Letter - Geyer: Drug war was working before truce

Letters to the Editor
The Oregonian
1320 SW Broadway
Portland, OR 97201

April 9, 1996

To the Editor:

Syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer distorts the record several times in order to support her false assertions in your April 9 edition. ("Drug war was working before truce," p. B7).

First, Geyer mischaracterizes those opposed to the drug war as "chic" "liberal-minded" "younger political elites" - code words in 1996 for People We Love To Hate. In fact, the campaign against the drug war has been and continues to be spearheaded by conservatives and market-oriented libertarians such as Milton Friedman, George Shultz, William F. Buckley, Jr. and international financier George Soros.

While there has been a gradual decline in adult use of our most deadly drugs - tobacco and alcohol - it is simply not true that "'overall drug use fell markedly between 1981 and 1992' as a direct result of the War on Drugs." If the surveys are credible, illegal-drug use began falling in 1979, with no change in the laws. It continued falling until President Reagan and a know-nothing Congress revved up the engines of war in 1984 and especially 1986. Given the time-lag between implementation and effect, one would expect to find illegal-drug use increasing by 1988 or 1989. As it turned out, the increase first appeared in 1989. Any clinical statistician or social scientist would see the obvious correlations. Moreover, Geyer herself and the propaganda tract she cites admit: "Meanwhile, 'the nationwide street price for most illicit drugs [that is, except nontoxic marijuana] is lower than at any time in recent years and the potency of those same drugs, particularly heroin and crack is higher." These results appeared more than a decade ago. How are they consistent with Geyer's conclusion that the "drug war was working"?

While the bulge in teens' use of illegal-drug use may indeed exist, it is important to note that according to the current standard reference, the government's own 1994 National Household Survey on Drug Use (on the World Wide Web at http://www.health.org/pubs/94hhs/highlt.htm), "The number of illicit drug users has not changed since 1992. This follows more than a decade of decline since the peak year for illicit drug use, which was 1979."

Geyer is most inaccurate in her portrayal of President Clinton as showing "no leadership" in the war. Only a committee chaired by Republicans in an election year could reach such a conclusion. And in fact, that is the case with the committee who penned the "report" cited by Geyer ("National Drug Policy: A Review of the Status of the Drug War"). Geyer and The Oregonian are grossly remiss for not honestly characterizing its source.

It is simply not true that "funds were deliberately shifted from interdiction" into treatment programs. The truth is that Congress rejected Clinton's token budget request for more treatment funding. Interdiction funding has increased overall since the end of the Bush administration (yet prices for hard drugs have steadily fallen, in accordance with the laws of supply and demand).

Both Clinton and Congress have steadily increased spending on all fronts for the drug war. While Americans consume 60 percent of all the world's illegal drugs, arrests and incarcerations are also at world-record proportions. Prison expansion to house drug offenders is bankrupting social programs at every level, yet at least 95 percent of the illicit market in drugs grows, unscathed, because adult drug prohibition only supports it. The only cut Clinton ever made in the war budget (recently rescinded) was to decimate the "Drug Czar" office, which was a notorious sanctuary for political hacks awarded the spoils of high-paying, do-nothing government jobs.

After a decade of alcohol Prohibition, which produced the exact same awful results as the war on some drugs, President Hoover, a conservative Republican, asked Congress for funds to appoint a commission to study how to make Prohibition more effective. Six of the 11 respected and august men who produced the 1931 Wickersham Commission report, in their statements, instead favored an immediate end to the noble experiment. The longest and most instructive statement, by Commissioner Henry W. Anderson, explains why drug prohibition is just as doomed as alcohol Prohibition was:

It might be within the physical power of the federal government for a time to substantially enforce the Eighteenth Amendment and the National Prohibition Act. But under existing conditions this would require the creation of a field organization running high into the thousands, with courts, prosecuting agencies, prisons, and other institutions in proportion, and would demand expenditures and measures beyond the practical and political limitations of federal power. This would inevitably lead to social and political consequences more disastrous than the evils sought to be remedied. Even then the force of social and economic laws would ultimately prevail. These laws [of supply and demand] cannot be destroyed by governments, but often in the course of human history governments have been destroyed by them. [Summary, Volume 1, pp. 97-98]
Geyer's notion that "experience shows [addicts] can rarely be saved" is particularly noxious. As The Oregonian itself reported recently ("Report tallies state's drug, alcohol toll," March 14, 1996, p. E5), "Alcohol and drug treatment programs not only work but also save the taxpayers a bundle."

Oddly, Geyer now contradicts her earlier column titled "Dutch Secret: Management of Problems" (July 12, 1994, p. B3). Impressed at how the Dutch had reduced hard-drug use by adopting "harm reduction" policies, including pot decriminalization, Geyer in 1994 concluded:

"Still, what Holland could teach a more moralistic America is: Figure out what you can reasonably expect to do with the problem and the tools you have at hand; devise a plan to maximize your strengths; and above all, plan so that you diminish the problem, thus sparing the next generation."
Geyer offers no reason for her changed stance. Inquiring readers want to know why.

Instead of reading partisan political tracts, Oregonian readers (and editors) who wish to understand why adult drug prohibition will only continue making all our problems worse should read the more credible studies of drugs and drug policy. Probably the best of those is "The Consumers Union Report on Licit & Illicit Drugs," a five-year study, 540 pages, by Edward M. Brecher and the editors of Consumer Reports (Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1972), ISBN 0-316-10717-4, available for $14.95 plus $1.75 postage from New Morning Books in Mt. Morris, IL (800) 851-7039. (Stock # HB/44)

We will never make progress until we engage in an honest discussion of the facts. Unfortunately for those who would gain a better understanding of our problem, The Oregonian continues to work to make that a remote possibility.

Phil Smith
Northeast Portland



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