Pubdate: Tue, 22 May 2001
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Authors: Joe T. Penrod, Robert Housman, Peggy Monaghan, Ivan Pongracic and 
Charles A. Reich
Note: 5 PUB LTEs


William J. Bennett writes: "And yet recent history shows that, far from 
being a failure, drug-control programs are among the most successful 
public-policy efforts of the latter half of the 20th century" ("The Drug 
War Worked Once -- It Can Again," editorial page," May 15). Is Mr. Bennett 
trying kid us?

Let me take you back to late summer of 1978. At that time, cocaine was more 
a distant memory than a viable commodity. Sure, if you were on a first-name 
basis with a rock star, a sports superhero or the CEO of a Wall Street 
firm, you could get some decent coke. Otherwise, you'd pay $100 a gram for 
the privilege of snorting mostly baby laxative and lidocaine. If you were 
real lucky, 10% of that "disco dust" might have been cocaine. Indeed, the 
so-called "head shop" industry did a booming business selling cocaine 
testing kits ("Is it cocaine or nocaine?"). This was also the summer of the 
biggest "Reefer Madness" push since the 1930s. This, in turn, set the stage 
for Ronald Reagan to accuse Jimmy Carter of being soft on drugs. Not 
Ronnie. By God, he was going to get the kids off pot. Once elected, one of 
his first acts was to send his vice president, George Bush, to Miami to 
coordinate the drive to stop pot smuggling. By the fall of 1981, something 
strange began to happen: The purity of street cocaine began to improve. It 
hadn't been this good since the early 1970s.

By the spring of 1982, street cocaine was essentially pure. By the summer, 
the bottom fell out of the cocaine market. For a mere $20 anyone could get 
a gram of cocaine of such quality that couldn't be had at any price just a 
few years before. By 1983, cocaine was so cheap and plentiful it became 
possible to process powder cocaine into crack. Yes, self-righteous Ronnie 
got the kids off pot; only now the kids were buying "rocks" instead of 
joints. If this is what Mr. Bennett calls "success," what would he consider 
a failure?

It's not as though no one could see this coming. During the Vietnam War 
there was a similar drive to get our GIs off pot. They burned the fields in 
the Mekong Delta. They stopped the pot growing and selling only to see the 
troops turn to heroin. It has been said that those who refuse to learn from 
history are doomed to repeat it. So far as I am concerned, whoever first 
said it was way too optimistic.

Joe T. Penrod, Cincinnati


Bill Bennett's commentary is woefully inaccurate and sadly partisan. Under 
Gen. McCaffrey, youth drug use dropped 20% in just the last two years -- 
the most important measure of success in the fight against drugs. Workplace 
drug use fell to an 11-year low (4.6%, down from 13.6% in 1988). The number 
of drug-related murders dropped steadily from 1,402 in 1989 to 564 in 1999, 
the lowest point in more than a decade. The number of drug-related arrests 
hit record high levels under the Clinton administration. The number of 
people receiving treatment jumped nearly threefold from the Bush I days. We 
expanded the number of drug courts from 12 to more than 800. We launched

the nation's largest effort ever to educate young people about the dangers 
of drugs -- a five-year, $1 billion media campaign. And, our overall 
counterdrug budget grew to a record high $19.2 billion -- up from just 
$12.2 billion under the Bush I administration. Petty partisan attacks waged 
against those who should be allied against the deadly scourge of drugs will 
do little to address the underlying problem; only a bipartisan commitment 
can protect our families and communities.

Robert Housman, Washington

(From 1997 to January 2001, Mr. Housman served in the White House Office of 
National Drug Control Policy.)


Yes, Congress ruled marijuana illegal in 1937, after being lied to by the 
House Judiciary Committee (read the transcripts for yourself). They did not 
take the advice of the AMA, which was that cannabis was a necessary drug

that had been used for years to treat various illnesses, but went on the 
lies as presented to them by the committee members, and pharmaceutical and 
chemical companies.

I know several federal medical marijuana recipients, and the change using 
marijuana has made in the quality of their lives is astounding. They do not 
suffer from the extreme pain they have for so long, and they still have 
their sight, while thousands have gone blind in the last 25 years. How can 
we allow "law" to influence medical care? Lawyers and politicians are not 
trained in medical care. Neither are business administration majors. Give 
medical marijuana back to the doctors and get the lawyers out of it. Stop 
victimizing sick people with

incarceration and probation for trying to maintain their quality of life.

Peggy Monaghan, Arcadia, Kan.


Libertarian for Me, but Not for Thee

So, apparently the "libertarians who don't think drugs should be illegal" 
are nothing but a "fringe" that shouldn't be taken seriously by the 
American public or certainly the readership of the Journal ("Still 
Walters," Review & Outlook, May 14). Interesting, given that the editorial 
page takes the libertarian positions on international trade, taxes, 
regulation, environment, education, antitrust, etc.

It is disturbing and highly disingenuous for you to dismiss the opposing 
view on drugs as too radical because it is held by a libertarian minority 
(or as is implied, by extremist nuts of the libertarian fringe), when you 
are otherwise happy to quote and publish this same minority to support your 
other views. You claim that "nothing has been more debilitating to 
America's sense of morale than the idea, expressed most vividly in the 
movie 'Traffic,' that nothing really works." This sentence implies that 
there are ways to win the war on drugs, if we only have greater commitment 
or different methods.

It is a wonderful irony. The Journal often reprimands liberal policymakers 
for not facing up to the reality of failures of multitudes of government 
economic or regulatory policies. But what do we have here? The exact same 
attitude: The war on drugs hasn't worked so far? No problem, we just need 
to do more of it! We owe it to our children. No wonder that you claim that 
"Mr. Gore had it right." This, after all, is the usual liberal modus 
operandi. And in the end we see that the conservatives are not that far 
removed from liberals: both are happy and eager to use violent government 
coercion to attempt to accomplish their own pet goals, billions of dollars, 
innocent victims and personal freedom be damned.

Ivan Pongracic Jr., Hillsdale, Mich.


I was fascinated by your advocacy of "coerced abstinence" for drug users. 
Don't you oppose all forms of government regulation? If the government is 
incompetent to regulate the economy, why do you put such faith in 
government attempts to regulate human beings?

Charles A. Reich, San Francisco
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