"America: Love it or Leave it." It's the classic refrain sometimes heard from the mouths of our nation's less thoughtful patriots. Fortunately, most people know better than to pay attention to it. Democracy, after all, depends on the vigor of those who have criticisms to make and who do so out loud. Doing so doesn't mean that they don't love their country, and even those who don't should still be heard, if we do value democracy.

Leaving the country doesn't necessarily help, either. At a benefit recently in New York City, comedian Barry Crimmins said that he isn't leaving the United States because he doesn't want to be victimized by its foreign policies. Like most good comedy, Crimmins' comment is based on truth, in this case a sad truth. As a military and economic superpower, the presence of the United States is felt worldwide in many ways, for both good and evil.

Our government's reaction to growing calls for drug policy reform abroad is a stark example. The past few weeks have seen astonishing developments in the international dialogue on the issue. In Colombia, senators have introduced bills in the nation's congress calling for full drug legalization and permitting cultivation of coca, sparking a vigorous discussion in the media. At the same time, the National Assembly of States, led by Colombia's governors, has called for a serious, global legalization debate.

"America: Love it or Leave it." It's the classic refrain sometimes heard from the mouths of our nation's less thoughtful patriots. Fortunately, most people know better than to pay attention to it. Democracy, after all, depends on the vigor of those who have criticisms to make and who do so out loud. Doing so doesn't mean that they don't love their country, and even those who don't should still be heard, if we do value democracy.

Leaving the country doesn't necessarily help, either. At a benefit recently in New York City, comedian Barry Crimmins said that he isn't leaving the United States because he doesn't want to be victimized by its foreign policies. Like most good comedy, Crimmins' comment is based on truth, in this case a sad truth. As a military and economic superpower, the presence of the United States is felt worldwide in many ways, for both good and evil.

Our government's reaction to growing calls for drug policy reform abroad is a stark example. The past few weeks have seen astonishing developments in the international dialogue on the issue. In Colombia, senators have introduced bills in the nation's congress calling for full drug legalization and permitting cultivation of coca, sparking a vigorous discussion in the media. At the same time, the National Assembly of States, led by Colombia's governors, has called for a serious, global legalization debate.

The tone of the governors' comments indicated that they are less interested in debating whether to make drugs legal than in how best to do so; and a similar initiative came out of the Andean Parliament, which called on its members to take the legalization debate back to their own countries. In the Caribbean, meanwhile, Jamaica's National Ganja Commission has come out squarely in favor of marijuana decriminalization, and word is that the government is serious about doing something about it this time.

So what do US officials have to say about all of this?

US ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson issued a thinly veiled threat, saying that legalization would cause Colombia "problems with the international community." In Jamaica, an embassy spokesperson said that "[t]he US government will consider Jamaica's adherence to its commitments under the 1988 UN Drug Convention when making its determination under the annual narcotics certification review."

In other words, stop talking about legalization, or we'll ruin your economies.

This bullying is nothing new. Back in 1994, when Colombia's top prosecutor, Gustavo De Greiff, came out for legalization, the US Justice Department and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) launched extremely vicious attacks on him. The fact that De Greiff had just risked his life leading the Colombian government's operation against top drug lord Pablo Escobar bought him no slack. The implied threats were so severe that De Greiff turned down a speaking engagement at Harvard because he feared retaliation by the US government against his country if he accepted (http://www.drcnet.org/images/degreiff1.gif).

And the bullying isn't limited to our hemisphere. In 1995, the show "Four Corners" (Australia's equivalent of "60 Minutes" or "Nightline") reported the US government had covertly threatened the country if it went ahead with an intended heroin maintenance trial program (http://www.drcnet.org/guide1-96/meddling.html). The US at that time sat on the UN's International Narcotics Control Board, which has the power under treaty to shut down Australia's legal opiate industry, an important employer in the province of Tasmania. It was neither the first nor the last time that Australians have made such accusations, and heroin maintenance has yet to take place there despite extensive support and good results from such programs carried out elsewhere.

US officials have far less power with which to punish our European allies, but they still try to meddle. At the same conference from which our government frightened De Greiff away, Judge James P. Gray of California reported, that after visiting the Netherlands, that Dutch health officials identified two principal problems they have in dealing with drugs. One is that the country attracts users from around the European community and elsewhere, the cost of being an island of tolerance in a sea of repression. The other big problem for them is the United States, whose foreign officials just won't leave them alone!

The Dutch, at least, haven't been bullied, but have continued to go their own pragmatic way. Interviewed for a 1995 ABC News special, "America's War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions," a Netherlands health official commented, "We are a small country and have no illusion of changing your [the US] drug policy -- but perhaps you have the illusion of changing ours."

Still, our nation's drug war bullies manage to cause a lot of damage -- in the case of Netherlands, for example, by spreading outright lies about their drug policy and its results. A legalization debate manual published by the DEA went so far over the top that the Dutch foreign ministry actually filed a formal complaint with the US State Department. And it's quite possible that without pressure from the US, portions of Europe would actually have ended drug prohibition by now, at least in part.

Who will stop the big bully? In a democracy, that means the people; it is up to us to discipline our government for its misdeeds. Love it or leave it? No, I don't think so. How about, "change it"?

-- END --
Link to Drug War Facts
Please make a generous donation to support Drug War Chronicle in 2007!          

PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle (formerly The Week Online with DRCNet is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail drcnet@drcnet.org. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Issue #201, 8/31/01 Editorial: The Big Bully | Plan Colombia Sparks Legalization Groundswell as US Weighs Formal Intervention in Guerrilla War | Justice Department Reports One in 32 Americans Under Correctional Supervision | DRCNet Interview: Kenny "The Real" Kramer of Seinfeld Fame, Libertarian Candidate for Mayor of New York City | Fight For Your Right to Wave Glow Sticks: ACLU Wins Victory in New Orleans Rave Case | Germany Takes Next Step: Heroin Maintenance Trial to Start in February | Poll Finds Support for Marijuana Legalization at Record Level, Though Still a Minority View | US Drug Reformers Head to UN Racism Conference, Letter Asks Secretary General Annan to Put Drug War on Agenda | UN Conventions Need Not Pose Obstacle to Drug Law Reform, European Study Says | Canada's Conservative Fraser Institute Declares Drug War Lost | T-shirts for Victory! Special Offer and Appeal from DRCNet This Month | Action Alerts: Ecstasy Bill, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | HEA Campaign Still Seeking Student Victim Cases -- New York Metropolitan Area Especially Urgent | The Reformer's Calendar
Mail this article to a friend
Send us feedback on this article
This issue -- main page
This issue -- single-file printer version
Drug War Chronicle -- main page
Chronicle archives
Subscribe now!
Out from the Shadows HEA Drug Provision Drug War Chronicle Perry Fund DRCNet en EspaŮol Speakeasy Blogs About Us Home
Why Legalization? NJ Racial Profiling Archive Subscribe Donate DRCNet em PortuguÍs Latest News Drug Library Search
special friends links: SSDP - Flex Your Rights - IAL - Drug War Facts

StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)
1623 Connecticut Ave., NW, 3rd Floor, Washington DC 20009 Phone (202) 293-8340 Fax (202) 293-8344 drcnet@drcnet.org