Pubdate: Wed, 24 Feb 1999
Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 1999 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Contact:  66 Jack London Sq., Oakland, CA 94607
Author: John Wagers


AFTER 25 years of an oppressive, costly and yet ineffective drug war, the
election in 1993 of President Clinton -- who grew up in the '60s -- held out
hope that a humane drug policy would emerge. But now it appears that change
will occur only when the people come to a consensus that it's time to try
something else. Such a consensus appears to be developing.

Associated Press (Feb. 8) broke the news that the Clinton administration is
announcing a five-part plan to cut the nation's drug problem in half by
2007. The president's optimistic message, however, is not convincing,
considering the sad history of expensive federal drug programs and the
reactionary mentality of his drug policy director, Barry McCaffrey.

We need a dose of common-sense thinking about drugs which is not apparent
here. As Molly Ivins observes, politicians are paralyzed on this issue.
Liberals are terrified of being labeled "soft on drugs" by conservative
Republicans who have used scare tactics to prevail at the polls.

It seems fair to assume that Clinton's three-volume report to Congress will
offer more of the same failed policies the country has suffered since the
Drug War was invented by Nixon law-and-order politicians in 1968. The
federal government has spent $18 billion this year and the costs will
continue to escalate. This is one budget item whose growth is always

A strangled court system, exploding prisons and wasted lives push the cost
beyond measure. Nobody in government suggests an alternative because, to do
so, as Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders learned, is political suicide.

If you think America is "the land of the free and the home of the brave,"
think again. The litany of horror stories associated with the enforcement of
our punitive drug laws is reminiscent of Hitler's Nazi Germany.

The outrageous, brutal police raids on two innocent families asleep in their
homes in Collinsville, Ill., in 1973, and the shooting of Don Scott and the
terrorizing of his wife at their Trails End Ranch near Malibu in October
1992, are two such incidents reported in the press. In the Scott case, 30
officers from local state and federal agencies broke down the door hoping to
find marijuana plants.

The appalling cases of drug prosecution recently shown in the PBS
"Frontline" documentary "Snitch" shockingly reveal how unjust mandatory
minimum sentencing and so-called preventive detention inflict tragic damage
on many lives. (Clarence Page, "An unfair justice system," Tribune, Jan.

Without prohibition of marijuana, which is less harmful than alcohol, the
country's drug problem would be minuscule. There are fewer than a million
hard-core users of heroin and cocaine nationally, according to Dan Baum.
More than 70 million Americans have smoked pot.

It is not drug abuse which causes crime, but prohibition and the drug trade
it promotes. After the repeal of alcohol prohibition, the alcohol barons
became the drug barons.

Molly Ivins sees a consensus for reform developing based on the proposition
that "the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug itself." A
declaration to that effect has been endorsed by highly respected world
citizens in a prestigious list assembled by the Lindesmith Center in New

THE Libertarian wing of the right has made sense on this issue for a long
time. Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota partly because of his
Libertarian position on drugs. Medical marijuana initiatives won handily in
six states, including California. The Drug Policy Foundation and numerous
other organizations throughout the world support reform. These organizations
all have Web sites on the Internet.

It is time to try something else. We can start by decriminalizing marijuana
and repealing unjust sentencing laws. Drug treatment programs for addicts
make more sense than more money, more cops, more prisons and longer
sentences. Drug abuse is a health issue, not a crime issue. Furthermore, we
need to debate legalization, and confront whether this is really a worse
approach than what we're doing now.

John Wagers is a resident of Oakland.

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