Governor LePage, once again, is all wrong on drug war

Governor Paul LePage is renewing his warning regarding usage of the National Guard to fight the growing drug problem in Maine. This isn’t the first time he’s proposed ramping up the drug war in Maine, or even threatening to take it a step further with military action.

Steve Mistler reported for the Portland Press Herald back in August that “The governor told Bangor radio station WVOM on Tuesday that he’ll deploy the guard if ‘the Legislature refuses to give us the resources we need.” Later in the same article, Mistler made note of the National Guard’s existing role in the battle to combat Maine’s drug problem:

The governor made similar comments last week in an interview with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, and MDEA Director Roy McKinney told MPBN that four guardsmen are already assigned to drug task forces as intelligence analysts. McKinney also said that the guard has previously provided members to help with investigations, and in efforts to find and destroy illegal marijuana growing operations.

Odds are, Governor LePage wasn’t warning about continuing existing operations, but rather implying that their involvement would increase. In an interview on WVOM with George Hale and Ric Tyler, he was clear about his position:

I am going to use the executive branch, and if need be, as commander in chief, I have access to the National Guard. If the Legislature refuses to give us the resources we need, and if we can’t develop a comprehensive plan with existing resources, I will use the National Guard.

Fast forward to this past week, when Governor LePage told Appropriations Committee he would use the National Guard if they failed to comply with his demands. As reported by WCSH 6:

The Governor told lawmakers Mainer’s heroin crisis has become “a heroin pandemic.” He says the four new drug agents approved by the Legislature during the summer are far short of what’s needed. He told legislators. The state must have ten more MDEEA agents, as well as additional prosecutors and judges to handle drug cases.

Let’s talk history and reality with Governor LePage. The federal Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970 and helped launch the federal drug war. The Drug Policy Alliance provides a list of interesting facts regarding what we’re facing four decades after we went enforcement heavy:

Amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs: More than $51,000,000,000

Number of people arrested in 2013 in the U.S. on nonviolent drug charges: 1.5 million

Of the above noted, the Drug Policy Alliance also makes a point that the “Number of Americans incarcerated in 2013 in federal, state and local prisons and jails: 2,220,300 or 1 in every 110 adults.” This is the second highest incarceration rate on the planet, barely behind Seychelles.

The Institute of Criminal Policy Research further notes that the United States’ incarceration rate (698) is more than Cuba (510), the Russian Federation (446), Iran (287), China (119), and Uganda (115). The American Psychological Organization also states that, in relation to the U.S. incarceration rate, “North Korea is perhaps the closest, but reliable numbers are hard to find; some estimates suggest 600 to 800 per 100,000.”

What Governor LePage has failed to realize is that in the United States, we already throw people in prison. It’s actually a major problem because all the major human rights’ offenders on the planets don’t touch the number of people the U.S. locks up. In the same article, the American Psychological Association notes that “While the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prisoners — about 2.2 million people.”

What’s the problem then? It’s not working.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse paints a grim picture:

It is no surprise that with heroin use on the rise, more people are experiencing negative health effects that occur from repeated use. The number of people meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV) criteria for dependence or abuse of heroin doubled from 214,000 in 2002 to 467,000 in 2012. The recently released DSM-V no longer separates substance abuse from dependence, but instead provides criteria for opioid use disorders that range from mild to severe, depending on the number of symptoms a person has. Data on the scope and severity of opioid use disorders in the United States are not yet available for these new criteria.

And it’s spreading:

Heroin use no longer predominates solely in urban areas. Several suburban and rural communities near Chicago and St. Louis report increasing amounts of heroin seized by officials as well as increasing numbers of overdose deaths due to heroin use. Heroin use is also on the rise in many urban areas among young adults aged 18-25.8 Individuals in this age group seeking treatment for heroin abuse increased from 11 percent of total admissions in 2008 to 26 percent in the first half of 2012.

But we’re locking a lot of people up for nonviolent crimes. Shouldn’t this be done and over with?

Hardly.

We’re facing a tragic addiction problem in Maine. It’s claiming nonviolent offenders and ruining people’s lives. While drug traffickers, gangs, and other criminals surely do not help the problem in Maine, they’re coming here because there is a market for their product.

And where there is a rising supply, demand is generating the need. Addiction is a mental health issue and locking everybody up isn’t going to solve the problem. Dealers will do their time, get out, and return to their trade. They’re already criminals and have no problem returning to the criminal lifestyle.

Addicts, on the other hand, vary from criminals to nonviolent offenders. What happens to otherwise decent human beings who become hooked on drugs? They’re deemed criminals, their lives are ruined, and are lumped together with the dealers.

Maine Medical Center has a better idea on mind, as reported by WLBZ2, when it announced a more logical approach to combating heroin addiction in Maine. The plan is a pilot program aimed at treating addicts will be coordinated by addiction expert Dr. Jonathan Fellers. The article notes that “Fellers said the evidence is that addiction is a medical condition that needs to be treated.” Steve Coutreau, manager of the Portland Community Recovery Center, also told WLBZ2 that “monthly visits to the recovery center have ballooned from 2,500 during the summer to 3,300 in October, as they struggle to connect people to treatment programs that often don’t have slots or are nonexistent.”

The WLBZ2 article ends with a heartbreaking quote from Coutreau:

They come here looking for help, and often there’s nothing available,” Coutreau said. “They’ll usually just go back out and start using again.

Governor LePage’s solution? Prison.

So when the Governor stares the Legislature in the face and tells them to up the enforcement or else he’s bringing in the National Guard, he is simply attempting to intimidate the legislators into funding decades of failed policy.

If the Legislature still has the backbone it has shown in the past against the Governor, it will resist his threats to bring in the military to enforce his push for bad policy.

Chris Dixon

About Chris Dixon

Chris Dixon is a libertarian-leaning writer. In addition to writing "Undercover Porcupine", he is also the Managing Editor for The Liberty Conservative and writes for Cleat Geeks and Medium.