DRCNet Activist Guide 9/94

Darkening shades of the Drug War

Lee Brown's Keynote Address | Judge Gray's Reply

On May 21, 1994, a host of experts assembled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School to debate and discuss the critical topic of drug policy. Crime, Drugs, Health & Prohibition II: The Great Harvard Drug Debate, featured U.S. Drug Czar Lee Brown, Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, Congressman Barney Frank, actor Michael Moriarty, and many others taking both sides of the legalization question.

In this issue, we spotlight Lee Brown's keynote address together with Judge James P. Gray's off-the-cuff, point-by-point reply. Future issues will include speeches by Judge Weinstein, Congressman Frank, and Professor Ethan Nadelmann.

Crime, Drugs, Health & Prohibition II was sponsored by the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, the Criminal Justice Institute of the Harvard Law School and the Ethical Society of Boston, and is dedicated to Bruce Pollak, a victim of the Drug War.

For information on audio, videotapes and transcripts of these important presentations, contact

Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
99 Chauncy Street
3rd floor
Boston, MA 02111

For the fascinating point-counterpoint between Dr. Brown and Judge Gray

Keynote Adreess of Dr. Lee Brown

Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy,
at the Crime, Drugs, Health & Prohibition II Conference
Harvard Law School, May 21, 1994

First of all, I want to express my appreciation to Ms. Lee for a very thoughtful introduction. She indeed is right. One of the reasons I'm here is because she was very persuasive. I told someone earlier this morning, she represents the ACLU very well in Washington, D.C., often to my chagrin. She's a very effective person at what she does and I have a great deal of respect for her ability to carry out the responsibilities of her position. I also want to express my appreciation for being able to speak behind the minister. I want to stay as close to our religious leadership as possible. That's extremely important because I need the help that they have to offer.

The question was asked: Do I mind being called the drug czar? I was in Baltimore recently at a town hall meeting, sponsored by the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. I took some answers and questions, after which I was called the drug kaiser. I guess I would prefer being called the drug czar over the drug kaiser. But I'm also very glad to be here in Cambridge. I had an affiliation with Harvard before taking my current job. I, for about five years, served as a research fellow at the Kennedy School Criminal Justice Program. I had the faculty even vote me in as a visiting professor. Then I got a call from President Clinton, so now I'm in Washington, D.C.

But let me, again, repeat the fact that I am very pleased to have been invited to talk to this conference on drug policy and drug policy reform and to have an audience whose members have serious questions about the direction of national policy, who are prepared to hear what we have to say about it. As I looked at those who are invited, I know that I'm speaking to many who sincerely believe that our country's drug policy must be radically changed. And to you, what I say here may not be convenient or particularly easy, but it must be said. I think that it's important that there be no misunderstanding about the direction of drug policy under the Clinton Administration.

I think we all can come to agreement on one thing, and that is the problem. And the problem is the use of drugs and the causes and consequences of drug use are serious, serious matters. They affect all of us. It's not a problem for big cities or small towns. It's not a problem for Democrats or Republicans. It's not a problem for blacks or whites. They are America's problems, they affect all of us. And to me and to the Clinton Administration, drug use is among the important domestic issues that our nation faces.

The use of illegal drugs is a very complex policy issue. It goes to the core of our behavior, our behavior as individuals, our behavior as families, as communities and indeed it goes to the core of our behavior as a nation. It has global implications. And those of us who grapple daily with the issue of illicit drug use and its consequences, who must see it in its many dimensions, know that if we are to be effective our responses must be thoughtful, they must be comprehensive, they must be balanced, they must be effective. And by comparison, some solutions that have been put forward to resolve the problem of drugs and crime and violence, seem remarkably simple and plausible. Until they are forced into the bright light of day. And that is what I want to talk about today: simple solutions, tough problems and difficult choices.

From time to time, one hears some remarkable, even bizarre assertions, by so-called drug experts, about the drug situation and what it is. The purported solutions then follow the mythology.

Let me outline for you, this afternoon, what I've come to call "The Eight Myths About Drugs." And these can be put in straightforward terms. The first myth is that everything is getting worse and nothing is getting better. It follows from that then that the so-called War on Drugs is a failure, that we should abandon it in favor of another approach. In fact, drug use data from the nation's households and secondary schools show substantial declines of overall drug use over the past decade. For example, in 1979, more than 22 million Americans used some illicit drug. By 1992, the number had dropped to 11.4 million. For example, past month cocaine use -- which peaked in 1985 at 8.6 million users, had dropped to 1.3 million users by 1992. And this was accompanied by a similarly dramatic decline in the use of cocaine by adolescents from the mid-1980's until 1992.

But make no mistake about it. Our country has a severe, troubling, continuing problem with the chronic, hard-core addicted drug user. We readily acknowledge this. Indeed, we want to make sure that this is broadly known. The nation's estimated 2.7 million chronic hard-core drug users are one of our most serious concerns. They cause the most damage to themselves, to their families and to their communities. Along with the problem of drug use by our nation's use, they are the most single important focus of our national drug control strategy.

Most troubling is the fact of recent indications that the use of drugs by secondary school children is increasing. Overall, the country -- not the government, not a particular administration -- but the country has experienced major declines in non-addictive casual use of illicit drugs. The number of users of any illicit drugs is today at the same level as it was in the early 1970's. Let us reason about this. Can this really be called "a failure?"

Now it's sometimes alleged that we can't trust what the government says. Two points. I have no reason to defend the policies of a past administration. In fact, the government does not collect the data. The Research Triangle Institute, an independent non-governmental organization, conducts the household survey. The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research conducts the survey of drug use in the nation's secondary schools.

The second myth is that current drug policy -- and one suspects any current drug policy -- is making things worse. This myth says that current drug policy does not address the real problems which are violence and HIV transmission. In fact, violence, accidents, loss of productivity, loss of employment, family breakdown and the degeneration of communities or others, all directly flow from drug use itself. As the number of users increases, these problems will multiply. Current drug policy directly addresses these issues through specific strategies to prevent new use, to effectively treat chronic hard-core drug users and to bring overwhelming force against the straight markets. Other domestic policies -- health, crime, for example, or our policies toward the homeless, economic or job development, education reform -- include important elements that address drugs. Drug policy is not constructed in this Administration in isolation from the broad stream of domestic policy making in general.

The third myth is that enforcement just adds to the problem. Drug enforcement and the application of the criminal justice should be given up in favor of harm reduction approaches. In fact, effective enforcement serves to reduce drug supply, drive up prices, reduce the number of users and decrease the effects of chronic hard-core drug use. And there is ample evidence to show an inverse relationship between the price of cocaine and the number of individuals seeking emergency room treatment. The criminal justice system, moreover, provides means to remand drug offenders to effective treatment.

A fourth myth is that there is massive support for policy change by social thinkers, policy level officials and the public at large. This includes broad support for legalization or the decriminalization of drug use. In fact, there is no massive support for legalization. A 1990 Gallup Poll showed that 80 percent of the American public thought that legalizing drugs was a bad idea. Only 14 percent thought that it was a good idea. Among American 12th graders surveyed, in the 1992-93 school year, 84 percent said that their friends would disapprove of their smoking marijuana regularly. 94 percent said that their friends would disapprove of their taking cocaine occasionally. Reflecting the views of the American public, there is no meaningful support, within Congress, for the legalization of illicit drugs. And, in fact, policy level officials who are directly responsible for the drug issue, beginning with the president, oppose legalization. I do too.

A fifth myth is that legalizing drugs or decriminalizing drug use would eliminate the illegal drug markets and the violence in our streets. I do not dispute that drug markets do, in fact, generate violence. But the way to deal with the markets and the associated violence is to dry up the pool of drug users through effective prevention and treatment and through the use of street enforcement as many communities throughout the country are struggling to do.

A sixth myth is that legalizing drugs will be free of costs. As this myth goes, there's nothing to suggest that legalizing drugs will increase drug use or its consequences. In fact, the suggestion that legalizing drugs will not increase drug use is a fantastic myth. Our own national experience with prohibition is indicative of what would happen if drug laws and drug enforcement were eliminated. Alcohol use data from the 1930's shows clearly that the repeal of The Volstead Act resulted in an immediate, sustained rise in the use of alcohol to levels higher than those that existed prior to prohibition. We believe that the repeal of drug control laws would likewise result in an immediate, sustained rise in the use of drugs and a concomitant rise in the casualties of the use of drugs.

Another, seventh myth, is that there are excellent foreign models to show that decriminalization works: The Netherlands and the U.K. are two. This is another fantastic myth. One need only read the international press to realize the degree to which the Dutch have visited upon themselves misery from drug abuse by enacting drug laws that go unenforced and policies that encourage responsible use rather than discourage any use at all. The Dutch are pleased to say that they remain mostly unscathed by drug use by their own citizens. They could not say the same of the many thousands of foreign visitors who arrive to buy drugs, steal or panhandle to keep themselves using drugs and then ask the Dutch to treat them for addiction. And one only need to recall the disastrous experience of Great Britain when it permitted heroin to be distributed freely by physicians. According to the British Medical Journal, the number of heroin addicts in the U.K. doubled -- doubled every 16 months in the years between 1959 and 1968, when the experiment was terminated. The British law was changed to require supervision of the distribution by the clinics. At the same time, no one mentions Italy which remits heroin and other drugs to be used legally and where the number of heroin addicts -- some 350,000 by official estimates -- and the level of HIV prevalence among heroin addicts, some 70 percent, are higher than those of any other country in Western Europe. And I must ask why those who advocate drug policy reform are so quiet about the Italian model.

And then there's a final eighth myth. This one says that drug use is a personal matter and that it affects no one other than the user. There is no good thing to say about this. Given what we know about the effects of drugs, this is simply wrong. No one familiar with alcohol abuse would suggest that alcoholism affects only the user. And no one who works with the drug addicted would tell you that their use of drugs has not affected others, usually families and friends in the first instance.

Through this day you have heard a number of views about the so-called War on Drugs and what it supposedly does or does not do. Let me make a simple point: The war analogy is false. We in the Clinton Administration do not use this term to describe the long, difficult struggle to free Americans from the grip of use and addiction. We do not make war on the American people and we do not find useful a concept that implies a beginning and an end to this struggle with victory as an achievable short term goal. And no doubt it's helpful to some to use the war metaphor as a straw man. But the reality of drug use and the policies that must address the problem are very different. I suggest that it's time to recognize the reality rather than the mythology here, as well as with the other myths that I have mentioned.

Let me conclude with a few overall points. First, given the overwhelming number of Americans, what they want, and given what we have to do to address the terrible consequences of drug use, legalization is really a marginal issue. It does not get to the core of the problem. And seeking to satisfy the few, it subverts the best interests of the many. Purporting to provide a quick, simple, costless cure for crime and violence in America, it fails to suggest how more drug availability would not lead to more drug use and more devastating consequences. It does not deal with the essential business of responsible policy-making. How to provide effective prevention education for adolescents? How to make effective treatment available to our estimated 2.7 million chronic hard-core drug users? How to develop effective workplace strategies that reduce accidents, reduce employer's healthcare costs and improve productivity? How to ensure that the healthcare reform provides for those in need of treatment? And it does not deal with the essential business of bringing together health policy, social policy and criminal justice policy to improve society as a whole, of ensuring in short that our domestic policy is a fully and effectively integrated whole. This is the real story: the day in and day out blood and guts of policy making that deals directly with the very complex issues of human behavior. It recognizes that there are no simple solutions.

In 1917, the renowned American journalist and social observer, H.L. Mencklen, remarked "There is always an easy solution to every human problem: neat, plausible and wrong." To the overwhelming number of Americans, to the Clinton Administration, to the American Congress, to the American policy makers of this administration as well as prior administrations, to Americans involved with drug programs across the country, to Americans in drug blighted communities across the country -- legalization is exactly such a solution: Neat, plausible and wrong. Speaking for these Americans, and for this Administration, I can tell you that it is just not going to happen.

What we need to do is to get on with the business of reducing drug availability, preventing drug use, treating addicts, of restoring values to America's youth -- in short, of addressing some of the most basic and pressing issues of our country. So I invite those who seek policy reform to light a candle and stop cursing the dark. Come in out of the cold, work with us on these problems. Help us find realistic and meaningful solutions to drug use and its devastating effects on millions of our citizens. Let us get on with the serious business of drug policy together. Why? So our children can grow up with clear minds and bright futures and all of our citizens -- young and old -- can live free of fear and be able to reach their highest potential. So all American citizens can have what we all want: Family, community and work. Thank you. [Applause.]

Address of The Honorable James P. Gray Orange County Superior Court Judge, State of California, at the Crime, Drugs, Health & Prohibition II Conference Harvard Law School,
May 21, 1994

I don't always get such a nice introduction. Actually, it reminds me of one I received a little while ago -- which was a lot shorter -- and basically was along the lines of: "I know you all want to hear the latest dope from the courthouse, so here's Judge Gray". [Laughter.] But I am here speaking from my own personal standpoint with much appreciation of what has happened so far today as well as, I confess, a great deal of sorrow and some invigoration. I am appreciative of the Clinton Administration allowing Dr. Brown to come and share some thoughts with us. And I think that is very important and it's certainly clearly important to get and maintain a dialogue from all facets of this very multifaceted, difficult and complex problem.

I am truly filled with sorrow, however, that we were not able to engage in a dialogue with Dr. Brown. [applause.] He left -- he came here and spoke with us and he listed his thoughts -- which I would like to address in a moment -- and then regretfully was not able to stay and respond to, I think, some very legitimate questions. Because he listed eight myths, as he called them, and I believe that all eight are...easily rebutted. [Applause.] And so I am invigorated feeling the way I do -- a person who is in an elected position in Orange County -- again a fairly conservative area -- I'm up for election in 1996 and I'm ready for it. But I have heard lots of arguments. I have heard people say we should have debates and actually now, in my county, I'm having a great deal of difficulty finding anyone to come and take the alternative position. And in the last two years, I have not -- myself -- heard the alternative position expressed as eloquently as I heard it today. And so I am invigorated to believe that we're going to be successful, because that's the best they can do and there simply is a response to everything they bring up. [Applause.]

What is it? What is it that are these eight myths? Well, the first is, as you recall: Nothing is getting better -- and he says that is a myth. The problem with that is it's just the focus on the wrong area. He is right if he's talking about education, because we are making progress with regard to education. So it is a myth that nothing is getting better. The problem is the education is not married to [our] present system...which is, in effect, prisons. Whichever option we choose, everyone agrees we will continue to utilize education as a part of it.

He did not, however, ask the real question and that is: How many people here feel that we, in our beloved country, are in better shape today, with regard to this critical issue of drug use and abuse and all of the crime and misery that goes with it, than we were five years ago? How many people feel that way? I never get anybody raising their hands. We all know that we are not in better shape today. And if that's true -- and I fully believe that you will agree with me, that it's true -- we have no legitimate expectation of being in better shape next year than we are in today, unless we change our approach. So the correct question is: Are we in better shape today than we were five years ago? And had he asked that question, I think that we could have been on our way to a legitimate discussion.

Number two. He said [it was a myth] that current drug policy is making things worse...He then said we have to address violence and HIV areas, but he went on to talk about, very generally, families, less productivity, the community issues and the rest of that. Let's address those and talk about, for example, who the role models in today's society -- in our inner cities and probably everywhere else. And this can be addressed because the role models -- as I'm sure we all know -- are not people who work all day, go to school at night in order to attempt to better him or herself. The role models for our inner city youth, and probably everywhere else, are who? Are sellers of drugs. And that is something that is truly challenging and damaging our very fabric: our families, our employment, communities.

And if we are telling our people -- which we are, today -- you probably can do nothing in your life that will bring you as much money as you can get, by selling drugs, that is corruptive. It is simply undercutting our work ethic. It is undercutting our communities. These are the questions that we need to ask and not just the mundane, quickly once-over: "Let's talk about our families and crack babies". Because every crack baby that is born in the country today -- and there are lots of them -- are born under our present system. And we need to look at that as well. In fact, let's really look at prisons -- which is the issue in our society today. And what are we doing? The San Francisco Chronicle published an article on May 4, saying that we have 286 percent greater numbers of women in the California state prison system today than we did ten years ago. I am in the juvenile court now, in Orange County. I deal, on a daily basis, with children that are abused and neglected. About a quarter to 30 percent of these babies are there because their mothers are in prison. Every time we arrest a woman, 80 percent of those are either pregnant or have small children. So we are taking the children to the state. We are paying the money for that and we are disrupting the family. These are issues that we must address, and I don't hear people talking about that. It's time that we focus attention upon it.

Number three. The myth, supposedly, is that enforcement adds to the problem. Does enforcement add to the problem? Without a doubt. We are slitting our wrists. [Dr. Brown] says that enforcement is reducing the supply and drives up the price -- and he's absolutely right, and that is part of the problem. The problem here is not the drugs: It is the money. The problem is the gangsters that are caused by the fact that these drugs bring in such a great amount of money. So it's time to address that. And instead of issuing a decree, supposedly to repeal the law of supply and demand, have we focused upon the fact that the very worst thing that could happen in the United States of America is to have us all of a sudden successful in closing off our borders?

The very worst thing that could happen to our country would be to close off our borders and keep all of this opium out of our country. Why? The law of supply and demand. The demand will remain the same and if the demand is there it will be met. How will it be met? Anybody that has a high school chemistry education can, in his garage or bathroom, manufacturer illicit chemical drugs, Ice and all of these other synthetic drugs that go along with it. And then we have no quality control whatsoever and will really be in trouble.

Has anybody ever seen a person who took one dose of a bad batch of synthetic drugs? It does enormous damage. The lucky ones die. These are the problems that we will visit upon ourselves. Every time we're successful in seizing another ton of cocaine, we raise the price and directly result in more burglaries, more purse snatchings, more damage to our society. And so, yes, in my view, the problem is not the police. The problem is the system. The system is not working, it's time to recognize it and look at our options.

Number four was: There was not massive support for change. It depends how you ask the question. He says that the Gallup Poll says -- and I'll take it at face value -- 80 percent of the people are not in favor of the legalization of drugs. There is a group in Orange County, they're called the Drug Use is Life Abuse -- very overstated, by the way. There's a lot of caffeine on this table here and that's being used -- I don't believe I am abusing my life to drink iced tea. But this group is out there, passing out polls. And two years ago, they came out with a poll asking just that: How many of you people feel that legalizing drugs is a good or not a good idea? 80 percent of the people said: No, legalizing drugs is not a good idea. We in Orange County, however, are discussing this issue. I'm speaking with Kiwanis clubs and all of the rest; and so are lots of other people discussing the area. One year after [the first poll], 63 percent of the people said: No, legalization of drugs is not a good idea. We made a 17 percent gain in public opinion in one year. If we were to pass that poll now, we'd be in the majority, with the same type of gain.

It's time that we address this and discuss it. And endemic in that, critically and fundamentally important -- is that we get across to our fellow citizens: It's OK to talk about this issue. Just because we discuss our options does not mean that we condone drug usage. If we can get that message alone across, we will have been successful, because everything else will fall. If we can only convince our people that just because we're discussing this issue, just because we would even employ a different option, does not mean that we condone drug abuse -- we will be successful. That's all we need to do.

Number five. Legalizing or decriminalizing drugs will eliminate violence -- and he says this is a myth. Of course it's a myth. It is a straw man. We will never be able to get rid of violence in our society. We have always had it, we always will. We will always have crime, certainly. We will always have drug abuse, certainly. But [Prohibition] contributes mightily to violence in our society. Are you aware, as Ethan Nadelmann will tell us: After the repeal of alcohol prohibition, what happened to violent crime in our society? It went down 65 percent in the next year and continued to go down for every year thereafter until the beginning of the Second World War. I am convinced the same thing will happen in our country, once we come to our senses and employ a different system. [Applause.]

Then, another straw man myth. Legalizing is free of costs. Of course not. Any system that we employ will have its problems. Any system that I can come up with -- you, we as a country can come up with -- will have some problems. Holland has realized that, and other harm reduction countries. They realize these drugs are harmful. I certainly believe that heroin, cocaine and marijuana are dangerous drugs. I believe that very strongly. I don't take them and I never will, regardless of what we do. But let's try to recognize that and reduce, minimize the harm that will necessarily flow from this. But let's not stand quiet when someone presents a straw man saying: "Aw, you're still going to have problems under your system". Because of course we are -- let's try to minimize those problems instead of simply setting up straw men.

Number seven? There are excellent foreign models -- and he called that a myth. Well, he mentions in Holland a problem with foreigners -- and he's right. At the last Drug Policy Foundation conference, a year ago last November, there were two men from the [Dutch] Ministry of Health who I cornered -- because I wanted to educate myself about the system that Holland is using -- and I said, after they explained to me their system -- which I was enormously impressed with -- I asked them: "What are the two biggest problems you have in Holland today?" They looked at me and said: "Number one is we are a small country, [and] about a third of the people that use drugs in Holland are foreigners. They come here to have a good time and we don't know what to do about it". [H]owever, to equate that with our country -- so much larger -- is simply silly. We will not have that problem if we were to go to a system like Holland's. By the way, the second largest problem they had really embarrassed me deeply. They'll embarrass you too. He looked me in the eye and said: "The second biggest problem we have is the government of the United States of America -- they will not leave us alone!" What difference does it make to us how Holland addresses this enormous problem domestically in their own internal affairs? We are heavy handed and we ought to behave ourselves. [Applause.] To be honest with you, I don't know what is happening in Italy today. And if anyone does, maybe we can all help each other. I do know that Italy changes -- it depends what time it is as to which system they have. But it's difficult to get statistics. But I think that that is something that we should educate ourselves about and try to help each other...

The eighth personal myth is that this is just a personal matter. Do I need to respond? Yes, it is a personal matter and if the government is going to eliminate everything that is wrong and harmful in our society, as we heard this morning, they will eliminate power tools, they certainly should eliminate donuts -- a very, very harmful substance -- and we can continue going on. Obviously, mother's milk is a gateway drug and there we go. [Laughter.]

So what we need to ask is: Are prisons a myth? We in the State of California have indeed added 13 new state prisons to our state prison system in the last ten years, reaching now to the number of 28. We have 13 more on the drawing boards, ten of [will have] their doors open by the turn of the century. Today one out of every six people that work today for the state of California, work for the Department of Corrections. It is a growing industry. An accountant came up to me a little while ago and said: "You know, if we continue going forward in the future -- as we have in the last twenty years in the state of California -- by the year 2020, literally everybody in the state of California will literally be in prison or running one." And he is absolutely right.

Finally, as we say, it is time to investigate the possibility of change. Mike mentioned the Hoover Resolution, which was founded back in February of last year by such flaming radicals as Milton Friedman, George Schultz, Joe McNamara -- the former police chief of San Jose -- numbers of medical doctors, an Oakland high school principal and others. The resolution says what I believe is irrefutable. Namely, what we're doing today under the criminal justice system is not working. We have substantial medical and social problems presented by the drug abuse in our society. It is time to address them with medical and social solutions. We beseech our president and congress to have, to empower one final neutral commission to investigate this from all aspects. Law enforcement, of course. From a religious standpoint, from a community standpoint, social, medical or anywhere else. We ask that you also sign the resolution, not necessarily today. If you want copies, this beautiful lady here in the green has some copies. Take them home with you, circulate them. If you don't have one, you can look in the present Drug Policy Foundation newsletter. It simply recommends that we investigate the possibility of change. If what we're doing is not working, it's time to look into change. There is a slogan that I believe is instructive, and that slogan is not: "Just say no" -- although I really buy into that, because "no" should be spelled K-N-O-W. [Laughter/applause.] What I would do instead is utilize the following slogan: If you want to keep getting what you're getting, keep doing what you're doing. And what we're doing now isn't working and we're getting a whole lot of grief, and it's time to look into the possibility of change. If people are not interested in investigating our options -- be it legalization, decriminalization, medicalization, regulated distribution -- OK, fine and well. Then let's at least investigate what we are doing now, which is prohibition. Let's at least investigate prohibition. And if people do not even agree to investigate what we're doing now, I'm afraid I must ask: Why not? What do you have to be afraid of? It's time to look into this, to better ourselves and our beloved country. We can't do any worse. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

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DRCNet Activist Guide 9/94

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