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The Drug Legalization Debate

Cops view of the 'drug war'

San Francisco Examiner - April 9, 1995

Even from a purely Political viewpoint, you'd think the Clinton administration's insistence on prosecuting most of its "war on drugs" through law enforcement rather than prevention and treatment was a bow to police chiefs and other defenders of the criminal justice system.

That's why research undertaken by Joseph McNamara, former police chief of San Jose, is especially startling.

McNamara, now a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, surveyed nearly 500 police chiefs, police officers, district attorneys, public defenders, lawyers, judges and Stanford students. Except for the police, who hail from across the country, they live in Northern California.

He found that 95 percent of the police officers believed the United States was losing the war on drugs, and 98 percent thought drug abuse was not primarily a police problem. Just over 90 percent of the cops said increased prevention and treatment could control drugs more effectively. More than 30 percent of the cops said that legalization or decriminalization would cause a decrease in drug use or else not affect it.

A majority of a those surveyed said the answer was not more military intervention, prisons, police or prosecutors.

This newspaper has long urged a change in national drug priorities. More money needs to be spent on prevention and treatment. Less money should be blown on exotic enforcement boondoggles. Harsh prison sentences for minor drug offenses waste private lives and public money.

So, what gives with President Clinton and Lee Brown, his drug czar?

During the 1992 campaign, Clinton promised to reverse the emphasis of President George Bush's 'war on drugs,' which waged battles using law enforcement "soldiers" with two of every three drug-fighting dollars. Included were-costly but inept crop eradication programs in foreign countries and high-tech drug interdiction along U.S. borders.

As president, however, Clinton tapped his $14 billion-a-year drug war chest for about the same small portion for prevention and treatment.

Drug czar Brown has been nearly invisible. He claims drug use in America has declined markedly, but other evidence just says no. One in five state prisoners across the country has been convicted of a drug offense. Crack cocaine is smoked openly on some city streets. One-quarter of U.S. high school students said they had been offered, sold or given drugs on campus.

With a tin ear to the real solutions, the government pursues its outdated, expensive and ineffectual drug war. "Elected officials think it's political suicide to be 'soft on drugs,'" says McNamara.

A taste of the climate: "If social spending prevents crime," says Phil Gramm, senator and GOP presidential aspirant, "why is America not the safest nation on Earth?"

Perhaps Gramm should ask some cops, then share the news with Clinton.

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