The Medical Marijuana Magazine



The Battle Over How to Fight the War on Drugs
Legalization Versus Prohibition of Illegal Drugs
Monday, June 22, 1998
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

FORREST SAWYER, ABC NEWS (VO) They say the war on drugs is a multi—billion dollar disaster.

MICHAEL MASSING (PH) Our drug budget now is $17 billion a year and even by the drug czar’s own admission, we’re only treating one half the addicts.

FORREST SAWYER (VO) A disaster that has caused more harm than drug abuse itself.

KEVIN ZEESE, COMMON SENSE FOR DRUG POLICY In fact, we invest more now in prisons than we do universities because of the drug war.

FORREST SAWYER (VO) But the general leading the way says those critics, who are some of the most influential people in the world, are dangerously wrong.

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL DRUG POLICY OFFICE Don’t give prominence to this drug legalization argument. It’s sort of a fringe group. It has increasingly, with enormous cunning, gotten an argument into the public dialogue of this country.

FORREST SAWYER (VO) Tonight, the battle over how to fight the war on drugs.

ANNOUNCER From ABC News, this is Nightline. Substituting for Ted Koppel and reporting from Washington, Forrest Sawyer.

FORREST SAWYER If you had been at the United Nations two weeks ago for its big drug summit, you would have heard a lot of very nice words. President Clinton was there to say drug abuse is, he believes, sharply reduced. The UN drug czar vowed to rid the world of the crops that produce cocaine and heroin in just 10 years. And in the end, the delegates from more than 150 nations endorsed a wide ranging plan to cooperate.

It would all be perfectly lovely were it not for the fact that we have heard it all before and the illegal drug business is still huge. After all the numbers you hear tossed around the truth is no one really knows just how huge, how many people die, how much blood money has been made and laundered into legal businesses.

What is obvious is that it takes little trouble and little cash to buy a gram of coke on the streets of America and for all the pledges and dollars spent in this war, there remain countless users and addicts, which is why so many well known and well respected people banded together to publish an open letter to the UN Secretary—General, saying the drug war has been lost and badly. What they propose is nothing less than accepting that trying to stop drugs at the border is like fighting a flood with a rusty sieve.

Now that kind of talk has a way of getting people worked up and the temperature of the debate is now boiling, which both sides agree will at least remind us that there is something important at stake here, the future of our children. We begin with Nightline’s Dave Marash.

PRES BILL CLINTON (June 8) Today we join at this special session of the UN General Assembly to make common cause against the common threat of worldwide drug trafficking and abuse.

DAVE MARASH, ABC NEWS (VO) It was, a cynic might say, an example of what the United Nations does best—celebrate itself for simply focusing on a problem.

PRES BILL CLINTON Ten years ago, the United Nations adopted a path breaking convention to spur cooperation against drug trafficking.

DAVE MARASH (VO) Ten years later, the UN hasn’t come close to solving the world’s drug problem or, as the President put it in his call for another 10 year war on drugs ...

PRES BILL CLINTON Today, the potential for that kind of cooperation has never been greater or more needed.

KEVIN ZEESE It’s because the drug war’s not working and everybody knows it. But our policy makers won’t admit it.

DAVE MARASH (VO) To press this argument, Kevin Zeese helped draw up a two—page advertisement in “The New York Times” that greeted delegates to the UN drug summit. Signers of the ad included George Schultz, a Republican former secretary of state, and Dr Joycelyn Elders, a Democrat former surgeon general, conservative economist Milton Friedman and liberal journalist Walter Cronkite, one time UN Secretary—General Javier P‚rez de Cu‚llar and all time investor philanthropist George Sorros.

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY It’s sort of a fringe group. It has increasingly, with enormous cunning, gotten an argument into the public dialogue of this country.

DAVE MARASH The ad and the people behind it enraged the Clinton administration’s so—called drug czar General Barry McCaffrey, because he says all that talk about reducing the harm done by the drug wars by starting needle exchanges to protect addicts from AIDS or providing marijuana to cancer patients to reduce nausea is just camouflage for the group’s real aim, which he says is legalizing drug use in the United States. Not so, says Kevin Zeese.

KEVIN ZEESE Go out on the corner and you can buy an apple. That’s a legal substance. No one’s talking about that for any drug, even for marijuana, even for alcohol. No one talks about that. We’re all talking about finding ways of regulating, controlling, monitoring, preventing harm.

DAVE MARASH (VO) For example.

KEVIN ZEESE In Holland in 1976, they decriminalized marijuana possession. You could go into a retail shop and purchase small amounts of marijuana. They have a low level of heroin use, a low level of cocaine use, much lower than the United States does. What actually happened was marijuana became a filter preventing harder drug use.

DAVE MARASH (VO) Maybe not, says addiction expert Dr Herbert Kleber.

DR HERBERT KLEBER, NATIONAL CENTER ADDICTION & SUBSTANCE ABUSE The use of marijuana among individuals in the 18 to 20 age range in the Netherlands has sharply risen in the past decade.

DAVE MARASH (VO) And, says Kleber, that is bad news today and maybe worse news tomorrow.

DR HERBERT KLEBER I think we will learn in the next five years or so that there are changes in the brain that occurs with marijuana that may make it more likely that you would be interested in drugs like cocaine or heroin.

DAVE MARASH (VO) Dr Kleber’s warning makes two larger points about the drug controversy, one, that we’re still learning about the interactions of human beings and narcotics and two, that nothing about those interactions is ever simple. Take, for example, America’s campaign to stop drugs at the source, in the coca growing countries of Bolivia, Peru and Colombia or at their transfer point in Mexico.

MICHAEL MASSING Our relations with Mexico are very strained. We have peasants in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia angry at us because we want to spray their crops.

DAVE MARASH (VO) Michael Massing’s research for a new book, “The Fix,” has had him flying with the crop spraying troops of the Andes and riding with the drug busting cops of America’s cities. His conclusion—America’s pressures on drug producing countries have had little effect on America’s drug consumers.

MICHAEL MASSING The price of cocaine in this country is as low as it’s ever been. The purity of heroin is greater than it’s ever been, both of which indicate that the drugs are coming in at a greater volume than ever.

DAVE MARASH (VO) Drug prohibition failed, says author Mike Gray, for the same reasons alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it creates opportunities for criminals without crimping their access to consumers.

MIKE GRAY, AUTHOR, “DRUG CRAZY” The two maps are identical. The only thing that’s changed is the product and the names of the games. But everything else is exactly the same.

DAVE MARASH (VO) For 14 years, Gray says, American politicians supported Prohibition, just as today’s UN politicians support another decade of the drug war.

MIKE GRAY Almost all the delegations agreed that the drug problem is markedly worse today than it was before and yet they support it because they apparently can’t seem to think of anything else to do.

DAVE MARASH (VO) Nonsense, says David Mactas of the Hazelden drug treatment program. There are a lot of positive things to do.

DAVID MACTAS, PRESIDENT, HAZELDEN NEW YORK We know that prevention works.

DAVE MARASH (VO) And, he says, we can actually measure how much drug therapy works.

DAVID MACTAS So if you can get somebody engaged in treatment who needs treatment, far less likely to use the criminal justice system, far less likely to contract and transmit HIV into the general population, far less likely to use entitlement programs and far more likely to regain productivity, work, jobs and taxpaying. The cost—benefit was $7 for every dollar spent.

DAVE MARASH Mactas says Americans should invest more in drug treatment programs, but adds don’t take the money away from crop substitution programs in the Andes or police buy and bust programs here at home. Critics say such buy at all spending just protects the people prosecuting the drug war at a terrible price for drug users, their families, their neighbors and taxpayers alike.

I’m Dave Marash for Nightline in New York.

FORREST SAWYER And when we come back, two views of the war on drugs, one who says we are winning, one who says we’ve gone terribly wrong.

(Commercial Break)

FORREST SAWYER Joining us now from our Washington studios, Charles Blanchard is the chief counsel of the White House Drug Control Policy Office. Ethan Nadelmann is the director of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy and research institute funded largely by grants from the George Sorros Foundation and he joins us from New York.

Mr Blanchard, I have a copy of Mr Nadelmann’s recent Foreign Affairs article. It has a rather catchy beginning. He says, “US drug policy has failed persistently over the decades because it has preferred rhetoric to reality and moralism to pragmatism.” In other words, you’ve got a lot of good talk with your policy but little, if any, success.

CHARLES BLANCHARD, NATIONAL DRUG POLICY OFFICE (Washington) You have to look at the record and the fact is we’ve reduced drug use in this country by half since 1979. Cocaine we’ve reduced 70 percent. Crime is at an all time low, at the same level it was in the 1960s. The real problem is we have folks like Ethan Nadelmann putting out an agenda that’s going to increase access to drugs among our youth. It’s been tried in Britain, it’s been tried in Sweden. It’ll be a disaster if it’s tried here.

FORREST SAWYER Mr Nadelmann, I must tell you, I’ve covered drug stories for about 25 years and whenever I hear these kinds of statistics tossed around I think that there are lies, damnable lies in statistics. Do you believe them?

ETHAN NADELMANN, THE LINDESMITH CENTER (New York) Well, it is true that drug use has gone done, Forrest, but I actually look at the data in a different way. I look back at 1980 and remember that the federal government that year spent about a billion dollars on drug control and state and local governments maybe twice that. Now the Feds are spending $17 billion on drug control, two thirds of it for enforcement, and the state and local governments more than that again. I look back at 1980, nobody had ever heard of crack cocaine. But by the 1990s, it was a national epidemic. I look back at 1980, nobody had ever heard of drug—related HIV or AIDS yet this year we have 200,000 Americans dead or dying from drug—related HIV or AIDS. And I look back at 1980 and I remember that there were about 50,000 Americans behind bars for breaking a drug law. This year, 400,000 people, 400,000 people behind bars for breaking a drug law. So I look at 1980 and I look at 1998 and I see things getting a lot worse, not a lot better.

FORREST SAWYER Well, I understand that but we’ve got some drug barons who are pretty skilled at getting drugs across into this country. They’ve been doing it for a lot of years. Now, how do you know whether those figures are a result of the American policy or the result of all those drugs coming across?

ETHAN NADELMANN Well, quite frankly, when it comes to dollar expenditures, when it comes to the rising escalation of our prison population, when it comes to the spread of HIV and AIDS because we don’t institute proper public health measures like needle exchange, those are not results of drug use per se. They’re not even results of the drug barons. They’re results of a failed prohibitionist policy that has failed by its very own terms that are making things worse.


CHARLES BLANCHARD Well, if you look at, again, drug use is down. You can’t deny that. You can pick a different year, but even crack use is far lower than it was at the height of the crack epidemic. More importantly, the consequences of drug use are down. Crime is down. And HIV was not caused by drug prohibition, it was caused by drug use. The real problem is whether we want to adopt a system like Ethan Nadelmann’s, which would legalize a lot of drugs or at least make them more available. We, you know, we tried that in the 70s and 80s in this country, drug use went up very high.

FORREST SAWYER I’m clueless, Mr Blanchard, where do these numbers actually come from? For instance, the DEA figures show that the cocaine prices have remained level through all this time so if you want to go out and buy cocaine you can get it at the price that you could have gotten years ago.


FORREST SAWYER Mr Massing says that coke prices are down and use is up. So some people say one people, other people say another thing.

CHARLES BLANCHARD Well, if you have lower demand, the market’s going to responsible by lowering prices and actually coca prices went up last year because we did a good job on supply. And again, look at the experience of Britain. Britain decided to try to experiment ...

FORREST SAWYER Well, you can’t have it both ways. Wait a second. If you have lower demand the prices are going to go down, but if the prices go up you’re going to claim that you were good at interdiction.

CHARLES BLANCHARD Now, look at the use statistics. Those are the statistics that are most important and the uses are far lower. Demand is down not just because of law enforcement but because we’re putting emphasis on prevention, we’re putting an emphasis on treatment. But providing heroin to drug addicts, which is what the legalizers want to do, makes no sense. It makes about as much sense as offering alcohol to alcoholics.


ETHAN NADELMANN Well, you know, it’s a shame to keep using these phrases like the legalizers and such. One of the things that was so powerful about the public letter to the Secretary—General that Dave Marash mentioned before was it wasn’t just signed by George Sorros or Joycelyn Elders or Kurt Schmoke. It was signed by a wide diversity of people from around the world, former presidents and a former Secretary—General. More recently it’s been signed by Paul Volker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, by Elliot Richardson, the former attorney general, by Kweisi Mfume, the current head of the NAACP, and by comparable people around the world. Now, these cannot all be dismissed as free market legalizers and they say, and when they say that when we need to come up with a new policy, what that involves is not jumping to the last extreme of legalization. What we’re talking about is shifting from a policy which emphasizes criminal justice approaches and military approaches to one in which public health concerns and harm reduction approaches become our principal objectives and the principal criteria by which we evaluate success or failure in our drug control policies.

FORREST SAWYER Mr Blanchard, I know you want to answer that. I’m going to let you answer it when we come right back and we will try to sort through the differences in your positions and how we can begin to make some sense of them, when we come back in just a moment.

(Commercial Break)

FORREST SAWYER Mr Blanchard, this is what makes us crazy. You’ve got Mr Nadelmann on one side that say to say that this is a disaster and if we proceed with this we’re just going down a terrible road, we’re spending money and putting people in jail that shouldn’t be. We’ve got you on the other side saying no, no, no, it’s not a disaster, look at the numbers. The numbers say it’s fabulous. Now how are we supposed to figure out which one of you is right?

CHARLES BLANCHARD I think you ask the scientists, ask people who specialize in studying addiction. I think it’s very telling that when General McCaffrey spoke to the leading group of scientists last week in Scottsdale who deal with addiction, he got a standing ovation, the first standing ovation that was ever received because he talks about a need for a balanced policy. Goal number one is prevention, preventing our kids from using drugs. But that only works when we have a societal level of disapproval that’s incorporated in our criminal justice laws.

FORREST SAWYER But what we have to do here is make some real sense out of it because these are terribly important discussions and here’s General McCaffrey, when talking about these people who signed the letter, many of ‘em very, very prominent people saying this is a slick misinformation campaign, it’s camouflage, it’s a fraud, it’s a devious fraud. Does he really need to attack them so personally? Perhaps they just disagree with him on principle.

CHARLES BLANCHARD Well, look at Ethan Nadelmann. A few years ago he was very proud to say I’m in favor of legalization. Even two years ago he said we want a federal right to use all types of drugs and a guaranteed way to receive them. All of a sudden when 85 percent of the American public in the Gallup polls say that legalization is opposed, they switch. Now they want to talk about things like harm reduction. But look at what they’re proposing in the United States. They’re proposing to have, offer free heroin to addicts in Baltimore, which makes no sense. Instead we should use what works and treatment and prevention. It makes no sense at all.

FORREST SAWYER Mr Nadelmann, from everything that, common sense tells us if we want to stop drug abuse, it does seem hard to imagine that it’s a good idea to decriminalize marijuana at any rate and to give heroin to heroin users.

ETHAN NADELMANN Forrest, I think what common sense tells us and what the science tells us is that we have to look at the evidence. We have to look at the last 10 and 20 and 50 years and ask ourselves what have been the results of the government’s drug war policies.

FORREST SAWYER Well, Mr Blanchard, as you hear, keeps insisting that the evidence is that the use is down.

ETHAN NADELMANN I know. But, you know, there are some objective criteria. I mean the drug czar and even the President like to say we should have a public policy, a drug policy based upon science. You know, if I look, for example, at what the National Academy of Sciences concluded, look what they said about needle exchange. They said do it. It saves lives and does not spread drug abuse. But the general vetoed that. Look what they said about marijuana 15 years ago, essentially that marijuana, the harms of the war on marijuana are greater than the harms of marijuana itself yet we now have a rhetorical war on marijuana based upon a lot of myths. Look what they said about ...

CHARLES BLANCHARD But there’s been 15 years of science, Ethan, that make the dangers of marijuana look even worse than they were 15 years ago.

ETHAN NADELMANN No, well, Mr Blanchard, if, in fact, it was based upon the science how do you explain the general’s decision on needle exchange? Here he had the National Academy of Science, the Centers for Disease Control, the AMA, the American Public Health Association, President Clinton’s advisory commission, President Bush’s advisory commission, every independent commission ever to look at this issue all coming down to the same recommendation, which is that providing sterile syringes to drug addicts reduces the spread of the deadly disease AIDS without increasing drug abuse.

CHARLES BLANCHARD But you want to go far beyond that ...

ETHAN NADELMANN We’d rather ...

FORREST SAWYER Mr Blanchard, go ahead, answer him.

CHARLES BLANCHARD But you want to go far beyond that. You’re talking now not just about needles, providing the heroin itself. That was tried in Britain and a disastrous effect. The number of heroin addicts went up dramatically, a lot of them children. So why should we adopt that same policy here? It failed in Britain, it’s failed in Sweden.

FORREST SAWYER Mr Blanchard, is it possible, though, that there’s, the truth might be somewhere in between you? You know that a lot of people are saying interdiction doesn’t really work, the stuff is coming across. Why not take some of that interdiction money and use it on education and use it on prevention and use it on treatment?

CHARLES BLANCHARD It’s not an either/or. We should do both. We have a budget before Congress now for $200 million more for treatment and I would love to see the support of people like George Sorros and Ethan Nadelmann and Congress trying to get Congress to increase funding for treatment. But they’re not there. They’re more interested in fighting about legalization. I don’t see Maponimis (ph) talking about treatment.

FORREST SAWYER Mr Nadelmann, I’ve got to pause for one second. I promise I’ll come right back to you in just one moment.


(Commercial Break)

FORREST SAWYER Once more, discussion of the war on drugs and gentlemen, I’m pretty clear now that I’m not going to get much agreement between the two of you, but I wonder if we could use the last minute and a half or so to try to get a clear picture of exactly what it is you want to do. Mr Nadelmann, take a shot at that. What should we be doing now?

ETHAN NADELMANN Yeah, my view Forrest essentially is that where we do agree is on the need to protect our children. I mean, that’s what drives the drug war in some sense, it’s our fear about our kids, a fear about what will happen to them. Now, my answer to that, it’s not legalization. I think the best way to put it is to say that what I favor is a mensch—like drug policy. I mean, as you may know a mensch is a Yiddish word. It means ...

FORREST SAWYER A kinder, gentler policy.

ETHAN NADELMANN Well, it means a good human being, a person who uses their heart and their mind to come up with decent solutions, who doesn’t forget that your fellow citizens are human beings even if they have drug problems. It means base our drug policies on the science, base it on the evidence, base it on the common sense.

FORREST SAWYER Well, by that what you actually mean, I think, is that you don’t want to go after users and put ‘em in jail, you want to provide for them some help.

ETHAN NADELMANN That’s right. That’s a good start. I also think we should have drug education programs that are based a little more on the truth and less on myth and demonization.

FORREST SAWYER So perhaps, Mr Blanchard, the key difference between you is the policy of going after drug users, that is to say not people who sell but drug users and attacking them with criminal penalties is not effective and, in fact, might actually be doing more harm than good.

CHARLES BLANCHARD I think what we should do is use diversion programs and drug treatment within our criminal justice system. It’s worked very, very effectively. I’ve dealt, talked to a lot of addicts who are thankful there’s a criminal justice system that brought them into treatment. But we need to increase funding.

FORREST SAWYER They’re thankful that they have jail hanging over their heads?

CHARLES BLANCHARD Exactly, because if it wasn’t for that threat of jail, they wouldn’t have taken treatment seriously and they’re thankful to the police officer that arrested them and to the judge that said either you complete drug treatment or you’re going to jail. That’s the kind of policy I want is sanctions but treat, use treatment in the criminal justice system to solve the problem. And we want to mainly, though, however, focus on preventing kids from using drugs in the first place and legalization is going to be a disaster because kids are going to use a lot more drugs if we legalize.

FORREST SAWYER Just a few seconds left Mr Nadelmann, I mean a few seconds. Do you see any possibility of dialogue between the two groups here?

ETHAN NADELMANN Well, this is a start, Forrest. One hopes that Congress can eventually hold hearings that will afford some open, honest dialogue as well. I think this is a start. We’re going to keep moving forward. That list of names, that was just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg. More and more are signing on and quite frankly more and more would have signed on except they’re still afraid. But it is going to change.

FORREST SAWYER I understand you, sir, and we’re completely out of time. I thank you both and I hope we’ll be talking about this more in the future.

CHARLES BLANCHARD Thank you, Forrest.

FORREST SAWYER That is our report for tonight. For the latest overnight developments, be sure to watch Good Morning America. That’s tomorrow morning. I’m Forrest Sawyer in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.