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The Drug Legalization Debate

An open letter to the nation's drug czar

General Barry McCaffrey
Director, Office of Drug Policy
The White House

Dear Gen. McCaffrey:
Our great country is reeling from wounds which we have been inflicting upon
ourselves because of our current failed drug policy. It is clear that we
are not in better shape today than we were five years ago regarding drug
use and abuse and all of the crime and misery which accompany them, and,
unless we change our approach, we can have no legitimate expectation that
we will be in better shape next year than we are today. However, we will
not pursue change until we realize, as a country, that it is all right to
talk about this issue - and that just because we talk about the possibility
of changing our drug policy does not mean that we condone drug use or
Change for the better starts with a leader who has a proven record of
honesty, dedication, experience, and results - one who will be able to
discuss realities without effectively being labeled as "soft" on crime or
criminals. Our country desperately needs a person in authority who will
not be afraid to take a fresh and objective look at our most basic
assumptions and recommend changes based upon the evidence. Our country
needs you.
You are known to be an intelligent, non-political, dedicated public servant
who is in that position of authority and respect.
If you would speak about our country's futile efforts to eradicate the
growing of these dangerous drugs in, and the shipping of them from, various
foreign countries, people in and out of our government will listen.

If you would quote the Rand Corporation study of June, 1994, which
concluded that drug treatment is seven times more effective than drug
prosecution even for heavy drug users and 11 times more effective than
interdiction at our country's borders, people will begin to realize why we
are going broke trying to incarcerate our way out of this pervasive and
multi-faceted problem.

If you would acknowledge that no one in law enforcement will even tell us
with a straight face that we seize more than 10 percent of the illegal
drugs in our society and that the more candid estimate is that we seize
only about five percent, our people will begin to understand that each
seizure of a ton of cocaine is not a victory, but is instead merely a
symptom of the depth of the problem.
Our citizens and taxpayers will then realize that for every ton of cocaine
we seize, we easily fail to seize between nine and 19 tons.
In the War on Drugs, victory is now literally being viewed as slowing down
the pace of defeat.
Our present policy has made cocaine the most lucrative crop in the history
,of mankind. It has made marijuana the most lucrative crop in my home
state of California, easily outdistancing the second leading crop, which is
Our present policy is directly responsible for the material and
demonstrable reduction of our cherished liberties under the Bill of Rights.
Our present policy is directly funneling tens of billions of dollars per
year into organized crime, with all of its accompanying violence and
corruption, both in our country and around the world.
Our present policy is directly causing our children in the inner cities and
virtually everywhere else to have drug dealers as their role models,
instead of people like you who have gotten their education and who have
worked hard to be successful.
Our present policy has directly spawned a cycle of hostility by the
incarceration of vastly disproportionate numbers of our minority groups.

And our present policy is directly responsible for medical doctors being
unable to prescribe appropriate medications for their patients who are
either in pain or are suffering from a number of devastating diseases.
We all understand the necessity of holding people accountable for their
actions. However, our citizens recognize that what we are doing in the
critical area of drug policy is not working. They are frustrated because
their ostensible leaders are afraid to discuss the subject openly.
As a result, thousands of Americans such as Dr. Milton Friedman, former
Secretary of State George Shultz, Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, and
former San Jose Chief of Police Joseph McNamara have signed a resolution
calling for the investigation of change by a neutral commission.
This resolution actually was passed by Congress and signed into law by
President Clinton as a part of the recent crime bill; however, it has been
widely ignored since that time. The signatories include a formidable list
of judges; civic, business, and religious leaders; probation officers and
prison officials; medical doctors; teachers; and counselors. There is wide
support for the investigation of change - our present policy simply will
not stand scrutiny. However, our country needs a credible person in
government like you to step forward and legitimize the discussion.
We do not ask you to support any particular method or approach for
addressing the drug problem. We simply ask you to agree that there are
fundamental problems with our current policy and that both our government
and our citizens need better to understand the history and social forces
which drive this problem, and our options for the future.
We need to investigate the possibility of change. Education and the honest
exchange of information are the only ways we will begin to reduce the
continuing harm wrought by these dangerous drugs in our country.
Accordingly, we ask you publicly to join us in a non-partisan and
non-political search for the truth. If you would do this, you simply could
not provide our country and all of its people with a greater or more
lasting service.

Judge James P. Gray
Judge Gray is a judge in the Superior Court of California in Orange County.

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