LA Times Prints A Great Introduction To Reform By Ethan

Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999
Subject: LA Times Prints A Great Introduction To Reform By Ethan

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 126 September 20, 1999

LA Times Prints A Great Introduction to Reform by Ethan




LA Times Prints A Great Introduction to Reform by Ethan

The problems created by drug prohibition are intertwined in such a
complex way that it is sometimes difficult to look at the whole
situation without getting caught up in the details. With the
cooperation of the Los Angeles Times, prominent drug policy reform
advocate Ethan Nadelmann presented a nice overview of the need for
reform this week.

Nadelmann’s points are convincing in themselves, but they have added
power in the LA Times now as the newspaper uncovers a huge scandal in
the LA Police Department. Allegations of corruption in the department
are at least partly related to drug policy. To read more about the
scandal see:

Please write a letter to the Times thanking them for printing
Nadelmann’s oped, and also to remind editors that they don’t have to
dig too deep into many societal problems to find a connection between
the problems and counterproductive drug policy.

Thanks for your effort and support.


It’s Not What Others Do It’s What YOU Do!


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Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)

Note: The LA Times circulation is 1.5 million.
A published LTE in the Times that is five column inches long (about 200 words)
represents an advertising value of $3,000 on behalf of reform.

Ethan’s article below had an ad value of $29,592 See for an explanation of how to
calculate the ad value of your published letters.


Pubdate: Sun, 19 Sep 1999
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Los Angeles Times.
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Author: Ethan A. Nadelmann
Note: Ethan A. Nadelmann Is Director of the Lindesmith Center, a Drug
Policy Institute With Offices in New York and San Francisco


Don’t Get Carried Away

There Must Be A New Approach That Is Grounded Not In Ignorance Or Fear But
In Common Sense.

“So you want to legalize drugs, right?” That’s the first question I’m
typically asked when I start talking about drug policy reform. My
short answer is, marijuana, maybe. But I’m not suggesting we make
heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine available the way we do alcohol and

What am I recommending? Here’s the long answer:

Drop the “zero tolerance” rhetoric and policies and the illusory goal
of a drug-free society. Accept that drug use is here to stay, and
that we have no choice but to learn to live with drugs so they cause
the least possible harm and the greatest possible benefit.

More specifically, I’m recommending:

* that responsible doctors be allowed and encouraged to prescribe
whatever drugs work best, notwithstanding the feared and demonized
status of some drugs in the eyes of the ignorant and the law;

* that people not be incarcerated for possessing small amounts of any
drug for personal use. But also that people who put their fellow
citizens at risk by driving while impaired be treated strictly and
punished accordingly;

* that employers reject drug-testing programs that reveal little about
whether people are impaired in the workplace but much about what they
may have consumed over the weekend;

* that those who sell drugs to other adults not be treated by our
criminal laws as the moral equivalents of violent and other predatory

* that marijuana be decriminalized, taxed and regulated, even as we
step up our efforts to provide honest and effective drug education
rather than feel-good programs like DARE;

* that top priority be given to public health policies proved to
reduce the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with
injection drug use and heroin addiction–in other words, expanded
methadone maintenance treatment, heroin maintenance trials, ready
access to sterile syringes and other harm-reduction policies that have
proved effective abroad and that can work just as well here.

These beliefs, these statements of principles and objectives,
represent a call for a fundamentally different drug policy. It’s not
legalization, but it’s also not simply a matter of spending more on
treatment and prevention and less on interdiction and

Some call it “harm reduction”–an approach that aims to reduce the
negative consequences of both drug use and drug prohibition,
acknowledging that both will likely persist for the foreseeable future.

Most “drug legalizers” aren’t really drug legalizers at all. A
legalizer, as most Americans apparently understand the term, is
someone who believes that heroin, cocaine and most or all other drugs
should be available over the counter, like alcohol or cigarettes.

That’s not what I’m fighting for, nor is it the ultimate aim of
philanthropist and financier George Soros, who has played a leading
role in funding drug policy reform efforts. Nor is it the aim of the
great majority of people who devote their time, money and energies to
ending the drug war.

This is not to say there is no such thing as a “legalizer.” Milton
Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, and Thomas Szasz, the
famed libertarian psychiatrist, have argued that total drug
legalization is the only rational and ethical way to deal with drugs
in our society. Most libertarians and many others agree with them.
Szasz and others have even opposed the medical marijuana ballot
initiatives, arguing that they retard the repeal of drug

Friedman, Szasz and I agree on many points, among them that U.S. drug
prohibition, like alcohol Prohibition decades ago, generates
extraordinary harms. It, not drugs per se, is responsible for
creating vast underground markets, criminalizing millions of otherwise
law-abiding citizens, corrupting both governments and societies at
large, empowering organized criminals, increasing predatory crime,
spreading disease, curtailing personal freedom, disparaging science
and honest inquiry and legitimizing public policies that are both
extraordinary and insidious in their racially disproportionate

But I’m not ready to advocate for over-the-counter sale of heroin and
cocaine, and not just because that’s not a politically palatable
argument in 1999. I’m not convinced that outright legalization is the
optimal alternative.

The fact is, there is no drug legalization movement in America. What
there is a nascent political and social movement for drug policy
reform. It consists of the growing number of citizens who have been
victimized, in one way or another, by the drug war, and who now
believe that our current drug policies are doing more harm than good.

Most members of this “movement” barely perceive themselves as such, in
part because their horizons only extend to one or two domains in which
the harms of the drug war are readily apparent to them.

It might be the judge who is required by inflexible, mandatory minimum
sentencing laws to send a drug addict, or small-time dealer, or
dealer’s girlfriend, or Third World drug courier, to prison for longer
than many rapists and murderers serve. Or it might be the corrections
officer who recalls the days when prisons housed “real” criminals, not
the petty, nonviolent offenders who fill jails and prisons these days.
Or the addict in recovery–employed, law-abiding, a worthy citizen in
every respect–who must travel 50 or 100 miles each day to pick up her
methadone, i.e., her medicine, because current laws do not allow
methadone prescriptions to be filled at a local pharmacy.

Or the nurse in the oncology or AIDS unit obliged to look the other
way while a patient wracked with pain or nausea smokes her forbidden
medicine. Both know, from their own experience, that smoked marijuana
works better than anything else for many sick people.

Or the teacher or counselor warned by school authorities not to speak
so frankly about drug use with his students lest he violate federal
regulations prohibiting anything other than “just say no” bromides.

Or the doctor who fears to prescribe medically appropriate doses of
opiate analgesics to a patient in pain because any variations from the
norm bring unfriendly scrutiny from government agents and state
medical boards.

Or the employee with an outstanding record who fails a drug test on
Monday morning because she shared a joint with her husband over the
weekend–and is fired. Or the struggling farmer in North Dakota who
wonders why farmers in Canada and dozens of other countries can plant
hemp, but he cannot. Or the political conservative who abhors the
extraordinary powers of police and prosecutors to seize private
property from citizens who have not been convicted of violating any
laws and who worries about the corruption inherent in letting law
enforcement agencies keep what they seize.

Or the African American citizen repeatedly stopped by police for
“driving while black” or even “walking while black,” never mind
“running while black.”

Some are victims of the drug war, and some are drug policy reformers,
but most of them don’t know it yet. The ones who know they’re drug
policy reformers are the ones who connect the dots–the ones who see
and understand the panoply of ways in which our prohibitionist
policies are doing more harm than good.

We may not agree on which aspect of prohibition is most
pernicious–the generation of crime, the corruption, the underground
market, the spread of disease, the loss of freedom, the burgeoning
prisons or the lies and hypocrisies, and we certainly don’t agree on
the optimal solutions, but we all regard our current policy of
punitive drug prohibition as a fundamental evil both within our
borders and beyond.

Most drug policy reformers I know don’t want crack or methamphetamine
sold in 7-Elevens–to quote one of the more pernicious accusations
hurled by federal drug czar Barry McCaffrey. What we’re talking about
is a new approach grounded not in the fear, ignorance, prejudice and
vested pecuniary and institutional interests that drive current
policies, but rather one grounded in common sense, science, public
health and human rights.

That’s true drug policy reform.



Bravo to the Times for printing Ethan Nadelmann’s fine Op-Ed (Sunday,
19 September) “Perspective On Legalizing Drugs.”

As other more prominent headlines point to police corruption, I hope
readers see the connection between the LAPD scandal and Nadelmann’s
insights. It is, after all, drug money that fuels the gangs, and the
drug war that corrupts the police. Los Angeles is far from the first
city to have such a scandal.

But the last great corruption scandal for the LA police was in 1933,
during that prohibition. By 1931 it was an accepted fact that the
upper and middle classes were drinking in large numbers in quite frank
disregard of the declared policy of the Volstead Act. Have we learned
nothing from history?

Just as then, today a growing number of citizens are recognizing the
errors of the current enforcement based prohibition – and the damage
being done. As then, today the people are well ahead of the our
elected officials in saying “There must be a better way.”

Politicians shouting “legalizer” does not make it so.

Richard Lake

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