The New Yorker Explains Why Drug Policy Reform Must Happen

Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000
Subject: The New Yorker Explains Why Drug Policy Reform Must Happen

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 161 February 16, 2000

The New Yorker Explains Why Drug Policy Reform Must Happen


DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 161 February 16, 2000

Last week The New Yorker Magazine published a “Comment” piece that
offered a nice summary of the state of drug policy in America. Using
recent allegations that Vice-President Al Gore was a regular pot
smoker as a launching pad, the piece is subtitled “Gore’s Greatest
Bong Hits.” Author Henrik Hertzberg shifts quickly to a much broader
commentary on the drug war itself, flatly calling it a twenty-year
“failure.” He then describes that failure in lucid and compelling
prose, starting with ONDCP’s own “Fact Sheet” and moving effortlessly
from falling street prices for heroin and cocaine to rising
enforcement budgets and prison rolls.

The piece is remarkable, though as friends at DRCNet have noted
(, the author doesn’t
properly credit DRCNet as the original source of the story. Regardless
of that omission, this is an important piece. The reasons why it is
important are analyzed more at length in Tom O’Connell’s feature
article in DrugSense Weekly (
Please write a letter to the New Yorker to offer applause for a very
straight-forward analysis of the failure of the drug war.

Thanks for your effort and support.


If not YOU who? If not NOW when?


Phone, fax etc.)

Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the sent
letter list ( if you are subscribed, or by
E-mailing a copy directly to Your letter will then
be forwarded to the list with so others can learn from your efforts
and be motivated to follow suit

This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.



Source: New Yorker Magazine (NY)


US: Gore’s Greatest Bong Hits
Newshawk: Kevin Fansler
Pubdate: Feb 2000
Source: New Yorker Magazine (NY)
Copyright: The Conde Nast Publications Inc.
Address: 4 Times Square New York, NY 10036
Author: Henrik Hertzberg


A WEEK or so ago the latest chapter in the continuing saga of Al Gore’
s flaming youth erupted, as so many such stories do nowadays, from the
subterranean depths where book publishing, journalism, and the
Internet flow together. A new biography, full of purportedly
titillating revelations, is set for publication a few months hence (in
this case by Houghton Mifflin); a big magazine (in this case Newsweek,
where the book’s author, Bill Turque, works) buys the first serial
rights; the magazine’s editors, worried about the credibility of a
source, develop qualms; an Internet reporter (in this case Jake
Tapper, of Salon) gets a tip; and the gist makes its way via the
tabloids to the mainstream papers (initially as a business section
“media” story) and the TV political gab shows, where, at this moment,
it contentedly bubbles and pops.

The story, in brief, is that John Warnecke, a former friend of Gore’s,
says that in the early seventies, when the two were neighbors and cub
reporters at the Nashville Tennessean, they smoked marijuana together
many, many times-more often, arguably, than the “rare and infrequent”
pot use to which the Vice-President has long admitted. The tale is
not especially scandalous, but it is irresistible, and not just on
account of the comic picture it conjures up of the profoundly unwild
and uncrazy Gore as an enthusiastic doper-a big stiff with a big
spliff. What gives the tale piquancy, even an element of tragic
dignity, is the apparent texture of the relationship between the two
men, who, like Prince Hal and Falstaff, were once as close as brothers
and then drifted far apart when their destinies diverged. Both had
grown up in the bosom of the Washington elite: Albert Gore, Sr., was a
prominent Senator, while Warnecke’s father, John Carl Warnecke, was a
famous architect and was so close to Jacqueline Kennedy that she chose
him to design her husband’s grave site. But young Gore’s life took
him on a path to Congress, the Senate, and the Vice Presidency, while
young Warnecke’s led to alcoholism, depression, and obscurity. The
two have not spoken, Warnecke says, since 1988, when Gore called him
to ask him not to talk to the press about their pot smoking.

At the level of national government, discussion of drug policy has
been dormant since the nineteen eighties ushered in the crack
epidemic, just say no, three strikes and you’re out, and the prison
boom. The Clinton Administration, the first to be run by people who
grew up with soft drugs, chose to surrender to the reigning orthodoxy
Yet the failure of the twenty year “drug war” has never been more
apparent. The most damning evidence can be found in the most recent
“Fact Sheet” handed out by the White House Office of National Drug
Control Policy-the same office that is currently in hot water for
offering television networks millions in financial incentives to
insert anti drug “messages” into entertainment programs. The surest
measure of the success of drug interdiction and enforcement is price:
if drugs are made harder to come by, the price must increase.
According to the “Fact Sheet,” however, the average price of a gram of
pure cocaine dropped from around $300 in 1981 to around $100 in 1997;
for heroin, the price fell from $3,500 to $1,100. Only marijuana has
gotten more expensive, but its potency has more than kept pace.
Interdiction has functioned mainly as a protectionist and R. & D.
program for the burgeoning domestic marijuana industry whose product,
once the equivalent of iceberg lettuce, is now more akin to arugula.
The nickel bag is long gone, but not the nickel high.

Meanwhile, federal spending on drug control has gone from around $1.5
billion to around $16 billion, mostly for interdiction and criminal
justice. State and local spending has likewise multiplied, bringing
the combined annual bill to something in the neighborhood of $40
billion. The prison population, which fifteen years ago was under
three quarters of a million, will cross the two million mark sometime
this month. Drug convictions account for the great bulk of that
increase. The average drug offender in a federal prison serves more
time than does the average rapist, burglar, or mugger. This costly
jihad has scared off some casual users, but it has done nothing to
reduce the number of hard core addicts.

These facts have not much intruded themselves upon the current
political campaign. Below the Presidential and would be Presidential
level, though, there are modest signs of popular discontent with the
drug policy status quo. The voters of eight states, from California
to Maine, have passed initiatives approving the medical use of
marijuana. There is growing interest in practical alternatives to the
regime of punitive prohibition, particularly the approach known as
“harm reduction”- which, in the words of Ethan Nadelmann, of the
George Soros funded Lindesmith Center, “aims to reduce the negative
consequences of both drug use and drug prohibition, acknowledging that
both will likely persist for the foreseeable future.” Even a few
politicians have begun to call for fundamental reform, including
Congressman Tom Campbell, the probable Republican nominee in this
year’s California Senate race, and Governor Gary Johnson, of New
Mexico, also a Republican, who has undertaken a sustained rhetorical
crusade against what he regards as the folly of the drug war.

With varying degrees of candor, three of the four plausible
Presidential candidates have admitted to (Gore and Bill Bradley) or
alluded to (George W. Bush) past drug use. The fourth, John McCain,
says he has never done drugs, but, as he said not long ago, he was
already a prisoner of war when pot became popular in the military
(“Also, remember my age: sixty three,” he added apologetically.) Gore
has taken the usual baby boom politician’s boilerplate-admitting one
or two episodes of unenjoyable “experimentation”-a useful step
further: for some years, he was an occasional (by his own account) or
regular (by Warnecke’s) marijuana user. During those years, he served
in the Army in Vietnam, studied divinity and law, worked as a
newspaper reporter, and prepared to run for Congress. Whatever the
effect marijuana had on him (and he did, after all, once suggest
putting a TV camera in orbit, aiming it straight down, and
broadcasting a picture of the earth twenty four hours a day on cable),
his ability to function as a productive citizen does not appear to
have been impaired.

One day, perhaps, an actual or potential President will acknowledge
that there are meaningful distinctions to be drawn among different
drugs and different ways of using and abusing them; and that there is
something morally askew in a criminal justice system that treats
adults who sell drugs to other adults (let alone adults who merely
grow marijuana plants) as harshly as it does violent, predatory
criminals. That day can hardly come too soon, though when it does a
great change may have already begun. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I
didn’t think this was a Berlin Wall-type situation,” Governor Johnson,
of New Mexico, told an interviewer recently, explaining why he is
willing to brave the indignation of the drug warriors. “You’re going
to get a critical mass here, and all of a sudden it’s just going to



To the Editor of The New Yorker,

Thanks to Henrik Hertzberg for his comments on the drug war (“Gore’s
Greatest Bong Hits,” Feb. 7). The hypocrisy and failure of the drug
war become obvious to anyone willing to take an honest look. I agree
with New Mexico Governor’s Gary Johnson and others who contend the
disaster may soon buckle under its own weight. I don’t believe,
though, we should sit around and wait for such an event. Lives are
being destroyed every day. Well-armed drug gangs and anti-drug forces
try to determine who can be more ruthless in the battle – so focused
on each other they display little concern for average citizens caught
in the crossfire.

It may be easy to assess the failure of the drug war, but it’s harder
to stand up and speak out against it. Witness, for example, the snide
smears Johnson has faced not only from political opponents, but from
appointed bureaucrats like “drug czar” Barry McCaffrey. If the drug
war is allowed to escalate further because challenges to it are
inadequate, many more of us will be casualties before it ends.

Stephen Young

IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone

Please note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it
at least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of the
same letter and so that the original author receives credit for his/her work.

ADDITIONAL INFO to help you in your letter writing

3 Tips for Letter Writers

Letter Writers Style Guide





Prepared by Stephen Young – Focus
Alert Specialist