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Source: Ottawa Citizen Contact: Pubdate: Wed 10 Jun 1998 Section: News A1 / Front Author: Tod Mohamed WAR ON DRUGS A BUST, CANADA SAYS: Criminalization Created Demand for Crack, Strengthened Drug Barons, Author Argues Far from cleaning up the streets, the war on drugs is responsible for the rise of highly addictive, low-priced street drugs such as crack cocaine. That is the startling conclusion of Drug Crazy, a new book by Mike Gray. Mr. Gray, who also wrote the screenplay for The China Syndrome, asserts the war on drugs has done little more than create a vibrant black market for narcotics -- much the way the ill-fated prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and '30s sparked the rise of a massive moonshine industry. Ruled by the law of supply and demand, Mr. Gray writes, modern drug barons know only the cheapest, most potent products will win market share. That has resulted in a Darwinian evolution in the strength of common street drugs: the potency of heroin and marijuana has shot up, while their asking price has plummeted. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of this has been the rise of crack, a cheap, addictive derivative of cocaine that provides an explosive but brief high. ``Crack is the creation of the black market,'' writes Mr. Gray. ``The only reason for its existence is economic. It's cheap (and) low cost makes it available to the blue-collar market.'' If Mr. Gray is right, things will get worse before they get better. His controversial take on the prohibition of narcotics comes as 150 countries are signing on to a renewed, UN-sponsored anti-drug campaign with a multibillion-dollar budget. In the U.S., President Bill Clinton has announced that next year's federal budget will include a record $17 billion to get drugs off the streets -- even more than the huge sums spent by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who was largely responsible for starting the war on drugs in the 1980s. As the war on drugs escalates, so does opposition to it. A petition asking the UN to work towards liberalizing drug laws is garnering high-profile signatories, including Nobel laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, economist Milton Friedman and NDP Leader Alexa McDonough. Mr. Gray -- himself a signatory to the petition -- has won praise for his book from influential sources. Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the former U.S. surgeon general, and Elliott Richardson, the former U.S. attorney general, both write glowing dust-jacket blurbs for Drug Crazy that argue the war on drugs should not be sacrosanct. ``The burden of proof,'' writes Mr. Richardson, is shifting ``from the critics of existing policy to its defenders.'' Mr. Gray's solution to the problem of the street-drug trade also offers an unusual twist. Government must not only enter the drug trade, Mr. Gray writes, it must sell drugs at prices that undercut those of the wares sold by the black-market drug lords. ``If that means drugs have to be given away to serious addicts, so be it,'' Mr. Gray writes. ``A tightly controlled legal market, offering clean, unadulterated pharmaceuticals, would instantly terminate the cash flow to the street bazaar, and the river of money that has fuelled the most brutal collection of criminal combines in the history of the planet would dry up ...'' The book begins with a graphic account of a drug bust in a Chicago neighbourhood. As police close in on a suspect named De-De, the guns come out, and bullets spray everywhere, wounding several officers. The tally for a day's work in drug enforcement is modest: a dozen illegal weapons, about 31/2 kilograms of cocaine, $53,000 in cash and the destruction of a local crack ring. If the war on drugs had never been declared, Mr. Gray argues, perhaps the crack would never have been there in the first place. - --- Checked-by: "R. Lake"