The April 1985 conference was actually two conferences, both supported heavily by federal funds, as have been similiar parent conferences before and after this one. The initial event in 1985 was entitled "The First Ladies Conference on Drug Abuse," which was scheduled for April 24 in the White House and April 25 in Atlanta. On April 24, Mrs. Reagan and the first ladies of seventeen other countries met in Washington to hear Dr. Carlton Turner of the White House explain national drug strategy, Joyce Nalepka, President of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, tell about the parents movement, and other adult leaders who laid out national policy directions....
The only young person on the program held at the White House, and the only one with an admitted drug problem, was 16-year-old Robin Page, listed as "Graduate of Straight, Inc., Drug Rehabilitation Center," who spoke on "Why I Used Drugs - Why I Stopped." While Ms. Page was apparently helped by the treatment she received at Straight, as other young people have been, no questions were raised about the dark side of the organization.
The second day of the First Ladies' conference merged with most of the events of the PRIDE meeting in Atlanta, at which only 15 of the other first ladies were present. I was able to attend it because it was touted as a meeting of private citizens that was open to any memeber of the public willing to pay the registration fee. However, when I sought to take one of the many vacant seats in the front rows of the huge ballroom, I was stopped by white paper signs on them saying "Reserved For DEA."
As on the day before in Washington, the first substantive speaker was Dr. Turner whose speech was entitled, "We Are Winning the War on Drugs...."
Thomas Gleaton: Arrest My Child
Several of the major ideological leaders of the parents crusade dominated the remainder of the day. Each talked in kindly terms about the need to save children around the world from drugs. Each seemed blissfully unaware that the programs proposed might have little impact on drug abuse but could well serve to repress many traditional democratic values and freedoms.
The Director of PRIDE and the Chairman of the conference, Thomas J. Gleaton, who holds a doctorate in education and is a professor of physical education at Georgia State University in Atlanta, explained how PRIDE was formed at the university in 1977 "to provide education and training for parents who wanted to fight back against the commercialized drug culture." Soon, Dr. Gleaton continued, the internationalization of the parents movement began. By 1983, representatives of 17 countries came to the PRIDE conference. By 1984, 34 countries attended. At this conference, over 50. "The internationalization of the parents movement has become a reality," Dr. Gleaton declared proudly. To that international audience, he repeated a powerful theme of the American parents crusade: "In nearly all cases, prevention fails when it does not address the gateway drug — cannabis — and instead concentrates on treatment of 'end of the road' drugs — opiates and cocaine." As he uttered those words, I noted not a smile, not a questioning look, not a doubting comment around me. The huge audience was quiet, deadly serious, determined, seemingly united: fight marijuana and conquer the drug menace.
Unfortunately, Dr. Gleaton said, the worst mistakes of the American experience, especially decriminalization of marijuana, are being repeated in other countries, usually by the inaction of enforcement officials. "The result of this de facto legalization is a legal muddle that supports increasing drug use. If possession and use of an illegal drug is condoned or excused, the primary cause of the drug epidemic is ignored — the user." Having laid out this simplistic explanation for the rise in drug use, Dr. Gleaton then propounded one of the most repressive principles in the drug-free dogma: "We, as parents of all nations, must say to our local law enforcement officer, 'If my child, my loved one, or my friend breaks the law by using illicit drugs, please arrest him or her.'"
Thus, there was complete support for the logic of the law. Not a single person in the entire conference seemed capable of the venerable American exercise of raising questions about the simple horse sense of the laws. Not a single person seemed capable of asking if the classification of the drugs into legal and illegal was more an hysterical action from decades past than a matter of current objective science. Not a single person seemed to understand that the genius of America lay in periodically challenging irrational laws. All seemed to accept the extraordinary notion that we Americans should actually applaud the act of calling in the police to arrest our children and other loved ones if they so much as smoke a marijuana cigarette, which is, technically, still a crime in most of the United States. Not a single person pointed out that many experts find the gateway theory without factual foundation.
Not a single person raised questions, moreover, about the ideas put forth by the next speaker, Jean-Michel Cousteau, eldest son of the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. Jean-Michel narrated a film, "Snowstorm in the Jungle," produced by his famous father. The film dealt with cocaine trafficking in South America. To me it all seemed out of place in a conference on drug education for youth. Even more bizarre was the vivid showing of how some doctors in Peru were dealing with cocaine addiction among Peruvian youth: the equivalent of a brain lobotomy. Right there on the screen in Atlanta before 2,000 parents and young people was patient 29, aged 16, "deemed irrecoverable" and going under the knife as a last resort. And there was Jean Michel Cousteau clucking in a kindly voice as if to say how sad but to exorcise evil spirits one must do some cutting. My skin crawled and I tried to block out the images on the screen but everyone else there seemed to accept the idea of operations on the brains of addicted children as one of the exciting new technologies for the future. Sadly, Jean-Michel tells us, patient 29 relapsed a year later.
Arnold S. Trebach, The Great Drug War, p. 123.