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Grey Literature - DPF: The Great Issues of Drug Policy 1990
Written by Arnold Trebach   

One of my concerns is about that casual user and what you do with the whole group. The casual user ought to be taken out and shot because he or she has no reason for using drugs. If there is such a thing as a casual user.

Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates Testimony before Senate Judiciary Committee, September 5, 1990

I'd like to see the police become facilitators to what I call medicalizing the situation. Let's decriminalize and medicalize the problem. We can establish a solid criteria where the police become facilitators to get people in touch with the medical profession, so we can have immediate treatment for them. Police can be firm and tough without being brutal or insensitive.

New Haven Police Chief Nicholas Pastore Interview with High Times, August 1990

 

As the 20th century begins its last decade, so also it seems that the sun is starting to set on drug prohibition and on the endless war that has become necessary to support it. In this volume we chronicle that decline and discuss a wide range of suggestions for the new drug control order that must be created — hopefully in time for the beginning of the next century.

The unraveling of the drug war empire, as in the case of the decline and fall of empires throughout history, is being accompanied by some outrageous behavior because the leaders and the profiteers of the old order are fighting desperately to prop it up. In the fall of 1989, as an example of a small outrage, federal agents repeatedly attempted to lure a young, black crack dealer to Lafayette Park in front of the White House. After the staged buy was finally made, President Bush displayed the evidence on national television suggesting that crack was regularly sold at the doors of the executive mansion. When reporters confronted the president with the little white lie, the leader of the free world bristled and asked if they were in sympathy with "this drug guy."

A few months later during the Christmas season, there was a huge outrage. President Bush sent 24,000 troops and masses of airplanes and ships to arrest Manuel Noriega, the leader of Panama. Few people had much sympathy for General Noriega, a brutal dictator and quite probably a major drug trafficker, but many across the political spectrum were horrified that the United States was willing to take such extreme actions to arrest a drug dealer. In the course of those actions, the United States violated international treaties, federal laws, venerable democratic traditions — and caused the deaths of 539 people, including 23 of its own soldiers. For the first time in American history, the leader of another nation was arrested on foreign soil and transported to United States territory in shackles to be tried in an American court according to American law. Such hubris will have little impact on the drug trade but will surely tempt the gods of history into some form of dire retribution if the United States does not change its ways.

Precious little recanting was to be found on Sept. 5, 1990, however, when Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee: "The casual user ought to be taken out and shot." Such demagoguery and hate continue to dominate United States drug strategy even as the evidence builds that current policy is a disaster. One sure sign of that disaster is the dramatic growth of the American prison and jail population, which more than doubled since Ronald Reagan entered the White House. For a whole variety of complex reasons, blacks are heavily involved in the street drug trade and are filling our jails and prisons.

Accordingly, it was no surprise that there was a political backlash — primarily from blacks but also from many whites — to the prosecution of Washington Mayor Marion Barry on drug charges. Even though the evidence was overwhelming, the jury refused to convict except on one minor charge of possession.

That case also illustrated several other fatal flaws and contradictions in the drug war mentality. Police are the front line in the enforcement of drug prohibition. In the nation's capital the chief magistrate and the leader of the drug war is the elected mayor. Yet, Mayor Barry bought and used drugs constantly for years, all the while surrounded by police and all the while leading anti-drug marches on the streets of poor Washington neighborhoods.

More positive signs of the decline of drug prohibition are to be found in the growth of the Drug Policy Foundation and of the loyal opposition around the world for which the foundation provides a focal point. Since its creation in 1987, the Foundation has grown dramatically in funding, staff, and support by citizens and professionals alike. Prominent among those professionals have been elected politicians and police officials, for whom criticism of current harsh policies bears the risk of being accused of being soft on drugs. Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore was one of the first courageous former drug warriors to take the plunge into the cold waters of opposition during the past few years. He now serves on the Foundation Advisory Board.

Police Chief Nicholas Pastore of New Haven is one of the newest recruits. He granted an interview with High Times magazine, which in itself was an act of rare political courage for a police chief. In that interview, Chief Pastore observed, "I'd like to see the police become facilitators to what I call medicalizing the situation.... Police can be firm and tough without being brutal or insensitive." Chief Pastore has joined the Foundation's Law Enforcement Committee, which includes among its members David Couper, Chief of Police of Madison, Wisc.; Patrick Murphy, perhaps the leading police figure of the 20th century; Wesley Pomeroy, former Berkeley police chief and White House drug policy advisor; Ralph Salerno, former chief of detectives of the New York City Police Department Organized Crime Section; and other distinguished police figures.

The Drug Policy Foundation has thus taken special pains to encourage major elements of the American Establishment to say what is risky but also close to their heart: the drug war is a snare and a delusion. Such people were leading actors in the Fourth International Conference on Drug Policy Reform which the Foundation held in Washington Oct. 31-Nov. 4, 1990. The keynote speaker was another former drug warrior, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet, the first sitting federal judge in recent history to advocate complete legalization of drugs. He was joined by many other officials, scholars, practitioners, students, and citizens at this historic event.

Virtually all of the materials in this book were submitted as original papers to be presented at that conference. We have decided to print them here in their entirety with very little editing so as to convey the full range of thinking now taking place regarding the future of drug control. We have not endeavored to check all of the facts and statistics nor have we attempted to explain inconsistencies. In many instances, we included papers and arguments with which we strongly disagree. The supreme goal for us is a rational dialogue not ideological purity or consistency.

Those wishing to pursue that dialogue further might look into other recent publications and releases from the Foundation. These include the more highly structured companion book also prepared for release at the time of the 1990 conference: Drug Prohibition and the Conscience of Nations; the Foundation's two newsletters, The Drug Policy Letter and Drug Policy Action; and the new television series, "America's Drug Forum." That series is being shown on public broadcasting and cable stations around the country; video tapes are also available directly from the Foundation. Teachers and trainers may well find that the printed publications and the videotapes work well together as the basis for courses in which debate on all sides of the drug issue plays a prominent role.

Even though we are directly involved in leading the work of the Foundation, we often marvel at the quality and quantity of the work product that comes from it during such short time spans. This is very much due to the fact that we have been so fortunate in being able to attract superb young staff who work at levels beyond normal expectations. In the case of this volume we wish particularly to salute Lynne A. Hall who took the lead role in assisting us in organizing both the conference and the papers. During the last few weeks of preparation, she seems to have been bolted to a Macintosh computer night and day. Hooked in across the room was Kennington Wall lending his computer expertise. We also wish to thank Rachel Donaldson and Anne Noble for their able assistance in preparing this volume.

Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese

Washington, District of Columbia October 1990

 

Our valuable member Arnold Trebach has been with us since Monday, 20 December 2010.

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