Pubdate: Tue, 16 Mar, 1999
Source: Cape Cod Times (MA)
Copyright: 1999 Cape Cod Times.
Author: Sean Gonsalves
Note: Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated
columinist. He can be reached via email:  The Network of Reform Groups (NRG) report "The Effective National
Drug Control Strategy" is on the web at:


REMEMBER the so-called welfare reform debate? Politicians,
policy-makers and pundits were arguing about "welfare dependency" -
the notion that "welfare queens" (doublespeak for poor black women)
had become overly dependent on the state for their survival.

Such dependency, they "reasoned," crushed what little sense of
initiative poor black mothers had in their crack-addicted, promiscuous

Although it is no small matter, let's put aside - at least for this
column - the reality that the "debate" is drenched and dripping with
anti-black racism; not to mention the fact that such policy-polemics
severely distort what we know about human psychology with regards to
incentives, and completely overlooks the much more scandalous, and
costly, issue of corporate welfare.

Brother Newt Gingrich - who has a doctorate in history, believe it or
not - put forward the idea that America's welfare policy was a failed
one. After all, look at how much money was spent on Great Society
programs to no avail, he said with a straight face, mind you.

Of course, in order to buy that argument wholesale, one would have to
be either a complete cynic or be suffering from a bad case of
historical amnesia - a cultural malady that seems to have reached
epidemic proportions at the height of the Republican "revolution."
Hold that thought.

Two weeks ago, a report was released titled "The Effective National
Drug Control Strategy." The report, co-authored by Kevin Zeese,
president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, concluded that the
so-called war on drugs "has failed to protect America's children from
drug abuse and has failed to reduce the availability of cocaine and

The report was released on the same day that Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey
testified before a House subcommittee on his fiscal year 2000 budget

"Contrary to General McCaffrey's claims, the drug war still relies
overwhelmingly on incarcerating drug users and trying to interdict
drugs - the two least effective methods of reducing drug abuse," Zeese
says. "We know what works, but General McCaffrey keeps investing in
strategies that are destroying families and hurting kids."

The Network of Reform Groups (NRG), a consortium of advocacy
organizations, carefully examined government data and concluded that
the "war on drugs" has not deterred children from using illicit drugs,
nor has it resulted in fewer deaths and injuries from drug use. The
report found that our government, with our tax dollars of course,
spent $3.6 billion on the drug war in 1988, and will spend $17.9
billion in 1999, with $2 out of every $3 spent on law

But from 1985 to 1995, 85 percent of the increase in the federal
prison population was because of drug convictions. Because of
mandatory sentencing, drug offenders spend more time in jail - 82.2
months on average - than do rapists, who are incarcerated for 73.3
months on average.

Furthermore, the study found, that drug overdose deaths are up 540
percent since 1980 and 33 people per day are infected with HIV because
of injection drug use. Also, the price of heroin and cocaine has
dropped since 1981.

I'm inclined to think that increased drug use points to increased
social misery and hopelessness. Throwing people in jails that Amnesty
International recently cited for various human rights abuses is a poor
way to deal with that, don't you think?

The report recommends that McCaffrey create a non-partisan panel of
experts to evaluate current drug-control efforts; provide funding for
drug treatment on request and require coverage of drug treatment by
health insurance companies; increase funding for drug-abuse prevention
and redirect DARE funding into more effective programs; allow federal
funding for needle-exchange programs and enact "family friendly" laws
that keep familial and social networks intact, to name a few

A letter signed by leading black intellectuals and public health
experts was sent to McCaffrey recently. "As academics, journalists,
public health experts and community leaders, we are deeply troubled by
a series of inaccurate and misleading statements you have made as drug
czar...the Chicago Tribune quoted you as saying: 'The murder rate in
Holland is double that in the United States...that's drugs.' In fact,
the Dutch homicide rate is only one-fourth that of the United States....

"The media and the public rely on your office to avoid unfounded
speculation," the letter continues. Among the signatures were Harvard
professors Henry Louis Gates Jr. and William Julius Wilson. Even Glenn
Loury, the neo-conservative director of the Institute on Race and
Social Division, signed it.

So I'm waiting for Gingrich and welfare reform "conservatives" to
declare the war on drugs a failure and push for policy reform. But I
won't hold my breath.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake