Pubdate: Thu, 2 Jan 2003
Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Copyright: 2003, Denver Publishing Co.
Author: Ed Halloran, Special To The News
Note: Ed Halloran is a Denver-based author, academic, actor and freelance 


Twenty-five years ago, my then 27-year-old wife, Cathy, was terminally ill. 
Marijuana would have helped to improve her appetite, and heroin would have 
eased her pain, but, as one doctor told us, "You're living in the wrong 

The stated fear was that she would become "addicted."

It galls me that this attitude still prevails a quarter of a century after 
her death, a fact well established in the new compilation Busted: Stone 
Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington's War on Drugs. The book does a 
thorough job of delineating the particulars of the failure of the "war on 

Gray has selected a variety of essays and articles that delve into various 
aspects of our society's love affair with "good" drugs, e.g., Viagra, 
Prozac, etc., and the nearly pathological hatred of "bad" drugs, including 
marijuana. While most of the pieces illuminate the topic well, the book is 
occasionally marred by redundancies and one essay that seems out of place.

A great deal of time is devoted to discussing the heavy price society pays 
in terms of lost lives and dollars by adhering to the policies first 
promulgated during Prohibition.

As Gray points out early on, this is not solely an inner city problem: "The 
village of Darlington is on the Indiana film board's list of movie 
locations if you happen to be looking for Small Town America. On the bluffs 
above Sugar Creek, surrounded by some of the country's most fertile 
farmland, its white clapboard houses and brick sidewalks seem so timeless 
and unassailable that the citizens still leave their doors unlocked. So I 
was surprised last spring when my cousin told me that the sheriff had just 
found a meth lab across the road from the high school.

"Some time earlier, she said, they had arrested a couple of the locals for 
dealing cocaine.

"For a town of 740 people in the middle of the Indiana corn fields to be 
supporting a meth lab and a couple of coke dealers is impressive. It's 
clearly not what the government intended when drug prohibition was launched 
in 1914, but 90 years and $1 trillion later, this is the tragic payoff in 
the tree-lined Midwestern sanctuary where I grew up."

For the most part, Gray has chosen his contributors wisely; a roundtable 
article from the National Review is particularly interesting. "The War On 
Drugs Is Lost" features observations by William F. Buckley Jr., Kurt 
Schmoke, Joseph McNamara, and Robert W. Sweet. (An editor's note explains 
that the original discussion included Ethan A. Nadelman, Thomas Szasz and 
Steven B. Duke. They were eliminated due to space restraints. Had Gray 
refrained from running a sophomoric piece by P.J. O'Rourke, there would 
have been room to complete one of the better articles in the collection.)

Busted raises many valid issues, including the cost to society of this 
unwinnable war. And far from simply touting legalization across the board, 
it explores the value of combining decriminalization with creating 
medical-grade drugs to help people who, like my late wife, aren't helped by 
standard prescription medicines.

That day may be a long time coming. Speaking about the DEA's being wedded 
to the idea of prohibition, Gray writes: "Unfortunately, they're still 
insisting that the only answer is full steam ahead. Defending the drug war 
record, DEA chief Asa Hutchinson told ABC's John Stossel, 'Overall drug use 
in the United States has been reduced by 50 percent over the last 20 
years.' When Stossel reminded him that the major drop was years ago, with 
no improvement in the last decade, Hutchinson admitted, 'We have 
flat-lined. I believe we lost our focus to a certain extent.'"

Gray wonders how Hutchinson might make any further strides. Given the fact 
that the annual drug war budget is already more than $40 billion, nearly a 
million people are arrested each year, and the prisons are packed - this 
war has been operating full force, with little gain.

Gray can't resist underscoring the ultimate irony of it all: "Despite these 
fairly staggering social costs, you can now buy high quality cocaine and 
methamphetamine in small Indiana farm towns."
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