The Medical Marijuana Magazine


The New York Times Now Opposes the War on Drugs. And You?
An Open Letter to My Media Brethren from an Old Media Whore, Peter McWilliams

In a dramatic editorial epiphany, the New York Times on June 9, 1998, published its new view that the War on Drugs has failed. Couched in criticism of the United Nation’s new 10-year-plan aimed at "a drug-free world," the editorial neatly dismantles the 84-year-old United States drug policy as well. After all, the new UN drug policy is merely US drug policy sent to Berlitz.

When the Times observes that the "militarized war on drugs…has torn apart societies and built up some of the world's most repressive armies," we need look no further than any American inner city. The War on Drugs has become a war waged by the American government against American minorities, the disenfranchised, and the sick. Ask any inner-city African American: "Which do you fear more, drugs or the police?" Ask any AIDS patient, "Which is more harmful, medical marijuana or the laws against it?"

The Times wrote that the "claims" made by those who follow the US/UN policy, "get in the way of effective programs to reduce drug use" and said a law-enforcement approach to drug use and addiction was "misdirected," "failed," "designed primarily to recycle unrealistic pledges and celebrate dubious programs," and is "unrealistic and harmful."

The one nod the Times makes to the current drug policy was a paragraph, one sentence long, that began in patriotic Drug War media pabulum, but ends with a fact that can no longer be denied by rational human beings. "While there is a place for crop substitution, law enforcement, interdiction and other programs to cut drug supply, these steps rarely deliver promised results."

The War on Drugs can never be won. Nobel Laureate in economics Milton Freidman applied the immutable rule of the free marketplace, "Where there is a demand, there will be a supply," to the drug marketplace and determined a "drug-free America" was not only an impossibility, but our attempts to implement the impossible was "destroying our freedoms in the process." Even if you think that drugs are the worst plague upon humanity since income tax, if you spend even an hour researching, you’ll find that drug prohibition is much, much worse.

In October 1990, many in the media gathered in Restin, Virginia, to decide what to do about the War on Drugs. The cocaine epidemic was at its seeming worst, and the white middle class saw addiction to an illegal drug firsthand for the first time. (The epidemic had, in fact, already peaked and was rapidly declining as more and more people learned, "This stuff ain’t good for me" and stopped.) The media, in a frenzy and charmed by William Bennett, decided to treat the War on Drugs as though it were a real war fought against a foreign power.

Drug War propaganda was published, unchecked, as gospel truth; Iran/Contra was swept under the rug; the drug warriors were treated as heroes; the entrepreneurs who supplied the undeniable demand were demonized as "drug dealers;" addicts were portrayed as spineless, immoral, criminals instead of human beings with horrible illnesses in need of medical treatment; and drug users were not adults making adult choices, but traitors who were aiding and abetting the enemy.

Isn’t it time all this ended? Shouldn’t the media return to objective reporting in the War on Drugs? Bill Moyers, who served as Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary during the Vietnam buildup, looked deeply into the War on Drugs and declared it, "another Vietnam." Walter Cronkite, one of the first major broadcasters to come out against the War in Vietnam, has come out against the War on Drugs--well ahead of his media brethren, again.

After all, right-thinking, patriotic, good-hearted American media covered Vietnam for almost a decade as a "good" war. That same media, seeing Vietnam was not a good war after all, had the courage to then say, "In the light of new evidence, here’s what we think now." Today, very few people, including the heroes who fought in that war, will say Vietnam accomplished more good than harm for the United States. One exception, interestingly, is Barry McCaffrey, who still believes Vietnam was one hell of a good war.

The War on Drugs is not a good war.

The bold Times editorial seems to lay down a challenge to the media: "We’ve dared to tell you what we think. What do you think?" What is your current, state-of-the-art, scientifically up-to-date view of the War on Drugs? You owe it to your readers, and your country, to take a fresh, hard look at that question, and then answer it honestly.

Thank you.

Peter McWilliams

Writer and publisher

Prelude Press
8159 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90046

The complete New York Times editorial follows:

June 9, 1998

Cheerleaders Against Drugs
Manhattan is filled this week with world leaders attending a well-intentioned but misdirected United Nations conference on drugs. With drugs more plentiful and cheaper than ever worldwide, the leaders are mostly extolling failed strategies to combat the problem. Pino Arlacchi, the Italian official who heads the organization's International Drug Control Program, is promising to eliminate coca leaf and opium poppies, the basis of cocaine and heroin, in 10 years. Such claims get in the way of effective programs to reduce drug use.

Mr. Arlacchi's proposal, which is likely to be approved, would attempt to cut drug cultivation by bringing roads, schools and other development to drug areas. The notion sounds reasonable, and it is surely better to help farmers than to finance a militarized war on drugs, which has torn apart societies and built up some of the world's most repressive armies. But elements of Mr. Arlacchi's plan are unrealistic and harmful. Half the funding would supposedly come from drug-producing nations themselves, an unlikely prospect. Mr. Arlacchi would also make partners out of such abusive and unreliable governments as the Taliban in Afghanistan and the military in Myanmar.

While there is a place for crop substitution, law enforcement, interdiction and other programs to cut drug supply, these steps rarely deliver promised results.

Where crop substitution has been successful, drug cultivation has simply moved next door.

The conference has seen a welcome increase in talk about the duties of drug-consuming countries, but its proposals are still tilted toward attacking supply. Studies show that treatment programs are far more cost-effective than efforts overseas.

But it is politically safer to advocate fighting drugs abroad than treating addicts at home.

The U.N. kept off the program virtually all the citizens' groups and experts who wanted to speak. There is no discussion of some interesting new ideas such as harm reduction, which focuses on programs like needle exchanges and methadone that cut the damage drugs do. Like previous U.N. drug conferences, this one seems designed primarily to recycle unrealistic pledges and celebrate dubious programs.