Is the Drug War Working or Worse Than the Disease?

Outgoing Drug Czar John P. Walters claims that the U.S. “war” on drugs is working (“Our Drug Policy Is a Success,” Dec. 5), but that’s true only if one redefines success.

Here’s the reality: Illegal substances — from marijuana to cocaine to heroin — are more potent and more available than at any time in history. Deaths from illicit-drug overdoses are at an all-time high, and most illicit substances are cheaper than ever before.

Thanks to the strict enforcement of America’s drug laws, which primarily target nonviolent drug offenders, police now arrest some 1.8 million citizens every year for drug crimes — over 800,000 for minor marijuana offenses alone. As a result, the U.S. has earned the unique distinction of jailing a greater percentage of its population than any other industrialized nation.

If this is Mr. Walters definition of “success,” then I shudder to think what he would consider to be failure.

Paul Armentano
Deputy Director
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Washington

We have 5% of the world’s population and now use 60% of the world’s drugs. That’s certainly not winning this deadly war.

The drug war kills far more people than drugs kill. We’re also now exporting our drug war murders, with more than 4,000 Mexicans killed this year alone.

Another of Mr. Walters untruths is the repeated threat that there will be “millions of new cocaine, heroin or marijuana users.” This is just more fear-mongering and is totally unsubstantiated. The Netherlands has three decades of regulation, control and taxation and has one-fifth our hard drug use and one-half our marijuana use, which is really irrelevant as no one has ever died from marijuana, but 2,000 college students die from alcohol annually in the U.S.

Let’s stop the Office of National Drug Control Policy lies that we’re winning this war. It’s time to end the drug war deaths, the lies and corruption, and learn the lesson of Prohibition: Legalization is much safer and cheaper for all of us, especially our children.

Stephen H. Frye, M.D.
Retired Professor
UNR School of Medicine
Reno, Nev.

Ethan A. Nadelmann tries to justify drug legalization by comparing it to the end of Prohibition (“Let’s End Drug Prohibition,” op-ed, Dec. 5). In doing so he ignores two fundamental differences between alcohol and drugs: Alcohol is entwined in the fabric of our culture and most people use it responsibly.

Drinking alcohol has been part of Western civilization since time immemorial, and consequently it is not surprising that Prohibition did not work (and is not a realistic option in the future). Wine is imbedded in the culture depicted in works going back to the Odyssey and the Torah. Marijuana, crack and heroin do not share this distinguished pedigree.

Most people who drink alcohol don’t drink it to get drunk. In contrast, everyone who smokes marijuana or crack does so to get high.

If alcohol had been invented only yesterday, would it be a good idea to legalize it so lots of people use it? We have enough problems with legal alcohol; why create more problems by legalizing more intoxicants?

Jon Walker
Tacoma, Wash.

Mr. Nadelmann’s op-ed is timely and has merit for various reasons: Legalized drugs would raise tax revenues for the states and the federal government, kill the growth potential of gangs in the U.S. and organized crime overseas, reduce the expense of trial and incarceration of millions, and enable addicts to support their habits without resorting to crime. The bottom line is that prohibition does not deter usage, it merely deprives governments of resources that can be used elsewhere.

Stanley Allen
Davie, Fla.

Should we continue to restrict access to alcohol, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and nicotine — the drugs with the strongest scientific evidence for causing dependency disease? Absolutely. Should we continue to discourage a hedonistic sort of abuse of these drugs? Without question. Should our government policies move from simply supply-side interdiction and begin to consider the demand side of the equation with the same zeal? Many recoverable lives hang in the balance.

Karl G. Williams
Professor
Wegmans School of Pharmacy
St. John Fisher College
Rochester, N.Y.