DRCNet Activist Guide 2/95

Point Clarification, Counterpoint

Call It War | Accusation | No Taboos | Clarification | House of Cards
Can't Say Prohibition | It's the Money, Stupid | The War to Sell Drugs

Call It War

A recent exchange of views in different sections of the New York Times has helped open up the debate on drug prohibition. In the New York Times Magazine on December 18, Max Frankel published an insightful and vivid column on the failure of US drug policy. In "O.K., Call It War", Frankel told us how as executive editor, he discouraged use of the "Drug War" metaphor, but now regrets not covering the war as a war. Frankel compared the Drug War with Vietnam, "the last war that America lost."

"The press has been too generous with pictures of prosecutors and politicians posing with the mounds of heroin and cocaine they've stumbled across," Frankel wrote, "the bag count, much like the Vietnam body count, is a meaningless index of progress in the war: no matter how impressive the seizures, the flow of bags in the underground drug channels continues relentlessly." If the press were to cover the Drug War as a war, "the reporters would document the cost and futility of the pursuit, the cynicism and corruption of the pursuers and the serene confidence of a wealthy enemy."

Frankel listed the war's gripping consequences:

Not knowing what a legal drug trade might look like, Frankel recommended that dozens of experiments be made. But first, "let's call it `war.' Then deal with defeat."


Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal is known for his reactionary views on the subject of drugs and crime. But his January 3rd column, "The Cruelest Hoax," sets a record for ignorance in that paper. Rosenthal called the legaliza-tion movement "one of the most cruel and selfish movements in America," and warned readers "while we slumber, the movement becomes respectable."

Rosenthal claims the movement strives to "weaken the essential national resolve that the drug war must be fought ... if the public stops caring about enforcing the drug laws, that is just as good as taking them off the books, and a lot less trouble."

No Taboos


David Fratello, of the Washington-based Drug Policy Foundation, wrote a note clarifying the nature of the Soros Foundation's funding to drug policy groups; this bulletin was distributed on the internet to the nearly 500 members of the DRCNet e-mail team and to many other online forums. $6 million has been pledged to the Drug Policy Foundation over three years, and several million more has been granted to The Lindesmith Center, headed by Ethan Nadelmann, formerly of Princeton University, (see: Drug Policy Foundation '94) and Drug Strategies, started by Mathea Falco, a former state department official under Carter.

Of DPF's $6 million, half is slated is for operational expenses, and has been offered on a matching-funds basis. The other $3 million is for a grant program focusing on harm-reduction style treatment programs and health services, with a portion of the money supporting advocacy projects and academic works. (See: On The Move)

Fratello pointed out that even with this new funding source, DPF's budget is still small in the world of non-profits. Rosenthal and others have begun to portray the reform movement as well-financed, even though DPF's budget pales in comparison with the financing of the pro-drug-war side.

House of Cards

Fratello wrote "the drug warriors have had the vision of living in a house of cards, and seeing it topple suddenly." The drug-war establishment does seem to be a bit worried a DEA sponsored conference was held at the Marine base in Quantico, VA, last August, to discuss ways to react to the drug policy reform movement. The product of the conference was a 42-page booklet entitled "How to Hold Your Own in a Drug Legalization Debate". Note that the goal is not to "win" the debate, but merely to be able to hold one's own. Participants at the conference stressed the need for those speaking against legalization to be confident, complained that legalization opponents often have a hard time being heard (?), and acknowledged that "proponents of legalization are generally well-prepared and credible," making them "formidable opponents." ("How to Hold Your Own in a Drug Legalization Debate" can be ordered from the DEA public information office at 202-307-7977.)

Proponents of the status quo in drug policy do have reason to be worried by reformers' recent progress. As the debate over drug policy grows louder, certain glaring but heretofore little noticed facts are bound to come to light -- for example, the fact that every major study of drug policy in the last half-century has recommended decriminalization.

These are the major studies on drug policy:

Can't Say Prohibition

At the 8th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, hosted by the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington, DC, last November, Ethan Nadelmann, director of The Lindesmith Center, said of Mathea Falco, founder of Drug Strategies, a think-tank focusing on treatment and education issues, "she's in the right direction, but can't bring herself to say `prohibition.'"

Nadelmann is right -- Falco's book, "The Making of a Drug Free America," includes a chapter entitled "Legalization is Not the Answer." This author skimmed that chapter in hopes of finding the best of the prohibitionists' arguments with which to challenge my beliefs. I was disappointed to find a host of poorly thought out arguments containing glaring logical flaws. Among other things, Falco described the crack-cocaine epidemic as a "preview of legalization." She didn't elaborate on the relationship of legalization to a phenomenon that has occurred under the most aggressively enforced prohibition in the history of the world.

Falco made no reply to DPF President Arnold Trebach's several letters of invitation to the conference.

It's the Money, Stupid

In the January 29 New York Times Magazine, former HEW secretary Joe Califano, now director of Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), weighed in on the debatewith a column entitled "It's Drugs, Stupid". Califano wrote: "Neither pary gets it. Crime, poverty, health care costs -- America's biggest problems lead back to drug abuse. Rejecting legalization, he recommended a number of revisions to the current policy. We have reprinted his suggestions, in quotes, and our commentary with each one:

Treatment for addicts, imprisoned or no, is a worthy goal, but has no bearing on whether drug prohibition is a good idea.

This is merely a different type of across-the-board mandatory sentence.

Alanon and similar programs are valuable, and addicts should be encouraged to try them. But the bottom-line is you can't cure someone who doesn't want to be cured. And again, the success of Alanon-type programs has no bearing on whether drugs should be illegal.

It's not that cities allow violations of the drug laws in the inner cities; they simply can't prevent it. There is too much money in the drug trade, and the drug gangs are too powerful, for the police to achieve more than occasional disruptions.

Indeed, public health professionals are the appropriate persons to employ in combatting substance abuse -- it's the judges we don't need.

Threat of loss of job and income is the monkey, or one of the monkeys.

Does alcohol- and drug-addiction always equal child abuse? Shouldn't more thought be given before families are dismantled by the state?

By definition, civil rights are meant to be enjoyed or not enjoyed by individuals as they choose.

Califano is right when he says neither party gets it -- but neither does he. Califano's suggestions for reform would only tweak a system that has yielded consistently negative results over the entire 80 years since its inception. The reason prohibition will always fail is that it's not the drugs, it's the money! The violence of the black market is driven by the huge profits available in the illegal drug trade, not the behavioral effects of drug use.

The War to Sell Drugs

While experts like Califano think up new ways to experiment on the American people, the war to sell drugs rages on, wreaking terror and destruction in the inner cities. The following passage from Alex Kotlowitz's "There Are No Children Here" depicts the ravages of black-market violence on the Henry Horner public housing complex in Chicago:

Next: Editor's Page: Incomplete Reality
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DRCNet Activist Guide 2/95

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