Portland NORML News - Wednesday, March 26, 1997

The Drug War - Violent, Corrupt And Unsuccessful (Transcript Of Speech
By Joseph McNamara, Former Police Chief Of San Jose, California,
At The Commonwealth Club Of San Francisco)

Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 17:35:21 -0800 (PST)
From: bc616@scn.org (Darral Good)
To: hemp-talk@hemp.net
Subject: HT: Police chief speech
Reply-To: bc616@scn.org
Sender: owner-hemp-talk@hemp.net

Source: Vital Speeches, June 15, 1997 v63 n17 p537(2).

Title: The drug war: violent, corrupt and unsuccessful. (speech given by
former Police Chief of San Jose, California, Joseph

Author: Joseph McNamara

Abstract: Former Police Chief of San Jose, CA, Joseph McNamara declared that
the US government's war against drugs, including DARE, are ineffective.
Instead, prohibitive measures such as incarceration, drug free workplaces and
communities make sure that drug users can no longer rehabilitate themselves.

Subjects: Narcotics, Control of - Addresses, essays, lectures
People: McNamara, Joseph - Addresses, essays, lectures

Electronic Collection: A19980122
RN: A19980122

Full Text COPYRIGHT 1997 City News Publishing Company Inc.

Address by JOSEPH MCNAMARA, Former Police Chief of San Jose, Author, Fellow,
Hoover Institution

Delivered to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, San Francisco,
California, March 26, 1997

What is the principle behind the United States international war on drugs? It
is a blurry picture. There is no clear line between the dangerous molecules
that are made illegal and the safe molecules that we decide may be used under
proper supervision. The most dangerous drugs of all are alcohol and tobacco,
which kill close to a million Americans a year. If we look at all illegal
drags, cocaine, heroine, LSD, PCP it is estimated that they kill between 3,000
and 20,000 Americans a year. It is quite clear that we are not reacting to the
danger of drugs.

Why have we waged this enormously unsuccessful and costly war against drugs?
About 2 centuries ago certain groups in the United States began lobbying
efforts to attach a criminal and amoral stigma to drug use. They succeeded in
getting drugs outlawed. How did we get into this situation?

England used to rule the world and waged two wars to force China to accept
opium. The use of opium was popular in England at the time and without the
stigma that it has today. So opium was sold to China and subsequently caused
problems there. When the American missionaries came to China they found the
effects very destructive. They began to lobby England and other countries to
stop trading opium, and they began to campaign aggressively in America. The
Congressional Record is quite clear. Drugs were not criminalized in part
because of complaints from the police or medical authorities.They were
criminalized because religious groups got their version of sin put into the
penal code. In 1914 they succeeded in getting the Harrison Act passed which is
the cornerstone of the legislation in the United States.

Doomed to Fail

Prior to 1914, the United States had a drug problem in the sense that many
people were using drugs without being aware of the dangers. But there was no
international black market, no organized crime involving drugs, none of the
terrible violence and word-wide corruption that we see today. Since drugs were
criminalized we have all those things. Estimates are that the per capita use
of drugs is twice what it was before drugs were criminalized. I am not in
favor of drug use. I think all drugs possess danger and require regulation.
What I am suggesting is that we have two extremes. On one side we have the
U.S. war on drugs; on the other side we have pre-1914 total market freedom for
any drugs. Neither of these extremes is the answer but in between there are a
lot of things that could occur.

The war on drugs cannot succeed. About $500 worth of cocaine or heroin in a
source country, Mexico, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, will bring as much as
$100,000 on the streets of an American city. All the cops and prisons and
armies of the world can't stop this; it is an economic force that is simply
unstoppable. The profit is there because of prohibition. You all know what
happened when the United States, from 1920 to 1933, prohibited alcohol. We had
violence, corruption, the formation of an organized criminal structure which
is still with us today. Because our thinking about these substances is frozen
a century ago we are unable to rationally look at what the drug war is doing
to America.

An American Problem

The war on drugs has not reduced drug use. The United States says that it will
reduce or eliminate foreign production of drugs. If you have followed the news
over recent months you know that this is ludicrous. The fact is that many of
these countries are poor, and drug profits are greater than their gross
domestic product. During the presidential campaign, George Bush went to a
summit with the presidents of Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. They told
him bluntly that they were not going to destroy their countries in a civil war
because we Americans can't control our demand for drags. That is a very
legitimate point. This problem exists because millions and millions of
Americans are willing to spend billions and billions of dollars to purchase
something even though it is illegal, even though they have been told that it
is dangerous for their health.

The entire illicit supply of drugs for the United States could probably be
grown in about 50 square miles, almost anywhere in the world. With that in
mind, the government's contention that they can stop foreign production of
drugs is ridiculous. The government has to lie to itself, it decertifies
Colombia for aid because Colombia wasn't trying hard enough to prohibit drugs,
and then they increased aid. These countries hate our hypocrisy, our
overbearing methods; they think this is an American problem and that we are
very disrespectful of their sovereignty and indeed we are.

Strategy two was that since we can't stop production of drugs, we seize them
at the border. The government estimates that they seize about 10 percent. One
indication of how unsuccessful this is, is that despite seizures of tons of
cocaine and heroin, the street price remains stable. The supply already here
is so great that even vast seizures of drugs does not cause a rise in the
price. Early in the drug war, the government said that tough enforcement
increased the price of drugs and made them harder to get. Those on the front
lines of policing said that it didn't make it harder, but it made it more
expensive and made drug users commit more crimes to get money for the drugs.
That strategy of interdiction also fails because of our vast borders, the
enormous volume of international trade, and what is left of the Constitution's
prohibitions against unlawful search and seizure.

Massive Incarceration

The third aspect of the government's strategy is massive incarceration. We now
have 1.6 million people under penal sanction in the United States, the
greatest number in our history. Many are in for long, mandatory sentences of
5, 10, 15 years in prison. Many serve 80 percent of that time. Judges
increasingly do not have discretion. This imprisonment falls most heavily on
minorities. There is an old racist stream that runs through drug prohibition.
The Congressional Record when the missionaries were calling for making drugs
illegal is quite explicit. They talked about their efforts to Christianize the
"yellow heathen" and to save the "Inferior races." There was also testimony
that these substances made black men rape white women. In 1937, the Marijuana
Tax Act made marijuana illegal with the same racist commentary and the same
inflated erroneous rhetoric that these drags cause violence. The government's
own study indicates that only 4 percent of homicides take place because
someone is out of their mind on drugs. The other violence associated with
drugs is the drug trade, the commerce between drug dealers, and the culture of
drug dealing. Drug arrests of non-whites are four to five times greater than
for whites, despite the fact that about 80 percent of drag crimes are
committed by whites, and this is reflected in the prison population.

Ominous Future

We have this ominous future before us, people doing mandatory sentences who
some day will get out. What chance are they going to have in life? We have
drug free work places so nobody with a drug record could get a job to begin
with. We now have drug-free housing; if your son or nephew gets busted for pot
someplace else, you will be evicted from public housing. We have created this
monster for ourselves; we virtually have ensured that people that we have
punished for drug use can never rehabilitate themselves.

The other problem is the enormous corruption. We invaded Panama because
President Bush called General Noriega an "international thug." As soon as the
troops had secured the city a Drug Enforcement agent put handcuffs on General
Noriega, who is now residing in a federal prison for 40 years. A year later
that same DEA agent was himself arrested for stealing $720,000 in laundered
drug money. The corruption has reached into our federal law enforcement; all
throughout our nation we see the police corrupted, and the legal system
paralyzed. Another heavy penalty we pay for the hysteria about these
substances is that we have authorized seizure of private property. Remember
that under criminal law if you are accused by the police of a crime, you are
presumed innocent until you are proven guilty in court.

Not so with seizure. Law enforcement authorities can seize a property if they
suspect that it is used in a criminal enterprise, and you have to go to court
to prove that you are innocent. They have seized more than $4 billion, without
criminal conviction, occuring in most cases. With the mere presence of
suspicion, large amounts of cash, an "Informant" who said that you were
involved with drugs, etc., they can take your house, your business, your car,
and they have done this over and over again.

Drug education is another thing that the government talks about. The
government has spent unprecedented amounts of money trying to educate young
children not to use drags. The DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)
runs about $1 billion a year. It is taught by uniformed police officers in
schools throughout the country, often financed by federal grants. Two studies
commissioned by the government showed that DARE was ineffective. The
government did not print or publish this study, which created an uproar in the
research community. DARE had a constituency, and the government didn't want to
lose that constituency by admitting that DARE had failed.

The War is Over

We should declare the war is over. The mere word itself gives a connotation
that anything goes, that all kinds of violations of search and seizure laws,
all kinds of misconduct make sense, that the police can do anything because we
are waging war against evil substances. We could immediately treat marijuana
as we treat alcohol and cigarettes. There has never been a recorded death by
marijuana, there has never been a recorded homicide caused by smoking pot.
Prominent politicians and leaders, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, have talked
about how they experimented with pot. Now brain damage aside, neither of them
went on to heroin or to commit armed bank robberies as far as we know.

We need to step back. Prohibition ended when President Hoover appointed a
commission to study how Americans could be more law-abiding. The commission
repealed the prohibition a few years later. Anyone who looks objectively at
America's drug war will see that it is racist, violent, corrupt and
unsuccessful. That is why I think a commission for investigating the situation
is needed.



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