Source: (AP)
Pubdate: Mon, 3 Aug 1998
Author: Strat Douthat


WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) - Cliff Thornton was in high school when his mother
died from a heroin overdose.

``I was devastated and turned against all drugs for years,'' he recalled.
``I wanted drugs wiped off the face of the Earth.''

Now, however, the 53-year-old retiree spends much of his time on a crusade
to legalize drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

He and his wife, Margaret, are part of a network of people who want to
change the drug laws. They contend that the nation's drug policy not only
doesn't work but has created a lucrative black market that is ravaging the
inner cities and has filled the prisons with people of color.

Thornton, who says he has smoked marijuana for years, thinks the drugs
should be legalized so they can be regulated and controlled more effectively.

``As things now stand, it's much easier to get illegal drugs than the legal
ones. Illegal drugs can be purchased on any street corner in our cities,
while you need a prescription to get legal drugs such as morphine and
Valium, which are hard to find on the street,'' Thornton told students in
an adult education health class at Southern Connecticut State University.

The Thorntons, who run a nonprofit organization called Efficacy out of
their Windsor home, spend much of their time speaking to college and
community groups. They also publish a newsletter that they circulate to
about 1,000 people in New England.

The Thorntons say the government has spent billions on the ``war on drugs''
when the money would be much better spent on education and treatment. The
drug black market is similar to Prohibition of the 1920s and '30s, they say.

``It's like they put down this bag of goodies right in the middle of our
poorest communities and dared everyone to touch it,'' said Thornton, who is
black and grew up in Hartford's inner city. ``I've seen what the
government's drug policy has done to the black community.''

The Thorntons advocate education, legalization and treatment. Properly
handled, they say, legalization would eliminate most of the black market,
which fostered the violent turf wars that hurt so many inner-city residents.

Ben Andrews, former state president of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People, said most minority residents resist the
temptation of drugs. He said the group does not believe that drugs should
be legalized.

Chief State's Attorney Jack Bailey also thinks legalization is a bad idea.

``The fact is, 97 percent of Americans obey the law,'' Bailey said.
``Frankly, I don't see why we should throw in the towel for a small

He said the state in recent years has turned toward education and
treatment, not just putting offenders in prisons.

``We've created special drug courts where we try to get people help, rather
than simply lock them up,'' he said. ``For a young, first offender, we'll
recommend treatment rather than prison. If a person wants help and is
willing to help himself, we'll provide the treatment.''

The Thorntons founded Efficacy in 1994. They say it grew out of their
public affairs radio program on WWUH at the University of Hartford.

They have ties with reform groups such as the Lindesmith Center, a New
York-based research project of philanthropist George Soros, who supports
legalized marijuana for medical use.

The Lindesmith Center helped the Thorntons distribute copies of the book
``Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts'' to Connecticut schools last fall, said
Director Ethan Nadelmann.

``Cliff Thornton is one of our most eloquent spokesmen,'' Nadelmann said.

Thornton said he would like to be seen as someone who advocates a
responsible policy.

``We do not say that a different approach would rid society of drug abuse
and addiction,'' Thornton said. ``What we do say is that drugs are here to
stay and we have to learn to deal with them more effectively. ... Trying to
stop the use of drugs through force is wrong-minded and creates an
atmosphere of violence and intolerance.''

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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski