Our first panel deals directly with the questions of prohibition and punishment, and treatment and education.
We are fortunate to have as a moderator for the panel Mr. Lowell Bergman, the
series reporter for Frontline's "Drug Wars."
The first panel is going to address, as Professor Dash said, the treatment and education for punishment and prohibition issue, and before we start, we're going to show a 5-minute clip from the documentary. One of the discoveries that we made in reviewing the history of what we commonly call the Drug War ...to our surprise, we discovered that, almost universally, amongst all the veterans of the Drug War from the enforcement side, it was the era of Richard Nixon that was held up as the most effective moment in the last 30 years of drug enforcement in America, and one of the reasons had to do with Nixon's view of the world, his practical political perspective.
And so with that, maybe we can see one of the issues that he had to confront,
Vietnam, and the reality that many of our soldiers in Vietnam were using
heroin, were addicted, and it presented him with a major political problem at
the origins of the Drug War.
The world's drug users don't accept the laws that attempt to compel them to abstain. Prohibition didn't work to control alcohol; it's not working to control drugs. Finding a system to manage the problem is not, as some might characterize it, surrender. It's simply an intelligent way to stop engaging in futile and unsuccessful strategies.
The illegal drug business is roughly a $60 billion a year business in the United States. It has revenues equivalent to those of Texaco or AT&T, you know, making it about the size of the 10th or 11th largest corporation in the United States.
The U.S. market is a quarter to a half of the global trade. We're talking about 120--$250 billion a year, annually, an enormous source of criminal funds that finance crime, corruption and violence.
How were these vast criminal fortunes created? Simply because of our laws. Our drug policy of prohibition is alchemy. American narcotics policy has fulfilled the medieval dream of converting base metals into gold, by transforming poppy gum into heroin worth hundreds or thousands of dollars per gram. Coca into cocaine, worth 50 or a $100 per gram, at a time when gold is worth $9 per gram.
What we see, I suggest, of American drug crisis, flows from this strategy.
When it comes to addressing drug issues in Congress, "talking tough" is the only acceptable dialect, and for a member of Congress, it's more important to be seen giving money to law enforcement than taking the advice of experienced law enforcement leaders.
Funding for drug addicts requires a belief that they're members of the community deserving of our collective help; but that is inconsistent with the national characterization of them as "druggies," "dopers," immoral scum, the "vermin" spreading the drug epidemic.
We're going to hear, at noon, today, our Drug Czar, Barry MaCaffey--McCaffrey, deliver a speech that's titled, "Are Balanced Drug Policies Working?" That assertion is his stump speech. That's been the centerpiece of his national White House drug strategy. You can see--you know--there's no bigger claim that he makes than our drug policy is working.
Well, unfortunately, to make this claim he has to ignore the salient issues. Is our drug policy saving lives? No. Drug deaths have doub--more than doubled since 1979. Well, are drugs being kept outta the hands of kids? No. Kids say heroin and marijuana were easier to get in 1998 than any point in history.
Are we hurting the drug traffickers? No. In 1998, only 81 kingpins are sentenced out of 20,000 federal cases.
Are we making drugs more expensive? No. Prices have fallen steadily, for 20 years.
Well, are we better protecting addicts in the street? No. Purity of heroin has gone up 500 percent. Emergency room admissions for drugs have never been greater.
Until we create a new political reality, we remain trapped in Drug War
Our next panelist is Howard Safir, until very recently, the police commissioner
of New York.
Having diplomats in the State Department making law enforcement policy to deal with host country pro--producing nations has been a total failure. But from my perspective, especially a perspective, having been police commissioner of the City of New York for almost five years, is the policy of law enforcement has not been a failure. It has changed the whole complexion of New York City by making it the safest large city in America.
And I believe that our drug law enforcement policies in New York have accomplished that.
I have been saying, for the last 20 years, that 80 percent of the crime in America has a nexus to the drug traffic. About a year and a half ago, the National Institute of Justice came out with a study, and guess what? they said about 80 percent of the crime in America has a nexus to the drug traffic. I wish they would have given me the money they spent on that study for my budget!
But--so when the Giuliani administration came to New York City, we recognized that the way to reduce crime in New York City, because our responsibility is not to talk about prevention and treatment--our responsibility is to prevent victimization of people in New York City by criminals, and a way to deal with that was to in--mount the largest anti-narcotic law enforcement effort in New York.
And I have often said, that from a state and local perspective, and as police commissioner of New York, I did not really care if I drove the drug traffickers to New Jersey, or to Westchester, or to Long Island, as long as I drove them out of New York City and protected the people of New York City.
Now I know DARE has been a controversial program but it happens to be one that I believe in, and one that I believe, as we develop and expand its curriculum, is going to be a very effective program. But, at the same time, we made it very clear that we weren't going to take a zero tolerance towards drug abuse in New York. We were going to take a zero immunity approach towards drug abuse in New York, which basically meant, if somebody was violating the law, we were going to deal with it, and we were going to give the community back to the good residents.
Because the truth is, when you look at the numbers of people who use drugs in this country, the numbers are relatively small in comparison to the population.
So the vast majority of the neighborhoods that are victims of drug crime are made up of good, hardworking citizens, which is why we introduced our model block program where we took back the worst blocks in the city, block by block, building by building, apartment by apartment, and then gave them back to the citizens, and then did one thing that law enforcement has not done in this country. We did what I call community stabilization.
We brought in all of the other agencies in the city--social services, sanitation, parks, welfare, and buildings, and we gave not only the block back to the citizens but we gave them a reason to have a stake in their community, and what we found is the drug traffickers didn't come back and the drug addicts didn't come back.
So, in summary, I think prevention and treatment is a very important factor,
but when you're a local law enforcement official, your responsibility is to
support drug courts, support prevention, support treatment, but, most
importantly, to make sure that the citizens that you were sworn to protect are
safe from drug crime.
Dr. Robert Newman is with us this morning, and he is one of the leading experts
in the United States on addiction treatment programs.
Let me just make my own position, summarize my own position, right up-front.
First, with regard to treatment, I am a very, very fervent advocate of treatment, treatment for drug addiction clearly does work, and I think treatment absolutely has to be available, promptly, to every single person who wants it and needs it, and, tragically, we are very, very far from that seemingly self-evident goal.
With regard to our drug policies, I am very strongly against them, and basically for many of the reasons that Eric Sterling, Eric Sterling has already described. I think that they're just an abject failure, for a whole variety of reasons.
Certainly, the expense, which is estimated to be $40 billion, to keep incarcerated the largest proportion of our population, of any country, anywhere in the world. We have some 2 million people who are currently in jail. Some 500,000 of them are in there on relatively minor drug offenses.
Now, being against the current policy and being for treatment does not necessarily mean that I am for the drug court system, or other alternatives to locking people up in jail by sentencing them to treatment, and, in fact, I am not for that. And for a whole host of reasons.
First of all, sentencing people to treatment is not an alternative to our current policies. To the contrary. It depends upon continuing our current policy. You gotta arrest the people, gotta have the laws to arrest them in order to sentence them to treatment.
You have to have the prison cells there in order to threaten, threaten people to go to prison--to go to treatment and stay there.
I think there is an illusion, and I think it is an illusion that, in fact, the drug courts, and treatment alternatives to prison, can somehow salvage our clearly bankrupt approach to locking people up. But it can't, and the numbers speak for themselves.
We've got a 100,000 misdemeanor drug offenses in New York State, and the total capacity of drug treatment in New York State, certainly, the residential treatment facilities, which are the prime--the, the favorite of drug judges, have about one thousand available places--one thousand available places, 100,000 misdemeanor drug arrests.
But beyond that, the premises of the drug treatment diversion, drug treatment court system, I think is totally irrational.
First of all, what defines who has this disease or condition that needs treatment? It's not determined on the basis of clinical observation; it's based on criminal determination. Why do thousands of people in New York allegedly have the need for treatment but our presidential candidates, who acknowledge, our strongly imply that they did basically what a lotta these people in New York are doing, and throughout the country--why did they not need treatment? And the answer is very simple.
Not that they had a different problem or a different condition. Some people are caught; some people are not caught. That is not the basis for sentencing people to prison. Judges, prosecutors, police are not trained, are not equipped to decide who needs treatment. Clinicians who receive these people from the courts, they're also put, I think, in an absolutely impossible position because their responsibility is not to the clients, not to the patients. It's to the prosecutor, or to the judge.
In sum, I think what the American public should demand is that treatment that we know is effective should be made available to every single person who wants it and needs it. And from the police and from the prosecutors, and from the judges, I think we have a right to expect them to do what they are uniquely qualified to do, and that is to identify laws that simply don't make sense, that don't serve any purpose whatsoever, and to propose alternatives to those laws.
Criminal justice system people know what's wrong, they know what doesn't work, they know it's prohibitively expensive, and they should make that clear to the American public, and they should come up with alternatives.
One of the things that bothers me is when you look at the Federal Government, and, certainly, the present political campaign, where is the discussion on this extremely important issue?
I will tell you the last discussion I heard. It was a very salient discussion amongst the President and senior advisors on how do we handle the drug issue in the United States, and the arguments that Eric presented, and Howard presented, et cetera, it went on for about 15 minutes, made sense, and it was salient. Unfortunately, it was President Josiah Bartlett [ph] on the "West Wing." That was the last salient discussion I've heard on this issue, and that part bothers me.
I take a piece from what all of these gentlemen here said today. I guess I'm the centrist on the panel. Is our present policy at the federal level working? Absolutely not. I think we have to look at how--what we do with law enforcement.
I think part of our problem is we devote so much money and so much effort to an unwinnable objective, which is seizing the product of drugs.
I sat in, maybe 25 years ago, on a DEA intelligence discussion, in which it was finally realized that the average cartel, meaning starting in Medellin or Cali, all the way to the street traffic, can afford to lose 90 percent of its product and still be profitable.
Now the analogy is in business. GM produces 900,000 Chevrolets a year--excuse me--a million Chevrolets a year, doesn't sell 900,000, and still becomes--and still is profitable. It is mindboggling, and yet we still devote so much of our law enforcement budget to the theory of seizing drugs.
One picture that I will never forget, on the front page of USA Today, about three years ago, one of their aerial shots, showed a picture of about 500 state Pen--Pennsylvania State troopers amassed in a, a drive-in theater with their cars, and the headline underneath was "Pennsylvania State Police Await To Execute The Largest Drug Raid In The History of Pennsylvania." That was the caption under the photo.
Where were they raiding? They were raiding the Pennsylvania mandatory prison, the mandatory penitentiary in Pennsylvania. The, the most--the heavy , locked-up place in Pennsylvania. Hello.
If I can't keep dope outta that pen--outta that penitentiary, how the hell are, are a string of men and women around the country gonna keep drugs from coming in?
So what, first thing I think we have to do is look at how we spend our dollars on law enforcement. I think we have to seriously add to the treatment availability and to the prevention availability.
I refuse however, to go as far as my good friends Eric and Bob Newman go, which is say make it legal. I think that is taking an imperfect system and making it far worse than it would be today, for two simple reasons.
I have never heard an anti-prohibitionist who will argue that if we legalized, decriminalized all drugs, that we would end up with less users.
We will end up with more users. Now, my friend Bill Buckley says, yeah, but in the short run--and he defines "short run" as ten years. I would argue that's a 10 year experiment we can't deal with.
We will end up with more users, and, actually, I would agree with my good friend, Eric Sterling, that we should give any drug who any person--any--to any person who wants it, if he could convince me of one thing. That drug addicts only affect themselves. His theory works great, if the drug addict just affects themselves, because then you can look at all the constitutional freedoms that we should be able to do with our own bodies, et cetera, et cetera.
The problem is that's hogwash. The problem is the drug user or the alcoholic
affects a whole host of people around them. I would ask every person in this
audience who has a family member, or who knows someone well who is an
alcoholic, and ask yourself does that person just affect themselves? Of course
not. They drive families apart, they cause fights, they cause spouse abuse, et
cetera, and I would argue, strongly, that although what we are doing today
doesn't work, and we have to fix it, and we have to make it far better, the
world that Eric Sterling presents would be far worse than even the world we
The drug use rates in New York, I'm not sure that they're particularly broken out, to know exactly how drug use in New York City differs from upstate or from New Jersey or from Connecticut. I'm not aware that there are those kinds of surveys. Former Commissioner Safir may know that that's the case, but what I think is important is that local law enforcement strategies should not be--I mean, when he says the most important thing is to make the public safe from drug crime, in that I have no disagreement. I would suggest, if you said I wanna make New York City safe for alcohol-related crime, you might have even a bigger kind of issue.
The--there's no question that law enforcement has an important role to play. I
don't think that's what we're arguing about. I think I'm trying to bring
forward the, the bigger question of what is our national strategy and our
national objective going to be?
But the truth is, 80 percent of the crime is not caused by alcohol-related crime. It's caused by drugs. And when you say other cities have had reductions in crime, there's no other city in America that has had the reduction in crime that New York City has had, and that's a result of our anti-drug policies.
And, again, my responsibility is to the people of New York, and the difference
is we had 2254 homicides in New York City in 1990, we had 676 homicides last
year, and I believe that that reduction is as a result of dealing with drug
traffickers, and, you know, talking about treatment, the problem with tr--with
Dr. Newman's statement is the fact that, one, as he wells knows, there are
many, many people who use drugs, who don't want treatment, and one of the
reasons that we have drug courts is because the people who don't want treatment
are the very people who are out there committing those crimes.
Instead of being on the street corner, on the playground, or at the school, now
they're inside the bodega, now they're, they're somewhere else, and that's a
form of regulation that has made those communities safer, by your police
Most alcoholics do not walk into treatment and say, "God told me I've hit the bottom of the barrel." They are forced into treatment because a spouse forces 'em, because a kid forces 'em, because criminal justice, DUI, forces 'em, et cetera, and I think that's an appropriate use for law enforcement.
The problem is as the Frontline piece pointed out, of all the people in jail--and Howard's probably right--it's somewhere between 60 and 80 percent have a drug, an underlying drug problem. Only 10 percent of those people have drug treatment availability.
That's the kind of nonuse of funds that I think is crazy. The most expensive
part of drug treatment is the residency; but, hell, they're already in
What happens is the person who--whom treatment has failed--that person gets
sent off to jail. That's irrational. It's completely irrational. It's like
telling some--I, I mean youse--you're in treatment because you gotta problem,
and then when you evidence the symptoms that define that problem, maybe after
one try, maybe after three tries, the system says, "Oh, Jesus, you know, you
got a drug problem, and you continue to have a drug problem, we're gonna send
you to jail." Doesn't make any sense to me.
Okay. So from a local perspective, we're not making a revolving door. We're
sending the major drug traffickers other places. We're--we've, we've created a
policy of displacement but it's a policy of displacement that works for New
York City, and if the entire country did it, it would work for the whole
Will it work to reduce cultivation and availability of drugs in the United
States, and is this the best use of our funds, or would it be better to use
those funds for domestic prevention and treatment?
So this is not just a mistake, this is a mistake that we know is going to lead
to large numbers of people killing one another for absolutely no benefit to
them or to us.
Pouring this money into Colombia, where I've worked in Colombia, I have dealt with Colombian officials, and although there are many, many committed, good Colombian officials, you have to change culture, system, in Colombia, and you have to change who runs drug law enforcement in this country, before we're gonna be effective.
So I agree--we should take a lotta that money and put it in treatment and
When President Clinton goes down to Colombia to meet Pa--Pastrana, he brings American business leaders along on the airplane to talk about business opportunities. This is about stabilizing Colombia. This is about economics. It's about oil companies. It's about economic exploration and development.
So drugs are the pretext. It's not insanity. It's fraud.
The question is what impact has this policy had on lowering crime rates in New
York City? Is there any evidence--
They point to all of these areas as quality-of-life offenses, that drive down
crime, and I just think that the assertion, today, well, it's marijuana arrests
that are responsible for this is--
Now, 14,000 people a month jump over New York City turnstiles and crime is down
60 percent in the New York City subway system. And--
We have far more problems from alcohol and drugs and I guess I will argue with
you, sir, that that is a--that is a, a system that we should emulate. I think
it's a system we should say has not worked, and then try to fix what, what else
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