Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Contact:  213-237-4712
Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jul 1998
Author: Robert Scheer


A simplistic and dishonest approach is at the heart of the new $2-billion
anti-drug advertising campaign

Oops, drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey made a big factual error last week,
claiming the murder rate in Holland is twice as high as that of the U.S.
because of permissive Dutch drug policies. In fact, the U.S murder rate as
a percentage of the population is 4.5 times higher than in Holland.

Hey, no problem, what good is being drug czar if you have to worry about
facts? If there's one thing we know after 20 years and billions of dollars
fighting the drug war, it's that the war will never be won with honest

McCaffrey is a retired general unencumbered by prior familiarity with the
medical aspects of drug addiction or methods of prevention and treatment.
No matter; in the doctrine of the U.S. drug war, the patient is the enemy.
In appointing this tough general to direct the U.S. Office of National Drug
Control Policy, President Clinton proved that he was as asinine on drug
policy as those who had never held a joint in their hands. Clinton scored
big politically, but the result is a continuation of a war on our own
citizens with disastrous consequences.

The Dutch have rejected the war metaphor. While drugs remain officially
illegal, they have differentiated between marijuana--which can legally be
sold in small quantities in set locations to adults--and hard drugs. Hard
drug usage is viewed primarily as a medical problem with emphasis on
treating rather than incarcerating the user. The focus is on "harm
reduction"--education, treatment, needle exchange and methadone

On his brief stopover in Holland last week, McCaffrey pointedly refused to
visit one of the Amsterdam "coffee shops" that legally sell small
quantities of pot, saying, "I am not sure there is much to be learned from
watching somebody smoking pot." How obtuse! Even the temperance fanatics of
old thought they could learn something of the evil goings-on in saloons by
occasionally inspecting one.

McCaffrey might have learned that smoking pot tends to lead to far less
aggressive behavior than drinking alcohol; that the mood in those coffee
shops is downright torpid. In fact, adolescent marijuana use is twice as
high in the U.S. as Holland. Alcohol is the main abuse problem in both

I write this with a Bloody Mary near at hand and am not in favor of banning
alcohol, but the evidence is overwhelming that it's a far more damaging
drug than marijuana. In the U.S., there are more than 100,000
alcohol-related deaths a year; there is still not one officially recorded
death attributed solely to marijuana use.

Marijuana use may pose some social problems, although they're not as easily
documented as those presented by a number of legally prescribed drugs.
Lumping marijuana with illegal hard drugs is a continuing absurdity that
leads young people to distrust all anti-drug warnings. Yet this simplistic
and dishonest approach to the drug problem is at the heart of the new
$2-billion anti-drug advertising campaign McCaffrey announced last week.

Why not use that money to follow the Dutch example of honest education
about the drug problem and treatment of those who are addicted? Treating
drug addiction as a medical rather than a criminal problem works, but
serious drug treatment is only available to 10% of those in prison who need
it. Yet we continue to waste billions on failed war-fighting scenarios.

Drugs are more available than ever. Opium production has doubled in the
past decade. The only drug war "victory" has been to increase the
profitability of the illegal drug trade that now, according to United
Nations statistics, produces $400 billion in revenues, an astounding 10% of
all world trade.

What madness to continue the current strategy at ever greater human and
financial cost. In 1980, we spent $4 billion fighting the drug war, and the
drug war hawks told us that was not enough.

Now we spend eight times more, and they tell us the end is not in sight.

In 1980, 50,000 Americans were in prison on drug-related charges.

The figure is now 400,000, many for personal use, making this one of the
largest human rights violations in the world. Yes, because the very idea of
jailing people on the basis of personal behavior for a victimless crime
represents a basic violation of freedom.

This is a war fought in a contradictory and racist manner aimed primarily
at the urban ghetto. Only 13% of drug users are black, but they make up far
more than a majority of those imprisoned on drug charges. These people are
in prison as sacrifices to the gods of the drug war who will not let go of
their holy crusade no matter how many lives are broken.

Robert Scheer Is a Times Contributing Editor. E-mail: - ---
Checked-by: (Joel W. Johnson)