Pubdate: Tue, 27 May 2008
Source: Daily Press (Newport News,VA)
Copyright: 2008 The Daily Press
Author: Ellis Henican
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)
Bookmark: (Drug Policy Alliance)


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, N.Y.?

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

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 said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake