DRCNet Activist Guide, 1/96

CASA Publishes Propaganda Paper

Schmoke's strong victory in the primary may have taken some of the wind out of a press conference held the next morning by William Bennett, former Bush Drug Czar, and Joseph Califano, President of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). Bennett and Califano will call on the President and Congress to "take the politics out of the war on drugs." CASA released its first White Paper, "Legalization, Panacea or Pandora's Box?" which Califano claimed would "put the nail in the coffin of the despairing proposal to legalize drugs." (Of course, legalization is neither a panacea nor a Pandora's box -- only ideologically -- driven prohibitionists cast it in this light.)

The CASA release followed the release of the 1994 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which purportedly finds that marijuana use among 12-17 year olds nearly double between 1992 and 1994. The survey is fundamentally flawed, because it relies on teenagers' willingness to admit on the telephone to using drugs. ("Hi, I'm from the government. Do you use illegal drugs?") Research has shown that drug use is underreported on these surveys, and that the level of underreporting increases or decreases as public intolerance toward drug use waxes or wanes. So the survey really only tells us that twice as many teenagers are willing to admit to using marijuana -- the real statistics are much more difficult to gauge, but evidence suggests the difference in usage rates is slimmer than shown by the survey.

The slimmest quantity, however, seems to be CASA's academic standards. An article by Dave Fratello in the Winter 1996 issue of the Drug Policy Letter examined some references in the CASA paper and found the conclusions in the articles to be shockingly different from the way CASA depicted them. The most egregious distortion was CASA's treatment of the evidence on drug-related violence, a key issue in the debate on drug prohibition.

Anti-prohibition advocates point to the precipitous decline in homicide rates following repeal of Alcohol Prohibition, and to research showing most "drug-related" homicides to be drug-trade homicides -- murders caused by prohibition. The CASA paper concedes that legalization would reduce this type of violence, but asserts that the larger part of the violence problem is due to the psychopharmacological effects of drugs on their users -- violence resulting from intoxication. The evidence they present is a 1984 study by Paul Goldstein and Henry Brownstein, which found that about 60 percent of the drug-related homicides in New York State in 1984 resulted from intoxication.

But an examination of the Goldstein/Brownstein paper reveals that the drug involved in the vast majority of these homicides was alcohol, not any of the illegal drugs, as CASA implied. In fact, alcohol is mentioned in seven of the eight case summaries. Furthermore, CASA ignored other more relevant research -- by the same authors -- that soundly refutes their claim. A Goldstein/Brownstein study of "drug-related" homicides in New York City in 1988, after the arrival of crack cocaine, found that 74 percent of the drug-related homicides resulted from the drug trade -- from prohibition -- and only 14 percent were traceable to psychopharmacological causes, with two out of three of those cases involving alcohol use. As the researchers concluded, "while these events [homicides] were tragedies, they are hardly the basis for claims that crack induces violent behavior."

CASA's propaganda effort is only one in a series of attempts by prohibitionists to counter the overwhelming arguments for reform. About a year ago, the DEA published a document entitled "How to Hold Your Own in a Drug Legalization Debate," released as "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization." This document is literally saturated with falsehoods and distortions. Two gems from the DEA book are: a reference to a book which doesn't exist; and such serious misstatements about Netherlands drug policy and crime stats that the Dutch foreign minister filed a formal complaint with the US Department of State.

"Legalization, Panacea or Pandora's Box" can be ordered for $8 from CASA.

Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
152 W. 57th St.
New York, NY 10019-9310

A copy of the Drug Policy Letter and information on membership can be obtained from DPF.

Drug Policy Foundation
4455 Connecticut Ave., NW
Suite B-500, Washington, DC 20008-2302
(202) 537-5005
E-mail: [email protected]

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