HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Stone Crazy
Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jun 1998
Source: Savannah Morning News 
Section: Top Stories - Accent:
Author: Doug Wyatt, Savannah Morning News


The war against drugs, says a new book, is a colossal failure.

Drug Crazy. How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out. By Mike Gray.
Random House. $23.95.

If World War II had been as successful as America's "war on drugs," we'd all
be chowing down on bratwurst and naming our newborns after Adolf and Eva.

The main trouble with the country's strategy, says Mike Gray in "Drug
Crazy," has been prohibition. Outlawing drugs -- as we should have learned
in the 1920s, when illegal booze fueled the growth of organized crime --
succeeds, he says, mostly in making the drugs fantastically profitable for
illicit traffickers.

Gray favors underbidding the thugs by putting drugs back into the hands of
doctors and pharmacists -- where they were before the passage of the
Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914.

Gray's stance is hardly new; various observers across the political spectrum
- -- from William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman on the right to Jocelyn
Elders and the ACLU on the left -- have called for

legalization. Al Capone's murderous descendants, they argue, have too long
savored the fruits of our public morality.

Would such a radical step work? Gray details how regulated narcotics sales
to serious addicts in Switzerland and England -- contrary to scare stories
perpetuated by American officials -- actually led to a diminished street
trade and lower crime rate. When 12 states in the United States reduced pot
possession to a misdemeanor between 1973 and 1978, the predicted upsurge in
cannabis use failed to materialize.

Whatever one's feelings about legalization, no one can argue that America's
traditional approach to drugs has been anything but a grotesque failure.

The report Gray brings back from the front, after all, is almost
unrelievedly grim. The drug fight has cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of
dollars. It has eroded civil rights. Cops have been corrupted; jail cells
have been filled with petty drug offenders. Efforts to eradicate crops in
the source countries have failed miserably.

The drug war has also widened the nation's racial divide. Though the
National Institute on Drug Abuse says the vast majority of people who have
used crack are white, 96 percent of the crack defendants in federal court
are black or Hispanic. Gray also cites statistics showing that, though most
drug users in all categories are white, blacks run a 500 percent greater
risk of being arrested for a drug offense.

Why has America's ruinously expensive, ineffective drug strategy been
pursued so long? Politics, mostly.

Eighty years ago, when the strategy was born, there was a widespread notion
- -- thanks to the assiduous efforts of several quacks -- that a cheap, easy
cure for addiction existed. Drug addicts, previously viewed as citizens with
a medical problem, were thus stigmatized as "drug fiends," evil creatures
simply unwilling to get off the junk.

Since then, Gray remarks, "whenever senators or congressmen found themselves
outflanked on the right, they could come down on addicts like avenging
angels to prove how tough they were on crime."

The fire and brimstone raining down from America's drug fighters, Gray
shows, has been accompanied by gross misinformation. Anybody with a lick of
experience in the real world, for instance, knows, whatever the official
hysteria, that marijuana use doesn't automatically lead to hard drug use.

"Over seventy million Americans," Gray writes, "have taken at least a few
drags, and while some of them may not have inhaled, most of them did. When
they failed to experience the instant insanity that the authorities had
promised, it was for many an epiphany more powerful than the drug itself --
the realization that the government makes things up."

Governments also, of course, seldom admit wrongdoing; any efforts to steer
the country's drug strategy in a new, more workable direction face immense
barriers of habit, hypocrisy and high moral dudgeon.

In "Drug Crazy," though, reformers are handed some powerful ammunition. By
forcefully detailing the drug war's fiscal costs and erosions of civil
liberties, its futilities and hypocrisies and corruptions, Gray has made a
strong case for a radical re-evaluation of our laws.

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Checked-by: Melodi Cornett