A Plebiscite on Drug War 

A Plebiscite on Drug War 
Posted by FoM on October 20, 2000 at 08:28:04 PT
By Dan Walters
Source: Capitol Alert
A two-part PBS documentary, broadcast last week, graphically demonstrated what anyone with common sense already knows: America's decades-long, multibillion-dollar "war on drugs" has been an abject failure. Not only have efforts to lock up drug users, intercept drug imports and catch dealers failed miserably but failure has had negative social consequences, including crimes that drug users commit to support their habits, violence involving those in the high-profit illicit drug trade, the corruptive effects on governments, and the waste of hundreds of billions of dollars in tax money. The misuse of drugs is essentially a health issue, best approached through public education, social pressure and, as a last resort, medical and psychological treatment of those who succumb to temptation. 
Perhaps the most intriguing point of the PBS series was that when the drug war began in the late 1960s, its chief focus was treatment -- an approach that PBS journalists found was still popular even with drug warriors who acknowledge the failure of interdiction. Jack Lawn, who headed the Drug Enforcement Administration during the Reagan administration, says in one televised interview that 90 percent of anti-drug funds should go for education and treatment."Would that work?" Lawn asks. "We won't know unless we try it. But 20 years of doing it the other way certainly has not worked."California is on the drug war's front lines. It has an estimated 20,000 men and women behind bars for illegal drug use, a long coastline and a border with Mexico that make it a prime entry point for illegal drugs, countless marijuana farms and a burgeoning methamphetamine industry.The state's leading politicians continue to advocate hard-line approaches -- whether out of personal conviction or pandering to perceived voter attitudes, only they know for certain -- but there are exceptions. One is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Congressman Tom Campbell, who unveiled a television ad Monday in which he stresses a non-punitive approach.Taking direct aim at Sen. Dianne Feinstein's long advocacy of tough drug laws, Campbell says in the ad that Feinstein "is in denial about my record on drug policy, just like drug users deny they have a habit. Dianne can't admit the war on drugs has failed. She's ready to spend billions more to send American troops to Colombia."Campbell has almost no chance of unseating Feinstein, who labels his drug policy as "bizarre," so we'll never know whether his softer approach would sway many voters. As it happens, however, Californians will have a more direct opportunity to vote on the drug war in the form of Proposition 36, which would create a diversion and treatment program for adults convicted of a "non-violent drug possession offense," as an alternative to jail.Proposition 36 was placed on the ballot by several wealthy men who believe in at least the partial decriminalization of the drug problem. And it's backed by roughly the same groups who successfully persuaded California voters to allow personal use of marijuana as a medical treatment for chronic pain.Reasonable people can disagree on how society should deal with drug abuse. And the disagreement often has little to do with other aspects of political ideology. While Republican Campbell and liberal Congresswoman Maxine Waters advocate treatment and end to the expensive drug war, actor and liberal activist Martin Sheen, whose son Charlie Sheen was ordered into drug rehab two years ago after violating probation on a battery conviction, is campaigning vigorously against Proposition 36, saying the threat of jail is needed to force drug abusers into treatment.However, no one -- save a few die-hard drug warriors whose jobs would be at stake -- can reasonably argue anymore that America's war on drugs has been anything other than an expensive failure.DAN WALTERS' column appears daily, except Saturday. Mail: P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852; phone (916) 321-1195; fax: (781) 846-8350E-Mail: dwalters sacbee.comRecent columns: Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)Author: Dan WaltersPublished October 20, 2000Copyright: 2000 The Sacramento BeeContact: opinion sacbee.comAddress: P.O.Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852Website: Articles & Web Sites:Drug Wars - Frontline PBS Special -- NPR RealPlayer U.S. Companies Tangled in Web of Drug Dollars Pull of Wars:, Policy and Pot: Drug Wars Chronicles 30 Years: News and PBS Frontline Special Report: Frontline Series in Collaboration with NPR: Index for Frontline's Drug Wars Transcripts:
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Comment #1 posted by Dankhank on October 20, 2000 at 14:13:53 PT:
Send this ...
I copied and pasted this story, then e-maile it to my local newspaper editor.I offered to let him borrow my copies of the special if he missed the shows.I'm waiting to see if I hear from him ...Peace ...
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