Pubdate: Sat, 10 Feb 2001
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Jose Mercury News
Contact:  750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190
Fax: (408) 271-3792
Author: Joseph D. McNamara, Frank Williams, Silvio Levy


Your editorial "Drug war fallacy" (Opinion, Feb. 6) commendably
criticizes emphasizing drug law enforcement over treatment. However,
you contribute to establishing bad public policy when you suggest that
children can be "immunized" from abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other
drug addiction.

Certainly, parents and society should seek to keep kids from getting
into trouble with these substances, but there is no magic formula or
immunization to do so. Furthermore, you quote Joseph Califano Jr.'s
preposterous statement that, "We know that a child who gets through
age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs is
virtually certain never to do so." No responsible student of human
behavior would agree with such an extreme view. It is an invitation to
oversimplify the drug problem and to embrace cruel

In the end, we should recognize that people, young or old, should not
be put in jail solely because they use certain chemicals. Nor should
robbers, burglars and other criminals be excused from punishment
because they use drugs. We can reason with drug users and give them
accurate information on the effects of all drugs, including the many
mind-altering substances that are legal, but if they still make
foolish choices, it is better for them and society that they pursue
therapy rather than be incarcerated and forced to live with the stigma
of a criminal conviction.

Neither Al Gore nor George W. Bush would have succeeded if they had
been convicted of their "young and foolish" behavior under today's
Draconian laws. Treatment is not a panacea, but it is compassionate
and vastly superior to the racism, violence, corruption, and failure
inherent in a criminal justice war against drugs.

Joseph D. McNamara, Research fellow

Hoover Institution, Stanford University


Most people believe that illegal drugs are evil and that the people
who use them are evil. (I have not been able to figure out whether it
is the drugs that cause people to be evil or if it is people who are
evil and thus use illegal drugs; it's kind of all mixed up.)

However, these same "illegal drugs are evil" people will accept that
legal drugs with the same abuse potential are OK and not evil. We
happily give Ritalin (an amphetamine) to our children; we watch our
children and young adults use another amphetamine, Ecstasy, at raves;
we claim to drink our wine only for health reasons and because it has
"bouquet," although we know the real reason is to alter our minds;
we quaff our Budweiser so that we can get the girls.

None of this is immoral. I agree with almost all of your editorial,
but I do not believe that anything will be done in this country for a
long time, if ever, to change our present approach of prison time for
poor people.

Frank Williams

Palo Alto


Thanks for your editorial "Drug war fallacy." I hope the report on
drug use cited in the editorial is heeded. And although the report
does not stress it, it's important to say that the criminal approach
to the drug problem is not just ineffective; it also causes violence
and corrupts law enforcement. It is used to justify discrimination,
the erosion of individual liberties, and the creation of misery abroad.

In Colombia our tax money is being used to starve peasants by
destroying subsistence crops -- legal and illegal alike -- and to prop
up a corrupt and violent army.

Silvio Levy

- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager