Addicted to a Failing War on Drugs 

Addicted to a Failing War on Drugs 
Posted by FoM on January 07, 2001 at 21:20:46 PT
By Sebastian Mallaby
Source: Washington Post 
This could be a hopeful time for drug policy. Last Wednesday New York's Republican governor proposed reform of the state's crazy mandatory drug sentences, which cause millions to be spent on locking up nonviolent offenders. The next day New Mexico's governor, also a Republican, received a report he had commissioned outlining a rethinking of drug policy. Then Friday brought the nationwide release of "Traffic," a terrific guns-and-intrigue movie about the futility of the drug war. But these hopeful signs are overshadowed by one serious problem. Its name is John Ashcroft.
This may come as a surprise, because so far the attack on Ashcroft's nomination to be attorney general has focused on his many other faults. People for the American Way, a liberal shout tank, has produced a 22-page document on what's not to like about the outgoing Missouri senator -- his antiabortion extremism, his jihad against a qualified black judge nominated by President Clinton, his enthusiasm for the gun lobby -- without even getting to his views on drug policy. But Ashcroft's record in this area is bad enough to warrant another 20 pages in its own right.Ashcroft comes from the school which believes that if only law enforcement's boots were big enough, you could stamp out drug use. On CNN's "Crossfire" 21/2 years ago, Ashcroft declared that the solution to the drug problem lay in "tough enforcement with the right kind of moral leadership." Government's role consisted in "stopping the flow of drugs, telling people that drugs are illegal, enforcing the drug laws."In March 1999 Ashcroft cross-examined Attorney General Janet Reno when she testified in the Senate. After lecturing her about his bill to get tough on methamphetamines, Ashcroft launched into a series of questions about the administration's supposed timidity in prosecuting the drug war. He pressed Reno on why she had not put aside more money for drug enforcement agents and border patrols, and suggested border cops could use some new equipment. "How can you improve our performance in the war against drugs without additional agents?" he demanded to know.It's hard to believe that the nominee for the post of top law enforcer thinks more cops with more equipment can solve the drug problem. Spending on border patrols, drug cops, prosecution and incarceration are all up since 1980; indeed, the jail and prison population has quadrupled over that period, primarily because of Draconian drug laws. Yet drugs remain as available as ever. Cocaine and heroin have grown cheaper and purer over the past two decades.When Ashcroft was in the Senate, one of his contributions to drug policy was to meet the Mexican ambassador and demand greater cooperation in fighting traffickers. But this approach not only failed to dent the problem; it's almost mathematically inconceivable that it could work. Even the best efforts abroad and at the border will catch only a limited proportion of drugs headed for the United States, so the effect on street prices (and therefore rates of use) will be limited too. According to Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, the share of cocaine intercepted at the border rose from a quarter to a third between 1989 and 1998; street prices fell by a fifth over the same period.It is not just that Ashcroft supports drug policies that are useless. He also disdains policies that might help. Study after study has shown that the best way to reduce drug consumption is to help addicts get treatment. The RAND Drug Policy Research Center calculates that spending an extra $1 million on treatment would reduce cocaine consumption 3.5 times more than spending that money on domestic enforcement. Treatment looks even more cost-effective when compared with border interdiction and source-country control. But Ashcroft seems mostly oblivious to such evidence.When he was in the Senate, Ashcroft denounced the idea of spending money on treatment as a trick to siphon funds away from interdiction; a government that offers treatment "accommodates us at our lowest and least," he said. To be fair, his bill on methamphetamines did provide $10 million for treating addicts. But more than half of the $55 million in new spending that the bill envisaged was for get-tough policies. And when Ashcroft sponsored a bill on prison addiction last year, his proposal was to give prisoners drug tests before releasing them; he offered no money for treating addiction.It is possible, of course, that Ashcroft may rethink his policies; Nixon to China remains a fond hope. The nation's mix of drug efforts costs billions and is plainly failing. A few brave governors and mayors are starting to accept this; last November California passed an enlightened ballot initiative supporting treatment instead of traditional incarceration. It will be interesting, when Ashcroft goes before his former Senate colleagues, to see if he appreciates any of these encouraging trends.The writer is a member of the editorial page staff.Source: Washington Post (DC) Author: Sebastian MallabyPublished: Monday, January 8, 2001; Page A19 Address: 1150 15th Street NorthwestWashington, DC 20071Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company Contact: letterstoed washpost.comWebsite: Related Articles:Governor To Pursue Changes in Drug Policy York Governor Calls for Drug Law Reform Needn't Get a Pass an Issue for Ashcroft's Foes
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Comment #3 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on January 08, 2001 at 05:12:04 PT:
Oppose AG Nomination
John Ashcroft has a terrible record on human rights. Merely glance at Miller's Drug Warriors and Their Prey to see how often his name is associated with abuse of power in Missouri. His commitment to civil liberties could place him on par with the likes of Adolph Eichmann. Oppose confirmation!
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Comment #2 posted by meagain on January 08, 2001 at 04:28:26 PT
By the sounds of this..
Just 1 question ... Does he use alcohol?? They say alcohol kills brain cells which would explain his mentality.
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on January 08, 2001 at 03:35:37 PT
not good
Yup....It will indeed be a dark day for freedom and sanity is Asscroft somehow gets approved.Unfortunatly,it would not be that much of a suprize if he does make it.After all,look who is going to be prezident,and how that happened.If this guy gets in there,we will be looking at the Janet Reno days as good.Asscroft would be the McCaffrey of attorney generals.
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