Fifty years ago, on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon held a press conference in the White House briefing room to officially declare a “war on drugs.” President Nixon said: “In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to lead a new all-out offensive. ”
Since that press conference, our country has followed the President’s directive and launched a decades-long crackdown on people who use drugs. Our policies at the federal, state, and local levels across the United States have largely mimicked this punitive response. So, did it work?
Over the past five decades, we have neither reduced the harm associated with drugs nor stopped drug use. On the contrary, these criminal justice oriented policies have created a great amount of additional harm in society.
In Mississippi, our drug laws have often fallen along with the war on drugs. Yet drug use is on the rise, overdose rates are higher than ever, and thousands of families have a loved one currently in jail on a non-violent drug charge in the Mississippi prison system.
This raises the inevitable and lingering question. Are the citizens of Mississippi ready for a change in our drug laws?
Perhaps I could shed some light on that response as the leader of Mississippi’s only nonprofit community education and advocacy group on drug policy. Since 2017, End It For Good has hosted 23 community discussions on “Alternatives to the War on Drugs” with over 1,000 Mississippians. These community discussions have taken place as far north as Southaven and as far south as Ocean Springs.
Before Covid, the opioid epidemic was the first public health emergency in the United States. As the coronavirus pandemic roared, it only exacerbated the drug crisis in our country, drawing increased attention and awareness to the problem.
As Covid began to wane this spring, we at End It For Good resumed our community discussion program, hosting live and in-person sessions on ‘Alternatives to the War on Drugs’. Since March, the EFG team has hosted four community discussions from the Golden Triangle from Mississippi to Capitol Hill, via Hub City and Pascagoula. These events have attracted the participation of citizens of our state, including government officials, law enforcement officials, members of the clergy, chamber of commerce leaders, higher education officials, and the list is long.
Some people have asked me recently, “Since the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down Initiative 65, hasn’t it hurt you or at least been a setback?” The answer to this question is paradoxical, because the honest answer is yes and no. Yes, the MSSC’s decision is a setback for our state and the well-being of a large and suffering population among our citizens. On the other hand, the MSSC’s decision did not hurt us at all, but rather brought increased attention to the issue and therefore increased demand for our work.
For this reason, this week, as we mark this sadly historic anniversary of the US War on Drugs, I am announcing that we at End It For Good are approaching the launch of a public awareness campaign for citizens of the United States. Mississippi over the next summer months. This campaign will show how our state’s failing drug laws are causing undue harm to its individuals, families, communities, businesses and law enforcement officials. As we prepare for this season, I also personally invite each of you to consider joining us on the End It For Good journey.
Brett Montague is the CEO of End It For Good, a Mississippi-based nonprofit that invites people to support drug approaches that prioritize life and opportunities to thrive. He is a 6th generation Mississippian and a 5th generation Hattiesburg native. You can find End It For Good at www.enditforgood.com.