War on Drugs
Rolling Stone Magazine
It On The Rolling Stone Website>
Lawmakers, CEOs, police chiefs,
academics and artists talk about one of the most controversial issues of
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.