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Point, Clarification, Counterpoint

Many DRCNet readers have seen or heard about Abe Rosenthal's highly reactionary editorial earlier this month calling the movement for drug decriminalization "selfish and cruel". Among other things he mentions funding for the movement provided by the Soros Foundations. At the request of the Drug Policy Foundation I am posting their clarification of the nature of the Soros funding and an editorial response from the Soros Foundations that was printed in the New York Times. I have added the Rosenthal editorial itself to the beginning, and at the end I have included Max Frankel's piece "O.K., Call It War" from the New York Times Magazine last month, to which Rosenthal's editorial seems to be a response.

On My Mind
The Cruelest Hoax
(NY Times Op-Ed Page, Jan. 3, 1994)

The campaign for drug legalization grows in wallet and prestige. But, as it picks up journalistic and academic endorsement and foundation money, one thing stays constant. It remains now, as it has always been, one of the most cruel and selfish movements in America.

The great majority of Americans are against legalization. So are the politicians they elect to office.

And Americans who believe in using government power and public opinion to fight narcotics are drowsily inclined to believe that to pay attention to the legalization movement would strengthen it. So let's not.

While we slumber, the movement becomes respectable. The Soros foundation recently gave pro-legalizers at least $6 million, to study legalization and decriminalization.

Meanwhile, the struggle against drugs is long and wearying. Achievement does not always hold steady. People who say they have a cheap and fast solution get a hearing their logic would never earn them.

Far more important, it is clear that the legalizers can make important headway without passing laws. They strive to weaken the essential national resolve that the drug war must be fought with as many weapons and for as long as it takes.

This is backdoor drug acceptance, almost as dangerous as legalization. The U.S. is still paying in broken lives, fear, violence and damaged newborn for the tacit decriminalization won by the counterculture in the 60's.

Last month the University of Michigan lnstitute for Social Research reported that illegal drug use among secondary school students is rising. The study traced an expansion of drug use among young people into the late 1970's, a decline through 1991 and since then a resurgence.

The warning from the study group was that as children heard less disapproval and more glamorization or approval of drugs, their own use went up. You don't really need a law.

It is time to state the truth, as often as the message is heard in the academy, the press, the movies or TV. The legalization movement is cruel because it would create more addicts, more abused children, more victims of muggings and robbery, millions more every single year.

It is selfish because it would move the entire burden of fighting drugs from the totality of society to neighborhoods that already suffer most. It is both cruel and selfish because it glides over the ruined lives of those who abuse drugs, legally or not.

The movement claims that legalization would drive drug mobsters out of business, which would cut down on crime so us non-addicts could live in peace. But nobody has demonstrated how it would reduce crime or addiction, because it will not.

Mayor Rudolph Giullani and the New York police have shown the way at least to cut down on drug-mob shootings. Go after them, arrest gunners, pushers and their customers; don't look away, put them away.

The police have done their job well enough in Washington Heights to force the mobsters indoors. That cuts down on street assassinations.

But it has not cut down on drug abuse, or on crimes by addicts. Most drug crimes are not carried out by addicts frantic for drug buying money, but after and because of drug use, by addicts who take to cold-blooded crime as the only way drugs leave them fit to make a living.

If legalization made drugs purchasable without penalty - or gave them away - there would be more addicts, therefore more crime. That is the root hoax of legalization.

To fight drugs and drug crime takes a combination of interdiction at home and abroad, well funded drug therapy and a resolute anti- drug national consensus enforced by tough, constant parent, police and neighborhood pressure. A combination.

Americans who support legalization are not looking for an up or down vote. They know they could never win. But they also know, because America has seen it happen, that 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.

Americans who support drug legalization or decriminalization may be otherwise decent people. But to the extent they succeed they are responsible for what is wrought, even though they be lovely to their own children and house plants, whether they contribute one dollar or six million, in coin or embrace.

FM: Dave Fratello, Drug Policy Foundation
([email protected])

Last week, former New York Times editor-turned-crank columnist A. M. Rosenthal issued his latest anti-legalization broadside, an article titled "The Cruelest Hoax." Rosenthal offered his usual shrill litany of reasons why drug legalization must never be studied, and, he added, just in case you thought it was worthwhile, don't think that, because it won't work. This had to be the sixth or seventh foaming anti-drug op-ed he's done in the last two years.

Abe doesn't usually bother with facts and figures, just firm opinions. This time he did name names, though. Abe criticized the Soros Foundations for giving "at least $6 million" to groups for the study of drug legalization. That netted a corrective letter-to-the-editor (reproduced below).


First, the total in grants to drug policy groups that the Soros Foundations have announced this year is over $12 million. The money is all being granted by Soros' Open Society Institute. Of that, the Drug Policy Foundation received a pledge of $6 million over three years (explained below). Two other groups also received Soros money: 1) The Lindesmith Center in New York, begun by academic Ethan Nadelmann to study new approaches to drugs and other "vice crimes," applying harm-reduction principles to policy; and 2) Drug Strategies, begun by former Carter administration official Mathea Falco, with Soros funding and money from plenty of other sources. DS's focus is on education and treatment issues; among other projects, they are coordinating a maternal substance abuse treatment program in Baltimore.


DPF's Soros grant is divided into two parts. A $3 million pledge over three years is slated for operational funding, and the money carries a matching requirement (none of the other groups' grants is like this). The first year (through mid-1995), DPF must bring in one dollar to receive each dollar of the $1 million we are promised. In future years, we will have to raise more than one dollar to earn one dollar from the grant. The other $3 million is to be distributed over three years in grants coordinated by DPF. The focus of those grants is harm-reduction style treatment programs and health services for hard-core drug abusers. A portion of the money will support advocacy projects and academic works.

If you know anything about non-profits, you will recognize that even at our potential budget of over $1 million per year, DPF is far from big. We are constantly cash-strapped, understaffed, and wondering about the near future. (Though I think we make quite an impact anyway.)

One reason I have gone to such length to explain this is that Rosenthal and other anti-legalizers have begun to portray drug policy reform advocates as well-financed - mainly a ploy intended to scare drug warriors (never mind how incredibly well-financed the pro-war side is. . .) out of silence, one suspects.

But it just ain't so, not yet. We need to bring in a lot more people, and, frankly, a lot more money, to begin to have the impact some other groups do. Our greatest asset now (not to be underrated) is that we're right, and that more and more people are ready to hear about changing drug policy.


Fortunately, few people buy Rosenthal's neo-McCarthyist rants as truth. They're usually fun to read, to see Abe squirming. And this most recent one comes as lots of drug warriors are drinking up the DEA's hapless anti-legalization briefing booklet, "How to Hold Your Own in a Drug Legalization Debate." (Also known as the booklet that is so devastating to our cause that DPF is distributing it for the cost of copying!) Here's the bottom line: The drug warriors have had the vision of living in a house of cards, and seeing it topple suddenly. They fear that, and they're resorting to a variety of Big Lies to try to keep it from happening.


Letters to the Editor, pg. A-18 The New York Times January 10, 1995

"Real Debate on Drug Legalization is Overdue"

To the Editor:

A. M. Rosenthal's "Cruelest Hoax" (column, Jan. 3), on drugs, attacks the Soros Foundations for supporting "pro-legalizers." We have financed groups with different viewpoints on drug issues so as to promote a debate.

We adopted this course because we are uncertain if decriminalization is the right approach. What seemed more certain is that the United States has gone disastrously wrong for decades in overwhelming reliance on law enforcement. As a consequence of the enforcement approach, millions of Americans commit crimes every day, buying, selling and possessing illegal drugs.

They spend tens of billions of dollars a year on drugs priced at levels that rise as police pressure escalates. They steal from others much of the money they use to buy drugs, committing hundreds of thousands of violent crimes.

The police, prosecutors, judges and prison officials devote much time to drug law enforcement ast a cost of tens of billions more a year. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are imprisoned, and millions are marginalized, at considerable cost and danger to others, by records of drug arrests and convictions.

"Drug war" proponents occasionally point to skirmishes they have won. Yet the war, now lost, has done more harm than the enemy it was supposed to defeat.

Mr. Rosenthal thinks there is no chance legalization will prevail, but says that raising the issue could weaken the resolve of enforcers. He wants no debate. This is the argument of many orthodoxies for tolerating no dissent.

We oppose taboos and favor debates. A real debate over drugs is long overdue.

-- Aryeh Neier
President, Soros Foundations
New York

Max Frankel
O.K., Call It War
New York Times Magazine
December, 1994

I used to hate hearing about the "war" against drugs, and as executive editor tried to discourage that metaphor in The Times. But the politicians won the battle of the cliche even as they were losing the war. The "war" term appeared in this newspaper only 16 times in all of 1981, but 66 times in 1987 and 511 times in 1989, after President Bush promised at his inaugural, "Take my word for it, this scourge will stop." Well, it didn't, and we're down to about 100 mentions in each of the Clinton years, a mere twice a week. And now I'm sorry, for it's time the media began to cover the war on drugs as a war -- the way they covered the last war that America lost.

The better newspapers are portraying the drug quagmire the way they once portrayed the quagmire in Vietnam. Dispatches from the front find cops risking life and limb to draf in users and dealers, but just as many stalk the streets the next night. The brass that's bragging about progress and calling for still more troops, weapons, prisons and money must be smoking something.

If the newspapers, magazines and TV networks would agree that there's a war on, maybe the would report a monthly "bag count" -- the number of kilo-size packs of cocaine or heroin seized by Federal, state and local raiders in urban hideaways, remote marinas and canine stomachs. The could point out that the bag count, much like the Vietnam body count, is a meaningless index of progress in the warl no matter how impressive the seizures, the flow of bags in the underground drug channels continues relentlessly.

The press has been too generous with pictures of prosecutors and politicians posing with the mounds of heroin and cocaine they've stumbled across somewhere. If more of the media would open drug-war bureaus in the inner cities, their bravest reporters would find that there's no shortage anytime, no increase at all in the street price of drugs, just constant pressure by a guerrilla army of street pushers supporting their own drug habit by enlarging the circle of customers. 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.

Gradually, maybe through C-Span "teach-ins" run by such radicals as former Secretary of State George Shultz, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore and William F. Buckley Jr., the commercial networks might learn that the war on drugs -- meaning the prohibition of drugs -- is not only being lost but is also unwinnable. The radicals have adopted the antiwar slogan of "legalization," but the the TV anchors don't have to embrace that still-undefined remedy. They need only climb to the rooftops of Washington Heights in New York and cruise down along the Potomac Delta while reciting the terrifying findings of their research staffs: the direct, recognizable cost of this war is probably running in excess of $100 billion a year. There's not even a good estimate of the cost of the related crimes committed by drug peddlers and users, and of the measures taken to prevent such crimes, to compensate the victims and to punish some of the perpetrators. Hundred of milions of dollars are being stashed in offshore sanctuaries and hundreds of millions more are available to import the stuff and to pave the way with bribes and untaxes wages.

Of the 20 million American drug users, maybe 5 million are "seriously" addicted. A year's supply of heroin for all of them can be made from opium poopies grown on only 20 square miles of land -- not quite the area of Mangattan. A year's supply of coke can be stashed in 13 truck trailers. So "eradicating" the supply abroad is impossible; "interdicting" drugs at the border is a joke.

About 40,000 Americans die each year of the direct and indirect effects of drugs; a large proportion of New York City's 2,000 annual homicides are attributable to drug trafficking. And drug offenders, whether or not they are violent criminals, clog the courts and prisons.

When finally one of the TV anchors senses that the country is ready to hear unvarnished truth, like Walter Cronkite's passionate declaration in 1968 that it was time to get out of Vietnam, she won't have to bother with statistics. Against a backdrop of gripping graphis, she could simply list the war's consequences:

If the prohibition of drugs is a lost cause then "legalization" -- in some form -- is inevitable. But the word "legalization" has been demonized, like "negotiation" before Henry Kissinger sat down with the Vietcong in Paris. A year ago, Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was pilloried -- and disowned by her President -- for recommending "some studeis" of how drugs might be legalized and regulated. Most Americans still think legalization would constitute "surrender" to immorality. Some call it "genocide" because they imagine ghetto children lining up at the corner drugstore for their daily fix.

Not until we in the media do a better job of reporting the horrendous costs of this unwinnable war will the public consider alternative policies. By definition, legalizing drugs would put the big dealers and their gun-toting distributors out of business. It would also keep most uers from having to steal to support the habit. That alone would liberate a great deal of money and energy for reclaiming wrecked lives and neighborhoods.

Like the Surgeon General, I don't pretend to know how a legal drug trade might be managed. Maybe drugs should be sold inexpensively to adults through Government outlets, like ABC liquor stores that many states opened after Prohibition. Maybe drugs should be given away at neighborhood dispensaries that also offer treatment to cure addiction. Maybe dozens of experiments are in order.

By all means, let's call it "war." Then deal with defeat.

[Most of the statistics in this column are taken from "The Making of a Drug-Free America" by Mathea Falco and "A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition, a Report of the Special Committee on Drugs and the Law of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York."]

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