David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 5/3/02
One of the pillars propping up support for drug prohibition is the appearance that legalization is almost universally opposed, a scenario called for only by some on the fringe, or an impossible goal regardless of its support, and therefore not worth devoting serious consideration or discussion.
But as New Mexico's Republican governor, Gary Johnson, has pointed out, support for the drug war is a mile wide but an inch deep. The flaws in our prohibitionist drug policy are so stark, and so fundamental, that it is not hard to get people to begin to rethink their assumptions. For all the criticism Gov. Johnson received when he first came out publicly for legalization, some minds were opened as a result of his efforts.
They were not always the loudest voices. But repeal of drug prohibition suddenly became, to many who had previously regarded legalization dismissively, an option within the realm of the public debate. That doesn't mean they were all convinced. But they began to think about it; they became a little more receptive to the idea, a little more willing to think through some of the arguments. The same can be said for former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, respected publications like National Review and The Economist, many others.
During the past several days, two former "drug czar" types have returned to the public forum to add more fuel to the discussion. In an interview published last weekend by the London newspaper The Independent on Sunday, Mo Mowlam, who previously directed drug policy for the Tony Blair administration, called for legalization; the money in the drug trade, she said, is too powerful, and legalization is the only way to break the drugs-crime nexus.
The week before, in a speech delivered at the Colegio de Mexico, Colombia's former prosecutor general, Gustavo de Greiff, repeated his longstanding denunciation of the drug war. De Greiff had directed the operation that defeated the murderous drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose Medellin cartel had terrorized Colombia by assassinating literally hundreds of politicians, judges, candidates and others. But with the blood of Escobar and his victims still fresh in the public's mind, de Greiff proceeded to tell every audience he could, through US national television among other venues, that it wouldn't make any difference. The next drug cartel might be a little less confrontational than Escobar's organization, but they will produce just as much cocaine, and just as many people will buy it, said de Greiff.
Both Mowlam and de Greiff have taken the controversial, but logical and principled position that drug prohibition must be ended across the board, not only for soft drugs like marijuana. Such direct pronouncements make drug warriors terribly frightened that their rhetorical house of cards may be on the verge of collapse. Mowlam detractors have dismissed her as "daft." When former Secretary of State George Shultz was reported to have made similar remarks to Mowlam's, a spokesperson for the previous Bush administration claimed he was being "silly."
Worse, de Greiff opponents such as Sen. John Kerry and the US State and Justice Departments displayed brutal McCarthyism in their attacks on him when he began to speak out years ago; it literally reached the point where Colombian officials grew fearful of diplomatic and economic reprisals by the US government. That is the depth of the opposition to open debate on this issue of many, though fortunately not all, in the US political establishment that purports to stand for freedom and democracy.
The intellectual integrity of former European drug policy leaders like Mowlam and de Greiff stands in stark contrast to the performances of our own past and present drug czars. ONDCP directors from William Bennett to Lee Brown to Barry McCaffrey and now John Walters have indulged in an ongoing festival of propaganda and deceit. Each in their official capacity and continuing into private life have routinely distorted statistics, or even made them up entirely, in order to defend the most excessive outrages of prohibition, such as bans against medical marijuana and needle exchange.
Voices such as Mowlam's and de Greiff's are growing in strength and number, and will one day transform public opinion and change the world for the better. Though that rosy scenario may seem impossible, in fact the possibilities lie just beneath the surface. One only needs to know where to look. Truth ultimately defeats any evil empire, and the drug war is no exception.