

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