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America's War on Drugs - Rolling Stone Magazine 8-16-01

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Published On: August 07, 2001          Updated On: August 07, 2001
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America's War on Drugs
Rolling Stone Magazine
Aug. 16, 2001

<Read It On The Rolling Stone Website>

Lawmakers, CEOs, police chiefs, academics and artists talk about one of the most controversial issues of our time

Since 1968, the United States has spent increasing amounts of taxpayers' money - more than $40 billion last year - trying to stop drug use through the criminal-justice system. Three-fourths of federal anti-drug money goes to police, prisons, border patrol and interdiction efforts in countries like Colombia. Only one-fourth goes to prevention and treatment. Thirty years after war was declared, there are no fewer drug addicts but more people in prison for drug crimes than ever before. Half a million of America's 2 million prisoners are locked away for drugs, and 700,000 people are arrested each year for marijuana possession alone. 

In 2001, a record seventy-four percent of Americans say they believe the Drug War is failing. The majority say drug addiction should be approached as a disease, not a crime. In these pages, we asked lawmakers, scientists, police and law-enforcement officials, prominent journalists, musicians, academics, business leaders and authors to contribute to a newly energized debate about the future of American drug policy. Even President Bush's nominee to head the Drug Enforcement Administration, Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson, admits that the public is frustrated and that change is necessary. "We need to show that we're not simply trying to put nonviolent users in jail," he tells Rolling Stone. The War on Drugs has become a war against the nation's citizens. The time for drug-law reform is now.

Jann S. Wenner

Dan Rather
Anchor and Managing Editor, The CBS Evening News

There's a general sense that what we have been doing in the so-called Drug War simply doesn't work. And the situation, in many important ways, has gotten worse, not better. There's a sense that we're in a losing game, and you don't stay in a losing game. So what should we do now? I agreed with [Clinton drug czar] Barry McCaffrey when he said it's been a mistake to do it as a war. He thought a better comparison is cancer. We've been in the fight against cancer with the real and certain knowledge that it's going to be long, and there's no magic bullet. You have to keep experimenting. You have to keep researching. You have to go one small step at a time.

Things have gotten better in recent years. And I don't think journalism has led the public; I think it's the other way around. Honest people can differ about this, but this business of the press turning people against the Vietnam War... people didn't question the war until Johnny down the street came back in a flag-draped casket. Until that happened in every neighborhood, it was easy to see the war as something happening "over there." Maybe the same thing is happening in the Drug War. As long as people could believe it was confined to the wrong side of the tracks or the elite that had money to buy fancy drugs, it was easy to say, "Whatever the police and government say is all right with me." But when Drug War casualties began to mount in the suburbs, people's eyes began to open.

John Timoney
Police Commissioner of the City of Philadelphia

Right now, the extremes govern policy. For example, the crack epidemic in the late Eighties was a big concern, but politicians overreacted by creating this difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Without a doubt, you feel bad when you send people to prison who need treatment. But very few people in jail are there for first-time possession.

The ones who are particularly affected by drugs are the minority communities. We get a lot of pressure to clean up neighborhoods where there are four or five drug dealers on the block. But then we also hear another cry: You're incarcerating a whole generation, giving up on too many people. Some members of the minority community may see an effort toward drug legalization as whites trying to continue genocide through drugs in the black community. The important thing is that you need to make sure the minority community is involved in this discussion.

Orrin Hatch
U.S. Senator, Utah (Republican)

I don't think there's any law that can prevent a teenager from taking that first puff of a marijuana cigarette, that first sniff of cocaine. If I knew what it was, I would dedicate my career to passing it. But we need more education. When you have a young person who has experimented, you know how fast they can get in trouble on methamphetamine. We have to get some treatment for them. We haven't concentrated as we should on first-time offenders. They can get drugs in jails, but there's no real education in the jails, and no treatment.

Keep in mind, treatment alone won't do it. Enforcement alone won't do it. Education alone won't do it.

We have to reduce both the demand for and the supply of drugs. The movie Traffic drives home the point that law enforcement alone won't solve the problem. And a lot of people have had to face the fact that their own children have experienced drugs. First-time use of drugs has gone way up. If you look at Ecstasy alone, use by tenth- and twelfth-graders is up sharply. A huge portion of those who used heroin for the first time last year were under eighteen. Like anything else, back in the 1980s, we thought we were right. There were too many judges being too permissive. But I do think it's time to re-evaluate and look for the injustice. And where there's injustice, correct it. The sentencing laws have worked to a large degree because people aren't being treated with disparity now the way they were. So there was a need for uniform standards for judges. But we've seen some flaws and some intractability.

I think marijuana is a gateway drug; nobody can deny that. And I get furious when I hear people say it's harmless. This is not the same marijuana that was used in the Sixties and Seventies. Potency is way up. We know that if you stop a kid from even smoking before twenty-one, they'll probably never touch drugs. If they start on marijuana, there's a high propensity to go on to harder drugs.

Bernard C. Parks
Chief of Police, Los Angeles Police Department

It's a failed policy to call anything a war when you're addressing issues in the community - when you declare war on your own community. There are many sides to address - the supply-and-demand side, prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, enforcement.

The hardest thing for most people to do is hold themselves responsible and show strength of will and character. In order for addicts to change, there must be some reward that forces them to do what they need to do, a lever to hold them to accountability.

It's hard to take crime out of the drug equation. The Department of Justice has done forecasting figures - random drug tests on people arrested on non-narcotic charges. Seventy to eighty percent of them had drugs in their system. In the city of L.A., drugs are intertwined with many of our crimes.

Our financing goes to the most sexy part: arresting people. It's not as sexy to put money into prevention and education. We need more K-12 education, and when we see early uses of gateway drugs - alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana - we need to intervene and double our educational efforts. We need to make the penalties for using and selling unattractive to people. Right now, people are going into custody as addicts and coming out as addicts. People also get out of jail and have no supervision. We have to have rehabilitation. We need a broader strategy focusing on education and health. It's not just about capturing seventeen tons of drugs a year. We know that if there's no demand for drugs, there's no market. We're still trying to figure out what the impact of Proposition 36 will be.

Proposition 36 views drug use as a singular crime or event when, often, it is interrelated with other crimes - auto theft, for example. Many of our bank robbers are doing it to fulfill their drug needs. If people have the ability to beat their drug habit, they do it. But without a hammer hanging over their head, they don't. We're going to give them one or two chances without the hammer.

If you look at the records, most people we arrest are not just into marijuana, but a myriad of things. That's common. Look at Al Capone. They got him not on murder but on taxes.

Asa Hutchinson
U.S. Representative, Arkansas (Republican)
Nominee, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration

The War on Drugs has been successful in terms of individual lives saved and the billions of young people who have declined to use drugs. We're sending the right message to kids: Drugs are very bad, they're illegal, and don't experiment or use them. That must be articulated in a way kids understand.

We have to concentrate on high-level dealers. We need to show that we're not simply trying to put nonviolent users in jail. One way to do this, for example, is drug courts. I'm a strong advocate of drug courts - the threat of prison with long-term rehabilitation.

As a member of Congress - and I will continue this if I get the opportunity to head the DEA - I've supported steps to prevent racial profiling. We also need to diminish sentencing guidelines between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

Currently you get a five-year sentence for 500 grams of powder, but only five grams of crack lands you the same prison time.

Marijuana can be a used as a gateway drug, and I believe that has been shown anecdotally and statistically. The current move toward legalization of drugs such as marijuana is harmful and sends the wrong message to young people.

Barney Frank
U.S. Representative, Massachusetts (Democrat)

Getting high on marijuana means you're rebellious, while getting drunk on beer means you're a good old boy. But ask any cop whether he'd rather go into a house full of people high on marijuana or one full of people drunk on beer. They'll tell you they'd much rather deal with people on marijuana.

I introduced legislation in the Massachusetts legislature to legalize marijuana twenty-five years ago. I currently have two bills on the subject. One would change the penalties for people currently in prison on marijuana charges - we ought to be letting them out, except in the most egregious cases. The other would permit medical marijuana. Of course medical marijuana ought to be legal. A lot of my friends on the left think that the public is on our side and it's always the politicians who are blocking everything good. I don't happen to think that's true. I don't think the public is as far left as some of my friends do. But on drug policy, the public is ahead of the politicians. You see it in the referenda [on medical marijuana]. The public is actually more sensible. The politicians are all afraid of being tagged "soft on drugs."

We need to stop the prosecution of users and low-level dealing of a bag or two. I would certainly make the use of marijuana not a crime, but I wouldn't change the rules on large-scale distribution.

Gary Johnson
Governor of New Mexico

I am forty-eight. I smoked pot when I was younger. I didn't get screwed up on pot, and I didn't know anybody who did. The reason I talk about legalization is, somebody has to sell people their drugs. You ask a room of a thousand people if you think you should go to jail for smoking pot. Nobody's hand goes up. Ask how many think you should go to jail for selling a small amount; a few hands go up. Ask how many think someone selling a lot of pot should go to prison, and a lot of hands go up. And I always say, "That's hypocrisy."

The two major criticisms of legalizing marijuana are: You're sending the wrong message to kids, and, use will go up. My problem is, we're measuring success on use. We should toss that out. If you or I read tomorrow that alcohol use was up by three percent, we wouldn't care. We understand that use goes up or down. What we care about is, is DWI up or down? Is incidence of violence up or down? Are alcohol-related diseases up or down? Those same rules ought to apply to drugs. We ought to be concerned about violent crime, hepatitis C, HIV, turf warfare among drug gangs and nonviolent users behind bars. Those are all distinct harms caused by drugs under our current policy.

If I were the dictator - and I'm not - and I had to set up a distribution system for marijuana tomorrow, it would be similar to liquor. I'd allow sales at liquor establishments. People say, "There will be bootleg pot." And there probably would be for a little while. But then it would die out. Why would you buy bathtub gin when you can buy Tanqueray?

The idea of a drug pusher is a myth. Most drug transactions are buyers seeking sellers. When I talk about legalization of other drugs, I adopt the term "harm reduction." What we're really after is reduction of the harms that drugs - and drug policy - do. If we can move from a criminal model to a medical model, we'll be going a long way.

I was elected in 1994, and I have been re-elected but cannot run for a third term under our term-limits law. People talk about being courageous. I'm living evidence of why term limits should be in effect. Would I have brought this issue out if I thought I could be elected to a third term? I don't know. I raised the legalization issue after my re-election. In the first term, I talked about the failure of the Drug War and that arresting people isn't going to work. But it wasn't until the second term that I made a conscious decision to turn up the volume and search out some solutions.

Loretta Sanchez
U.S. Representative, California (Democrat)

When I was growing up, my youngest uncle was a heroin addict. I saw directly for about ten years the effect of that addiction: It manifested itself in his inability to hold a job; he was sent over and over to the California state penitentiary system, sometimes for heroin use, most of the time for armed robbery or breaking and entering; he would commit crimes to get money; he would go for a stint to prison, get as clean as you can get in that situation. He would write me a letter every two weeks, he would get out, then the problem was how to get a job, so he would end up using again. When I was eighteen, my mother and grandmother had to go to San Francisco and ID his body - he was found in a hotel room with a bullet between his eyes.

For every person we're putting into a drug court who gets diverted into drug treatment, there's got to be thirty who go straight to prison. What are they learning there? They are co-habitating with people who are hardened criminals and drug users. It would be much better if we did more of these drug courts, where you get a second chance.

Henry A. Waxman
U.S. Representative, California (Democrat)

We've always put the emphasis on the supply side when we ought to put the emphasis on the demand side. We ought to be making treatment available to anyone who wants it, to get a handle on addiction. That's clear. If you look at the voters in California, they were pretty clear [on Proposition 36]. They'd rather have people go to treatment than to a jail cell. How much longer can we keep warehousing people? It's not doing any good, and you can argue it's doing considerable harm.

I'm not sure the debate is really opening up. I'm not sure "everybody" is saying the Drug War is a failure and we ought to be doing more treatment and education than enforcement. I've always been against mandatory minimums, for example. Judges should have the discretion to decide each individual case on its merits. But you have to look at the people in control of the committees in the Congress. Maybe Hatch is saying some new things right now about drug treatment over incarceration. But he's the chair of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, and if he believes these things, he could do something about it.

Dave Matthews
Musician

If you look at the generations that came before, I don't think youth have become more wild. Maybe they're more armed now, but young people have always been adventurous. We say that our young people shouldn't be using drugs, so we give them a little speech about how they'll become worse people, we give them some sort of minimalist education, and then we punish them for experimenting. We don't fix the problem - all we do is increase the problem. It turns the slight, adventurous recklessness of youth into criminal behavior. It's like we're manufacturing criminals. Whoever came up with the idea of restricting financial aid for drug offenses? He needs to be in prison.

At this point - and I don't want to be too cynical - the financial gain from building prisons has become what keeps the Drug War going. It's the one thing in America right now that I just find offensive. And in this climate, there's no limit to how violated our rights to privacy can be. When you live in a country that has insane laws like America's drug laws, then it is hard to argue for our privacy rights and our civil rights, because with the laws the way they are, we don't have any rights. I mean, if I get caught with a bag of pot, then, "You're going downtown, baby" - what kind of madness is that? If we're in an environment where that sort of crazy behavior is tolerated, test the mailman and see if he's been smoking pot on the weekend, or make the kid who's walking your dog take a urine test to make sure he's not high while he's watching Bingo poop on the lawn.

If the Drug War was halted tomorrow morning, the drug use in this country would not change a bit. The only thing that would change is that people would stop getting their heads blown off in the street trying to get their smack on the corner. There are so many arguments for stopping the Drug War and very few for keeping it going. It's just a distraction from real problems in the world. You know, hunger and bad education fall to the wayside when you have to deal with this imaginary plague that's destroying our country.

Carl Hiaasen
Novelist and Columnist

One of the first novels I wrote was Powder Burn, about the Colombians moving into the cocaine trade in south Florida. The bloodshed in those days was quite spectacular. This is in '79, '80, '81, and the only change in all that time is they've become a lot more considered about where and when they kill each other. It's done less publicly now. But the basic elements of the drug trade haven't changed. Every day there's another freighter from Haiti busted and there are tons and tons of cocaine in the hold.

The irony is, the price of a kilo on the street isn't much different than it was ten years ago. That tells you there is plenty of supply and plenty of demand. Lots and lots of people in jail, and the only difference is they're different people than they were back then. Or maybe not, actually.

I live in the Keys, which has been a smuggler's paradise forever. Many of the people I know here who are legitimate fishing guides and businessmen now were in the smuggling business once. Quite a few spent time in jail. Did it stop the smuggling? No. When I moved to the Keys from Fort Lauderdale in 1993, they took down the entire Coast Guard station at Isla Morada. The Coasties were seizing drugs and then selling them. They were running a cocaine operation out of the Coast Guard station.

In 1983 and '84, I spent some time riding around with DEA street agents when I was writing for the Miami Herald. They weren't cowboys. They were pretty smart guys. They had a pick of deals they could be doing. Cocaine one day, heroin the next, marijuana the day after that. Every day, they were throwing people in the can. And, to a person, every one thought he was on the right side but making no difference at all.

I remember once, up by Homestead, they had a deal for a tractor-trailer full of marijuana, and the deal is going on in a Holiday Inn somewhere, and I'm sitting in a car with a DEA guy. Drug dealers are the most hapless people. They're always late, always f--king up. And we're waiting for the call to go rushing in and bust everybody. Two kids ride by on their bikes. They don't see us because of our tinted windows. One pulls out a joint and lights it up, right in front of a DEA agent. The agent just laughs and says, "You see how we're not going to stop this?" Now we're fifteen years later, and it's just as easy to get whatever you want.

I've seen whole neighborhoods destroyed by crack cocaine, and it's terrible. The question is, Would it be better or worse if it wasn't illegal? Would there be less killing? It's something worth considering. The same conservative pinheads who trot out their actuarial tables on lives saved per dollar spent on environmental regulations ought to be doing the same calculations on what it costs to lock up thousands and thousands of people - locking up Dad and sending Mom to the welfare office.

Scott Weiland
Musician

Prison isn't appropriate for drug users, if you're nonviolent. If you're a junkie or a crackhead or whatever, and do an armed robbery and someone gets injured, it's not nonviolent anymore. You could've made the decision to go on Santa Monica Boulevard and suck c--k. That's what I would do rather than hold a bank up. You don't throw people in prison because they suffer from bipolar disorder, or a personality disorder, or any of those mental deficiencies. And there's no difference, really. If somebody has narcolepsy and falls asleep at the wheel, they're not going to go to prison for it. One of the worst problems with drug offenders going to prison is the mandatory minimums. That's really where you see how it's pointed toward people of color and people who don't have money. There are people doing longer prison sentences for drugs in some states than the people doing time for murder. I know there are some experimental programs in Europe where you are a government-sanctioned heroin addict, and you register as you do a person on methadone. I don't think legalizing drugs is going to create more addicts. It might inspire more people to try it out, but not everyone's geared for that. Alcohol is legal, and most people aren't alcoholics.

Norm Stamper
Chief of Police, Seattle, 1994-2000

I've been a lawman thirty-four years. I think our national drug strategy that has spanned both Democratic and Republican administrations has been a total failure. I have no problem with spending time, money and imagination in attempting to interdict drug trafficking and those making obscene amounts of money trading illicit drugs. Those people rank, in my estimation, pretty damn low on the scale of social legitimacy. But dealers are there for reasons that anyone in a capitalist society ought to understand. There is a huge demand for illegal drugs, and as individuals who are also armed want to expand their share of the market, we wind up with a whole lot of cops, dealers and innocent citizens finding themselves literally in the line of fire.

If I were king for a day and was going to learn from history, I would, in fact, decriminalize drug possession. Legalization is a different concept. Decriminalization acknowledges the fact that we set out to criminalize certain types of behavior, most notably during Prohibition, and we found that was an abysmal failure. We decriminalized the possession of booze. We criminalized other substances and demonized those who use them and, in the process, created an outlaw class that includes everybody from a senator's wife to the addict curled up in a storefront doorway.

I'd use regulation and taxation of these drugs, much as we do with alcohol and tobacco, to finance prevention, education and treatment programs. I can't think of a stronger indictment of our current system than that there are addicts who don't want to be addicts queuing up for treatment and can't get it because we're spending too much money on enforcement and interdiction. I would regulate and tax, and I would stiffen penalties for those selling to minors or those who hurt another person while under the influence. And that includes driving under the influence.

We've pursued this terrible policy because we've attached huge moral import to this issue: that it's immoral to think about decriminalization. That it's immoral to think about the government regulating everything from production to distribution. Any politician or police official who speaks out for a sane course of action is seen as soft on crime, and demonized as well. It's not an easy sell to talk to an African-American mom who has three or four children, some of them teenagers, about decriminalization when she's doing all she can to keep her kids out of drugs.

I was careful when I was police chief, but I've been saying these things for years. I did suggest that our fear is keeping us from having a conversation. American businesses, perhaps more than anyone else in society, are among the first to raise the question. And I've heard it raised bluntly: Isn't this insane, this policy we're pursuing? The number of men and women in prison is truly staggering compared with twenty or twenty-five years ago. That ought to tell us something.

The biggest obstacle to a saner drug policy is that the current one has become so rigid and unassailable in the circles in which it must be discussed flexibly and intelligently and with open minds. It's a religion. We've accepted on faith that if what we're doing isn't working, let's do more of it. [Former LAPD chief] Daryl Gates addressed a police chiefs' conference in Washington some years ago, and he made a statement that "one thing we're not going to talk about is decriminalization." There's something wrong with talking about it. To start entertaining doubts is a scary thing.

Eric Sterling
President, The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

In January I spoke at the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, a very successful group that got the state legislature to pass a medical-marijuana bill with the governor's support. I asked for shows of hands: "How many of you think the War on Drugs is wrong?" Everybody raised his hand. I asked, "How many of you came to this opinion in the last year or two?" Nobody raised his hand. I asked, "How many of you think there is a coherent strategy for achieving drug-policy reform?" Almost nobody raised his hand. I asked, "Who are the critical people to reach?" and somebody said, "Young people." I said, "Young people don't vote." Someone else said, "Poor people." I pointed out that they have the least political power.

Instead of preaching to the choir, we need to arrange discussions before chambers of commerce and Wall Street interests - the people who have the Republican Party's ear - and explain how this affects the national bottom line. You're not going to move the Republican Party until you move them. Then you have to reach out to labor and teachers and point out how the War on Drugs is inconsistent with the ideals of the labor movement - how it hurts working people, how it damages schools, how it undermines education. You're not going to move the Democratic Party until you move them.

That scene in Traffic on the airplane, where the drug czar asks for new ideas and there is an embarrassed silence, is mirrored by the unembarrassed silence from this White House, which, two months in, hadn't named a new drug czar or announced a new policy. The [Bush} administration has nothing to say on the subject of drugs. The fact that the position went unfilled says something about the position's ultimate emptiness, and perhaps even about the problem's paper-tiger quality. We say "the great drug crisis," but perhaps drugs are just a part of other real crises, such as child abuse, poverty, despair.

Drugs are more available, cheaper and more pure than ever. We still fail to treat the majority of drug addicts. Drug use among eighth-graders went up in the 1990s. High school seniors say heroin and marijuana are more available than ever. And the death rate from drugs has nearly doubled in the Nineties, from 3.2 to 6.3 per hundred thousand. Seventeen thousand deaths last year, from 7,000 in 1990.

People look at Proposition 36 in California and say, "Aha, there's a whole treatment-instead-of-incarceration paradigm shift." I don't think that's very profound. Lip service about treatment has been around for decades. Treatment is being advanced in the context of drug courts, and that's nothing new. When I first started practicing law in 1976, what you'd do for your drug-addicted clients was get them into treatment.

What would be a paradigm shift is a police commissioner saying he's not going to arrest people for possession of drugs. A prosecutor announcing she wasn't going to take drug-possession cases to court. A president commuting the sentences of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. A legislature willing to decriminalize marijuana, refusing to have arrested those possessing marijuana or growing it in their own home. A superintendent of schools who allows teachers to talk to their students about their own drug experiences in honest discussions about drug use to prevent drug abuse. It would be a shift to give incentives to drug users to turn in dealers who sell adulterated drugs, to help drug users test their drugs for safety. To treat drug users as our children and accept that making it safer to be a drug user is in the public interest. It would be a shift to include drug users, not just recovered addicts, in the making of drug policy. What we do now is like making policy toward Indians and only allowing into the process those Indians who were members of Christian churches and have renounced Native language and Native ways.

David Crosby
Musician

When I was in prison, probably eighty-five percent of the people were there for drugs in one way or another. Either they got caught with drugs, or they got caught selling drugs, or they got caught doing something while they were on drugs, or they got caught doing something terrible for the money to get drugs. So I don't think prison is a valid solution for any kind of drug use or addiction - either one. Addiction is a very tough thing; I've been addicted, and I know what it's like. It requires a lot of treatment - long-term treatment - a lot more treatment than the insurance providers are willing to offer.

I think they should just legalize marijuana. Put it this way - they sell liquor in every corner store in the United States. And booze is much worse for you than marijuana. Much worse. Drastically worse. Orders of magnitude worse. So it doesn't make any sense - they should just legalize it.

Personally, I think we should send some very serious lads from the Army down to the fields where coca is being grown. You've got to understand that we know where all the coca plants are in the Western Hemisphere because all plants have different infrared signatures, and our satellites can locate exactly where they are. We also know, in the four countries where these plants are, what soil and what altitude they're in. We know all that. So send somebody down, take it out of the ground and say, "Look: Plant coffee; we'll buy it directly from you, we'll pay you three times as much because we won't go through a middleman, and you'll be fine. Plant coca again, and we'll be back again next year and somebody will get hurt. This is not all right anymore. Game over. Too many lives ruined, too many families shredded, too much wreckage. We're going to take it seriously now."

Richard Branson
Chairman, The Virgin Group

As far as marijuana is concerned, it's ridiculous that people are given criminal records and have their lives ruined for something that's less dangerous than a cigarette. I definitely support marijuana legalization, but also decriminalization for all drugs if it helps to combat the problem. If taking heroin is an illness, then people need to be given help.

In Liverpool, we have a place where addicts can go to get clean needles for free. They can go there every night, and they know that they can be helped off drugs. Because of this, the prevalence of HIV among drug addicts in Liverpool is low. In Edinburgh, where they don't have this program, the amount of addicts with HIV is much higher.

I used to go to Boy George's home to try and persuade him to get help with his addiction. Two of his friends had already died from drugs. He went to Necker Island to get away from the press and try to get off drugs, but some newspaper called the police and said he should be arrested. So the police arrested him at the point that he was almost clean. They arrested him, and he got back on drugs. The experience made me think that it's not a police matter but a matter of someone who has a problem and needs to get help.

Bob Barr
U.S. Representative, Georgia (Republican)

We finally have, after eight years, an administration that intends to give high priority to the war against mind-altering drugs. Time's a-wasting; I'd like to see some action.

Clinton was AWOL. President Reagan got it right - both he and first lady Nancy Reagan consistently and repeatedly talked publicly about the war against mind-altering drugs, the damage done to our young people, particularly, and the need for society to fight. And it had an impact, making it much easier for law enforcement to operate, because the citizenry was supporting them.

The most disturbing trend I see is the notion that marijuana is a medicine. The drug legalizers, I give them credit - they've been very effective in shifting the focus from drug legalization to medical use of marijuana, which makes it seem very benign. Once they get people to start accepting the notion that marijuana is a positive medicine to help people, that makes it very easy to go to the next drug. It's the most serious policy problem we have out there.

There's a fundamental question: What do we stand for in a society - accountability and rationality and responsibility? Or are we going to become a society that has to be propped up by mind-altering drugs in order to do the things that we want to do as a society?

Paul Wellstone
U.S. Senator, Minnesota (Democrat)

The first time I went to Colombia, they wanted to show me their aerial spraying operation [to eradicate coca and poppy crops]. And they sprayed me, after claiming it was so accurate. Sprayed me good, in fact. So I'm the only person in the U.S. Senate with the authority to speak on that subject.

The leftist revolutionaries aren't Robin Hoods. But the paramilitaries really trouble me. They are too often connected to massacres, and the military is very closely connected to them.

I don't think Plan Colombia [the $1.3 billion U.S. anti-drug aid package] will work because we're not insisting that Colombia's government live up to human-rights conditions. Second, when we spray the coca, we don't provide economic assistance. Third, there is evidence of nausea, skin rashes and other medical problems associated with the spraying. And the fourth reason is, our head is stuck in the sand when it comes to the demand side. I had an amendment on the Plan Colombia bill that would have taken $100 million and put it into drug treatment, and it failed.

William E. Kirwan
President, Ohio State University

The Drug War shows no signs of becoming a deterrent for drug abuse in the U.S. Education is our best hope: Quality educational opportunities for youth in the inner city, where drug abuse is especially high, can provide direction for lives that too often have none. More generally, systematic, persistent and extensive education about the perils of drug use given to all young people in the schools - starting in preschool and continuing through to our colleges and universities - is the best hope for meaningful deterrence.

I have seen both alcohol and drugs destroy the lives of friends and family members. In every case, the abuse began in a social context where the eventual addicts thought they were in complete control of their recreational use of drugs or alcohol. In these personal examples, I've been struck by the fact that the signs of addiction were evident in their behavior before the addiction occurred. The university has many programs that try to educate our students about substance abuse, starting with an orientation for new students and their parents. It's a powerful introduction, which is followed by education programs in different settings throughout the year.

John Gilmore
Computer Entrepreneur and 
Co-Founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

I support the legalization of marijuana. I believe, like Governor Gary Johnson [R-N.M.], that you and I can disagree about whether marijuana is useful, but that's not a reason to lock others up.

We need to stop conflating use with abuse, the choice to use the drug with addiction. The idea that people who use recreational drugs need treatment is false. I've known hundreds of people over the years who've used recreational drugs - teachers, parents, scientists - and who function normally. They're not rolling around on the ground tearing up the yard, yet if they're caught, they'll be kicked out of their jobs and their lives will be ruined. That's a crime. I've contributed money to drug education and research. There's been a lot of misinformation about Ecstasy and club drugs. I've given a significant amount of money to DanceSafe [a club-drug information network]. The largest danger is from adulterated substances, not pure drugs. In a legal market, you'd be able to buy MDMA and know it's pure. DanceSafe checks for adulterants. The only way for adults or teens to make responsible choices is to understand the drugs' long-term effects and addictive qualities, and then make an educated choice.

As an entrepreneur, I'm more tolerant of risk than the average person. I try things people haven't done before and see if they work, things that require a leap of faith. People listening to thirty-five years of anti-drug propaganda aren't willing to take a leap of faith that people they know have been taking drugs, and most of them are doing OK. It's not the end of the world if someone smokes a joint.

Jerry A. Oliver
Chief of Police, Richmond, Virginia

I am not a legalizer. But if you're going to hit the duck, you have to move your gun. This idea that we're going to arrest our way out of the problem isn't going to happen. Even though the politics of the past two decades has been to get tougher and tougher on drug users and drug dealers, the problem has gotten worse.

We have an industrial-strength appetite for drugs in this country - illegal, legal or alcohol. And we have to deal with that. 

We can't keep drugs out of maximum-security prisons; how are we going to keep them out of a free country?

In most of the communities where the sales are made, there isn't enough money to support drug hot spots. The only reason they exist there is young African-American males in particular are willing to put their lives on the line to make that drug transaction, and usually there's a white person coming from the suburbs with the dollar contributing to that trade. Our police nets are able to pull out more African-Americans because they're the easiest ones to catch. Then we play it as if African-Americans are more prone to use drugs and be involved in drug activity. But, really, they're just the ones in the middle. The ones running the big drug operations, and most of the ones buying the drugs to use, are white. But we catch the ones in the middle - the ones selling on the street - because they're easier to catch.

Most homicides are drug- or alcohol-related; most rapes, robberies, child abuse, are generated by some sort of drug nexus. If the drug issue were addressed in a different kind of way, police would be free to do more quality-of-life enforcement. I think we're on the edge of a lot of Fourth Amendment problems. I'm a police officer, so I argue, "Let's use all the tools available to us and get right up against the line on searches and seizures," because of the pressure of cleaning up those hot spots. A lot of people don't care about the Fourth Amendment. And that concerns me, especially as a black man. It doesn't take a law scholar to go back and look at all the major cases that have come to the Supreme Court - Miranda, Gideon v. Wainwright, Escobedo - all cases that have come about because of police taking advantage of minority people. I want to make sure that policing is professional and people's rights are protected. When we snoop and sneak to nab somebody, it takes away from the luster of the profession's integrity. The pressure to produce gets us into a lot of trouble. That's at the bottom of the racial-profiling issue. I really believe, as an African-American police chief, that we need to not go overboard with violating any rights we have as citizens.

Bill O'Reilly
Anchor, Fox's The O'Reilly Factor

Five years ago, I got a midcareer master's degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I did one of my theses on coerced drug rehab. In Alabama, they have coerced drug rehab, which means if you're arrested, you get tested - they take hair from your head - and if you're positive, the case goes to the judge, and if you're not violent, you go to drug treatment. If it coincides with a guilty plea, you go to a drug-rehab prison. It's not like the old federal hospital at Lexington, Kentucky; it's tougher. You have to do a certain amount of rehab, and you have to do life-skills training.

The difference between this and the drug-court model is that in Alabama you're held accountable for your performance, and in drug courts you're not. In Alabama, if you have to come back, it's more punitive. Alabama has been doing this for eight or ten years, but has only ramped up in the past five. And the recidivism rate in Alabama is much lower than in other states because they keep addicts on a very short leash.

If you want to solve the drug problem, you cut the demand by taking addicts off the street and putting them in therapeutic centers. It's involuntary - coerced. There would be due process, of course; addicts would have to be convicted of a crime. You offer them: "Plea-bargain down and go to a therapeutic center." If you cut the demand, the price will drop. Four to six million hard-core drug addicts are a resource that can't be replaced by drug dealers.

I've suggested this idea many times. President Bush asked me to send him my thesis, which I did. The federal government could wipe the drug problem out totally.

Woody Harrelson
Actor

People do drugs to deal with their pain. So you take a person who is in pain, take away their drug and throw them into prison? I don't consider that a very compassionate way to deal with someone who has some kind of issue. But, also, it's hypocritical. It's odd to me; this so-called Drug War is really what I would call a war against noncorporate drugs. I'm not saying that pot cannot be a problem and that it's totally innocuous, because it's a medicine that you can abuse or not abuse. But they basically take away a drug that is at least more natural in dealing with pain, and they say it's OK to use these drugs that are the most addictive and really hard to kick, like pharmaceuticals.

I can remember my mom telling me, "Now, son, if you ever smoke marijuana, I'll be so disappointed," you know, and she's sitting there with her first morning coffee and a cigarette, which are two of the most potent drugs I've ever run into. Incidentally, if you want to make a whole room full of drug addicts violent, cut off the coffee at Starbucks.

Tommy Lee
Musician

God, I've seen it all. I've overdosed and woke up surrounded by guys in white suits going, "Hey, dude, you're lucky to be alive." It was heroin. My buddy was the professional heroin user - I would just f--k with it here and there - he was like, "I'll hook you up," and then all of a sudden, I'm in the hospital. That s--t's like the best high that there is out there, and that's why it's so scary. But I've had friends who are completely in its grasp and can't get out. Heroin's a dangerous one, kids. The guy who sent me to the hospital, about a year after that, he was driving around all f----d up in a convertible Cadillac, and he drove right underneath a semitrailer and got killed. It was early in the morning, he was going over to a buddy of mine's house to score some more dope, and blam! I guess he didn't see the truck coming or nodded out and went right underneath it - no one really knows, but he died.

Peter Singer
Philosopher and Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University

There are simple things we could do that many other countries are doing. In Australia, where I come from, they've implemented a program that provides safe injecting rooms for heroin addicts so they're under supervision in case anything happens. I also support needle exchanges. People can't seem to face the truth: "Just say no" doesn't work.

We should rethink strategies like decriminalization and drug legalization. We need to think about how we can minimize the harm drugs cause and not automatically assume that law enforcement will do that. Legalization may be the way to go, or decriminalization for the possession of a small amount. If we take the drugs out of the hands of the illegal market by letting people grow three or five marijuana plants and not make the possession of small quantities a criminal offense, perhaps the market will drop.

Scott Turow
Novelist

I came on the job [of assistant U.S. attorney] as a child of the Sixties in 1978, and my colleagues viewed drug prosecution with a jaundiced eye. So it was an eye-opener for me to find that drug dealers were genuinely unappetizing. They weren't the nice guy down the hall from whom I scored dope in college. It is a vicious, murky, unlettered world.

My experience as a defense lawyer in narcotics was in night drug court five years or so ago. And I dealt with an enlightened prosecutor who was a breath of fresh air. He said to me, "Most of the people who are here are here because they're poor." He was a hard-nosed career prosecutor, yet he certainly understood the difference between low-level offenders and major drug lords. But I've certainly found that rare.

Clinton took a relentless position on drugs. He stifled a lot of criticism in the liberal community. Once he took office, there were viewpoints that weren't allowed to be heard. I have the misfortune of having actually been informed about this by people in the Justice Department. According to the people I was in touch with, the upper precincts of the Justice Department regarded [criticism of the Drug War] as absolutely politically taboo.

I'm the parent of three adolescents. And everybody draws the line when it comes to their children. That's the problem with decriminalization or legalization: Nobody's going to propose that it be OK to sell drugs to minors. Where there's a market, there will be entrepreneurs, and legalization wouldn't put all drug dealers out of business, because they'd still be selling to people younger than twenty-one. So all high school and college campuses would still be places where illegal drug money is made. And somebody selling cocaine to a sixteen-year-old is going to get in trouble - and should.

Tobias Wolff
Writer

People like getting high, and always have. They've always found ways to get high. There's that constant in human nature. As part of religious ritual, people have found ways to alter their sense of the world from the usual into something else. What's happening now is the absence of ritual that used to surround the process of leaving the everyday. Instead, we punish. Cultures have found ways of creating that moment that is not only respectable but even sacred. But it has passed beyond what is natural to us into something else, and that's because of what is offered out there in contrast to the drug. The obvious thing is to look at schools with bathrooms overflowing, not enough textbooks, ceiling tiles falling. When children are treated like garbage, that's the idea they have of themselves. And the desire to escape that kind of life becomes desperate. You look at kids in the suburbs, who are equally prone to drugs - they're not subjected to the material deprivation, but they do suffer a cultural deprivation. They're not offered much of a place in life except on a conveyor belt.

I have two boys in college - twenty and twenty-two - and an eleven-year-old daughter. Neither boy got in trouble with drugs. Both became extremely interested in music when they were young, and it took up a lot of the slack in their lives that might have made them available to the kinds of influences that can lead to drugs. One kid is in the jazz program at NYU. My other boy was courted by the conservatory at Oberlin for the flute.

I teach at Stanford, and I've been beside myself trying to figure out how to present to my kids - both my own and those in the classroom - a vision of life that's different from what society presents them, which is going to leave them screaming, "This isn't enough!" The media are also at fault - not just for the drugs but for the sense of life they convey. The answer is not to make children feel like they're being corralled into a kind of stockyard. You can't offer young people such limited options and then punish them for trying to break out of that very constricting mind-set.

Jonathan P. Caulkins
Drug-policy Analyst, Rand and 
Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School

I started working on drug policy in 1988, at Rand and at Carnegie Mellon. A lot has changed about the drug problem, and not much has changed about the policy. The language is often of epidemics. For many different drugs they exist at a low level of use, then explode. Then use plateaus, and usually tapers off. Sometimes it is a sharp drop-off, sometimes it settles only slightly. My basic question is: How should drug-control policies change over the course of an epidemic [of drug use with predictable patterns of initial low level use, explosion, plateau, and decline]?

There is discrimination in criminal justice just as there is in hiring at grocery stores and in media reporting. The racism in our policy manifests in the absence of action, not in the action, necessarily. For example, we passed a set of laws against crack, not because crack is associated with blacks but because crack was spreading like crazy. We were in the explosion phase of the epidemic. Now, fifteen years later, we tolerate those laws even while they fall so heavily on minorities. We failed to repeal those laws when the explosion phase passed and the plateau and decline phases began. I don't condemn the people who went so overboard in 1986. There was a true emergency then. What I criticize us for is not having gone back and changed things now that we're in the plateau stage.

I think it's wrong to even use the term "War on Drugs." It's a term that people who want to critique the drug policy use. It isn't a term the people making the policy use. However, it provides a handy way for critics to make the policymakers look like fools. Drug policy is made in a diffuse way, in many agencies. And the vast majority of people working on it really do care about reducing harm and about justice.

There may well be too many nonviolent offenders in prison, but the way the data are presented is grossly distorted. If you want to make it sound like there are a lot of nonviolent drug offenders in prison, you ask, "How many people are in prison because they were convicted of drug possession?" But you get a much smaller number if you ask, "How many people are in prison because they were arrested for drug possession but nothing else?" Many people are dealers, sometimes very violent ones, but who pleaded down to possession. There's also a big difference between prison and jail, so if you want to inflate the figures, you say "incarcerate." It's hard to get into prison as a person who uses only marijuana and has no other criminal behavior.

Nelly
Musician

I done seen cocaine or heroin straight bring people's lives down to a halt. I done seen people get murdered over it, to a point where, yeah, I think they should be illegal. And I think the law should be fair. I think if there's gonna be a cocaine law, there's gonna be a cocaine law. It shouldn't be a cocaine law and a crack law, 'cause crack is cocaine. Make it one law for everybody. Not for one substance 'cause it's powder. That's s----y. If you gonna make it illegal, make it illegal. That's when it gets segregated.

"Just say no" - I'm with that. We joked about it as kids, but we knew it, you know? Drugs in a lot of urban communities is deeper. It's in the household; it's in the surroundings. Your parents straight ought to let you know that drugs ain't it. My daddy would have beat my ass if it was like that. Flat-out. If you gotta beat a little ass, beat a little ass. Get that point across. Rather beat your ass now than go to your funeral later.

Bob Weir
Musician

The band I'm playing with right now, every now and again we'll take mushrooms. The idea is pretty much on a musical level - to see if we can't kind of blast our way out of the old habits we've fallen into.

I've lost so many friends to heroin and cocaine, I can't really very freely sing the praises of those drugs. But, on the other hand, you have to recognize that they're there and they're going to be there, and that a certain kind of person's going to find their way into that trap. Whether it be for social reasons or personal psychological reasons, people will find a way into that trap. Society should have compassion to begin with and try to reclaim these lives, as I say. It's self-serving - it would be enlightened self-service for society to do this; it would make these people productive again. I think these drugs should be legal and regulated. There's too much money to be made if they're illegal. I think the only way to trump the cartels is to legalize the drugs, and the cartels will disappear overnight.

The crux of the effort to stop drug abuse shouldn't be in the punishment, because that patently doesn't work. The best plan is to make drugs available to people who would otherwise be robbing, stealing and killing to get them; just make it available to them, and see if you can't reel them back. Make treatment available, and do research. The government could easily be funding research that could find chemical or other ways of reclaiming the lives that are being lost to these drugs.

Violent drug users should be sent to camp and reprogrammed. I don't think jail's the right place for them. We're talking about reclaiming lives here. One of the problems we're facing now is that there's a prison system that's been set up. For instance, in Texas they have private prisons, and they're trying to do that elsewhere. There's a whole industry now that's dependent on these drug laws to fill their stables full of slaves, basically.

Kay Redfield Jamison
Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University

There's a big group of people who use drugs and alcohol and have major psychiatric illnesses. Patients are often self-medicating or prolonging a mania by getting higher or blotting out the pain they feel. It makes the illness worse and increases the risk of suicide. Kids don't know about depression but have access to drugs. One problem is that by the time we get around to treating the mood disorder, we're also dealing with a substance-abuse problem.

No matter how many times people say addiction is a disease, I don't know how effective it is. People need to understand that addiction is located in the brain - it's biological.

A long time ago, I had a patient who had a severe problem with marijuana and alcohol and was also bipolar. The clinical lore at that time was: Treat the mood problem and the substance abuse will go away on its own. That was a given fifteen years ago, but it's totally untrue.

I feel very strongly that legalization of all kinds of drugs should be publicly debated. Politicians are condemned for even discussing it. I can't believe that on an issue as important as this, we're not talking about all the options. Needle exchange is a perfect example. Not providing needles is exceedingly punitive. Right now, we're sending some of these people to their deaths.

Joe Arpaio
Sheriff, Maricopa County, Arizona

I'm supposed to be the toughest sheriff in the universe. I spent thirty years with the DEA. I'm also president of the International Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association. I'm going into my third term here as sheriff. I'm the guy who puts people in pink underwear and stripes, and runs chain gangs. Sixty to seventy percent of my 7,500 jail inmates are in there for drugs or drug-related crime. I have a great drug-prevention program in jail. Only eight percent come back, and, usually, recidivism is sixty or seventy percent. I'm the guy who gives them green bologna, and I went from giving them three meals to two a day last month. I'm going to have a reunion of all those who I had in my jail and who never came back. We have 500 already signed up.

I was a young federal narcotics officer in Chicago for forty years. The three ways to fight drugs then were enforcement, education and treatment. Today it's the same thing: enforcement, education and treatment. Nothing's changed.

We seized 300 meth labs last year. We should stop complaining and blaming foreign countries. We ought to look at our hometowns. These labs are made right here in the United States.

What changed my attitude since I became sheriff is I now run jails instead of just putting people in jail. I've changed more toward prevention and treatment. We need to do more to get people off drugs while we have them locked up.

When I was an agent, there was a six-month federal hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, where they sent addicts. Maybe we ought to be putting those nonviolent druggies in jail, but instead of going to the regular jail, you're going to a jail that's like a hospital-type thing. I now have 2,000 in my tents. Maybe we ought to do something like that. A jail just for drug users. Send them there and give them a large dose of drug-prevention education and still be eating that green bologna that I feed them.

When I was starting out, we used to say we caught ten percent of the drugs at the border. I'll bet it's still ten percent that we catch at the border. When I was an agent, if you made a two-kilo heroin case it was a headline. Now it has to be tons. I never thought we'd see tons of cocaine.

Our biggest mistake was that we gave up the streets of America to the drug traffickers. Everybody in law enforcement now is going for the biggest case they can find. Everybody wants to make the big conspiracy case, which takes years. We should be out on the streets more, undercover, gathering intelligence. Not busting people for joints but catching the middlemen.

I'm strictly opposed to the military being involved in law enforcement. I've worked in too many countries where the military does law enforcement. I worked with [Nicaraguan Gen. Manuel] Noriega. If you're going to build up an apparatus, build it up with legitimate federal agents. And the FBI should go away. Two agencies shouldn't do the same thing. Drugs should be left to the DEA.

Peter Jennings
Anchor and Senior Editor, ABC's World News Tonight

I was in Mexico a few weeks ago talking to [President Vicente] Fox, and I asked him if he didn't think it was hypocritical to place the burden on Mexico and not pay more attention to demand. He exploded. He acknowledges that what's already happened in Mexico is the corruption of the Mexican government and military, but he said that almost every political leader in Mexico has always seen the war [on drugs] as a U.S. consumption issue rather than a Latin American production issue. I did an hour in Bolivia back in the mid-1980s. I said, "We're going to show you why the Drug War has failed." It had to do with the Bolivian military operation, and here we are doing the same thing now in Colombia fifteen years later. There's a fairly long-standing notion in the nonminority communities that if those evil Peruvians, Colombians, Mexicans and those dreadful cartels didn't exist, that we'd have less of a dreadful problem in the United States.

The media have been mixed. I, on the air, always make a point of saying "the so-called Drug War." But there's a tendency to accept the line from the drug czar's office on both the nature of the drug problem and the application of resources used to fight it. At the same time, a lot of the critical reporting about the futility of government policy and the seeming reluctance of the political establishment has been done by the establishment press. Ten years ago, the press in some ways believed that if you ran a military campaign, you could really solve the drug problem. We wouldn't have been having this debate ten years ago.

Robert A. Iger
President and Chief Operating Officer, The Walt Disney Co.

Drugs aren't as scarce or as taboo as they ought to be. There are those in the media who are more irresponsible than others. ABC and Disney have behaved extremely responsibly, I think. When you run a company that can affect behavior in the extreme, there's a huge responsibility. I think it's fine for movies and television shows to include story lines about drugs and drug use, but they shouldn't be glorified. And drugs shouldn't be used in humor. There's nothing funny about drugs or people on drugs.

Traffic is an unbelievably important and powerful film. I'd encourage kids to see it. It shows drugs at their cruelest. I think the film's message about treating drugs as an illness instead of merely trying to legislate and regulate is pretty legitimate. I've been in debates with parents who think kids shouldn't see it because it's too rough. Having testified about how movies should be marketed to kids, that's one where I think the responsible thing is for kids to see it.

 

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