Pubdate: Tue, 15 Jul 2008
Source: Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
Copyright: 2008 The Morning Call Inc.
Author: Bill Steigerwald
Note: Bill Steigerwald is associate editor of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.


"Of 17 countries surveyed, China and Japan had the lowest rates of
drug use and the United States had the highest rate -- by far."

The Drug Enforcement Administration, which Richard Nixon created in
1973 and charged with the impossible but politically useful mission of
winning the "all-out global war on the drug menace," turned 35 this

So, how's its track record after 35 years of difficult, often
dangerous drug-war-making? If the DEA were a heroin addict, it would
have overdosed on its own incompetence by age 6.

Despite its failures and the harm it's done to American society,
however, the DEA has done more than merely survive. It's become a
typically bloated, self-preserving federal bureaucracy whose power,
budget and continuing existence bear no relation to its

In 1974, the DEA had 1,470 special agents, a budget of less than $75
million ($346 million in 2007 money) and 43 offices in 31 countries.
Today, it has 5,235 special agents, a $2.3 billion budget and 87
offices in 63 countries.

If you consider locking up mostly pot smokers and other perpetrators
of victimless crimes a valid measure of success in the war on drugs,
the DEA and its fellow state and local drug warriors deserve high praise.

Annual drug arrests have tripled in the last 25 years to 1.8 million
in 2005 (when 43 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana
offenses). And we had about 500,000 drug criminals in various federal,
state and local slammers in 2005, compared with 41,000 in 1980.

The DEA touts its latest alleged successes in cutting demand for drugs
on its Web page (
If you can believe the DEA's current statistics or those annual
pronouncements of tough-talking White House drug czars, we're winning
the drug war -- again and again.

Yet, today, illegal drugs are as plentiful and cheap as ever. And
rates of drug use are essentially the same as they were when the DEA
was born, according to Monitoring the Future, which, each year since
1975, has studied the behaviors, attitudes and values of 50,000
American high schoolers.

Based on Monitoring the Future's latest study, the DEA's most
significant career victory over drugs is that the percentage of
12th-graders who reported using marijuana dropped from 40 percent in
1975 to 31.7 percent in 2007. Otherwise, despite untold billions blown
on the war on drugs, the percentage of kids in 1975 who reported using
cocaine (5.6 percent) and heroin (1 percent) has dropped
insignificantly to 5.2 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively, in 2007.

Meanwhile, a new study of drug use by the World Health Organization
casts further doubt on the long-term efficacy of our war on drugs. Of
17 countries surveyed, China and Japan had the lowest rates of drug
use and the United States had the highest rate -- by far.

Obviously, culture, economics and politics play important roles, but
WHO's researchers found that there's no relationship between a
country's strict anti-drug policies and its levels of drug use.

Maybe it's unfair to dump on the DEA, especially on its birthday.
After all, it's only following orders.

It's not the DEA's fault that for 35 years Congress and seven
presidents haven't had the brains or the political courage to
decriminalize marijuana or at least work to humanize America's drug

So, happy birthday, DEA. But not many happy returns.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake