Pubdate: Wed, 30 May 2001
Source: Village Voice (NY)
Copyright: 2001 Village Voice Media, Inc
Author: Russ Kick
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Right Joins Left in Call for an End to the Drug War

The American drug war may yet grind on, but one by one, the troops are 
hiking out. Right-wingers like Jesse Ventura, Gary Johnson, Dan Quayle, 
William F. Buckley, and George Schultz have all voiced support for either 
ending the costly campaign of interdiction and imprisonment, or at least 
decriminalizing pot.

Through the years, in statements little-noted or splashed onto front pages, 
they've aligned themselves with leaders around the world, all standing in 
unlikely opposition to the frat-boy chief commander in the White House.

President Bush shows no sign of yielding, instead choosing to harden his 
stance. In May, announcing the appointment of a drug czar who makes John 
Ashcroft look like a hippie, Bush thundered, "John Walters and I believe 
the only humane and compassionate response to drug use is a moral refusal 
to accept it. We emphatically disagree with those who favor drug legalization."

These days, that means disagreeing with a lengthening list of international 
heavyweights--former presidents of the United States, current presidents of 
Latin American countries, legislators, governors, high-ranking judges, and 
law enforcement officials. Not that all of them favor outright 
legalization--most don't--but each has broached the possibility of relaxing 
the laws.

Two weeks ago, as the U.S. Supreme Court shot down medical marijuana like 
Christian missionaries over Peru, the Canadian Parliament was questioning 
whether soft drugs should be decriminalized. "It's time to be bold," 
lawmaker Derek Lee told the Ottawa Citizen. "Everything has to be on the 

Bush finds himself hemmed in by opinion south of the border as well, where 
some of his strongest allies in free trade break radically with his 
policies on drugs. President Vicente Fox of Mexico, for one, assures the 
Bush administration he will be an obedient, merciless drug warrior, while 
he tells his own country's newspapers that someday humanity will recognize 
universal drug legalization as the best course.

A parade of brutal statistics has long made clear the merit of Fox's 
legalize-it zeal. According to the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws, police in 1998 arrested 682,885 Americans for marijuana 
offenses, more than the number for all violent crimes combined. After eight 
years of Bill Clinton, a supposed progressive who could have provided 
relief, some 450,000 drug offenders sat behind bars--a total almost equal 
to the entire U.S. prison population in 1980. The president who later told 
Rolling Stone he believed small amounts of pot should be decriminalized 
spent his terms fueling a multibillion-dollar escalation of the drug war, 
in which people were killed in raids of the wrong homes and constitutional 
rights were shredded. On average, the Lindesmith Center reports, a federal 
offender in the Clinton era drew twice as much time for drugs as for 

The Drug Policy Foundation calculates that in 1999, the feds spent $1.7 
billion to guard America's borders and coasts--$17,700 per mile--only to 
have 70 percent of the coke and 90 percent of the heroin make it through. 
Drug use continues to climb, with some 72 million Americans believed to 
have tried pot.

While the U.S. continues its self-destructive orgy of arrests and wasted 
money, other parts of the world move forward. The Swiss government has 
endorsed a plan to legalize pot and hash consumption and allow some shops 
to sell cannabis. Belgium allows people to grow pot for personal use. The 
Netherlands allows coffee houses to sell marijuana. Portugal, Spain, and 
Italy punish the use of any drug (including heroin and coke) with only an 
administrative sanction, such as a fine.

Britain has loosened its laws a tiny bit, allowing low-level marijuana 
offenses to be immediately expunged from arrest records. In an effort to 
control the damage from opiate addiction, Australia has opened the world's 
largest heroin-injecting room in Sydney.

But it's in the regions most wracked by narco-violence that the cry for 
legalization rings most clear. Having been shot in the neck by a police 
officer thought to be acting under orders from drug lords, Patricio 
Martinez Garcia, governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, told El 
Universal in March that he believed a proposal for legalization must be 
considered. "Because if the war is going to continue being lost, with the 
deterioration of the life of communities and even the nation, and with the 
deterioration of the quality of life for the citizens of the country, well, 
then, where are we heading?" said Garcia, whose state borders Texas and New 
Mexico. "There has to be a remaking of the law."

Vicente Fox Mexican President

"My opinion is that in Mexico it is not a crime to have a small dose of 
drugs in one's pocket. . . . But the day that the alternative of freeing 
the consumption of drugs from punishment comes, it will have to be done in 
the entire world because we are not going to win anything if Mexico does 
it, but the production and traffic of the drugs . . . to the United States 
continues. Thus, humanity will one day view it [legalization] as the best 
in this sense." Source: Unomasuno, March 17, 2001

Jorge Castaneda Mexican Foreign Minister

"In the end, legalization of certain substances may be the only way to 
bring prices down, and doing so may be the only remedy to some of the worst 
aspects of the drug plague: violence, corruption, and the collapse of the 
rule of law." Source: Newsweek, September 6, 1999

Jorge Batlle President of Uruguay

"Why don't we just legalize drugs? . . . The day that it is legalized in 
the United States, it will lose value. And if it loses value, there will be 
no profit. But as long as the U.S. citizenry doesn't rise up to do 
something, they will pass this life fighting and fighting." Source: El 
Observador, December 1, 2000

Bill Clinton former U.S. President

"I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in 
some places, and should be." Source: Rolling Stone, October 6, 2000

Joe Clark Head of Tory Party, member of Canadian Parliament, former Prime 

"I believe the least controversial approach is decriminalization [of 
marijuana], because it's unjust to see someone, because of one decision one 
night in their youth, carry the stigma--to be barred from studying 
medicine, law, architecture or other fields where a criminal record could 
present an obstacle." Source: Globe and Mail, May 23, 2001

Jimmy Carter Former U.S. President

"Penalties against a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than 
the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws 
against possession of marijuana for personal use. The National Commission 
on Marijuana . . . concluded years ago that marijuana use should be 
decriminalized, and I believe it is time to implement those basic 
recommendations." Source: speech to Congress, August 2, 1977

Dan Quayle former U.S. Vice President

"Congress should definitely consider decriminalizing possession of 
marijuana. . . . We should concentrate on prosecuting the rapists and 
burglars who are a menace to society." Source: Smoke and Mirrors: The War 
on Drugs and the Politics of Failure by Dan Baum, quoting Quayle from 1977

George Schultz Reagan's Secretary of State

"We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization 
of drugs." Source: Associated Press, November 6, 1989

Abigail Van Buren Advice Columnist

"I agree that marijuana laws are overdue for an overhaul. I also favor the 
medical use of marijuana--if it's prescribed by a physician. I cannot 
understand why the federal government should interfere with the 
doctor-patient relationship, nor why it would ignore the will of a majority 
of voters who have legally approved such legislation." Source: "Dear Abby," 
March 1, 1999

William F. Buckley Conservative Author

"Now it's one thing to say (I say it) that people shouldn't consume 
psychoactive drugs. It is entirely something else to condone marijuana laws 
the application of which resulted, in 1995, in the arrest of 588,963 
Americans. Why are we so afraid to inform ourselves on the question?" 
Source: syndicated column, October 21, 1997

Gary Johnson Governor of New Mexico

"Make drugs a controlled substance like alcohol. Legalize it, control it, 
regulate it, tax it. If you legalize it, we might actually have a healthier 
society." Source: The Boston Globe, October 13, 1999

Ben Cayetano Governor of Hawaii

"I just think it's a matter of time that Congress finally gets around to 
understanding that the states should be allowed to provide this kind of 
relief [medical marijuana] to the people. Congress is way, way behind in 
their thinking." Source: Associated Press, May 15, 2001

Jesse Ventura Governor of Minnesota

"The prohibition of drugs causes crime. You don't have to legalize, just 
decriminalize it. Regulate it. Create places where the addict can go get 
it." Source: Playboy, November 1999

Kurt Schmoke former Mayor of Baltimore

"Decriminalization would take the profit out of drugs and greatly reduce, 
if not eliminate, the drug-related violence that is currently plaguing our 
streets." Source: The Washington Post, May 15, 1988

Frank Jordan former mayor of San Francisco

"I have no problem whatsoever with the use of marijuana for medical 
purposes. I am sensitive and compassionate to people who have legitimate 
needs. We should bend the law and do what's right." Source: Los Angeles 
Times, February 26, 1995

Ron Paul U.S. Congressman from Texas

"When we finally decide that drug prohibition has been no more successful 
than alcohol prohibition, the drug dealers will disappear." Source: Paul's 
Web site,

Jorge Sampaio President of Portugal

"Policies conceived and enforced to control drug-related problems and 
effects have led to disastrous and perverse results. Prohibition is the 
fundamental principle of drug policies. If we consider the results 
achieved, there are profound doubts regarding its effectiveness. 
Prohibitionist policies have been unable to control the consumption of 
narcotics; on the other hand, there has been an increase of criminality. 
There is also a high mortality rate related to the quality of substances 
and to AIDS or other viral diseases." Source: Madrid's El Pais, April 7, 1997

Milton Friedman Nobel Prize winner for economics

"Legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise 
the quality of law enforcement. Can you conceive of any other measure that 
would accomplish so much to promote law and order?" Source: Newsweek, May 
1, 1972

Dream Of A Worldwide Truce

On the eve of a United Nations special session on drugs, an international 
roster of luminaries signed a letter, penned by members of the Lindesmith 
Center, that lobbied for radical change. "We believe that the global war on 
drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself," read the June 1998 
declaration. "Persisting in our current policies will only result in more 
drug abuse, more empowerment of drug markets and criminals, and more 
disease and suffering."

Among the signatories were Willie Brown, Joycelyn Elders, several former 
members of Congress, two former U.S. attorneys general, a former assistant 
secretary of state, three federal judges, the San Jose mayor, a former 
police commissioner of New York City, a former secretary general of the UN, 
28 Spanish judges, past presidents of Bolivia, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa 
Rica, and Nicaragua, and current legislators from Australia, Britain, 
Canada, European Parliament, Mexico, and Peru.

Non-politicos who signed include Kweisi Mfume, Walter Cronkite, Stephen Jay 
Gould, Andrew Weil, Isabel Allende, Gunter Grass, a slew of professors at 
top-notch universities, CEOs, various clergy, and Nobel laureates.

Several representatives on Capitol Hill are also bucking for new 
approaches. Reformers include California representative Tom Campbell, who 
has suggested "experiments in supplying drugs to addicts the way Zurich 
tried," according to the Chicago Tribune. Massachusetts representative 
Barney Frank has repeatedly introduced a bill to change pot from a Schedule 
I drug to a Schedule II drug, thus allowing states to legalize it for 
medical purposes. In its current incarnation, the States' Rights to Medical 
Marijuana Act is cosponsored by 14 representatives and is residing in a 
House subcommittee.

Many on the federal bench have also seen the light. During his tenure as 
chief judge of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (1993-2000), 
Reagan appointee Richard Posner argued in favor of legalizing marijuana and 
psychedelics. District Judge Warren Eginton of Connecticut wants to see pot 
and cocaine legalized, while District Judge James C. Paine of Florida has 
condemned the war on drugs.

Other leaders who question prohibition are listed below. --R.K.

Gustavo de Greiff former Attorney General of Colombia

"We should legalize drugs because we here are providing the dead, and the 
consumers are there in the U.S." Source: El Diario-La Prensa, May 8, 1994

Peter Bourne President Carter's Drug Czar

"We did not view marijuana as a significant health problem--as it was not. 
. . . Nobody dies from marijuana. Marijuana smoking, in fact, if one wants 
to be honest, is a source of pleasure and amusement to countless millions 
of people in America, and it continues to be that way." Source: PBS's 
Frontline: "Drug Wars," October 2000

Joseph D. McNamara former police chief of San Jose and Kansas City

"We should immediately stop arresting people whose only crime is possessing 
small amounts of drugs for their own use. . . . Marijuana should be treated 
the same as alcohol and cigarettes." Source: The Washington Post, May 19, 1996

Jaime Ruiz senior adviser to the Colombian President

"From the Colombian point of view [legalization] is the easy solution. I 
mean, just legalize it and we won't have any more problems. Probably in 
five years we wouldn't even have guerrillas. No problems. We [would] have a 
great country with no problems." Source: Ottawa Citizen, September 6, 2000

George Papandreou Greek Foreign Minister

"I can officially state that my government and myself believe that all over 
Europe we need to open a debate on the 'drug question' in order to create 
more coherent and human policies with better perspectives. . . . The policy 
of criminalizing consumers has failed, creating many problems to our 
society." Source: Transnational Radical Party's Anti-Prohibitionist Days, 
Brussels, December 11, 1997

Edward Ellison former head of Scotland Yard's Antidrug Squad

"I say legalize drugs because I want to see less drug abuse, not more. And 
I say legalize drugs because I want to see the criminals put out of 
business." Source: London's Daily Mail, March 10, 1998

Ray Kendall Secretary General of Interpol

"[I am] entirely supportive of the notion of removing the abuse of drugs 
from the penal realm in favor of other forms of regulation such as psycho, 
medical, social treatment." Source: Report of Premier's Advisory Council, 1996

Juan Torruella chief judge of the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals

"There is a need for pilot tests of some types of limited 
decriminalization, probably commencing with marijuana, and obviously not 
including minors." Source: Spotlight Lecture at Colby College, Waterville, 
Maine, April 25, 1996

John Curtin U.S. district judge, New York

"Education, counseling, less use of criminal sanctions, partial 
legalization, and legalization are all alternatives. It is a hard road, but 
the present course has failed." Source: The Buffalo News, March 2, 1997

Robert Sweet U.S. district judge, New York

"Finally, the fundamental flaw, which will ultimately destroy this 
prohibition as it did the last one, is that criminal sanctions cannot, and 
should not attempt to, prohibit personal conduct which does no harm to 
others." Source: National Review, February 12, 1996

House of Lords, Great Britain

"We consider it undesirable to prosecute genuine therapeutic users of 
cannabis who possess or grow cannabis for their own use. This 
unsatisfactory situation underlines the need to legalise cannabis 
preparations for therapeutic use." Source: "Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis," 
Select Committee on Science and Technology, March 14, 2001

Australian Parliament

"Over the past two decades in Australia we have devoted increased resources 
to drug law enforcement, we have increased the penalties for drug 
trafficking, and we have accepted increasing inroads on our civil liberties 
as part of the battle to curb the drug trade. All the evidence shows, 
however, not only that our law enforcement agencies have not succeeded in 
preventing the supply of illicit drugs to Australian markets, but that it 
is unrealistic to expect them to do so. If the present policy of 
prohibition is not working, then it is time to give serious consideration 
to the alternatives, however radical they may seem." Source: Joint 
Committee on the National Crime Authority, 1988
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