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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #115, 11/5/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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WEBCAST: The First Student Leaders in Drug Policy: National Conference, Nov. 5-6 (today and tomorrow), will be webcast live, *if* the technical arrangement works. (We think it will, but we have never done this before and didn't have the opportunity to do testing.) Check out to watch the action!


  1. Medical Marijuana Wins Again! Maine Becomes 7th State to Shield Patients from Arrest
  2. Justice Department Asks Appeals Court for Rehearing on Medical Marijuana Defense
  3. Latin Leaders Call Drug War a Failure
  4. Citizens Protest Drug Czars' Conference
  5. Observations on ONDCP's Response to the Open Letter
  6. District of Columbia Syringe Exchange Language Holds Up Appropriations Bill
  7. Australia: Vatican KO's Nuns' Safe-Injecting Room Plan, but University Saves the Day
  8. McWilliams and McCormick Trials Beginning This Month
  9. Temporary Job Opportunity in Washington
  10. Guest Editorial: Why Is There a War in Colombia? Look to the Streets of Washington, DC

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1. Medical Marijuana Wins Again! Maine Becomes 7th State to Shield Patients from Arrest

On Tuesday (11/2), voters in Maine came out in force to say "Yes" to Question Two, a ballot measure that will protect certain patients who use marijuana medicinally from prosecution under the state's drug laws. Question Two was approved by 61%, with voter turnout at 45% -- ten percent more than election officials said they expected to see at the polls.

"We felt likely to win, but support for Question Two went up even more over the last ten days before the election," Craig Brown, a spokesman for Mainers for Medical Rights, the group that sponsored the measure, told The Week Online. Brown credited Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion, who announced his support for the measure at a press conference two weeks ago, with the last minute boost.

By deciding in favor of Question Two, Mainers went against the advice of the state's medical association, which had aggressively opposed the measure, as well as most of the local media. Out of eighteen major papers around the state, three editorial boards were in favor of the measure, but fifteen urged voters to reject it.

Brown said that the greatest criticism against the measure came from those who said it was poorly written because it does not address distribution. The wording of Question Two allows patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess as much as 1 1/4 ounces of marijuana, and as many as six plants, as long as only three are mature. But another provision protects caregivers from prosecution as well, raising the issue of buyers' clubs and other details that are still being ironed out in other states that have passed similar laws. "We told them Question Two is the first step," Brown said. "And now that it has passed, we're saying, okay, let's get to work right away on creating a distribution system."

Some of those who had opposed the measure seem to be rising to that challenge. Already, Brown said, Maine Governor Angus King has indicated that he may ask state Attorney General Andrew Ketterer to appoint a task force to work out the details of a distribution plan. Ketterer, who has said he thinks the law as written will have little impact on law enforcement, told the Portland Press Herald yesterday that he would be happy to serve on such a task force, and also said he would oppose attempts to overturn the law.

Although no one else has been named as a potential candidate for the task force, Brown said at least one group might be left out. "The executive director of the Maine Medical Association said on the radio this week that he had no interest in being included," Brown said. "He said that if the Feds aren't at the table, he thinks it's a waste of time."

Maine is the seventh state in which voters have approved the medical use of marijuana. California and Arizona passed such laws in 1996, and Alaska, Washington, Nevada and Oregon followed suit last year. Voters in the District of Columbia also approved a medical marijuana initiative in November of 1998, but Congress forbade election officials from releasing results of the vote until this September, and placed a provision voiding the law in the current appropriations bill.

Mainers for Medical Rights is online at The site includes the full text of Question Two.

2. Justice Department Asks Appeals Court for Rehearing on Medical Marijuana Defense

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) last week asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider last month's ruling in which it instructed a trial court to re-think its order that closed down several medical marijuana clubs in California. The trial judge had initially rejected a medical necessity defense, but the appeals court indicated that such a defense may in fact be available to the clubs.

The DOJ's request comes despite a request from California Attorney General Bill Lockyer that the agency refrain from asking for a rehearing on the issue.

Federal prosecutors have steadfastly argued that there can be no medical necessity to use marijuana because Congress has declared that marijuana has no medicinal value. But the 9th circuit disagreed, saying the federal government had presented no facts to contradict "evidence that cannabis is the only effective treatment for a large group of seriously ill individuals."

The case in question is a civil suit brought by the Justice Department against six Northern California clubs. The complaint alleges that federal law trumps California's state law regarding the medicinal use of marijuana.

A spokesman for Lockyer's office told The Week Online that although they are disappointed in DOJ's action, their office has no plans to involve itself in the case in any way.

DOJ did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

3. Latin Leaders Call Drug War a Failure

This Wednesday (11/3), an open letter to the drug czars of the Western Hemispheres was released, calling on policy makers to "admit that after two decades the U.S. war on drugs -- both in Latin America and in the United States -- is a failure." The letter, which was signed by former presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, a former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Harry Belafonte, among others, was presented at a well attended press conference in Washington, DC this morning, aired on C-Span and covered by the Associated Press as well as numerous Latin American media.

The letter, and drug czars summit to which it was addressed, come at a time when U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey is lobbying a hawkish Congress to pour more billions of dollars in the Andean drug war quagmire, including major new funding to the Colombian military, an institution which has been tied to massacres and other human rights abuses and which is embroiled in a protracted, unpopular civil war.

The press conference was organized by the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, with organizations including the Washington Office on Latin America and Institute for Policy Studies.

Robert White, former ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay and President of the Center for International Policy, responded to drug czar McCaffrey and Congress' casting of the Colombia issue in terms of "narcoguerrillas," saying, "The idea that you can target one group of people, in this case the guerrillas, and say that they are responsible, is naive and self-serving."

Michael Gelacek, former vice-chairman of the United States Sentencing Commission, offered words of caution for the drug policy officials gathered in Washington: "If you say we're winning the war on drugs, you're doing yourself and your citizens a tremendous disservice. We lost the war on drugs a long time ago," adding, "You're going to have to deal with the consequences of our policies, if you adopt them."

Rev. Bernard Keels, of the United Methodist Church in Baltimore, said, "The crisis of drug abuse needs real material solutions in America's cities... and a spiritual confrontation that does not attempt to blame others -- such as peasants in South America -- for our failings as individuals and as a society."

The final speakers may have been the most dramatic. Leonilda Vurita Vargas and Margarita Terun Gonzales, representatives of the coca growers union in the Chapare region of Bolivia, described the tragic consequences of drug war militarization and eradication programs on their community. Since April, said Vargas, 13 of them have been killed, including one small child who died from inhaling gases. The forces that are supposed to only eradicate coca have burned down 15 of their houses, as well as 8 hectares of pineapple, one of the alternative crops to coca. Vargas explained that while Bolivian officials come to the United States and claim to be making crop substitution work, it hasn't worked because they have no markets for the alternative crops.

Speaking at the drug czars summit, Pino Arlacchi, Director of the United Nations Drug Control Program, predicted drug production in Latin America will end in five years -- despite an increase Caribbean drug trafficking in the Caribbean and an estimated 15% increase in cocaine production in Colombia this year (see Arlacchi's chosen them at last year's UN Drug Summit was similarly utopian: "Drug Free in Ten -- We Can Do It!"

In related news, Human Rights Watch reported on Wednesday that two soldiers whom government investigators say murdered a Colombian senator in 1994 remain on the army payroll, despite overwhelming evidence against them.

The text of the open letter follows:

A Message to the Hemisphere's Drug Policy Makers:

As you meet to develop a hemispheric drug strategy, it is time to admit that after two decades the U.S. war on drugs -- both in Latin America and in the United States -- is a failure. Despite a 17-fold increase in U.S. drug war spending since 1980, record seizures, arrests, and incarcerations at home, and destruction abroad of hundreds of drug labs and coca and poppy crops, today in the U.S., illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and more easily available than two decades ago.

Under the banner of fighting drugs, U.S. military aid to Colombia has skyrocketed: today Colombia is by far the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the hemisphere -- and the third largest in the world after Israel and Egypt. Yet, over the last decade, total drug production in Colombia has risen 260 percent. The escalation of a militarized drug war in Colombia and elsewhere in the Americas threatens regional stability, undermines efforts towards demilitarization and democracy, and has put U.S. arms and money into the hands of corrupt officials and military, police and intelligence units involved in human rights abuses.

Before escalating the war on drugs even further, an honest evaluation of the strategy is needed. Drug problems have not been solved because the approach taken -- prohibition enforced by a militarized drug war -- is fundamentally flawed:

  • U.S. drug policy disproportionately targets peasant farmers and fails to address the poverty and inequality, widespread throughout the Americas, which are at the root of drug cultivation.
  • The U.N. estimates that at least 75% of international drug shipments would need to be intercepted to substantially reduce the profitability of drug trafficking. Yet interdiction efforts intercept only 10-15% of the heroin and 30% of the cocaine, according to the most optimistic estimates.
  • Continued demand in the U.S. ensures that even if drug cultivation, processing and shipment are controlled in one area, they emerge in another.
  • U.S. prisons are overflowing with more than 400,000 drug offenders. The vast majority of those behind bars are low level dealers; for example, only 5 percent of those jailed for crack are high level dealers.
  • Current drug strategy can never work given the magnitude of profits from illicit drugs -- according to the U.S. government $57 billion annually in the U.S. alone. According to the United Nations, drug trafficking is a $400 billion per year industry, equaling 8% of the world's trade.
  • Has the policy of doing more of the same produced a better result? Clearly the answer is no.

    The problem is not insufficient funds, firepower or prisons. Rather, a totally new approach is needed. To be effective, U.S. drug control strategy must shift from militarized eradication and interdiction in Latin America and a law-enforcement dominated approach at home. As you meet to discuss the future direction of drug control, we urge you to consider the following points:

  • When it comes to reducing cocaine consumption, drug treatment is 7 times more cost effective than domestic law enforcement, 10 times more effective than interdiction and 23 times more effective than eradication, according to a RAND Corporation study.
  • Expanding the U.S. drug war to other countries will merely further expand the failure of drug control throughout the hemisphere while escalating killings and environmental destruction.
  • Emphasis should be placed on public health, economic development, protecting human rights and pragmatic approaches to reducing drug-related problems.
  • A long-term solution to the drug market needs to be developed by engaging in a dialogue with the countries and non-governmental organizations in this hemisphere that examines all options to the drug war.
  • Signed:
  • Antonio Aranibar, Former Foreign Minister of Bolivia
  • Oscar Arias, Former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Harry Belafonte, Entertainer and Activist
  • Belisario Betancur, Former President of Colombia
  • Jorge Castaneda, Professor of Politics, New York University
  • Violeta Chamorro, Former President of Nicaragua
  • Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Shirley Fingerhood, Former Justice of the New York State Supreme Court
  • James P. Gray, Judge of the Superior Court, Orange County, California
  • Dr. Howard Hiatt, Former Dean, Harvard School of Public Health
  • Cruz Reynoso, Former Justice of the California State Supreme Court
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer and Politician
  • Robert E. White, President, Center for International Policy (former Ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay)

  • 4. Citizens Protest Drug Czars' Conference

    Wednesday's press conference was followed by a demonstration Thursday evening, organized by the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. An estimated 185 protesters came out on a chilly evening to stand outside the Omni Shoreham hotel, site of the Western Hemisphere Drug Czars' Conference, and voice opposition to America's drug war. The conference was the latest in a series of efforts by U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to build international consensus behind the United States government's prohibitionist vision. Last week, McCaffrey visited Britain, where protesters and a critical press greeted him, and where, apparently, he and his entourage ruffled the feathers of government officials whose idea of an effective drug policy is more holistic and less militaristic than McCaffrey's.

    Thursday's protest attracted an impressively broad cross-section of dissent. Some came to protest growing U.S. military involvement in Colombia. Others were concerned with the U.S. incarceration rate, which stands at nearly 500 per 100,000, nearly five times higher than the closest Western democratic competitors, or with the incarceration rate for African-American males, which is more than 7,000 per 100,000. Still others came to voice their disapproval of federal policy that mandates the arrest and conviction of cancer, AIDS and other patients who choose to use cannabis medicinally. College students, in town for the first National Conference of Student Leaders in Drug Policy and Justice, came to protest a new U.S. policy of stripping financial aid eligibility for even the most minor drug conviction. Others were there to express opposition to prohibition as a whole.

    The protest began at 5:30 with a series of speakers, including Reverend Roger Butts, Chaplain, The American University, Washington, D.C., Cristina Espinel-Roberts, Co-Chair, Colombia Human Rights Committee, Lisa Haugaard, Legislative Coordinator, Latin American Working Group, Marilyn Hoosen, President, Howard University Student Association, Washington, D.C., Kris Lotlikar, DRCNet and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Chad Thevenot, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Sanho Tree, Institute for Policy Studies Drug Policy Project, and Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy. The protest ended with a silent candlelight vigil in memoriam to the victims of the drug war throughout the hemisphere.

    Many of the speakers were critical of what they believe to be dishonest rhetoric emanating from the drug war's chief spokesman, U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey; some of the signs carried by protesters read "McCzar: Millions of Lies Served." Thevenot, who praised the protesters as the leading edge of an unstoppable movement for truth and justice, told The Week Online that he was particularly incensed over McCaffrey's repeated claim that U.S. drug policy is not a "war," while simultaneously fighting for more military aid to Colombia. "We'll stop calling it a war" said Thevenot, "when they stop pointing guns at people."

    5. Observations on ONDCP's Response to the Open Letter

    David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

    Bob Weiner, communications director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was quoted in the Associated Press coverage of the open letter, saying "What they are protesting is exactly what we have been doing, so we find the protest somewhat disingenuous... If they look at our national strategy, Goal #1 is to educate and enable young people to reject illegal drugs."

    Looking at the actual federal drug budget, however, it is not clear what Weiner means by "Goal #1." Only 14% of ONDCP's of the FY1999 federal drug budget is allocated to education and prevention, while 49% goes to domestic law enforcement. Prevention and treatment combined make up only 33%, while supply side programs -- domestic and international -- take up 67%, more than twice as much.

    I spoke with Mr. Weiner, who insisted adamantly that educating youth is in fact "goal #1" of the strategy. When I asked what percentage prevention and education make up of the budget, he said "you can't really do a scoring, because even when you do prevention and education in prisons, it still counts as law enforcement." Maybe so, but the idea that prevention and drug education make up a major fraction of incarceration costs seems preposterous, even with the advent of drug courts, as Weiner brought up. Presumably ONDCP has the resources and data to be able to provide a new estimate of the resource allocations, if they believe that the current method of categorization is invalid; but Weiner absolutely refused to provide any percentages.

    Weiner pointed out that there was a 13% drop in youth drug use last year, which he credited to ONDCP's massive national ad campaign. The 1998 National Household Survey did show a drop in youth age 12-17 reporting past-month use of any illicit drug. But whether it can be called a 13% drop depends on how that percentage is defined. To be more precise, the *percentage* of 12-17 year olds is what dropped 13% -- from 11.4% to 9.9%. Thus, Weiner's "13% drop" could also be described, perhaps more revealingly, as a 1.5% drop. Weiner also failed to note that last year's drop is a mere half of the increase of the year before, and that the two years before that also saw a rise and drop in youth drug use.

    Finally, Weiner said that director McCaffrey "regularly makes the point that we have got to increase the prevention funds, so that the strategy matches the budget" -- an implicit admission that prevention is not truly "goal #1" in practice. But a look at ONDCP's requested prevention budget for FY2000 again paints a different picture -- a mere $19.6 million increase in a budget of nearly $18 billion, an increase of only 0.8% over this year's prevention budget.

    As far as we can tell, there is only one sense in which educating youth is "goal #1" of the National Drug Control Strategy: On page nine of the Strategy, there is a numbered list of five goals, and reducing youth drug use is listed first. Bottom line: for ONDCP to call the letter "disingenuous" is the real disingenuousness.

    (To read the National Drug Control Stategy, visit, click on publications and look up "National Drug Control Strategy.")

    6. District of Columbia Syringe Exchange Language Holds Up Appropriations Bill

    A compromise version of the Washington, DC Appropriations Bill, which would have allowed clinics to run privately funded syringe exchange programs without losing federal funding was approved by a House-Senate conference committee earlier this week, but that compromise appears to be dead. President Clinton vetoed that bill for unrelated reasons. Yesterday (11/3), the House passed new syringe exchange language that would extend the status quo of the past year, which forbids any payment of public funds to any "individual or entity" that practices exchange. This morning (11/4), President Clinton vowed to veto the appropriations bill (H.R. 3194) once again, this time in opposition to the restrictive exchange provision.

    In indicating that the President would veto the newest version of the bill, administration officials told the Washington Post that the syringe exchange language "undercuts the progress that has been made" in that area. The current bill is the fifth version of the current appropriations measure.

    The bill would also overturn the District's medicinal marijuana initiative, approved by voters in November '98 by a margin of 69-31%.

    In practical terms, the syringe exchange language is aimed at the Whitman-Walker clinic, a comprehensive health services organization, which ran the city's only exchange program until last year. For the past twelve months, syringe exchange in the District has been carried out by Prevention Works!, a small, privately-funded entity. Prevention Works! was established in the wake of last year's appropriations bill, and is funded in part by the Drug Policy Foundation.

    Michael Cover, a spokesman for the Whitman Walker Clinic, told The Week Online that the institution is prepared to offer syringe exchange programs to the extent allowable by law. "We would, of course coordinate that (syringe exchange) with what Prevention Works! is doing, but if allowable, we plan to insure that these services are available to those who need them in the District."

    In addition to taking dirty syringes out of circulation and providing clean equipment to IV drug users to stem the spread of AIDS/HIV and Hepatitis, exchange programs present a gateway to health care and drug treatment for addicts who are otherwise driven underground by the threat of arrest.

    "The main goals of syringe exchange," Cover told The Week Online, "are, number one, to keep people alive and get them access to appropriate drug treatment. Number two, to provide them with access to health care, including, if necessary, medical treatment for HIV and AIDS."

    But many lawmakers see syringe exchange as a threat to the principles of zero-tolerance drug policies.

    Representative James Istook (R-OK) took to the floor of the House on Wednesday to skewer the idea of public funding for any institution that practices syringe exchange. Citing laws against possession of drug paraphernalia and his view that the provision of clean syringes enables people to use drugs, Istook said that Congress has a moral responsibility not to allow the "intermingling" of public funds with monies to be used for exchange.

    7. Australia: Vatican KO's Nuns' Safe-Injecting Room Plan, but University Saves the Day

    It was a tense week for Australian drug policy. Last Wednesday (10/27), the Vatican issued a directive to the Sisters of Charity in Sydney, Australia, ordering them to abandon their plans to run a state-sponsored trial safe-injecting room in the city's Kings Cross neighborhood. The project, which was to be up and running by the end of this year, had been the culmination of years of effort by public health officials and state legislators. But on Monday, the University of New South Wales stepped in to announce it would take over responsibility for the project.

    In a vote Sydney papers called "unprecedented," the university council unanimously approved a resolution to support the project, and vowed to devote its own research and medical resources to the clinical trial.

    "The Council of the University of NSW resolves that the university indicate to the NSW Government and the minister, the Honourable John Della Bosca, its support for the 18-month trial of a medically supervised injecting service, and offer its own services so that this harm-minimisation program, affecting the welfare of the vulnerable people of NSW and Australia, can proceed with the full confidence of the Government and the community," the resolution read in part.

    The resolution will be presented to the state government. Its signatories include the council, whose 21 members include two parliamentary representatives as well as the chancellor, vice-chancellor and several faculty members of the university, and a broad selection of leaders from Sydney's medical and public health community.

    8. McWilliams and McCormick Trials Beginning This Month

    The trials of medical marijuana advocates Peter McWilliams and Todd McCormick in federal court are set to begin later this month. Visit for extensive information on this case, including background, trial location and tentative schedules.

    9. Temporary Job Opportunity in Washington

    The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has an immediate opening for temporary, full-time employment for the month of November, with the possibility of a permanent position to follow. The job is located in the Capitol Hill area of Washington, DC, and responsibilities will include:

    (1) Calling and following up with the relevant staff members in the 90 most supportive House offices on Capitol Hill for a specific project that will conclude on December 1; and

    (2) E-mailing and tabulating responses from hundreds of state legislators nationwide; this project will also conclude on December 1.

    To apply, fax your resume to (202) 232-0442 or e-mail it to [email protected]. MPP is not accepting telephone applications or inquiries. Also, e-mail the above address if you are interested in internship or volunteer opportunities.

    10. Guest Editorial: Why Is There a War in Colombia? Look to the Streets of Washington, DC

    Mike Tidwell

    U.S. drug policies in South America and on the streets of U.S. cities like Washington, DC -- where I work as a drug counselor -- are contributing directly to the bloody narco-guerrilla war now escalating in Colombia. In a very real way, the United States is arming both sides in the Colombian war while simultaneously encouraging a rate of addiction to crack and heroin in the United States that makes the Colombian war inevitable.

    That's certainly my observation after ten years working with homeless crack and heroin addicts in the nation's capital -- and simultaneously tracking U.S. efforts to attack the source of the drugs my clients consume. So I take special interest in this week's first-ever Washington summit of drug czars from throughout the Western hemisphere, a focus of which will be the Colombian conflict. Yet it's doubtful the visiting czars, from countries as far away as Peru and as close as the Bahamas, each dependent on millions of dollars of U.S. anti-narcotics aid, will admit the fully hemispheric failure of U.S. drug policies. American drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, hosting the summit at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel not far from where many of my clients cop their drugs in open-air markets, will emphasize the need for continuing military aid to the Colombian government, according to his press office.

    That, in my opinion, would be a huge mistake.

    In recent years, the United States has succeeded in temporarily shutting down coca cultivation in Bolivia and Peru. But as demand for cocaine remains high among the addicts I work with and others across the United States, cultivation has simply shifted to Colombia, with prices climbing thanks to the reduction in neighboring supply. This has poured millions of additional dollars into the pockets of Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the FARC, which largely controls the drug trade there. With increased funds, the rebels are coming closer and closer to toppling the Colombian government. To prevent this, the U.S. now provides, annually, almost $300 million in anti-drug assistance to the government, including more than 200 U.S. military advisors and intelligence specialists and reconnaissance equipment like the U.S. spy plane that crashed in Colombia in July.

    Our policy, then, is to further militarize the Colombian government in order to combat rebel operations which are expanding as a direct result of our anti-narcotics policies. We're arming both sides.

    Now, switch to the streets of DC. The same policy phenomena tearing South America apart play themselves out in only slightly different fashion here. I've seen this with my own eyes working in the drug-ridden DC neighborhoods of Columbia Heights and Petworth. The dealers at 14th and Park Road, to choose just one market, are local suppliers. They form a sort of miniature Peru, offering a product desired by users but deemed illegal and the target of enforcement by the U.S. government, in this case the police and their increasingly militarized special narcotics units.

    Targeting petty users and street dealers is the centerpiece of our national war on drugs, so DC enforcement units raid, badger, arrest and incarcerate the dealers at 14th and Park Road until the market collapses. But attacking local supply without addressing demand guarantees that drug markets and drug sales won't cease. They simply move to another block momentarily untargeted by police raids, say 13th and Randolph Streets. With more raids and arrests, this market too will collapse and move... again and again and again. It's a mobile supply base just like the one in South America -- Peru to Bolivia to Colombia -- made possible by unchanging demand.

    Unfortunately, relocation of the urban supply base frequently means a drug market enters a previously unaffected neighborhood, bringing with it all the attendant violence and mayhem of the drug trade. As part of the process, the new market, by its sheer, dominating presence, lures into the drug trade people on the new block who otherwise would never have gotten involved. It also promotes addiction, hyperexposing young people to crack as they suddenly face five dealers on their way to the bus stop. The bottom-line result of our policies: Virtually every inner-city DC neighborhood is guaranteed, sooner or later, to have a drug market on its sidewalks, just as every Andean nation seems destined, sooner or later, like it or not, to be the hemisphere's primary coca producer. Ecuador and Venezuela now wait terrified as American-supplied planes spray pesticides on Colombia's newly productive coca fields.

    In DC, as in South America, our policies also force both sides to arm themselves to the teeth. Dents in supply, in Colombia or in DC's Columbia Heights neighborhood, raise the street value of crack and heroin, guaranteeing not only that someone new will always respond to the market incentive to sell, but that street dealers in DC will arm themselves to protect the handsome pile of cash only they can secure against the police and the lawless thieves of the drug subculture. With lucrative profits from narcotics sales, sophisticated and powerful weapons are readily affordable.

    In response to increasingly armed dealers, we further arm and militarize our city police forces. Fully 90 percent of all U.S. cities above 50,000 people now maintain and deploy paramilitary drug units armed with such weapons as Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns and people-detecting heat sensors. The number of cities with paramilitary units has increased ten-fold since the arrival of crack in the mid 1980s. Simply put, we are now arming our city governments the same way we arm the Colombian government, often with similar U.S. Army-issue night vision equipment, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters.

    In the end, drug demand is the fundamental issue from which all other ills evolve, from the thug shootings ten blocks from the White House to the kidnappings and mass executions in the Colombian Putamayo jungles. Yet political apathy and neglect mean that drug treatment programs in America accommodate only about 50 percent of hard-core users, and treatment is available to just one in ten prison inmates who need it. The District's treatment budget, meanwhile, dropped 37 percent between 1993 and 1998, and about 1200 people are on the city's waiting list for methadone maintenance.

    Unless and until we address demand at home, we will continue to do much more harm than good in the war on drugs, following a national policy of avoiding reality by blaming all our troubles on nonviolent drug addicts in our midst and peasant coca growers three thousand miles away.

    (Mike Tidwell is a contributing writer at the Liberty Project in Washington, DC ( and the author of the book, In the Shadow of the White House. This article appeared 11/3/99 in the Christian Science Monitor and is included in The Week Online courtesy of the author.)

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