July 1st , 2010 was a very interesting day in the life of the so called ‘War on Drugs’ in Mississippi. Over-the-counter drugs containing ephedrine or pseudophedrine were put behind the counter, requiring a prescription to purchase.

This happened as a result of a new law that was passed during last year’s legislative session in an effort to reduce the amount of methamphetamine production throughout the state. Coincidentally, July 1st was also the day that 30 year old Jermain Mitchell was convicted selling $40 worth of crack cocaine to a confidential informant in Madison County. His sentence? 120 years in a Mississippi prison.

As citizens of this state, we have to demand that our lawmakers and law enforcement officials are being ‘smart on crime’ instead of ‘tough on crime’. This so called War on Drugs has led to overcrowded prisons, but hasn’t made us feel safer in our communities. Nor has it actually reduced supply or demand for illegal drugs. As for methamphetamines, there are so many different ways to make it, governments could never write enough laws to prevent people who want to make it from making it. Yes, the laws would fill our prisons and drain our tax coffers, but the so-called War on Drugs is an unwinnable war that can have no end.

Let’s work instead on reducing the dependence on drugs. Other states and countries are looking at this issue in a more comprehensive way. They’re legalizing medical marijuana and stepping up treatment programs for those who are addicted. They’re looking at drug use as a medical issue, not a crime.

Did you know that federal funding can be used to fund treatment programs and drug courts right here in Mississippi instead of funding prisons? Shifting funding in this way would allow individuals with addictions and drug distributors to receive treatment and to make restitution in the communities that they’ve harmed.

Instead of Jermain Mitchell providing restitution to Madison County and the community that he lived in, however, citizens in Madison County will support him while he serves his life sentence.

With the so-called War on Drugs causing so much damage, who actually profits from the War on Drugs? Private prison investors and their lobbyists, and now physicians who will be seeing more patients and writing more prescriptions for previously over-the-counter cold and sinus medicines.

~Nsombi Lambright, ACLU-MS Executive Director