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Realistic Goals are Achievable, Unrealistic Ones Are Counterproductive

This report does not claim to have all the answers. We have attempted to review the best available science in the field of drug policy and put forward strategies that have been proven effective. We have also attempted to highlight some of the questions that need to be faced about the costs and benefits of the "War on Drugs."

Even though we know that making addiction illegal does not make it go away, for most of this century the United States has attempted to do just that, by prohibiting the possession, cultivation and sale of certain drugs. This effort has translated into unattainable goals like a "drug-free America"188 based on strategies of "zero tolerance" for illegal drugs. This political rhetoric is intended to give voters the impression that politicians are controlling drugs when in fact the policies that follow from the rhetoric result in an abdication of control. Simplistic drug war rhetoric masks the inability of our political leaders to face up to the complex social and health issues that surround drug use. Such political posturing is a rejection of responsibility for controlling the drug market and reducing drug-related harm, and leaves the real control in the hands of narco-traffickers and drug dealers.

The unattainable goal of a drug-free America prevents us from moving toward realistic goals like minimizing adolescent drug use, reducing the spread of HIV, and reducing homicides. This results in a policy which ignores proven strategies like needle exchange, methadone maintenance, treatment on demand and after-school programs for youth. Policies that have been tried and shown effective both in the US and abroad are ignored even when they could improve the lives of many Americans by reducing drug abuse, preventing disease, decreasing racism and improving the lives of children.

Government-backed drug policy experts claim their purpose is to protect America's youth. Yet by ignoring common sense and scientific evidence we have really abandoned our youth. We sacrifice their education to build more prisons, we pursue drug education programs that research shows does not work, we underfund programs that do work like Big Brother/Big Sister, and then we express outrage and call for new punishments when drug selling becomes an enticing employment opportunity for urban youth. Throughout the history of the modern drug war, nearly 90% of high school seniors have said it was very easy or fairly easy to get marijuana easier to get than alcohol, which is regulated and controlled by the state. No matter how much is spent, how many are arrested or how many are imprisoned, easy access remains the standard for our youth. Claims of protecting our youth no longer pass the straight face test they are laughable.

Rather than facing the failure of the drug war, the U.S. government expands the failed strategy. The National Drug Control Strategy issued by General Barry McCaffrey, promises more of the same a policy dominated by law enforcement, some funding for abstinence-based treatment programs and police-dominated drug education. Recently the United Nations has taken up the call moving toward a "World War on Drugs." In announcing a special session on drugs the UN states on its web site: "On the eve of the new millennium, we face an unprecedented opportunity to build a drug-free world. . . "

We do not have to continue down this path. There are alternatives, many with widespread public and professional support. This strategy embraces the same goals as most Americans safe communities, healthy kids and freedom from drug dependency for as many citizens as possible. We agree with Retired General Barry McCaffrey when he says we can't arrest our way out of this problem. In light of this we ask you to consider: how can our nation do better? We believe this document shows the way.

188 The Republicans recently committed to a drug free America again, this time promising to make America drug free by 2002, see "House Republican Vow to Make US Drug-Free," Reuters, May 2, 1998. The last time a promise like this was made was in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Public Law 100-690, signed by President Reagan on Nov. 18, 1988 which stated: in Title V, subtitle F -- Drug Free America Policy section 5251(b) "DECLARATION.-- It is the declared policy of the United States Government to create a Drug-Free America by 1995."

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