Pubdate: Tue, 24 Sep 2002
Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Copyright: 2002 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Author: Tom Brazaitis
Note: Brazaitis is a senior editor in the Washington bureau of the
Cleveland Plain Dealer. Distributed by Newhouse News Service.


One War at a Time Is Enough, Don't You Think?

With President George W. Bush hell-bent on waging war against
terrorism, isn't it about time he surrendered gracefully in the war on
drugs? It isn't his war to begin with. President Nixon declared war on
drugs 30 years ago. It proved useful politically in his landslide re-
election over Democrat George McGovern, but it has been a losing
battle ever since.

The federal budget for the war in 1972 was roughly $101 million. In
that same year, the average monthly Social Security check was $177.

Now, the federal government is spending almost $20 billion a year on
the drug war. To put the increase in context, if Social Security had
grown at the same rate the average monthly check today would be more
than $35,000.

And what are we getting for our money?

Foreign production of illegal drugs has increased, not decreased,
despite billions spent on trying to cut off the flow at the source.

Despite more billions lavished on border security, customs officials
admit they stop less than 20 percent of drugs coming into this
country. Even if authorities could cut off the overseas supply,
domestic suppliers would fill the gap.

The supply of drugs is so plentiful that today's marijuana, cocaine
and heroin are of higher quality and selling for lower prices than

As for demand, didn't Prohibition teach us that no amount of laws and
policing can control what people consume privately?

Millions of young people in the United States have criminal records
because they grew or used or simply possessed a prohibited drug. They
got caught. The president wouldn't be president if he had been caught
in his reckless youth. He'd be just another ex-con.

Now, the president's niece, the daughter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush,
faces the stigma of a criminal record. You'd think these personal
encounters with the foolishness of treating drug use as a crime rather
than a medical issue would have an impact on how the Bush brothers
shape drug policy. But no.

The National Academy of Sciences concluded that the drug war has been
a flop. But Bush never has paid much attention to science. Consider
that he ignores the abundant scientific evidence on global warming.

A sign of just how far out of control the drug war has wandered came
last week in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the mayor, a half-dozen city
council members and three former mayors joined an estimated 1,000
citizens to defy the Drug Enforcement Administration by distributing
cannabis products in the courtyard of City Hall.

California voters have twice voted to make marijuana legal for use in
alleviating the symptoms of serious illnesses. Again, the National
Academy of Sciences supports the idea that marijuana works to lessen
nausea and other side effects in cancer patients and others.

The open display of defiance by Santa Cruz officials came two weeks
after the DEA raided the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana,
destroyed the group's 2002 marijuana crop and arrested the operators.

I happened to be in California last week, 75 miles from where the
insurrection occurred, and I spoke with Joe McNamara, a former police
chief who has campaigned against the drug war since retiring from
active police duty.

McNamara, who served with the New York City Police Department and as
police chief in Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif., now is a
research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University,
where he writes and lectures on the damage caused by criminalizing

The drug war has been far more harmful to America than the drugs
themselves ever were or could be, McNamara says. In fact, he says, the
political leadership's obsession with combating drugs may have been a
factor in our vulnerability to terrorists on Sept. 11. "In budget
requests made four months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI asked
for only eight additional agents to combat terrorism - a meager
increase that follows the agency's paltry 2 percent manpower growth
over the past two years," McNamara wrote in the Winter 2001 edition of
the trade journal Regulation.

"The Drug Enforcement Agency, on the other hand, has enjoyed a 26
percent increase in personnel. It is worth pondering whether the Sept.
11 attacks would have occurred if Congress had increased FBI anti-
terrorism resources by 26 percent instead of DEA resources."

Isn't it about time we pursued an honorable peace in this dishonorable