Nation Waits For Insanity To Stop In The Drug War

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Mar 24, 2001.

  1. By Walter Shapiro
    Source: USA Today

    The Oscar marathon may showcase the scene from Traffic in which Michael Douglas, playing the nation's drug czar, begs his staff for ''some new ideas'' -- and is rewarded with the sounds of silence.
    This fatalism about drugs is not just a creation of Hollywood. A new poll finds that 74% of Americans believe ''we are losing the drug war.'' Similarly, nearly three-quarters of respondents to the survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, agree that ''demand is so high we will never stop drug use.''

    Yet when asked about anti-drug strategies, the public still clings to the hard-line nostrums of the late 1980s such as ''stopping drug importation'' (a priority for 52%) and ''arresting drug dealers'' (49%).

    ''What comes through is the frustration of it all,'' says Andrew Kohut, the director of the Pew research center. ''People don't think what's happening now is working, but they pick the same strategy and tactics when they're asked what to do.''

    A small note of moderation was added to the drug debate Wednesday, when the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that a Charleston, S.C., hospital could not test pregnant women for drug abuse without their consent and then hand positive results over to the police. Before the public hospital ended this draconian program in 1994, women were dragged off to jail in handcuffs right after giving birth.

    ''Why wasn't the Supreme Court decision a unanimous 9-0?'' asks Garrett Epps, a constitutional law professor at the University of Oregon. ''When you go to your doctor and the cops then arrest you for using drugs, it doesn't seem a hard issue that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated.''

    Epps is the author of a new book on a 1990 Supreme Court decision that banned the use of peyote in the rituals of the Native American Church, To an Unknown God: Religious Freedom on Trial. He argues, ''This push toward a 'naked society' suggests that there's no social norm that won't be trumped by the drug war. We think of ourselves occupying a free society, but the sphere of personal freedom is constantly dwindling.''

    Next Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in its first medical-marijuana case, The United States vs. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative. Even though nine states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since 1996, the status of those who supply the drug to patients remains in limbo.

    The Oakland case grows out of a law-enforcement effort, coordinated by Clinton administration drug czar Barry McCaffrey, to go after the cooperative after voters in California approved medical marijuana in a referendum in 1996.

    ''If the court treats this as a drug case, we may have a problem,'' says Robert Raich, one of the lawyers for the co-op. ''That's why we see this as a states' rights case.''

    The Supreme Court has become increasingly sympathetic to states' rights arguments, especially in cases involving the federal government's regulatory powers. But for all its attraction to state sovereignty, the politicized high court in the medical-marijuana case may find it hard to look beyond the passions aroused by the drug war.

    A semicomic definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. By that standard, the nation's drug war may be operating on the fringes of lunacy.

    About the only other arena in which the federal government has so dramatically and so stubbornly maintained an ineffective policy is the 4-decade-old economic embargo against Cuba.

    It is telling that Bill Clinton developed the moxie to discuss the inequities of mandatory sentences for drug crimes and the disparity between the penalties for possession of cocaine and crack only after the 2000 election. In fact, the rigid drug policies of his administration seemed motivated primarily by political calculation and Clinton's fear of reminding the nation that he was the first president to admit to smoking marijuana, although, of course, he ''didn't inhale.''

    In theory, George W. Bush has the freedom to bring to the anti-drug effort the same innovative conservative thinking that he has demonstrated in education policy and in trying to mobilize religious institutions to deliver social services. But aside from a few stray comments by Attorney General John Ashcroft about ''reinvigorating the war on drugs,'' the administration has been strangely silent on the issue and has yet to appoint a drug czar.

    The St. Petersburg Times reported Thursday that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been pushing his own drug coordinator, Jim McDonough, for the White House post. While not confirming any discussions with the White House, McDonough, a former aide to McCaffrey, took pains in a lengthy phone interview Thursday to sketch out his philosophy of the drug war.

    McDonough reflects the no-surrender school of fighting drugs when he says, ''Making drugs legal is the most ridiculous idea since they said that the Titanic was unsinkable.'' But he also takes a more moderate stance in emphasizing that ''the immediate crying need is on treatment.'' He advances a welcome proposal for ''an annual system that should review the egregious cases where sentencing is all out of proportion to the crime.'' But, in the next breath, he reiterates his chilling Florida proposal to provide state tax breaks to companies that agree to mandatory drug testing of all employees.

    The creators of Traffic are right: There has to be a better way of reducing drug abuse without further jeopardizing personal freedom. But when it comes to new ideas, the nation is waiting. The Bush administration is in charge.

    Note: The drug war is stuck in heavy traffic.

    Source: USA Today (US)
    Author: Walter Shapiro
    Published: March 23, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
    Address: 1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22229
    Fax: (703) 247-3108

    Related Articles & Web Sites:

    Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Co-op:

    Pew Research Center Web Site:

Share This Page