Politics, Policy and Pot

  Politics, Policy and Pot

Posted by FoM on October 07, 2000 at 21:34:48 PT
By Patricia Brennan, Washington Post Staff Writer 
Source: Washington Post 

For more than 30 years, the United States has been trying to foil the world's largest commodities business by staunching the flow of illegal drugs into this country. But the billions of dollars spent on that effort have hardly made a dent in American drug addiction, says a "Frontline" documentary airing Monday and Tuesday at 9 on PBS. Reporter Lowell Bergman, whose report opens the 19th season for "Frontline," suggests the problem may be the United States's reluctance to grapple with drug addiction itself.
Instead, the United States continues to pour money into this war. In 1968, America's federal drug enforcement budget was $60 million. Last year, it was $17 billion. Most recently, President Clinton announced that the United States would allocate another $1.6 billion (about 75 percent for military hardware, including 30 Blackhawk helicopters, and for pilot training; the rest for law enforcement and economic assistance) to Colombia's narcotics-eradication program.About 80 percent of illegal drugs in the United States comes from or passes through Colombia, and the country also is the third-largest grower of marijuana.Yet despite vast anti-drug expenditures, drug use in the United States remains largely unchanged, according to "Frontline" reporter Bergman and producer Martin Smith.Bergman, a former print reporter, co-founded the Center for Investigative Reporting in 1977 and produced "Murder, Money and Mexico" for "Frontline" in 1997, which won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Gold Baton. He won the Peabody Award in 1993 for a report on the CIA and drug trafficking. He was portrayed by Al Pacino in "The Insider."Smith too has the Gold Baton as well as a George Polk Award as executive producer of PBS's four-part series "Inside Gorbachev's USSR." He also produced "Who's Running This War?," which won the 1986 George Polk Award for its investigation into private fundraising for the Nicaraguan contras; and "Revolution in Nicaragua" for "Frontline."The duo's cost-benefit analysis, a thorough and detailed four-hour report, traces the history of the country's war on drugs from both sides of the battlefield, the warriors and the suppliers, and the social and political forces that have shaped it. But the documentary traces trafficking in illegal drugs only in the Western Hemisphere and only from the years since U.S. soldiers came back from Vietnam addicted to heroin. It also looks at the growth of crack cocaine, a drug that made headlines when Maryland basketball player Len Bias, drafted by the Boston Celtics, died of an overdose in 1986."This is still the largest illegal drug market in the world, around $60 billion a year," said Bergman. "We have an international marketplace that continues to get bigger. The CIA and U.S. Customs told me that the worldwide underground economy is in excess of $600 billion, and about half of that is drug money. This is a business which can no longer be marginalized as some small group of gangsters we can simply wipe out."Among drug "warriors" interviewed are former cabinet officials, U.S. attorneys, State Department officials, substance-abuse specialists, U.S. and Colombian Customs officials, and officials from law enforcement agencies including the Marshals Service, FBI, CIA, IRS and Interpol. Most significant are remarks from former DEA officials and agents and Gen. Barry McCaffrey, White House drug control chief."McCaffrey has a virtually impossible job," said Bergman, who has followed this issue for three decades. "While he has a little more power than previous drug czars, he's a general without an army. McCaffrey would tell you that things are getting better, but he has an unusually rosy perspective compared to most people we interviewed."The traffickers appearing on "Drug Wars" include smugglers, users, informants, money launderers and drug lords, among them Juan David and Jorge Ochoa, Carlos Toro and Carlos Lehder of Medellin; and George Jung, who got his start as a trafficker when he was an entrepreneurial college dropout.With a straight face, Juan David Ochoa describes the way his affluent ranching family got into the cocaine business as "something that happened by accident. We didn't seek it out . . . I've never understood what [Americans] saw in it. I don't think there are any positive effects. I don't understand why Americans liked it so much. I think it's really a stupid thing."The Ochoa brothers eventually gave up their highly successful drug operation and now, said Bergman, "they're fat and happy on their horse ranch. They've won the drug war."After the 1993 shooting death of another Medellin drug lord, Pablo Escobar, the Cali cartel became Colombia's largest drug trafficker. But now, Cali is not alone in the business."Now there are over 300 drug organizations in Colombia," said Bergman, "but the Mexican drug organization is the most dangerous in the world."In "Drug Wars," a former Mexican police official describes his country's system of corruption, and U.S. DEA agents confirm the involvement of the Mexican government in the kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena and in the ambush and murder of a division of Mexican drug officers by their own military."Drug Wars," which focuses geographically on the Western Hemisphere, explores how the United States tried to battle the influx of drugs from Peru, Bolivia and Colombia through the Bahamas -- with the complicity of then-Prime Minister Linden Pindling -- and into Florida. When that became too difficult, the traffickers began shipping drugs across the 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico."We're trying to focus on what we have learned that seems to be the core, both questions and lessons of 30 years of the drug war," said Bergman, "on the dialectic that's been going on since Nixon, which is between prohibition and public health, between legalization and criminalization. We're trying to get some perspective, to lay historical and analytical groundwork for having a discussion about what can we do. The general public doesn't get to hear very much what is going on. The conclusion that you're not going to interdict or arrest your way out of the problem, coming out of the mouths of the cops, should give people some pause."What we've been doing is piecemeal. At some point we should take a look at what we're doing. We have a huge national commitment that doesn't seem to have any end in sight. Politicians are afraid to appear to be seen as being soft on crime, so they don't talk about treatment, and we've never as a society looked openly at our use of intoxicants of various kinds."But in the early 1970s, during the Nixon administration, District clinics provided free methadone to addicts trying to kick heroin addiction, and reported crime dropped 60 percent. "Treatment with methadone worked," said Bergman, "with more money being spent on treatment than was spent on the law enforcement."But as drug use began to expand in the United States, involving college students, not just inner-city addicts, national concern grew. Nixon changed to a get-tough approach and authorized $55 million to persuade Turkey to stop growing illegal poppies. His 1972 anti-drug legislation passed Congress unanimously. After his reelection, Nixon established the Drug Enforcement Administration, which combined agents from Customs with those from the former Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.After Nixon, neither Gerald Ford nor Jimmy Carter made illegal drugs a priority. (Carter is seen in a clip expressing support for decriminalization of marijuana.) Drug use soared; by 1977, according to one report, 40 percent of high school seniors got high at least once a month. Politicians began to favor prohibiting illegal drugs, rather than treating users. Harsher sentencing sent more people to jail, sometimes for life sentences. Building prisons became a growth industry.And that, according to "Drug Wars," is where anti-drug treatment works best, said Bergman. "Today, virtually everyone we interviewed will agree that if you're going to have a treatment regimen for drugs, the most effective place to do it is where the addict or hardcore users are -- within the criminal justice system. The problem is that 5 [percent] to 7 percent of inmates have treatment available to them, but 85 percent of them are thought to have drug problems."Added Bergman: "If everybody believes that treatment is effective, why don't we do more of it? That's a political issue nobody has raised in the current campaigns.""Drug Wars" will air in collaboration with National Public Radio and a Web site: that will offer additional material, maps, trade routes and interviews.Source: Washington Post (DC) Author: Patricia Brennan, Washington Post Staff WriterPublished: Sunday, October 8, 2000; Page Y06 Contact: letterstoed washpost.comAddress: 1150 15th Street NorthwestWashington, DC 20071© 2000 The Washington Post Company Website: ``Drug Wars'' Web Site (launches Monday at 9 p.m. EDT) Articles: PBS Drug Wars Chronicles 30 Years News and PBS FRONTLINE Special Report Frontline Series in Collaboration with NPR 

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Comment #1 posted by EdC on October 08, 2000 at 01:27:14 PT
I hope they portray cannabis in its true light instead of lumping it in with heroin, crack, etc.
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