NY Times Focuses On Reform Efforts But Misses The Point

Date: Mon, 03 Jan 2000
Subject: NY Times Focuses On Reform Efforts But Misses The Point

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 152 January 3, 2000

NY Times Focuses On Reform Efforts But Misses The Point



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DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 152 January 3, 2000

As more and more people accept the fact that the drug war has been a
counterproductive failure, a few news reporters still seem baffled at
the notion. Some leaders of the drug policy reform movement were
featured in an article in the New York Times yesterday, and those
interviewed for the story articulated their points well.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the real reasons for challenging
bad policy, reporter Christopher Wren attempted to assist anti-drug
zealots in their efforts to portray the reform movement as a sneaky

Lindesmith Center Director Ethan Nadelmann gave a fine definition of
the people who work at drug policy reform: “The core is the people who
to my mind get it, the people who connect the dots … We believe that
the war on drugs is a fundamental evil in our society.” But in the
very next paragraph, reporter Wren characterizes reformers’ efforts
as, “The crusade to make drugs socially respectable…”

Please write a letter to the Times in order to let Wren and editors
know that given the horrible results of the war on drugs, there should
be no questions about the reasons people want to end prohibition. If
we keep up our efforts at education, maybe Wren will be able to
connect the dots by himself some day.

Thanks for your effort and support.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


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


A shorter version of this Christopher Wren OPED appeared on Sunday, 2 Jan,
in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (FL). Please consider sending them a
LTE also, but remember that the last eight paragraphs as shown below did
not appear in the Florida newspaper. See:

Contact: letters@sun-sentinel.com
Feedback: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/services/letters_editor.htm


Pubdate: Sun, 02 Jan 2000
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2000 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: http://www.nytimes.com/
Forum: http://www10.nytimes.com/comment/
Author: Christopher S. Wren
Cited: Lindesmith Center: http://www.lindesmith.org/
NORML: http://www.norml.org/
Families in Action: http://www.emory.edu/NFIA/ Drug Policy Foundation:
http://www.dpf.org/ American Civil Liberties Union: http://www.aclu.org/
McCaffrey’s Testimony: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v99.n636.a02.html
Bookmark: Link to items about George Soros:


When voters in Maine went to the polls in November and endorsed the
use of marijuana as a medicine, it was more than a victory for cancer
patients and others who say marijuana will help relieve their pain.

For a small coalition of libertarians, liberals, humanitarians and
hedonists, the vote was another step forward in a low-profile but
sophisticated crusade to end the nation’s criminal laws against
marijuana and other psychoactive drugs.

Using polls, focus groups and advertising, the coalition has selected
and promoted causes that might arouse sympathy among Americans, like
giving clean syringes to heroin users to prevent the spread of AIDS,
or softening tough penalties for drug use. The most successful has
been medicinal marijuana, which has been endorsed by the District of
Columbia and seven states.

What brought together the disparate elements of the coalition,
however, is a far broader cause: changing the critical way that
Americans think about drugs. Proponents say they want to end a war on
drugs that has packed prisons, offered addicts little treatment and
contributed to the spread of AIDS. Some want to go further and drop
criminal penalties for personal drug use, or even make drugs legal.

The term they have carefully crafted for their goal is “harm
reduction”: reducing the harm caused by those people who cannot or
will not stop using drugs.

“We accept drugs are here to stay,” said Ethan A. Nadelmann, director
of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy center set up in New York with
money donated by the billionaire George Soros. “There never has been
a drug-free society,” Mr. Nadelmann said. “We must learn how to live
with drugs so they cause the least possible harm and the best possible

Critics say the agenda is more ominous: the legalization of marijuana
and other drugs. At a Congressional hearing in June, the White House
director of national drug policy, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, warned of
“a carefully camouflaged, well-funded, tightly knit core of people
whose goal is to legalize drug use in the United States.”

Sue Rusche, director of Families in Action, a coalition in Atlanta
working to help parents prevent children from using drugs, accused Mr.
Nadelmann and his supporters of systematically distorting the picture
of what drugs do.

“Yes, we’re concerned about children, but we’re concerned about
everybody,” said Ms. Rusche, who likened Mr. Nadelmann to the
tobacco industry. “He denies that drugs have the capacity to hurt
people, and takes no responsibility for the consequences.”

Mr. Nadelmann describes his position differently. “Drugs are not
bad,” he said. “Drugs are good, bad or indifferent, depending on how
you use them.”

The movement’s supporters range beyond the Lindesmith Center and other
efforts financed by Mr. Soros. Supporters include marijuana-smokers
represented by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
Laws, or Norml, libertarians who argue that personal drug use is
nobody else’s business, and old-fashioned liberals who castigate the
government’s campaign against drugs as worse than the problem.

“The core is the people who to my mind get it, the people who connect
the dots,” Mr. Nadelmann said. “We believe that the war on drugs is
a fundamental evil in our society.”

The crusade to make drugs socially respectable has no precedent in the
United States, said Dr. David F. Musto, a medical historian at the Yale
School of Medicine and the author of “The American Disease: Origins of
Narcotics Control” (Oxford University Press).

“You have these groups funded by wealthy individuals that are a
constant critic of drug policy, and these groups use very
sophisticated marketing techniques,” he said.

Surveys show that most Americans still oppose making illicit drugs
legal. While voters have been tolerant of letting ill people smoke
marijuana, a Gallup poll this year reported that 69 percent of
respondents opposed making marijuana legal for everyone.

Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University
of California at Los Angeles, said, “When you look at all these
medical marijuana initiatives, they pass by big margins, but the
governors and legislators go the other way.”

Because constituents expect their politicians to be hard-nosed,
Professor Kleiman said, “a legislator who votes for medical marijuana
could lose votes from people who voted for medical marijuana.”

Mr. Nadelmann said he commissioned a poll to learn whether voters
would support personal cultivation of marijuana; 65 percent of those
sampled thought that growing marijuana should remain a crime.

The result of this research into public attitudes has been the
deliberately vague idea of harm reduction. By casting the issue in
friendlier terms that resonate across the political spectrum,
crusaders like Mr. Nadelmann say, they hope to induce Americans to
tolerate, if not embrace, the elimination of criminal penalties
against marijuana — and as a few see it, the eventual legalization of
all psychoactive drugs.

Critics call the medicinal marijuana issue a stalking-horse for drug
legalization. “My guess is the real agenda is to promulgate marijuana
as a benign substance outside the boundaries of conventional
medicine,” General McCaffrey said.

Mr. Nadelmann did not contradict him. “Will it help lead toward
marijuana legalization?” he said. “I hope so.” But he said that
reports of his support for harder drugs have quoted him out of context.

Mr. Nadelmann has advised the campaign putting medicinal marijuana on
state ballots, which is spearheaded by a group calling itself
Americans for Medical Rights, with no mention of marijuana. The
campaign’s director, Bill Zimmerman, explained, “You pick the name
with a view toward winning support for the organization.” Not all
critics of government drug policy want to make illicit drugs legal.

Some assert that prohibition has not stopped drug use. Others say
that money would be better spent treating addicts who commit crimes
rather than locking them up.

Mr. Nadelmann wants to enlist such people in his cause of repealing
all penalties for drug use. “What we reformers do is to use these
coalitions on one issue to educate our allies about the broader
implications of the drug war,” he said.

Rob Stewart, a senior policy analyst for the Drug Policy Foundation,
another group in Washington supported by Mr. Soros, said that lifting
criminal penalties for marijuana use would be sufficient. Writing in
the group’s newsletter, he explained, “decriminalization makes the
point that adults should not be arrested for using marijuana as they
would use a martini.”

Mr. Stewart described the Drug Policy Foundation as “agnostic” about
other illicit drugs. But its founder, Arnold S. Trebach, told
journalists in 1997 that everything from cocaine and heroin to
steroids should be freely available.

Mr. Nadelmann objects to stigmatizing recreational drug use. “People
shall not be discriminated against based on the substances they
consume,” he said. “The extension of the notion of equality is going
to have to include drug users.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also endorses the right to consume
drugs. Ira Glasser, its director, said this year, “The A.C.L.U.’s
position is basically that criminal prohibition is inappropriate in
matters that involve a person’s own behavior.”

Mr. Glasser is also chairman of the Drug Policy Foundation. Holding
both posts, he said, poses no conflict of interest.

Mr. Nadelmann said that a fresh initiative on medicinal marijuana
would be voted on next year in Colorado, where an earlier referendum
was declared illegal, and in Nevada, where the proposal must be
approved twice. Other states that have passed such initiatives, he
said, would be encouraged to get involved in producing and
distributing marijuana for medicinal purposes.



To the Editor of the New York Times:

Throughout the story “Small but Forceful Coalition Works to Counter
U.S. War on Drugs” (Jan. 2) anti-drug leaders question the motives of
anyone involved in the movement against the drug war. At the same
time, the motives of anti-drug leaders themselves are never questioned.

The results of the drug war have been devastating. It’s time to ask
people like drug czar Barry McCaffrey whether their support for
current policy isn’t just a cover for support of the actual effects of
the drug war. Since the drug war was initiated levels of drug use have
fluctuated, but the policies have consistently helped to multiply
prison populations, erode civil liberties and spread disease. These
devastating consequences have been so consistent, I wonder if they
weren’t the original goals?

Stephen Young

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Alert Specialist