Pubdate: Wed, 26 Mar 2008
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2008 Newsday Inc.
Author: Ellis Henican


All that's left is the rock and roll.

Sex? Drugs? What else can David Paterson cop to now? That he played
guitar in a garage band when he was growing up in Hempstead?

Don't bet against it. New York's new governor is the perfect

He graduated from Hempstead High in 1971. Back in the day, he says, he
smoked marijuana occasionally and, at 22 or 23, tried cocaine "a
couple of times." At that point in his life, he'd have been a senior
history major at Columbia - or perhaps a recent graduate. It would be
a couple of years before he decided he wanted to go to law school.

But now it's 2008. Paterson's the accidental governor. And it hardly
even counts as news any more that a 54-year-old man would at some
point in the past have violated the state or federal laws against
using certain drugs.

"Marijuana?" Dominic Carter asked in a NY1 interview.

"Yes," Paterson said.

"Cocaine?" the reporter continued.


And all of it, as matter of fact as that.

And why not? About all anyone can tell from the brief exchange is
something utterly unremarkable: New York's new governor is a member of
his own generation.

Rock on, DP!

It's not like he's alone in having a drug past, even at the upper
reaches of political life. Especially at the upper reaches of
political life.

Among the pols who've acknowledged illegal drug use - marijuana,
mostly - are Mike Bloomberg, George Pataki, Bill Clinton, and on and
on ...

Truthfully, these lists would be a whole lot shorter if they were
limited to the pols who weren't grown-up drug criminals. Obviously,
we've come a long way since Douglas Ginsberg was forced to withdraw as
Ronald Reagan's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court after admitting he'd
smoked marijuana several times.

Now, Barack Obama, the leading Democrat for president, causes no
noticeable ripples - yet! - over a memorable coke-use anecdote in his
own autobiography.

Give Paterson credit for forthrightness, even if this latest nugget
was pulled by an inquisitive reporter. (Not that his inquisitor needed
bright lights and a rubber hose to make this governor talk.)

When it comes to illegal drug use in America, precise numbers are
always hard to come by. But it's no stretch to estimate that many tens
of millions of adults - perhaps 100 million or more - have violated
the nation's drug laws, and not just with weed. During the coke-happy
1980s, one government study said 30 million Americans had sniffed the
white powder in a single heart-pounding year.

"With numbers like these, the notion that someone has to lie is
ludicrous at this point," said Ethan Nadelmann, who founded the Drug
Policy Alliance and is one of drug-reform movement's chief

The hope, Nadelmann said, is that Paterson's openness will encourage
not just a string of fresh confessions, but "a more realistic"
discussion of drug use in America and New York.

"Look at the cohort of people age 30 to 60," he said. "A pretty
substantial minority has done cocaine. Despite all the drug-war
rhetoric, the vast majority of people who used cocaine did not go on
to develop a coke habit or end up in terrible states. Some did. But
the addiction rate was probably similar to that of alcohol."

But even as the pols are now more open, many still won't draw broader
lessons from their own experience. In this way, Paterson was a rare
exception - and still is.

His 2004 drug-reform plan in the state Senate still stands out as
highly forward-looking. He's been a valiant fighter against the harsh
Rockefeller drug laws. And unlike Eliot Spitzer, who prosecuted
prostitutes while also allegedly patronizing them, no one is calling
Paterson a hypocrite.

"His life and his politics have never been at odds," Nadelmann
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