Pubdate: Sat,  23 Oct 1999
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group 1999
Contact:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/
Author: Duncan Campbell

TSAR WARS

Clinton's General Is Arriving To Instruct Us On The Battle Against Drugs.
Don't Listen.

He has been honoured by the governments of Colombia, Peru, Argentina,
Venezuela and France. He has been decorated by his own country for his
military service in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and Iraq. He has taught
national security studies at West Point and lectured at the El Salvador
institute of higher defence studies, the Guatemalan senior service school
and the Honduras war college.

Barry McCaffrey, the director of the White House office of national drug
control policy, better known as the US drug tsar, is to share his knowledge
and views with British ministers and agencies. Since the UK borrowed the
concept of the tsar directly from the US (in the person of the
increasingly-frustrated Keith Hellawell) and since McCaffrey has
responsibility for a $17.8bn federal drug control budget, his views are
likely to command attention. So how seriously should he be taken?

McCaffrey came to his post as President Clinton's major adviser on drugs in
1996 as the youngest four-star general in the US army and a former commander
in chief of the US armed forces' southern command, effectively the chief US
military figure in Central and South America. He had been an adviser on
Latin American internal security policy and a major player in Operation
Desert Storm. His military credentials must have seemed suitably impressive
to a president lumbered forever with a reputation for having smoked cannabis
but not inhaled. Who better to tackle such a mighty issue?

The general wasted no time in attacking those perceived to be soft on the
subject. In 1996 he announced: "There is not a single shred of evidence that
shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed. This is not science. This
is not medicine. This is a cruel hoax." The American national institute of
health begged to differ by stating that "inhaled marijuana has the potential
to improve chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting" or, in other words, it
could be of value to cancer sufferers.

The following year, McCaffrey stated unequivocably that "marijuana is a
gateway drug". But statistics from the department of health and human
resources showed that "for every 104 people who have used marijuana, there
is one regular user of cocaine and less than one heroin addict".

Perhaps his most controversial claim concerns Holland, which has one of the
most liberal drug policies in the world in terms of the provision of needle
exchange for addicts and the sanctioning of the sale of cannabis in
regulated cannabis cafes. "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the
United States and the per capita crime rates are much higher than the United
States," he said last year. "That's drugs."

The Dutch ambassador to the US responded that McCaffrey's claims had "no
basis in fact". The figures quoted by McCaffrey showed that the US had a
rate of 8.2 murders per 100,000 population compared with 17.58 murders in
Holland. In fact, his researchers had included the "attempted murders"
figure in the total by mistake. The true figure was 1.8 per 100,000 in
Holland, making the American rate more than four times as high. When
challenged on the figures, McCaffrey's spokesman responded imaginatively:
"What you are left with is that they (the Dutch) are a much more violent
society and more inept at murders and that's not much to brag about." Indeed
not. What he gave less prominence to was the fact that the US heroin
addiction rate runs at about eight times the level in Holland.

Last June, McCaffrey told a US government criminal justice and drug policy
sub-committee in Washington that the only people who backed drug reform in
the US were "a carefully camouflaged, well-funded, tightly knit core of
people whose goal is to legalise drug use." Again, this is worth scrutiny.
Among those in favour of drug law reform are the governors of New Mexico and
Minnesota who are hardly in carefully camouflaged positions. Six states,
representing 20% of the American population, have voted for the
decriminalisation for medical use of marijuana which is some "tightly knit
core". The "well-funded" group he is probably referring to is the Lindesmith
centre, a drug policy institute which is funded by the financier George
Soros, an involvement about which Soros is perfectly open.

Its director, Ethan Nadelmann, is able to defend himself against any
accusations, and has already done so by writing in the Los Angeles Times
that "most drug policy reformers I know don't want crack or methamphetamine
sold in Seven-Elevens - to quote one of the most pernicious accusations
hurled by McCaffrey. What we're talking about is a new approach grounded not
in the fear, ignorance, prejudice and the vested pecuniary and institutional
interests that drive current policies, but rather one grounded in common
sense, science, public health and human rights."

Last year, 60,000 people, almost the equivalent of the entire jail
population of the UK, were locked up for marijuana offences. Almost half of
American private companies now require their employees to take drug tests.
The demonisation of people seeking reform does nothing to advance debate or
shed light on one of the costliest and most divisive issues in American
politics.

Not all Barry McCaffrey's statements have been recanted or contested.
Shortly after coming to office he said that "we cannot arrest our way out of
the drug problem". This may or may not be of great comfort to those 700,000
people arrested in the US last year for marijuana offences, or the 400,000
prisoners serving time for drug offences, but is seen as an acceptance that
there are other ways of addressing the issue than the warehousing of a
percentage of the American population. But of the federal budget on drugs,
60% is used for law enforcement while only 11% goes towards reducing its use
among young people.

"Barry McCaffrey has presided over a system where marijuana use has declined
among American youth, masking an even greater rise in the adolescent use of
crack and heroin," says Paul Lewin of the organisation Common Sense for Drug
Policies. "It is unlikely that most parents would be comfortable with a
system that replaces marijuana with crack and heroin use but then the office
of national drug control policy does not make such embarrassing figures well
known."

Danny Kushlick of Transform, the British drug policy campaign group, who has
been asked to meet McCaffrey and is critical of his policies against
needle-exchange for addicts, says of the tsar: "He is a dangerous man. He is
denying people access to basic harm-minimisation treatment and that is
causing deaths. If he is here to tell us of his initiatives, it's the last
thing we need."

Over the next few days, McCaffrey will have an opportunity to outline what
he believes the US has accomplished beyond turning the prison system into
the second biggest employer after General Motors. People should certainly
listen to what he has to say. But perhaps it is best not to inhale too deeply.

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