Fight Against Drugs Demonstrates Boomers Ideas

Fight Against Drugs Demonstrates Boomers Ideas
Posted by FoM on March 12, 2000 at 06:26:40 PT
By Marjorie Williams, Washington Post Writer 
Source: Duluth News
``I think baby boomers ought to say to their kids, `I've learned from mistakes I may or may not have made and I'd like to share some wisdom,' '' George W. Bush said last summer.Now if he can actually sell this line to his teen-age daughters, he's a better politician than I've given him credit for.
But he has successfully sold it to the rest of us, avoiding further prying into whether, when and how often his own youthful mistakes might have included the use of illegal drugs.Since then it has been fashionable, especially among reporters, to shrug and dismiss the entire issue of candidates' drug use as a distant artifact of the settled past. When Vice President Al Gore was recently accused, in a new biography by Newsweek correspondent Bill Turque, of using marijuana as a young man far more habitually than he had admitted, the allegation commanded little coverage. The public no longer has an appetite for ``character cop'' journalism, we tell each other. And besides, aren't we talking about minor peccadilloes? And don't a lot of us live in glass houses ourselves, where college-era drug use is concerned?There's just one problem with this dismissive instinct: It concerns a class of possible crime for which the U.S. government and many states now routinely jail their citizens, with the hearty approval of both candidates.Welcome to the first all-boomer presidential contest. Now that both parties have essentially settled their nomination battles, we are left to face what it means to have, as presidential choices, two men who appear to have predictably complicated pasts in the area of drug use. Try as we might to deny that it matters, the hypocrisy of both campaigns is something for which we may ultimately pay a heavy price.I don't care much, personally, about either man's past use of drugs: If the allegations about Gore, for example, are true, they mark his history as similar to my own. But I do care about having a president who has both the will and the political running room to begin a radical shift in our entire approach to drug control. And a boomer president laboring to finesse the gap between his own history and the climate of hysteria that surrounds our drug policy is probably the last person who can deliver the change we need.Our laws, policies and social attitudes toward drugs today are a mass of contradiction and willed ignorance. Despite ample evidence that our real problem -- the locus of almost all the violence, crime and mortality associated with drugs -- concerns hard-core addicts who use drugs such as cocaine and heroin, we act and talk as though the biggest menace we face is pot-smoking by middle-class teen-agers. Despite two decades of proof that interdiction and tough law-enforcement will do nothing to stop the sale or use of drugs, our prison populations are skyrocketing.Mandatory minimum sentences have consigned to prison, without parole, great numbers of low-level dealers and even users, forcing the release of violent offenders for whom there is no longer room. And our drug war compromises both the ideals and the workings of our criminal justice system, which metes out far harsher treatment to black than to white drug defendants.There was a brief time when we addressed drugs as the public-health concern they really are. As detailed in Michael Massing's wonderful history of the war on drugs, ``The Fix,'' the Nixon administration was the unlikely high-water mark of sane drug-control strategy, for it focused the government's efforts overwhelmingly on treatment. But in the years since, we have flipped our spending priorities; now only a third of our efforts go to treatment and prevention, the rest to interdiction and law enforcement. Ever since the Reagan administration, we have told drug addicts to pull themselves together, while systematically reducing the resources available to help them do it.A sane national conversation about drugs would incorporate the best ideas of the ``harm reduction'' movement (needle exchange programs, the insight that we will never eradicate the human impulse to self-medicate); a hard-headed, realistic emphasis on treatment programs that have proven their effectiveness; and a nuanced message to teen-agers that marijuana is a lesser but still real danger to their young bodies and lives.But voters who don't bear the burdens of the war on drugs -- that is to say, middle- and upper-middle-class Americans -- don't seem very eager to have this conversation. Boomers want to think of drugs as something that belongs to the past, something that was okay for us, at our unique cultural moment, but that is now assigned by stern social consensus to a place beyond the pale, where our kids can't get at it. And so we allow our leaders their hypocrisies, and they in turn let us nurture our own.Next time you feel the impulse to wave this issue away, try an exercise: Imagine, if you will, a female candidate for national office. She is anti-abortion. Reporters learn that when she was 27, she had an abortion herself. What would they do?They would crucify her, for starters. They sure wouldn't let her describe it as a mistake she may or may not have made.Williams writes for the Washington Post. Send your views on her column to Letter to the Editor, by e-mail to letters or by mail to 424 W. First St., Duluth MN 55802.Published: March 12, 2000 2000 Duluth News-Tribune. CannabisNews Articles on George Bush & Al Gore:
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