#208 Current State Of Affairs Makes For A Unique Opportunity

Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001
Subject: # 208 Current State Of Affairs Makes For A Unique Opportunity

Current State Of Affairs Makes For A Unique Opportunity


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #208 Friday, April 27, 2001

After some promising statements early on, the Bush administration is
reaching out to Afghanistan’s brutal Taliban regime in anticipation of
close cooperation in the drug war. The long wait for a drug czar is
finally over now that drug war hawk and William Bennett protege John
Walters has been nominated just weeks after a Pew research poll found
that 74% of Americans feel the drug war has failed. This misguided
appointment coincides with a tragedy in Peru and the repeat arrests of
Robert Downey, Jr. and Darryl Strawberry. Drug policy reform is THE
hot topic in the media.

An excellent Apr. 26th op-ed by Lindesmith-DPF Director Ethan
Nadelmann in the New York Times provides reformers the opportunity to
take advantage of this convergence and leverage any number of drug
policy reform arguments into additional coverage in the opinion pages
of one of America’s largest and most respected newspapers.

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Source: New York Times (NY)
Contact: letters@nytimes.com



US NY: OPED: An Unwinnable War On Drugs
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n735/a06.html
Newshawk: Amanda
Pubdate: Thu, 26 Apr 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: http://www.nytimes.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/298
Author: Ethan A. Nadelmann
Note: Ethan A. Nadelmann is executive director of the Lindesmith Center-Drug
Policy Foundation.

What has the war on drugs done for Darryl Strawberry and Robert Downey
Jr.? Are they better off or worse off? Are they the targets or the
victims? Should they be thankful or regretful?

The war on drugs is really a war on people – on anyone who uses or
grows or makes or sells a forbidden drug. It essentially consists of
two elements: the predominant role of criminalization of all things
having to do with marijuana, cocaine, heroin, Ecstasy and other
prohibited drugs and the presumption that abstinence – coerced if
necessary – is the only permissible relationship with these drugs.
It’s that combination that ultimately makes this war unwinnable.

The previous drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, wanted to do away with the
rhetoric of the war on drugs while retaining its two core elements.
Now the new attorney general, John Ashcroft, wants to intensify the
drug war efforts. The implications are ominous.

The success or failure of drug policies is usually measured by those
annual surveys that tell us how many Americans, particularly
teenagers, confessed to a pollster that they had used one drug or
another. Drug warriors often point to the 1980’s as a time when the
drug war really worked because the number of illicit drug users
reportedly fell more than 50 percent in the decade.

But consider that in 1980 no one had ever heard of the cheap, smokable
form of cocaine called crack or of drug-related H.I.V. infection. By
the 1990’s, both had reached epidemic proportions in American cities.
Is this success?

Or consider that in 1980, the federal budget for drug control was
about $1 billion, and state and local budgets perhaps two or three
times that. Now the federal drug control budget has ballooned to
roughly $20 billion, two-thirds of it for law enforcement, and state
and local governments spend even more. On any day in 1980,
approximately 50,000 people were behind bars for violating drug laws.
Now the number is approaching 500,000. Is this success?

What’s needed is a new way of evaluating drug policies by looking at
how they reduce crime and suffering. Arresting and punishing citizens
who smoke marijuana – the vast majority of illicit drug users – should
be one of our lowest priorities. We should focus instead on reducing
overdose deaths, curbing new H.I.V. infections through
needle-exchange programs, cutting the numbers of nonviolent drug
offenders behind bars, and wasting less taxpayer money on ineffective
criminal policies.

Darryl Strawberry and Robert Downey Jr. qualify as both targets and
victims of the war on drugs – targeted for consuming a forbidden drug,
victimized by policies that must “treat” not just addiction but
criminality. Millions more are victimized when their loved ones are
put behind bars on drug charges or when they lose family members to
drug-related AIDS, overdoses or prohibition-related violence. We
should base our drug policies on scientific evidence and public health
precepts. That’s the most sensible and compassionate way to reduce
drug abuse.



To the editor:

Ethan Nadelmann’s Apr. 26th op-ed on the need to base our drug
policies on scientific evidence and public health precepts was right
on target. I sometimes think that drug laws have done more harm to
Darryl Strawberry and Robert Downey Jr. than the drugs they are
addicted to. The real eye opener for me was the phrase
“prohibition-related violence.” Despite decades of hearing politicians
and drug czars blame drugs for violence, the parallels between the
drug war and alcohol prohibition had never occurred to me. Alcohol, of
course, was once very much associated with organized crime and
violence prior to the repeal of prohibition. With innocent
missionaries being shot down in Peru and America’s prison population
at an all time high, perhaps its time for politicians to drop the drug
war hysteria and give drug peace a chance. As a Christian, I have to
ask myself: What would Jesus do?

Robert Sharpe

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