Pubdate: Sun, 04 Jun 2000
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2000 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Contact:  http//
Author: Arianna Huffington


You won't find the latest good news about our war in the foreign-news 
section of the paper. That's because this war is being fought at home. But 
you won't find it in the domestic-news section, either. That's because the 
media are barely reporting anything outside the talking points of the 
presidential candidates. And George W. Bush and Al Gore would rather talk 
about drugs they did or didn't take than mention America's ongoing drug war 
unless to say that we need to get tougher.

Elected officials are usually the last to agree with the little boy crying 
out that the emperor wears no clothes  or, in this case, that the drug war 
has been a disaster. But yesterday's heresies are becoming today's wisdom.

"The most common reaction I get from my colleagues," Rep. Tom Campbell 
(R-Calif.), in the vanguard of drug-policy reform, told me, "is `You're 
absolutely right, but, boy, I'm not going to take that risk.' "

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is one who has decided to take the risk. " `A 
fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts when he's forgotten his 
purpose,' " he told me, quoting Santayana. "We need to question 
policymakers' sanity when the purpose  in this case protecting people's 
health  is forgotten in favor of a fanatical pursuit of the drug war."

"We're on the cusp of this debate bursting wide open," said Ethan 
Nadelmann, director of the Lindesmith Center, a leading drug-policy 
institute. "Drug-policy reform is rapidly emerging as the movement for 
political and social justice of the new decade."

An overwhelming majority of Americans now feel that it's time to mobilize 
new thinking on our drug problem. According to a recent Zogby poll, 74 
percent favor treatment over prison for those convicted of possession. And 
when given the chance to express their feelings at the ballot box, voters 
across the country  the ground troops on the side of common sense have 
repeatedly shown their support for reforming drug policy. In Arizona, 
voters have twice approved a measure replacing mandatory incarceration with 
treatment, while ballot initiatives making marijuana available for medical 
use have been passed in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, 
Colorado, Maine and Washington, D.C.

State legislatures are following suit. Hawaii recently became the first 
state to approve medical marijuana through the legislative process. And 
last year, Missouri passed a bill encouraging judges to sentence certain 
drug users to community service and treatment facilities rather than jail.

Indeed, it is at the state level that the critical mass for bipartisan drug 
reform is emerging. In November, Massachusetts and California ballots will 
have groundbreaking initiatives. The Massachusetts initiative requires that 
any properties forfeited in drug cases go to education or drug treatment 
rather than to police coffers,  a critically important reform if we are to 
end our distorted law-enforcement priorities.

Meanwhile, in California, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act 
requires that nonviolent drug offenders be sent to treatment rather than 
prison the first two times they're arrested. Its backers point out that the 
average cost of maintaining a prison inmate is $23,406 a year, while the 
average annual cost of a drug-treatment program is $4,300.

More evidence of this emerging critical mass comes, surprisingly, from a 
growing number of law-enforcement officials and judges. Although, on second 
thought, it's not that surprising since these front-line conscripts have 
seen the ravages of the war up closeoverflowing prisons, devastated 
inner-city neighborhoods, the militarization of our nation's peace 
officers, ruined lives. "We look back now at things like judicial 
enforcement of the fugitive slave laws and wonder how we could have let 
that happen," a U.S. District Court judge told me. "I think many years from 
now people will look at our current drug laws that require very long, 
mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders and think this is 
a comparable kind of injustice."

Even tough-on-crime conservatives like Supreme Court Chief Justice William 
Rehnquist are rethinking the mandatory minimum sentences fostered by the 
drug-war mind-set. Such sentences "impose unduly harsh punishment for 
first-time offenders," said Rehnquist, "and have led to an inordinate 
increase in the prison population."

Finally, families of those doing time for drugs have begun to organize. 
"The loved ones of the drug war's victims shouldn't be ashamed," said Nora 
Callahan, who in 1997 founded the November Coalition to give families of 
those serving Draconian drug sentences a voice. "The government should be 
ashamed because our nation's drug laws are the real culprit." Families 
Against Mandatory Minimums, which now has branches in 21 states, was 
founded by Julie Stewart after her brother got five years in a federal 
prison for possessing three dozen marijuana plants.

College students have opened yet another front in the fight to end the drug 
war battling against an outrageous provision in the 1998 Higher Education 
Act that disqualifies young people for federal aid for college if they've 
ever been convicted of marijuana possession but not if they've been 
convicted of rape, robbery or manslaughter. "It was this bill that got 
students active on the drug issue," said Kris Lotlikar, national director 
of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. "They resent having their education 
dragged into drug-war politics."

"There is a growing acknowledgment," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told me, 
"that the drug war hasn't worked." Or as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) put it 
"The war on drugs is a total failure. It does more harm than good." 
Campbell, Nadler, Schakowsky and Paul are still in the minority  a minority 
that includes some pretty high-profile pols, including New Mexico Gov. Gary 
Johnson and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.

But common sense finally seems to be gaining the edge on demagoguery and 
pandering. The government's war on drugs has become a war on its own 
citizens. It's heartening to see more and more people crying out that it's 
time to sue for peace.

Arianna Huffington's new book is "How to Overthrow the Government." This 
column was distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
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