Just Say No: Government’s War on Drugs Fails

Just Say No: Government’s War on Drugs Fails
Posted by CN Staff on July 30, 2002 at 10:18:10 PT
By John Stossel
Have you ever used illegal drugs? The government says a third of Americans have at some point — and about 5 percent use them regularly.The number may be higher, because how many people honestly answer the question, "Have you used an illicit drug in the past month?" What should America do about this? So far, our approach has been to go to war — a war that police departments fight every day. A war that U.S. politicians tackle in a different way than their European counterparts. And a war that is not going away.
Asa Hutchinson, President Bush's choice to run the Drug Enforcement Administration, travels the world telling Americans that we're winning the drug war. "Overall drug use in the United States has been reduced by 50 percent over the last 20 years," he says.But it's questionable whether the fall is attributable to the government's policies, or whether it was just people getting smarter after the binges of the 1970s. In the last 10 years drug use hasn't dropped — despite federal spending on the drug war rising 50 percent. And despite all the seizures, drugs are still as available as they ever were.Hutchinson agrees that there are problems with the government's efforts. "We have flat-lined. I believe we lost our focus to a certain extent," he says. "I don't believe that we had the same type of energy devoted to it as we have in certain times in the past."Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver is not convinced that expending more energy — and making more drug arrests — will help America win the crusade. "We will never arrest our way out of this problem," he says. "All you have to do is go to almost any corner in any city. It will tell you that. …"Clearly, we're losing the war on drugs in this country [and] it's insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over again." Seduced by Money  We know the terrible things drugs can do. We've seen the despair, the sunken face of the junkie. No wonder those in government say that we have to fight drugs. And polls show most Americans agree. Drug use should be illegal. Or as former "drug czar" Bill Bennett put it: "It's a matter of right and wrong."But when "right and wrong" conflict with supply and demand, nasty things happen. The government declaring drugs illegal doesn't mean people can't get them, it just means they get them on the black market, where they pay much more for them."The only reason that coke is worth that much money is that it's illegal," argues Father Joseph Kane, a priest in a drug-ravaged Bronx neighborhood in New York City. "Pure cocaine is three times the cost of gold. Now if that's the case, how are you gonna stop people from selling cocaine?"Kane has come to believe that while drug abuse is bad, drug prohibition is worse — because the black market does horrible things to his community. "There's so much money in it, it's staggering," he says.Orange County, Calif., Superior Court Judge James Gray agrees with Kane. He spent years locking drug dealers up, but concluded it's pointless, because drug prohibition makes the drugs so absurdly valuable. "We are recruiting children in the Bronx, in the barrios, and all over the nation, because of drug money," he says.Besides luring kids into the underworld, drug money is also corrupting law enforcement officers, he argues.Cops are seduced by drug money. They have been for years. "With all the money, with all the cash, it's easy for dealers to purchase police officers, to purchase prosecutors, to purchase judges," says Oliver, the Detroit police chief. The worst unintended consequence of the drug war is drug crime. Films like Reefer Madness told us that people take drugs and just go crazy. But, in reality people rarely go crazy or become violent because they're high.The violence happens because dealers arm themselves and have shootouts over turf. Most of the drug-related violence comes from the fact that it's illegal, argues Kane. Violence also happens because addicts steal to pay the high prices for drugs.An Alternative to Prohibition  There's no question that drugs often wreck lives. But the drug war wrecks lives too, creates crime and costs billions of dollars.Is there an alternative? Much of Europe now says there is.In Amsterdam, using marijuana is legal. Holland now has hundreds of "coffee shops" where marijuana is officially tolerated. Clients pick up small amounts of marijuana the same way they would pick up a bottle of wine at the store.The police regulate marijuana sales — shops may sell no more than about five joints worth per person, they're not allowed to sell to minors, and no hard drugs are allowed. What has been the result of legalizing marijuana? Is everyone getting stoned? No. In America today 38 percent of adolescents have smoked pot — in Holland, it's only 20 percent. What Amsterdam police did was take the glamour out of drug use, explains Judge Gray. The Dutch minister of health has said, "We've succeeded in making pot boring." The DEA has said legalizing cannabis and hash in the Netherlands was a failure — an unmitigated disaster. Not so, say people in Amsterdam. And Rotterdam Police Superintendent Jur Verbeek says selling the drug in coffee shops may deter young, curious people who will try marijuana one way or another, from further experimentation with harder drugs. "When there are no coffee shops, they will go to the illegal houses, where the dealer says, 'OK, you want to have marijuana. Good. But we have cocaine as well. And we have heroin for you,'" Verbeek argues. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell  Still, in America, there's little interest in legalizing any drug. President Bush says "drug use threatens everything." And officials talk about fighting a stronger war. Some say it shouldn't be even talked about.In 1991, President Clinton's surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, dared to suggest legalization might reduce crime. Critics almost immediately called for her resignation. "How can you ever fix anything if you can't even talk about it?" Elders says.What the Dutch are doing makes sense to Gray. "They're addressing it as managers," he says. "We address it as moralizers. We address it as a character issue, and if you fail that test, we put you in prison."Experiments with being more permissive of drugs have spread beyond the Netherlands. Today, police in most of Europe ignore marijuana use. Spain, Italy and Luxembourg have decriminalized most drug use.That's not to say that all the experiments succeed everywhere. Switzerland once tried what became known as Needle Park, a place where anyone could use any drug. It attracted crime because it became a magnet for junkies from all over Europe.Critics say the Netherlands has become an island of drug use. But while illegal selling still happens, the use of drugs in the Netherlands and all Europe is still far lower than in the United States, and European countries are proposing even more liberalization.American politicians have shown little interest in that."We in America should have a different approach," explains Hutchinson. "You do not win in these efforts by giving in." Hopeless Fight? Still, how many wars can America fight? Now that we're at war against terrorism, can we also afford to fight a drug war against millions of our own people? Is it wise to fight on two fronts?The last time America engaged in a war of this length was Vietnam, and then, too, government put a positive spin on success of the war. But today more people have doubts. Judge Gray questions the government's ability to protect us from ourselves. "It makes as much sense to me to put actor Robert Downey Jr. in jail for his drug abuse as it would have Betty Ford in jail for her alcohol abuse. It's really no different."Gray advocates holding people accountable for what they do — not for what they put into their bodies.Why not sell drugs like we do alcohol, he says, though maybe with more restrictions. "Let's make it available to adults. Brown packaging, no glamour, take the illegal money out of it and then furnish it, holding people accountable for what they do," he suggests. "These drugs are too dangerous not to control." Legal drugs — that's a frightening thought. Maybe more people would try them. Gray says even if they did, that would do less harm than the war we've been fighting for the past 30 years."What we're doing now has failed. In fact it's hopeless," he argues. "This is a failed system that we simply must change." Program Schedule:  A War on Ourselves? Stossel: Government's War on Drugs Fails How many wars can America fight? Now that we've launched a war on terrorism, can we afford to fight drug wars in Colombia and against millions of our own people?   In an hourlong special, ABC's John Stossel asks whether some of the world's biggest problems stem not from the drugs themselves, but from the prohibition of drugs.   What do you think? Should some drugs be legalized? Is it wise to fight on two fronts? Watch Stossel's report Tuesday, July 30, at 10 p.m. ET and share your thoughts below. Message Board: ABCNews.comAuthor: John StosselPublished: July 30, 2002Copyright: 2002 ABC News Internet VenturesWebsite: Drug Program Doesn't Work
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Comment #11 posted by pppp on August 01, 2002 at 05:36:05 PT
......The means to control the dissemination of information to the nation,,is by far the most significant factor in maintaining political control...If you have the influence to create a national "news release",,it makes little difference where you get your "statistics" from...the same is true with "polls"...most Sheeple assume that there exsists a "free press",,,if ABC news reports that the pResidunce popularity remains strong in the polls,, no one is going to question the origin,or accuracy of the "poll".....A good example is the exstacy charade,,or the recent media obsession/saturation with abducted children....The fact is,,that child abductions are well below the rates of years past,,but the media can easily create a new "problem",that everyone will focus on,,and will also serve as a diversion from the real NEWS!.......The national network media is little more than a puppet of the corporate empire!!!!...Power to the People!!!! Just say "Fuck No!"!!! Hitch your brain to another train!....Freak out in a Moonage Daydream.... Be here Now!....I'm OK,,,You're fucked......... .......... ..ha-ha...just kidding,,what I really mean is;..Buy a house and a car on time payment,,and get a job,,and pay 25% of your earnings in taxes...Do not question the empire,or its motives..put a "united we stand/God bless America" sticker on your car...get your "news" from ABC,CBS,NBC,or FOX,,and consider yourself lucky you're not in jail,,,still,,or yet.........Keep a low profile... Dont make waves....Pretend you're happy and normal,,,,if ya wanna really play it safe,,put a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on your SUV,,or '73' Ford Maverick.......... Dont let on to how fucking pissed you are,,because it is no longer legal to be telling people about how pissed you are...the only difference between you and a terrorist,,is having the label bestowed upon you by DHS....One wrong word in front of a TIPS informant, and your entire life will be dissected,and analyzed by agents of the will be branded for LIFE,,,the same as a "drug offender"......if ya really wanna play it safe..sign up as a TIPS volunteer..Pretend you are a staunch Republican supporter of the regime,,and you just want to do your part in the battle against terror,and the drug users that support terrorists....heck,,why stop there?..go ahead and sign up for the empires new "Volunteers for Freedom", could probably become a "Drug Treatment Counselor Volunteer",,,and secretly let a bunch of tormented people who are being "treated" for Marijuana use,,off the hook! could work undercover,,from the inside,,and have fun dropping a dime on the crooked traitors who are in favor of these un-American programs of the empire.
....remember..the only thing that makes "statistics" dangerous;,,is when the collusion of a certain group of powerful people allows them to maintain a near total dominance of the airwaves..(Colin Powells son is the head of the FCC..!)..........This all becomes much more briskly significant,when one realizes,that corporate media has a captive audience it or not,,,We are all ,to some extent,under the twisted influence and spell of the major media...[[Why no TV Kap?.]}....In the past,I've done several 'no TV ', years,,for aesthetic and spiritual reasons.....I hate to admit it,but I'm sorta strung on the TV nowdays.It's amazing how habitual TV is..... go a month,,without any TV's amazing,,because you have to find other stuff to do and think about when TV is not a part of your life...after all,,what does TV have to do with life?..
....Here's some news for ya!...."Polls say that the statistics prove that most people are actually really fuckin' pissed off about the shit that's happening recently.",(margin of error:+/-5.9 percent)....(source:The Angry Leprachaun)
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Comment #10 posted by FoM on July 31, 2002 at 22:24:35 PT
ABC's Most Sent Stories In The Last 24 Hours Sent StoriesLast 24 HoursRANK SUBJECT SENT 1. The Brain Game: Whats Sex Got to Do With It -- 942 2. Is It Time to End the War on Drugs? -- 626 3. California City May Grow Own Marijuana -- 472 4. Beating the Dark Side of Diet Pills -- 330 5. Baby Rape Sparks Outrage -- 233 
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Comment #9 posted by Robbie on July 30, 2002 at 17:37:08 PT
Bunch of liars, these prohibs
Hutchinson agrees that there are problems with the government's efforts. "We have flat-lined. I believe we lost our focus to a certain extent," he says. "I don't believe that we had the same type of energy devoted to it as we have in certain times in the past."It's just blatantly obvious what this is. It's a paean to Republicans and conservatives reinforcing the notion that Clinton/Gore were too lax on drug policy. SHYEAH!Clinton/Gore were just as rabid as their Repug instigators. I'd like to see Asa tell Barry McAss-hatch that he wasn't doing a good job.
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Comment #8 posted by krutch on July 30, 2002 at 16:31:00 PT:
RavingDave,I can't wait either
I think many people feel the same way as we do about the state of the Drug War. It is about time our view gets some prime time coverage.
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Comment #7 posted by RavingDave on July 30, 2002 at 15:54:59 PT
Meaningless Sound Bites
Krutch - you're right that all this faux data that the DEA has been spouting is nothing but meaningless sound bites. The trouble is, in this day and age, meaningless sound bites bite! "Enquiring" minds like most of the population of this country never stop to question facts. They assume that if an official is stating a fact in a newspaper or on TV, it must be true. All the more shame on the journalists whose job it is to research these facts, before blindly regurgitating them to their audience.I, for one, am ecstatic that this story has hit the mainstream. I can't wait to see it.
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Comment #6 posted by krutch on July 30, 2002 at 13:23:26 PT:
Drug Use Data
I too would like to know where the data comes from. Did surveying methods change since 1981? Did the raw number decrease by 50% or did the the per capita fraction reduce by 50%? We have no idea unless Asa and the gang decide to discuss where the numbers came from. The statement is a meaningless sound bite without this information.Let us assume the per capita fraction changed by 50%. Let us assume that 50 out of every hundred people reported useing drugs in 1981 and only 25 out of 100 people reported using drugs in 1991. This is not definitive evidence that the drug war is successful. The population of the US has gotten older since 1981. It is reasonable to assume that as people get older and worry more about their health they tend to shy away from unhealthy activities like snorting a gram or two of coke on the weekend. Having children can have the same effect on people's drug habits. Also it is reasonable to assume that stronger enforcement of drug laws will make it more likely that people will say they are not using when the really are using. To make a statement about the effectiveness of the drug war we need to try to sort the causes of the 50% decrease.All the day-glow freaks who used to paint their face, they joined the human race. Some things will never change.-Steely Dan
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Comment #5 posted by Jose Melendez on July 30, 2002 at 13:23:00 PT
How to get more people to watch.
How can we get more people, politicians, LEO's and others to watch?...include it on a cd-rom or dvd and encourage others to copy and distribute. Post a movie clip online and link to it.
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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on July 30, 2002 at 13:03:01 PT:
Doc, we don't need more people watching much as we need more programs like this being watched.Being Tube-less, I missed this one and the Donahue program. But apparantly like the Donahue program, this one evidently performed the civil and genteel version of the military favorite "Oops upside the head!" on the antis.The antis have never had their feet held to the fire in quite this way. Up to now, the only programs that dared to take them on were the PBS specials of last year. But the problem with those were, at the risk of seeming elitist, too highbrow. Too cerebral. The kind of programs you watch in between documentaries on Japanese tea ceremonies and the history of eidelweiss preservation. They didn't hit most people where they lived.This does.Up to now, antis been able to duck out of the studio and avoid the tough questions about the misinformation they spewed seconds before a reformer could rebut them. This time, one of their feet was nailed to the floor and the world witnessed them in full spin mode, literally as well as figuratively. No way to dodge this time. The facts were presented to the American people without benefit of Beltway Bandit contractors massaging the DEA 'message' (with our tax dollars!) into misleading BS.There's nothing like a little comparison shopping; now, will the American people continue to buy an enormously expensive (200- 500 Billion dollars in 20 years) lie...or a much cheaper truth?
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Comment #3 posted by DigitalFeonix on July 30, 2002 at 11:31:16 PT
stats... I don't believe em
When the DEA wants to say they are doing a good job they bring out stats that say drug use is down, especially in teens. But when they have to defend and justify continue waging this war, they trot out stats that say drug use, especially in teens, in up. Which is it? They both can't be right. They are twisting or manufacturing numbers, and I hate it that no one is calling em on it.
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Comment #2 posted by Ethan Russo MD on July 30, 2002 at 11:30:30 PT:
Important Program
This is a landmark event in TV journalism, and could materially contribute to reform. How can we get more people, politicians, LEO's and others to watch?
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Comment #1 posted by p4me on July 30, 2002 at 11:05:17 PT
You mean the DEA will lie?
The DEA has said legalizing cannabis and hash in the Netherlands was a failure — an unmitigated disaster. Not so, say people in Amsterdam.
Are you saying the DEA is lying or just sadly mistaken? "Overall drug use in the United States has been reduced by 50 percent over the last 20 years," he says.
Let's see. The 288 million people are using half of what the (226.5 million in 1980 census)233 million of 1982 were using. Sounds like a lie to me. Is the whole direction of the drug war based on a bunch of lies? Huthinson would lie and say no. Yep, they lie like hell, the evil BAHstards. Should some drugs be legalized? Of course. Yes. Definitely. Absolutely. Without a doubt. Now is better than later. You're goddamn right. It is insanity that has kept us from doing so earlier. Maybe I shouldn't use so many responses as those prohibitionist start repeating the "Mixed message chant." Well at least there are less of those chanting prohibitionist around today than there were 20 years ago even with the increase in population.1,2
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