Pubdate: Sun, 28 May 2000
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Author: Arthur Cole
Note: Cole is a free-lance journalist living in Hope Valley, R.I.


Drug addiction is a terrible thing. It robs people of their happiness, 
their livelihood, their will to live. It tears apart families, destabilizes 
communities and places a tremendous burden on society as a whole.

America, and the world, should never relax their vigilance against drug 
addiction. And yet, it is becoming increasingly clear that the ongoing 
prohibition of narcotics has not only failed to stem the flow of drugs into 
our country but is now placing the life of every single U.S. citizen in 

How? By funneling billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy and directly 
into the hands of international terrorists who, most experts agree, are 
only a stone's throw away from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The 
U.S. State Department recently released its annual assessment of terrorist 
activities around the world. Aside from accusing the usual countries of 
providing safe havens for terrorists, the report provided a rather candid 
analysis of the funding mechanisms behind some of the larger terrorist and 
revolutionary organizations around the world.

The report states that since the fall of the Soviet Union, international 
terrorism is no longer funded principally by rogue states seeking to 
further political aims. Rather, most organizations now operate 
independently from any one nation and are held together by fundamental 
religious or ideological beliefs, with their primary support coming from 
international narcotics trafficking and other illegal operations. In other 
words, the United States and other democratic countries are now the primary 
source of funds supporting the terrorist activities against our citizens.

Two excellent cases in point are the organizations that the U.S. government 
has drawn a bead on: the followers of Osama bin Laden, believed to be 
responsible for the bombings of our embassies in Africa, and the FARC 
guerrillas waging war against the government of Colombia. Bin Laden is 
based in Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of poppy, the basic 
ingredient in heroin, while the Colombians are closely tied with the 
cocaine cartels of South America.

Top officials are so concerned over the likelihood of terrorists gaining 
weapons of mass destruction that the federal government last week conducted 
two simultaneous drills -- one in Portland, Maine, the other in Denver, 
Colo. -- to gauge the readiness of federal, state and local authorities to 
respond to such an attack. The scenario is that terrorists have unleashed 
chemical and biological agents in two of our major cities, with casualties 
in the thousands.

The knee-jerk reaction to this type of threat is to redouble our efforts to 
stamp out the drug trade: to put more police on the streets, mandate 
stiffer sentences for traffickers, increase interdiction efforts and step 
up crop eradication programs in South America. But after 30 years of 
continuing escalation on this front with little in the way of results (we 
can't even keep our maximum security prisons drug-free), it is time to 
adopt a different approach. Legalization, even of hard street narcotics, is 
the best way to eliminate the terrorists' funding source before they 
acquire the capital needed to purchase chemical, biological or even nuclear 
material and the necessary delivery systems and technical know-how to 
unleash these weapons.

Advocates of maintaining the status quo regarding our drug laws view any 
consideration toward legalization as heresy. Legalization would lead to 
rampant drug abuse among our citizens, hampering our nation with enormous 
social problems as sober-minded people rush out to become heroin addicts.

This is highly debatable (how many of your friends and neighbors are 
anxiously awaiting the chance to buy heroin but abstain simply because it's 
illegal?). But even if consumption does increase as a result of 
legalization, wouldn't this be preferable to an anthrax attack on New York 
City or a smallpox outbreak in Los Angeles?

For many people, legalization conjures up images of open-air drug festivals 
in which the same thugs operating in the black market are free to prowl 
around grade schools with no fear of prosecution. But legalization does not 
mean that all the laws are wiped off the books leading to a general 
free-for-all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Legalization allows us to 
introduce all sorts of controls over a market where we now have no control 
at all.

It could be structured so that only the states or the federal government 
can establish local clinics, staffed by medical professionals, providing 
narcotics with warning labels regarding safe dosages, dangerous 
interactions with alcohol and other drugs, where to go for counseling, etc.

Legalization would also alleviate the enormous collateral damage that is 
being done to our nation and our cities in particular. Contrary to popular 
opinion, most drug-related crimes are not committed by strung out addicts 
robbing convenience stores for drug money. Rather, it is rival drug gangs 
battling over turf.

It is drug deals gone bad. The bullets start flying and the innocent 
bystanders -- the little girl playing in her front yard, the elderly couple 
waiting for a bus -- are the ones to get hit. Legalize the trade and the 
violence goes away.

And study after study has shown that it is much more effective, and 
cheaper, to treat addicts for their addiction, rather than lock them in 
prison to become hardened criminals only to be released back into society 
to make room for the next wave of non-violent drug offenders.

What is most unfortunate about our current drug laws is that the issue is 
not even on the radar screen of most Americans. It's not an issue for the 
upcoming elections and there is no national urgency to change in this era 
of budget surpluses and falling crime rates.

A few billion on a failed policy? There's nothing special about that. Money 
being siphoned off by people who would use it to attack us? We needn't 
worry about that until the problem arrives at our front doors.

But when that problem does arrive -- when, not if -- it will come in the 
form of mass suffering and death more horrible and in far greater numbers 
than even the worst drug scourge. Our only hope is to prevent such an 
attack before it comes by diverting the drug profits away from the black 
market and those who would cause such destruction and into the hands of the 
government where it can be used to treat drug addiction and address other 
social ills.

If we fail to act, we need not look very far for the source behind the next 
major terrorist attack. We merely have to go to our own bathroom mirrors 
and take a long hard look.

Cole is a free-lance journalist living in Hope Valley, R.I.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D