The first thing I need to tell you good readers is that the policy of a US “war on drugs” has been, is, and forever will be, a total and abject failure. This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on people—our own people—our children, our parents, ourselves.

After three decades of fueling the war with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get, cheaper, and more potent than they were 30 years ago.[i] While our court systems are choked with ever-increasing drug prosecutions, our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nation's fastest growing industry, with two million incarcerated—more per capita than any industrialized country in the world. Meanwhile drug barons continue to grow richer than ever before and our citizens continue dying in our streets.

Prohibition does not work and most of us do know that. But as Dan Baum pointed out in, Smoke and Mirrors: The War On Drugs And The Politics Of Failure, the war metaphor worked well for Richard Nixon when he initiated the idea of a “war on drugs” in 1968 so he could run for president on a “tough on crime” stand. The metaphor has continued to work well for over three decades because,

nearly everyone has found a reason to enlist: parents appalled by their teen's behavior, police starved for revenue, conservative politicians pandering to their constituents’ moral dudgeon, liberal politicians needing a chance to look ‘tough,’ presidents looking for distractions from scandal, whites—and blacks—striving to ‘explain’ the ghetto, editors filling page one, spies and colonels needing an enemy to replace communist....[1]

The fact that it is a failed policy seldom seems to enter the discussion.

The attitude about drugs in the US has been shaped by countless politicians raising the specter of a country lost to a zombie population of drug addicts ready to kill to get their fix. Those politicians make no delineation between soft drugs such as marijuana and hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine. They link marijuana with heroin, as a “gateway drug,” which is about as sensible as linking heroin with milk as a gateway drug;[2] after all, nearly 100 percent of heroin users first drank milk.

I've always been interested in reducing harm to others. Harm reduction is a term that sprang from the drug-policy-reform movement and it was awhile before I adopted its language. In 1964, when I felt I could no longer sit passively and watch one more television newscast of police beating men, women, and children for nothing more than demanding their civil rights it occurred to me that changing police policy from the inside might be easier than changing it from the outside. I quit a perfectly good job as an ironworker and took a fifty percent cut in pay to join the New Jersey State Police. My purpose was to try to reduce the harms of what I perceived as nationwide, institutionalized racist policy within police departments.

Six years later, I joined the state police narcotic bureau because I wanted to reduce the harm caused by what I believed to be a terrible scourge of drug abuse spreading across our country.

I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, what has been called the heartland of America. We didn't have a drug problem in Wichita—or at least I didn't think so. After all, I never used drugs! My God! I had been schooled on the movies, "Reefer Madness" and "Man with the Golden Arm." I wouldn’t have been caught dead with a marijuana cigarette in my mouth. What I didn't realize was that I did have a long-standing drug problem. My drugs of choice were alcohol and tobacco. By the age of fourteen my friends and I were getting falling-down-drunk about once a week and I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for over 15 years but alcohol and tobacco were legal—“drugs” were the illegal ones—the ones that I would never use. Actually, alcohol and tobacco are the two worst drugs anyone can use—56 times as many people in the US die from smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol as are killed by the use of all the illegal drugs combined. (Each year in America thanks to the legal cigarette industry, 450,000 people die from smoking or spending time in close proximity to smokers and thanks to the legal liquor industry, another 110,000 people die from ingesting alcohol—while around 12,000 people die as a result of using all the illegal drugs combined. And there are no deaths recorded—that is zero deaths—caused by ingesting marijuana.) The media loves to write about the horrors of illegal drug use but seem to forget about the horrors of legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.[3]

When I joined the narcotic bureau, I wanted use any means legally available to stop the use of illegal drugs in this country. Many of my colleagues, on the other hand, choose to stop the use of illegal drugs by any means necessary. It was 1970 and the “war on drugs,” coined by Richard Millhouse Nixon in 1968 as a political ploy to garner votes for his run for the presidency, had just officially got underway. Bills for massive federal grants, to police departments willing to do their part to fight Nixon’s war on drugs, had been pushed through congress and were flowing to the states. The New Jersey state police administrators knew a good thing when they saw it. Here was a chance to increase the size of their organization and thereby their power base without having to beg more money from the state. Overnight they upgraded and increased their narcotic unit of seven men to a narcotic bureau of 76 men (At that time the state police had around 1,700 men and one woman on the force—it is still only composed of slightly over two percent women). About a third of those 76 men were assigned to work undercover. I was one of those undercover agents.

My bosses, like those in police departments across the country, didn’t know anything about fighting a war on drugs but they did know that if they expected to keep the federal cash cow in their barnyard they would have to exhibit statistics that reflected a drug problem of extreme proportions in their jurisdiction. As a result, much like the Vietnam War body counts, exaggeration became the norm: The sizes of seizures were greatly magnified and drug users suddenly became drug dealers.

When an individual was arrested with illegal drugs, any unmixed cutting agents also found (quinine, mannitol, milk sugar, etc.) were included as part of the weight of the illegal drugs. This could make the seizure appear to be three, four, or more times larger than it actually was. We also reported the monetary value of the drugs to the media as the street-level price, increasing their apparent value by as much as 66 times depending on what level dealer we had caught. In 1977, one of my targets was arrested in Houston, Texas with twelve kilograms of cocaine that had been purchased in Colombia for $15,000 each or $180,000 total outlay but when the seizure hit the newspapers, the drugs became worth $12 million.[ii]

Unbeknownst to my bosses or myself was the fact that much the drug war had already been based on inflated statistics, fabrications, and outright lies before we ever got involved. As Dan Baum notes:

Despite Nixon's assertion to the pre-election Disneyland crowd that drugs were "decimating generation of Americans," drugs were so tiny a public health problem that they were statistically insignificant: far more Americans choked to death on food or died falling down stairs as died from illegal drugs.[4]

In fact, if the diary of Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, is to be believed, Haldeman reported that during a meeting with Nixon in 1969, Nixon emphasized that “you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this all while not appearing to.” The system they devised was the war on drugs and for Nixon's purposes, he could have hardly hoped for more.
[5] The war on drugs has spawned the most racist laws seen in the United States since the 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Fergurson.[6]

Institutionalized racism is reflected in our drug laws that make sentencing for possession of crack cocaine 100 times harsher than sentencing for a similar weight of powder cocaine. Crack cocaine is a drug used in the poor inner-city neighborhoods populated mostly by people of color, while powder cocaine is the drug more likely used in middle and upper class wealthy neighborhoods populated mostly by whites. Institutionalized racism is also reflected in the racial profiling that I believe is likely to have been practiced by every police department in the United States.

In the past year, of the 26.7 million Americans who used an illicit drug, 72 percent were White, 12 percent were Black, 10 percent were Hispanic, and 6 percent were “Other.” But Blacks constitute 36.8 percent of those arrested for drug violations and over 42 percent of those in federal prisons for drug violations. African-Americans also comprise almost 60 percent of state prisoners held for drug felonies and Hispanics account for 22.5 percent.[7] Once convicted of drug felonies in state courts, whites are less likely than African-Americans to be sent to prison. Thirty-two percent of convicted white defendants receive a prison sentences, compared with 46 percent of African-American defendants.[8]

In 1970, we started our war on drugs with street-level operations, arresting mostly drug users, but claiming they were drug dealers. Each undercover detective worked by himself. He was “backed up” by one “surface investigator,” a detective who coordinated undercover drug investigations with other police agencies and determined in what city the agent would work. The surface detective also supplied the informants who were often used to introduce the undercover agents to specific, suspected drug dealers. The informants were usually people who were trying to work off drug-law-violation charges made at an earlier time, by other undercover agents. My experience with those informants left me with the feeling that most would lie about anything that might help them out of their predicament, as long as they thought they would not be caught in the lie. The agents had always to be aware of that possibility. If the agents did their jobs correctly, they tried in every way possible to corroborate what the informant said before reporting it as factual. If an agent became lazy or just did not care, it was easy for innocent people to suffer the consequences of investigations based on bogus statements from unsubstanciated informants. On too many occasions, those consequences have actually resulted in the deaths of innocent homeowners, when the wrong house or apartment was raided after it had been wrongly pointed out by an informant as a drug den.

The undercover agent worked an assigned town or city neighborhood until he had received illegal drugs from everyone available to him. We made criminal drug-distribution cases on an average of 85 to 90 people in each operation before moving on to the next town.

About a month after we made our last distribution case in any given town, the arrests were executed. At 5 o’clock in the morning a taskforce of hundreds of police armed with arrest and search warrants swept over the town, smashing down the doors of homes where our suspects resided, often with their families. All occupants were dragged from their beds and forced face down on the floor, where all adults were handcuffed for the safety of the police while they conducted a search of the premises.

While searching the houses, many police applied their own brand of “street justice” to those people they considered deviants and scum—trashing the house and breaking belongings. If, during these arrests, a search of the house revealed any illegal drugs, all money in the house was also seized as drug profits (this could include the kids’ piggy banks). As a standard ploy, we threatened to arrest uninvolved relatives who also lived in the house—a wife, a sister, or a mother—if our suspect refused to give up his connections. On occasions when all the occupants of a location were placed under arrest, we went merrily on our way leaving smashed doors open and homes vulnerable to be picked clean by burglars (another extra little punishment for those who dared to use illegal drugs).[iii]

We conducted a new operation every two or three months. The accused did not have to sell the drugs to the agent—a simple “distribution” was enough. This meant that if an individual handed an undercover agent a single tablet of LSD (“hit of acid”), amphetamine capsule (“diet pill”), or a partially smoked marijuana cigarette (“roach”) they were charged with “Illegal distribution of a controlled dangerous substance” and received the same punishment as if they had sold the agent heroin or cocaine—up to seven years in prison in some jurisdictions.

At first the undercover agents were given only $100 to $200 for drug purchases; sums of money that had to last several days. As a result, everyone we charged was either a user or the smallest of dealers, who in the words of a County Judge trying some of their cases, were “simply accommodating friends with small amounts of drugs.” At first we could not afford to buy from any of the larger dealers. In fact, of all the people from whom I bought drugs during my first three years on the street, I can remember only one person who was not himself a drug-user but was involved in selling multiple grams of heroin.

Most of the drug users we called “dealers” were young people who on a given day happened to have transportation to get to the city where they could buy the drugs. Before they left, they took up a collection among their drug-using friends in order to be able to buy in some bulk and therefore get lower prices. The bulk I am referring to amounted to a half-bundle
[iv] of heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine or an ounce or two of marijuana. As soon as they returned with the drugs, they handed them out to their friends who had ordered them. Usually they were lucky if they made enough money to pay for their transportation to the city. Occasionally someone sold a little extra, but usually just enough to support their habits. However, in our press releases to the media these people all received the same designation: “drug dealer.”

As with the other local and state police agencies, we never had enough “buy money” to purchase large quantities of drugs from major drug dealers. And so our undercover operations were always relegated to the lower echelon of traffickers. The only exceptions were when informants introduced us for one-time buy-busts, where we did not have to pay for one delivery to set up a larger delivery from a higher- ranking dealer.

During my first three years undercover my vision of what the drug war was about changed because of what I saw and experienced while working the street. I learned firsthand of the family destroying consequences of sending drug users (often mothers and fathers) to jail. I can’t think of a better policy for creating the next generation of drug addicts than to remove parents from children. I also realized that when police arrested a robber or rapist they made the community safer for everyone but when I arrested a drug pusher I simply created a job opening for someone in a long line of people willing to take his place. I finally came to understand that the small amount of good I might have been accomplishing for the government could never outweigh the harm I was causing countless people.

Since what I was doing was obviously not working, I tried to figure out what the goal of our drug policy should actually be. I realized at that point that I didn't want to stop all use of illegal drugs in some crazed kind of “zero-tolerance” obsession—an impossible task at any rate. Besides, I could plainly see that not all drug use is debilitating or destructive and there are those who can use drugs recreationally while still becoming active, reasonably productive citizens. I’m sure the reader can easily think of a few. Some that quickly come to my mind are former and current United States Presidents, William E. Clinton and George W. Bush, former Vice President Albert P. Gore and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich—there are many more. Only about fifteen percent of addictive-drug users actually become addicted.

So I came to a few conclusions in 1973: I wanted most to reduce harm; The largest portion of the harms I was observing seemed to be caused by the prohibition of drugs rather than the pharmacology of drugs; I realized I liked some of the people I was working on better than some of the people I was working for; That I didn’t wish to imprison people for preferring to ingest a substance I would not choose to put in my body; That I wanted to reduce addiction to drugs not the total use of drugs; and That the only way I could see to lessen addiction would be to legalize drugs (On this, more shortly).

Well then, one might ask, why did I continue to soldier on as a drug-warrior for another eleven years? There are many reasons available but most of them have little to do with courage. We had moved from arresting street users to higher level drug dealers and I was always looking for the big case that would show my worth as an undercover agent and investigator. I was involved in something that was stimulating and exciting, something I had only seen in movies. I was pitting my mind against some very smart people and the thrill of beating them at their own game was intoxicating. I was experiencing a great deal of freedom to work as I pleased, when I pleased. I was looked on by my peers as something of a hero, something most of them would aspire to become. I had also seen many other officers cutting every constitutional corner they could get away with to arrest people and further their careers. I rationalized that at least if it was I who was doing the job the suspects would be arrested for something they really did; the court case would rise or fall on true testimony. But in fact I was living very much on the edge, and enjoying it. You could even say I was addicted to the danger—a pure adrenalin junkie.

During those years in the state police narcotic bureau, I learned that the term “war on drugs,” is the wrong metaphor to use for policing in a democratic society. But law-enforcement agencies across our country, believing the metaphor to be appropriate, have trained their officers as soldiers to go to war. The trouble is, a soldier must have an enemy—for the war on drugs, the enemy has become the American people.

The use of a war metaphor means police can pull out all the stops because this is a no-holds-barred, unrestrained conflict. But the “stops” we choose to pull out in this war constitute our Fourth Amendment right. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The “holds” no longer barred are the “zero tolerance” attitudes that generate 3-strikes-you’re-out laws; the laws that sentence third-time felons to life in prison without the possibility of parole. And what are their heinous crimes? In some cases the crimes amount to the strong-arm robbery of two slices of pizza or conspiring to smuggle one marijuana cigarette into a jail. As Richard Miller so rightly pointed out in Drug Warriors and their Prey, "[a]ctions that are otherwise intolerable can become popular when portrayed as emergency war measures."[10]

As we all know, when you fight a war you must have spies and so much more so in the war on drugs. The use and sale of illegal drugs are in effect victimless crimes; both the dealer and the user get something they want from the transaction. In the war on drugs the police undercover-operatives are the spies. A spy must necessarily be insinuated into the middle of a drug transaction if it is to be discovered and arrests are to be made.

In the longest war this country has fought, spying was my job. For fourteen years of the more than three decades America has been fighting the drug war, I held that position. When I worked undercover I imagined I was a chameleon. As children, my friends and I had bought these little lizards at the circus. When we put them on our shirts their skin changed to the color of the material—protectively blending in with their external environment for safety. Each time I met a new person the police targeted me against I became that chameleon. Changing everything but the color of my skin I quickly blended in with their environment and became exactly what they expected or wanted—easily gaining their trust. As an undercover agent my job was to do whatever was necessary to become each individual’s best friend—his or her closest confidant—so I could betray them and send them to jail. And my job was to repeat that scenario with each new target: friendship—then betrayal—over and over again with hundreds and hundreds of individual human beings.

The main problem I experienced as an undercover agent was that I was never able to detach myself emotionally from the people whose lives I was affecting so dramatically; the vast majority of whom were non-violent offenders; their relatives and friends. When I posed as their confidant, for even a relatively short time, I was witness to their humanity as well as their faults. Instigating each person’s ultimate arrest and imprisonment cost me something also. I am not a religious man but locked somewhere in my mind from my earliest childhood memories is the Golden Rule, as my mother taught it to me, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Facing my quarries in court, testifying that all I had shared with them was lies and manipulation designed to enhance my ability to betray their trust, could in no way be interpreted as living by that rule. Why I chose to abandon my deepest belief is still something of a mystery to me but I know it had something to do with falsely agreeing that “The ends justify the means”—the golden rule as taught by many drug-warriors.

I would guess I took part in over thousand arrests during the time I worked in narcotics. I don’t know how many kids’ lives I have ruined but I'm sure the count is huge. I was responsible for putting away young people in their formative years whose only “crime” was testing their newfound freedoms, “dipping and dabbing” in the illegal drugs so easily accessible in our culture.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that over 87 million Americans above the age of eleven have used an illicit drug at least once.
[11] Nearly all these drug users are living productive lives and contributing to our society. But what if I, or an undercover spy like me, had by chance crossed the path of each of the individuals making up that 87 million, then what would have happened? Each would have been arrested and imprisoned and the rest of the adults in our country would have pressed into service to become their prison guards. A ludicrous idea? Not necessarily. In the drug-warriors’ vision of a drug‑free America, Richard Miller suggests there would be "millions in prison or slave labor, and only enthusiastic supporters of government policy allowed to hold jobs, attends school, have children, drive cars, own property."[12]

And what happens to nonviolent drug violators when they are finally released from prison. Many were removed from school or productive jobs to be sent to prison and once there all learned the finer points of criminal activity. What happens when they apply for a job after years in prison? How many will want to hire them? And the ones who can’t find work can not get grants to attend school, nor can they draw welfare assistance. In many states they even loose the right to vote. One needs to remember, you can get over an addiction but you can never get over a conviction. A drug violation conviction will track an individual on computers for the rest of his or her life. The only place these outcasts are likely to find a welcome and a job is back in the drug culture. So we are driving them into the very life style we say we were trying to save them from.

When I finally resolved to cease my calling as of one of America’s drug-warriors, it was June 6, 1982. That was the day I came to the realization that the federal government and I were working from opposing viewpoints and theirs was not likely to change. The contradictions of my work as a drug-warrior, as listed below, just got to be too much for me.

As Professor Alfred W. McCoy explained in The Politics of Heroin:

American diplomats and CIA agents have been involved in the narcotics traffic at three levels: 1) coincidental complicity by allying with groups actively engaged in the drug traffic; 2) support of the traffic by covering up for known heroin traffickers and condoning their involvement; and 3) active engagement in the transport of opium and heroin.[13]

And the politics of cocaine works exactly the same.

The CIA has from its inception in 1948 facilitated drug trafficking into the United States at very least by looking the other way while their proxies made it happen.

From 1948 to 1950 the CIA backed the Corsican underworld in its fight with the French Communist Party for control of Marseilles, a strategic Mediterranean Port. The Corsicans won and for the next 25 years they controlled the US heroin market in what became known as “The French Connection.”

Fearing a Communist Chinese invasion of Southeast Asia, in 1951 in 1952 the CIA installed Nationalist Chinese Army troops along the Burma-China border. "Over the next decade, the nationalist army transformed Burma's Shan states into the world's largest opium producer."

In Laos the CIA created a secret army of 30,000 Hmong tribesmen to fight communists along the North Vietnamese border in 1960. For the next 15 years the CIA allowed

the Hmong Commander, General Vang Pao, to use the CIA’s Air America to collect opium from his scattered highland villages. In late 1969, the CIA’s various covert action clients opened a network of heroin Laboratories in the Golden Triangle. In their first years of operation, these laboratories exported high-grade no. 4 heroin to US troops fighting in Vietnam. After their withdrawal, the Golden Triangle Laboratories exported directly to the United States, capturing one-third of the American heroin market.[14]

Professor McCoy reported that in the mid 1970's, DEA had experienced some success in their operations in Turkey, Thailand, and Mexico and managed to slow the heroin entering the United States, “reducing the number of American addicts by more than half, from an estimated 500,000 to 200,000.” However with the CIA covert warfare operation back in action in 1979, this time in Afghanistan, all DEA’s progress was reversed. According to McCoy the CIA

provided the support for a major expansion of the southern Asian drug trade. To support the Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation, the CIA, working through Pakistan's intelligence, allied with the Afghan guerrillas, notably Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,[v] who used the agency's arms, logistics, and support to become the region's largest drug lord. Within a year the surge of Southern Asian heroin had captured more than 60 percent of the American market, breaking a long drug drought and raising the addict population to its previous peak.[15]

The League of Nations and it successor the United Nations applied slow diplomatic pressure that reduced global opium production from 41,624 tons in 1906 to only 1,066 tons in 1970. But in the first twenty years after the declaration of a US war on drugs, thanks to the failure of DEA to interdict enough drugs and “CIA complicity in global traffic” world opium production had expanded fourfold to 4,209 tons by 1989.[16]

In 1986, I learned that during the Iran-Contra affair airplanes made available by the CIA to illegally supply Ronald Reagan’s Contras with weapons were being flown by former drug pilots. Those pilots weren’t stupid. The planes flew down loaded with guns and they weren't going to come back empty. In fact, on any given trip, one of those small planes could haul as much as 900 kilos of cocaine—and haul them they did. So you might ask, in the scheme of things, just how much is 900 kilos of cocaine? I was part of a 76-man narcotic bureau and to my knowledge in the entire 14 years that I worked with that bureau, we didn't seize 900 kilos of cocaine.

Police should not be doing this kind of work anyway. Police are very good at protecting each of us from the rest of us but when police are charged with protecting an individual from him or her self that is when the trouble starts. Police should not be put in that position.

So what should we do? Is there a workable alternative? I think there is.

FOUR STEPS TO A SOLUTION The drug policies of the US have failed dismally their dual task of preventing drug addiction and protecting its citizens from the ravages of violent crime.

Every study I have seen in the past ten years indicates that over 80 percent of crime in the United States is drug related (directly—possession, sale and use of drugs; or indirectly—prostitution, breakings and entries, larcenies, muggings and robberies to obtain money for the purchase of illegal drugs, or murders to ensure power arrangements within or amongst drug trafficking organizations).

The only way to make any real headway in correcting these terrible problems is to initiate a four-point program that I have been contemplating since 1973.

The first step is to legalize all drugs.

If it is true that over 80 percent of all crime in the United States is drug related, then by simply passing a law to legalize drugs we can effectively do away with 80 percent of our crimes; Therefore, the work loads of a very large percentage of our police, courts, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, prisons systems, and corrections personnel will be considerably lightened. Police will then have time to focus on preventing and solving violent crimes and terrorist activities. Our overburdened courts will have resources to commit to civil law where cases languish for years before being heard. Our prisons will no longer have to release violent criminals who are not covered by mandatory minimum sentences to make room for nonviolent drug law violators.

To reduce harm we must not only legalize drugs we must remove the profit motive from the equation. If drugs were legal, produced, and supplied by the government then distributed free to any adult who wanted them—in small quantities for personal use—organized criminals and world terrorists would be monetarily crippled for many years to come.

The second step is to have the federal government produce and quality control the drugs.

There would be several benefits to having the federal government openly import drugs into our country. The first would be that the government would no longer have to hide the fact that they are already facilitating certain individuals roles in the importation of illegal drugs into this country and have been involved in that an enterprise for over fifty years. That policy would no longer be necessary or useful with the profit motive gone.

Illegal drugs are for the most part nothing but weeds. They can be grown nearly anywhere for little or nothing and processing those weeds to extract the drugs is a simple, cheap practice. If addicted drug users can’t support their habits any other way they turn to theft. A person fencing the stolen goods usually pays the thief about ten percent of what the articles are worth. That means, everyday an addict with a $500-dollar-a-day habit must steal $5,000 worth of our possessions. Legalization would put an end to the hugely inflated prices of drugs and to the extremely high rate we have to pay to insure our homes and our vehicles from theft.

It would also put an end to most drug overdoses. If drugs were produced and supplied by the government then users would know the exact potency of the drug they intended to ingest. Users don’t overdose because they knowingly take more drugs than their bodies can handle. They overdose because some street dealer didn’t mix the 50 percent pure product he was supplied carefully enough and he is therefore selling users a product they think is 5 percent pure when it is actually 40 percent pure. When the addicted person injects this concoction, known as a “hot shot” and eight-times as potent as thought to be, that is the end. They don’t get a second chance. Actually, people who overdose with heroin die rather slowly and if taken to a hospital they can usually be saved; of course the reason they are not taken to hospitals can be traced directly to drug prohibition and the justifiable belief by the people taking the victim to a treatment facility that they will be arrested.

Dan Gardner, pointed out in his September 14, 2001, article “Terrorists Get Cash From Drug Trade,” that “[i]n 1994, Interpol's chief drugs officer, Iqbal Hussain Rizvi, admitted that ‘drugs have taken over as the chief means of financing terrorism.’” Jason Burke reported in “Heroin in the Holy War,” December 6, 1998, that Osama bin Laden “sees heroin as a powerful new weapon in his war against the West, capable of wreaking social havoc while generating huge profits….”

There is currently so much money to be made in the drug business simply because drugs are illegal ($400 billion annually spent on illegal drugs throughout the world). It is the most artificially inflated product that exists on the face of the earth and it creates enormous profits for the drug lords and the terrorists. Heroin, ounce for ounce, is worth ten-times as much as gold.

The third step is to have the government distribute free maintenance doses of any drugs to any adults who choose to continue to use them.

Making drugs free would completely remove any profit motive connected with the use of what had been illegal drugs. The government could supply a heroin addict with a 500-dollar-a-day habit for less than a dollar per day. No one would be forced to steal or prostitute him or herself to buy drugs. The day step-three is initiated will also be the last day a dealer or a terrorist will make a penny’s profit from drugs. We will not have to worry about business corporations making addictive drugs even more addictive to insure sales or trying to lure our children into drug use as we saw the big-six tobacco industry did with nicotine (the most addictive drug known) and with the “Joe Camel” cartoon ads. If maintenance drugs are given free to adults there will be no advertisements extolling the virtues of drugs, as we now see with cigarettes and liquor, because no one will be able to make any profit from addicting one more person.

Quite the opposite will be true; the only money to be made off drugs will be by reducing the rate of addiction.

As in the bad old days of alcohol prohibition, today most violent crimes are related to the prohibition of drugs rather than to the use of drugs designated illegal. To protect billions of dollars of profits the drug cartels murder with impunity. And what happens in your city when a local dealer’s territory is infringed on? Does he go to court and say, “I’ve been wronged? I had a contract for that location.” No, there are no regulations today on the sale of drugs that he can turn to for help. Instead, he picks up his gun and shoots it out with the interloper—or perhaps misses and strikes an innocent child. Most drive-by shootings are due to territorial infringements of drug gangs. These killings need not occur if there is no longer a profit motive in the sale of drugs.

Think of the money that would be saved if these three steps were put in place. The federal government will spend $19.2 billion dollars this year on the interdiction of drugs and the state governments will more than match that $19.2 billion figure in order to arrest more than 1.6 million drug users and dealers. Add to that the cost of prosecuting the violators and imprisoning those found guilty—in many cases for the rest of their lives. Then there is the cost of parole or probation for those who served their time in prison. Add it all up and it amounts to over 70 billion dollars each year that could be saved by simply signing a bill saying drug prohibition has ended.

That brings us to step four: Reallocating those saved billions of dollars to programs for treating the addictions of our ill citizens and proactively working to convince others not to use drugs.

We should treat drug addictions as medical and social problems—not as criminal problems. Instead of arresting our young people for using drugs, giving them a police record so no one wants to hire them, sending them to prison where they learn to be smart criminals, and in the long run giving them a great long list of reasons for continuing to use drugs to numb the pain of their existence—we could try another tactic.

In 1969, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence wrote,

To be young, poor, male; to be undereducated and without means of escape from an oppressive urban environment; to want what society claims is available (but mostly to others); to see around oneself illegitimate and often violent methods being used to achieve material success; and to observe others using these means with impunity—all this is to be burdened with an enormous set of influences that pull many toward crime and delinquency. To be also Black, Puerto Rican or Mexican-American and subject to discrimination adds considerably to the pull.

It has been my experience that most people use drugs as an escape from their world because they have no hope for the future. Give them hope and we will end their addictions to drugs.[18]

Suppose we took all the money saved by this suggested policy and used it to: (1) give hope to the poor and the disenfranchised; (2) educate the illiterate and unnumbered; (3) create jobs for the unemployed; (4) end racism and discrimination in our legal system; (5) provide every person in our country with guaranteed health care. I believe, then, we would soon find that our drug problems, as well as many other problems, would at least be manageable if not a thing of the past.

Sources Cited

Baum, Dan. Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1996.

Beck, Allen J., Ph.D. and Christopher J. Mumola. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Prisoners in 1998. (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1999).

Brown, Justice Henry Billings. "Majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson," Desegregation and the Supreme Court, ed. Benjamin Munn Ziegler (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1958) 50-51

Burke, Jason. “Heroin In The Holy War,” The Observer, Indian Express: Bombay, India, Sunday, 06 Dec 1998.

Gardner, Dan. “Terrorists Get Cash From Drug Trade: Trafficking Prime Source Of Funds For Many Groups,” The Ottawa Citizen. Ontario, Canada, 14 Sep 2001.

Levin, David J., Patrick A. Langan and Jodi M. Brown. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. State Court Sentencing of Convicted Felons, 1996. (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, February 2000).

Lusane, Clarence. Pipe Dream Blues: Racism & the War on Drugs, Boston: South End Press, 1991

McCoy, Alfred W. The politics of heroin: CIA complicity in the global drug trade, New York: Lawrenceville books, 1991.

Miller, Richard Lawrence. Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996.

National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Summary Report 1998. (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1999).

Prisoners and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999 Bureau of Justice Statistics. (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, April 2000).

Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1998 Bureau of Justice Statistics, (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1999)

Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, August 2000).

Trebach, Arnold S. "Can Prohibition Be Enforced in Washington?" The Truth Seeker, Sept/Oct 1989.


[i] The one exception to this rule has been the purchase price of marijuana, which has increased by over 2,600 percent. Police interdiction of marijuana at the US borders early on both artificially inflated the price and caused many suppliers and users of marijuana to switch to harder drugs that were easier to smuggle and therefore cheaper to obtain.

[ii] We knew midlevel dealers in the U.S. were paying wholesale prices of approximately $45,000 per kilogram for nearly pure cocaine but if the drugs had been sold at street level prices, one gram of standard quality (7%) cocaine for $100, the price for the same kilogram of drugs would be $1,600,000, returning over 35 times that dealer’s initial investment. Each time a pure drug is “cut” by adding an equal amount of dilutant material the resultant quality of the drug is half what it was: 1 kilo of 100% cocaine cut with 1 kilo of dilutants equals 2 kilos of 50% cocaine; 2 kilos of 50% cocaine cut with 2 kilos of dilutants equals 4 kilos of 25% cocaine, etc. By the time you arrive at 7% cocaine you are up to 16 kilos of the product. Then you multiply $100 times 16,000 grams and you have arrived at the price of the drug seized—$1,600,000. However, if the same drug was sold at 50% quality to street dealers, a couple ounces at a time, at about $1,500 per ounce, as usually happened, the same drug returned a profit of 1.5 times the dealer’s initial investment—still very good but nowhere as misleading.

[iii] Later, with the advent of the Asset Forfeiture Laws, police were not only given the right to take all money as proceeds of illegal activities but could seize vehicles—cars, trucks, campers, house trailers, boats, airplanes—even houses and land. Even if they were not convicted of the charge, in order to get their property back they had to prove that it was not used in the commission of a crime, was the product of the crime, nor was it obtained with the fruits of a crime. This “guilty until proven innocent” form of justice is referred to by Leonard W. Levy, in his book by the same name, as, “A License to Steal.”

[iv] A bundle refers to 30 individual glassine packets, each containing enough powder for a single dose of the given drug.

[v] Followers of the news from the current war in Afghanistan will no doubt recognize Hekmatyar as an ally of the US, a leader of the Northern Alliance, and according to most news reports a particularly despicable and infamous warlord.

[1] Dan Baum, Smoke and Mirrors, p xi.

[2] In March 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued a report on various aspects of marijuana, including the so-called, Gateway Theory (the theory that using marijuana leads people to use harder drugs like cocaine and heroin). The IOM stated, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” Source: Janet E. Joy, Stanley J. Watson, Jr., and John A Benson, Jr. Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research, Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999).

[3] The 1999 federal National Household Survey of Drug Abuse provides an estimate of the age of first use of drugs. According to the Household Survey, the mean age of first use of marijuana in the US in 1997 was 17.2 years. The mean age of first use of alcohol in that year, on the other hand, was 16.1 years, and the mean age of first use of cigarettes was 15.4 years old. Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services, Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (Rockville, MD: SAMHSA, August 2000), pp. G-49, G-60 & G-61.

[4] Dan Baum, p 21.

[5] Dan Baum, p 13.

[6] In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States heard Plessy's case and found him guilty of sitting in the white’s only car of a train traveling through Louisiana. Speaking for a seven-person majority, Justice Henry Brown wrote: "That [the Separate Car Act] does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery...is too clear for argument...A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races -- a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color -- has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races...The object of the [Fourteenth A]mendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either." Justice Henry Billings Brown. "Majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson."

[7] National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Summary Report 1998 , p. 13; Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1998, p. 343, Table 4.10, p. 435, Table 5.48, and p. 505, Table 6.52; Beck, Allen J., p. 10, Table 16.

[8] David J. Levin, p. 8.

[9] Richard Miller, Drug Warriors & Their Prey, pp 38-49.

[10] Richard Miller, p 36.

[11] Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, p. G-5.

[12] Richard Miller, p 191.

[13] Alfred W. McCoy, The politics of heroin, p 23.

[14] Alfred W. McCoy, pp 18-20.

[15] Alfred W. McCoy, p 19.

[16] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, p.19. in Alfred McCoy, p 495.

[17] Arnold S. Trebach, p 22.

[18] “While it is difficult to pinpoint why a particular individual abuses drugs, many addiction experts target a low level of self‑esteem as a critical factor. In recent history, intellectuals … have noted that the crushing impact of poverty leads to alienation and low self‑esteem. Consequently, when a whole community faces this condition, in an atmosphere that promotes identity through material consumption, social deterioration becomes inevitable. Alienation shatters the spirit and destroys the ability to love oneself and others. The escalation of violence and the devaluation of life is rooted in the isolation and nihilism symptomatic of our consumer society.” Clarence Lusane, Pipe Dream Blues, p 26.

Jack A. Cole, Retired Narcotics Cop, Executive Director Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Boston, Massachusetts