National Review, July, 1996


THE ISSUE Of NATIONAL REVIEW dated February 12, 1996, gave the conclusion of the magazine that the time had come to revise our laws on drug trafficking. Seven writers contributed to the symposium. There were no differences among them on the primary findings. They were 1) that the famous drug war is not working; 2) that crime and suffering have greatly increased as a result of prohibition-, 3) that we have seen, and are countenancing, a creeping attrition of authentic civil liberties; and 4) that the direction in which to head is legalization, whatever modifications in kind, speed, and variety commend themselves in study and practice.

The response from the magazine's readers is, in volume, second only to the response to the issue in 1991 given over to the exploration of anti-Semitism. We have had over four hundred communications, and the only civil way to introduce fragments from these letters, as we now do, is to apologize to their authors for our failure to acknowledge them individually. (One letter is approximately eight thousand words long and is marked, "Not for publication in whole or in part.") Four hundred letters addressed to the President of the United States, or even to a senator or congressman, would almost certainly be acknowledged, by using form letters A, B, and C. But even a letter so spare as to have been usable to all our correspondents would have broken our clerical bank. Add to this an indisposition to craft letters so diffuse as to fall to qualify as serious answers. (H. L. Mencken's formula was always to say, "You may be right. Sincerely, HLM.")

Readers are about evenly divided on the recommendations of NR. A heavy majority were grateful that NATIONAL REVIEW had ventilated the subject extensively; all agree that the drug problem is acute, and no one disputes that the drug war is being lost. Those who oppose legalization are divided on what then to do, one half asking for harsher penalties, the other proposing different strategies. Inasmuch as the heavy majority of those who lean toward, or forthrightly advocate, legalization endorsed the findings and analyses of our own panel, they are given, to avoid repetition, less space in this summary. The analyses by Messrs. Buckley, Duke, McNamara, Nadelmann, Schmoke, Sweet, and Szasz are requoted here only when their recollection helps to achieve perspective in answering our critics.

  1. The Classic Prohibitionist View

    Prominence should be given to a long letter from our old friend and fellow warrior John A. Howard, founder of the Rockford Institute, now counselor to Rockford (which also publishes Chronicles). Commentary on his and subsequent letters is done by mc-WFB. What I say does not presume to be exactly what my colleagues would have said, but I have endeavored to avoid any disharmony with their views.

    Mr. Howard says that he is surprised by the "ignorance" of the writers in respect of "the large body of scientific research which contradicts their presuppositions and assertions. Bill Buckley denies any serious concern about the impact of cocaine and marijuana upon the millions of regular users because most of them continue their use 'without any observable distraction in their lives or careers.' Ethan Nadelmann asserts, 'Most people can use drugs without doing much harm to themselves or anyone else. The other authors seem to assume the same benign character of drug use."

    Mr. Howard goes on, "An international colloquium on the human effects of cannabis consumption was held in Paris in 1992 under the auspices of the French National Academy of Medicine. Professor Henri Baylon, the President of the Academy, summarized the conclusions of the meeting as follows:

    "'1. The toxicity of cannabis is well established, experimentally and clinically. The drug adversely affects the central nervous system, the lungs, and the immunity and reproductive functions.

    "'2. Epidemiological studies have reported that the use of "hard drugs" rarely occurs among subjects who have never used cannabis.

    "'3. Consequently, the participants in this colloquium rebut the distinction between "soft' and "hard" drugs.

    "'4. The trivialization ("decriminalization") of cannabis use, where it has occurred, has resulted in a considerable increase of its consumption and of its subsequent damaging effects."'

    What I wrote (page 36): "Professor Steven Duke of Yale Law School, in his valuable book, America's Longest War: Rethinking Our Tragic Crusade against Drugs, and scholarly essay, 'Drug Prohibition: An Unnatural Disaster,' reminds us that it isn't the use of illegal drugs that we have any business complaining about, it is the abuse of such drugs. It is acknowledged that tens of millions of Americans (I have seen the figure 85 million) have at one time or another consumed, or exposed themselves to, an illegal drug. But the estimate authorized by the federal agency charged with such explorations is that there are not more than 1 million regular cocaine users, defined as those who have used the drug at least once in the preceding week. There arc (again, an informed estimate) 5 million Americans who regularly use marijuana; and again, an estimated 70 million who once upon a time, or even twice upon a time, inhaled marijuana. From the above we reasonably deduce that Americans who abuse a drug, here defined as Americans who become addicted to it or even habituated to it, are a very small percentage of those who have experimented with a drug, or who continue to use a drug without any observable distraction in their lives or careers."

    One wonders why Mr. Howard wastes his time (and ours) by his misreadings and irrelevancies. When the French National Academy of Medicine reports that cannabis is "toxic" in that it "affects the central nervous system," it is telling us nothing that is not obvious. There is no other reason to use marijuana than that it affects the nervous system. And any inhalation of tar affects the lungs. If marijuana seriously affects the reproductive functions, one can only wonder at the success of the Woodstock generation in reproducing itself. To say that everyone who uses cocaine probably once used marijuana is correct and meaningless. Everyone who rapes probably once masturbated. Most excesses are progressive. To conclude that there is no distinction between soft and hard drugs is simply to ignore the discriminating capacity of our senses, to distinguish between the man who has taken a glass of beer and the man who has taken a half-dozen martinis. And this, of course, is the key insight. Nothing the Academy says about cannabis or cocaine can't be said about alcohol, which the United States finally decriminalized after 13 ugly (and cheerless) years. It is especially curious that Mr. Howard failed to grapple with the point, given that the sentence in the NR issue immediately after the one he quoted above read: "About such users [i.e., occasional marijuana and indeed cocaine users] one might say that they are the equivalent of those Americans who drink liquor but do not become alcoholics, or those Americans who smoke cigarettes but do not suffer a shortened life span as a result."

    And a factual point. Mr. Howard: "Robert Sweet does urge the acceptance of 'the recommendations of President Nixon's commission on drug law to end the criminalization of marijuana.' That would seem to support his view, except it is flatly untrue. That commission recommended that marijuana remain contraband, subject to confiscation by law-enforcement officials."

    The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (The "Nixon Marijuana Commission") found in 1972 that "there is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use" of marijuana. On the question of law enforcement, the panel recommended a "decriminalization" of possession of marijuana for personal use on both the state and the federal levels. Specifically, it recommended that:

    "-Federal and state laws be changed to no longer make it a crime to possess marijuana for private use. "-The distribution in private of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration or for insignificant amounts should no longer be an offense. "-State laws should make the public use of marijuana a criminal offense punishable by a $100 fine. Under federal law, marijuana smoked in public would merely be subject to seizure."

    Most of the letters received fall into one or another of the categories enumerated below.

  2. The Demands of the Natural Law

    ' . . in most arenas (the suicide business, abortion, others) you make reference to natural law, but in the isolated area of drug legalization you seem to discount the possibility of any higher guidance and use expediency as the rationale.' - Dr. T. P. Collins, Portsmouth, Virginia

    No such thing was intended. But laws do not for the most part instruct us whether to engage in particular activities. Of the seven deadly sins (gluttony, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, wrath) only two are also proscribed by statute law, and even they, only marginally. Jimmy Carter confessed to lust in his heart, but the policeman materializes only when lust activates aggression. Wrath is okay (in fact it is even encouraged, in times of war) except when it causes you to kill or maim innocents.

  3. Personal Responsibility

    Much indignation is expressed over the tacit position of many anti-prohibitionists that the addicted class is free to become a public burden.

    "Several years ago, our Congress chose to follow the leadership of American liberals by deciding that taking illegal drugs was a 'disease.' In reality, the use of drugs describes a behavior. The result? The illegal drug-takers are 'rehabilitated' to the point where they no longer need to work to make their way in life; they simply hand the tab to the taxpayer. " -Jack W. Pace, Lincoln, Rhode Island

    But surely it is not plausible that anyone well and persuasively instructed in the tortures of addiction would think to take up drugs merely as a means of effecting a personal welfare program? What several symposium contributors stressed was different, namely that the dollar spent on instruction and therapy effects a higher return than the dollar spent on detection, trial, and imprisonment.

  4. Can Anyone Function With Drugs?

    Some viewers of the Firing Line programs aired in February featuring contributors to the NR drug symposium were astonished to hear (from Mr. Nadelmann and Dr. Szasz) that indeed some drug users can and do lead apparently normal lives.

    "'On Saturday morning, you sat there and countenanced the proposition that heroin was less dangerous than alcohol . . . -Especially appalling was the suggestion that the addict could 'function' if he or she were freed from the problem of obtaining enough money to fund an illegal habit. The idea that an addict can function is almost as insane as the addict's substance abuse is insane. How do you define 'function'? Does it mean to lead a responsible, productive life? Does it mean simply to be able to feed and dress oneself. Does it mean to live and not be a threat to other people? How much self-reliance and safety do you include in your definition?" -Louise H Perret, Rye, New York

    It is established that some people can "function" even after ingesting cocaine. Dr. Szasz has written on the matter in several of his books. He is arguing two positions. The first is that the "abuse" of drugs is a variable. Even as we know those who can tolerate five drinks, and those who can't tolerate one, it is evidently so with cocaine. This is hardly to recommend the use of it, since for the overwhelming majority it is immobilizing. Dr. Szasz makes the point that it is clinically incorrect to assume that everyone is equally affected. His other point is that to impose legal sanctions against someone merely because it is established that he has used the drug is an encroachment on human rights.

  5. Is Drug Legalization Analogous to Choice in Abortion?

    "I'm surprised no one has thought of the parallel between the legalization of drugs and the legalization of abortion. The same arguments ... could easily be used to legalize drugs. Right to privacy, freedom to do what one wishes with one's body, even the threat that if abortion were illegal women would have to resort to the back-alley butcher. Just change this last one to read back-alley pusher and the two are identical. " -Frank F. Bellotti, Seattle, Washington

    The parallel is of limited use, surely, inasmuch as opposition to abortion springs from the belief that there is an aggrieved party, with human rights.

  6. Would Legalization Bring More Government?

    "Another almost certain consequence [of decriminalization] would be the creation of a Federal Drug Control bureaucracy that would make the current Drug War machine seem trivial ... Another worry concerning the legalization of drugs is its probable effect on the workplace. Today, we employers can fire drugged-up employees. But, with legalization, I can imagine that employers will be forced to continue the employment of worthless workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act.' John F. Brinson, Allentown, Pennsylvania

    Surely implausible? There was less government, in respect of alcohol, affecting individual lives after Prohibition than during it. Besides, it must by no means be taken for granted that all the contributors to NR's symposium favor diminished social and economic sanctions, were legalization to come. It is not inconsistent to favor legalization alongside an intensification of these other sanctions.

    The columnist Nicholas von Hoffman lists what society is in a position to do to make its point. The taking of drugs ought to be legislated as a civil offense. What then might a drug consumer expect? To begin with, everyone would have to submit to periodic blood testing. "Anyone testing positive for drug use would be subject to the revocation of a huge army of privileges, ranging from temporary to permanent loss of driver's license, the revocation of one's license to practice law, operate a barber shop, work as an electrician, practice medicine or be a plumber, rent property, buy and sell securities. Civil penalties for drug use could also include cancellation of eligibility for every kind of government loan insurance, loss of eligibility for welfare, student grants in aid, subsidies, and government payments of any kind, large or small. Persons found selling would be subject to cancellation of medical insurance, Social Security, up to and including refused admission to hospitals or hospices. No criminal penalties, no long trials, no Lee Blundermouths, or Whirling Dershowitzes. Civil society, through quick, essentially unappealable administrative tribunals would turn its back on such people for a greater or lesser period of time."

    The promulgation of the Hoffman Protocols would require fiddling with the Constitution. But can it be said that Mr. Hoffman is soft on drugs, though he advocates legalization?

  7. The Federalist Implications

    "We tend to speak of the 'legalization' of drugs, when we really referring to the repeal of national drug legislation. . . . "Why should the conservative coalition split itself apart in arguments whether Government' ought [to] act aggressively against production and consumption, or adapt a libertarian unconcern let the market proceed to do its work? The issue cuts too deeply. Where are we likely to find a better opportunity to educate the American people about federalism? The remanding of policy to the states would dramatically illustrate the futility and destructiveness of much meddlesome federal administration. " -Scott Rutledge, Richardson, Texas

    State-bounded experiments lifting criminal sanctions against marijuana use have been attempted in a dozen states. But of course, drugs being light and unbulky, it would require an extraordinary mobilization of state constabulary to prevent border crossings. But yes, it would be prudent to ???al the federal law against marijuana use, leaving it to the to define laws of their own. The distinguished neuroscientist Professor Michael Gazzaniga, writing in NR (February 5, 1990), advocated a federal drugstore in which drugs were clearly -- even dramatically labeled, detailing toxicity and possible/probable side effects. Such drugs would be available at a cost low enough to eliminate a black market.

  8. How to Measure Social Unacceptability?

    Several correspondents see a difficulty in any proposition to the effect that general disobedience of a law, as with drug consumption in America, should lead to the law's abrogation.

    The Buckley corollary seems to be that if the enforcement of a criminal law measured by an unspecified ratio of persons of the crime to those engaged in the conduct criminalized is too low, then the conduct should be legalized. I would like to have your views on whether, for example, you believe laws making homicide criminal should bc repealed if it became apparent that most homicides were unsolved. " -Walter S. Lewis, Princeville, Hawaii

    The point is argumentatively interesting, but collapses under scrutiny. Many sometime laws withered away with the separation of church and state, and sluggish observance. Attendance at Sunday services was theoretically compulsory in some localities even after the Constitution was ratified. Such laws gradually disappeared, as also, almost two centuries later, laws against commerce on the Lord's Day. What looms is greater emphasis on the distinction between victimless crimes and other crimes. Laws against sodomy are de facto relics of another age, although they are still on the books in some states. Laws against suicide are formalistic, inasmuch as prosecution is, in the nature of the case, impossible.

    To be sure, the term "victimless" is used glibly. Isn't a prostitute, even if she engages in her profession voluntarily, in some real sense a victim? The drug consumer can, by his habit, victimize his family, but then so can the wage earner who dissipates his salary at the race track. It is preposterous to argue that the drug consumer does no damage, but my colleagues in the symposium are agreed that the sum of human damage done by the drug laws is greater than would be done without them, and that the primary-and sometimes only-victim in the latter case would be the drug user. The murderer's victim is someone whose rights are theoretically guaranteed by the Constitution; and the promiscuity of homicide is, up to a point, evidence of the delinquency of law enforcers. There is no evidence, the contributors to the drug symposium are agreed, that increasing the severity of prison sentences, or the density of patrolmen on our frontiers, would so successfully interdict drug traffic as to make the war on drugs victorious.

  9. Isn't It a Matter of Law Enforcement?

    On this point - law enforcement - many correspondents dwelled. Blame for the ineffectiveness of the drug laws is laid on the shoulders of politicians, judges, police officers, lawyers, jurors, educators, parents, and doctors.

    "I do not believe that the drug war has been lost; it has not yet been fought. "what we have had up to this point have been ploys designed by politicians to appease as many of the various segments of the voting public as possible. A law that is not vigorously enforced it's no deterrent. It is not the existence of a law that is the deterrent, it is the enforcement of the law. . . . " -Howard K Jeter, North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania

    Arriving at a different conclusion, in our symposium, were Joseph McNamara, who has served as police chief in two major U.S. cities; Judge Robert Sweet of New York, who, called upon to implement the Rockefeller drug laws, has seen the tumbrils pass by, en route to twenty years' imprisonment; and Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, who has presided for nine years over the government of a drug-torn city. Federal money appropriated to prosecute drug traffic and drug use rose by 1,000 per cent between Nixon and Clinton. We have seen oscillations in drug use, especially a sharp diminution in cocaine consumption, but these have little bearing on the intensity of the drug war. It is for that reason that the panelists join in concluding that, this side of draconian punishment (flogging?) (hanging?) (public?), the drug war cannot claim victory.

  10. Where Do You Draw the Line?

    ' . . How do you make the decision which is which? You did not distinguish among drugs. Are there no drugs that should be banned, and if some should be, how is the line drawn?' -Francis S. Webster III, Austin, Texas

    The text on the cover of the drug issue read,


    - Kill it -Go for Legalization -Free up Police, Courts -Reduce Crime

    The panelists were not asked to draw the line. But in order to accomplish the stated objectives (free up police, courts; reduce crime), the profit from the merchandising of drugs would need to be all but abolished. This means, clearly, legal access to the most popular drug (marijuana) and the runner-up (cocaine). For most users, soft drugs are preferred over the most toxic, even as beer and wine are preferred over 200-proof alcohol. Crack cocaine is of course readily deduced as a (now) cheap byproduct of cocaine.

    There is some evidence that crack cocaine can induce violent conduct. How, then, to handle the hypothetical buyer who enters a federal drugstore and asks for crack cocaine? Perhaps as was for so many years required in New Zealand of customers for beer-that they consume it on the premises.... But on such specifics, the panelists were not questioned. Dr. Szasz is, on the subject, a libertarian absolute. My sense of it is that most of the others would move step by step provided the profit in drugs were hugely reduced. A beginning might be the legalization of marijuana.

  11. Alcohol and Drugs

    ' . .you make the ludicrous mistake of comparing alcohol with drugs. With alcohol, you may bare a hangover, but you will never experience a 'snapback' to full and complete intoxication. Take a visit to a drug hospital. You will see people wandering around like mind-numbed robots, oblivious to the world around them. " -Oliver A. Rockwog, La Puente, California

    To compare drugs and alcohol is not to equate them. An analogy, by definition, marks similarities on the understanding that there are also dissimilarities. Marijuana, cocaine, and whisky are all psychotropic drugs. Of the three, only marijuana can't kill-there is no record of death from overdose. Alcohol is responsible for an estimated 100,000 premature deaths every year. And alcohol is the most common wrecker of personal and professional lives, and by far the most common inducement to crime and mayhem. The damage done by drugs to the human body similarly varies. There are the cocaine-induced zombies, some of whom will never recover, and the alcoholics who suffer from more than a hangover because when they wake they turn again to the bottle. The primary distinction is that alcohol is a happy part of Western culture, and there is the presumptive case against introducing another species of psychotropic drug into that culture. But the panelists, in the issue under discussion, weren't arguing in favor of a supplementary drug. We were addressing the question: What do we do under present circumstances?-having failed to stop drug traffic, and become progressively accustomed to privations caused by the endless war against drugs?

  12. Hard-Drug Users Are Criminals To Begin With

    'As a 22-year prosecutor in a small rural area, I believe I have a better view of the everyday criminal than does a big-city prosecutor... Marijuana is a fairly harmless substance that could be legalized without any real effect on the crime problem in general Marijuana is a substance whose effects on the lives of those who take it are similar to alcohol, and people who use it have the ability to be normally functioning members of society.

    'On the level of everyday street crime, however, the drug laws are a major advantage to law enforcement. Most of the '50 per cent' of criminals in prison for drug offenses are not there because they are major dealers or dealers at all. They are there because they have a long history of criminality prior to being caught with drugs. Possession of drugs is both easy to prove and very inexpensive to prosecute. But when you send these people to prison, you prevent innumerable thefts and acts of violence. Only very rarely is violence by drug addicts directly related to drugs themselves. " -Fred Schroeder, Marysville, California

    The point plays on a theme widely distracting. Some students of the drug question believe that drug traffic is, as here suggested, merely a convenient vehicle for criminal energies that will find another outlet should the profit in drugs come to an end. What percentage of the drug-related prison population falls into this category (Category #I) is of course unknown. But it is known that many non-criminally-inclined Americans have experimented with drugs (we have used the figure 70 million). Some of these, caught in the act, are in )????'all (Category #2). And then there are those who become addicted and, in order to satisfy their craving, engage in criminal activity they'd never have engaged in but for their addiction and the high price of drugs. They are in jail either because they were detected in theft, or because they were caught consuming or trafficking in drugs (Category #3). The argument that in order to expedite the imprisonment of Category #1 we should not object to the imprisonment of Categories #2 and #3 is not persuasive.

  13. 'I Saw What Happened . . .' "l saw what happened to promising young men and women in the late Sixties and Seventies when drugs were popularized. I had to raise four children under peer pressure . . . I saw the 'burnouts' and the dropouts. It would tear you to pieces. I saw friends of my sons go off to the University of Michigan clean and come back hopelessly on drugs. I saw families spending themselves into bankruptcy trying to dry them out." -Lawrence E. Flora, Stuart, Florida

    Who "popularized" drugs? An indulgent lifestyle. You write of the burnouts you have seen. How do you propose to diminish their number? They are there notwithstanding our war on drugs. What do you propose? Longer prison terms?

  14. It's Simple: It's Wrong

    "I started using marijuana at age 14, speed at 15, mescaline and LSD at 16, THC at 17, cocaine at 18, and freebasing cocaine at 22. I know from first-hand experience what the use of illegal drugs can do.... I started doing drugs at age 14 and continued until I reached the age of 27, when I overdosed on cocaine. I believe that I am a better expert than any pundit who has ever read a paper, done a test, or contributed to any article. I know why drugs should never be legalized.- to use drugs is wrong. Simple, isn't it? But that is where we must all begin to answer the question involved here.

    "Drug use is wrong; to consciously ingest any substance for the purpose of changing or altering your mood is wrong. The effects of long-term drug use are clearly proven; to be involved in drug use while young affects the mind while growing up; it shapes the emotions of the pubescent who is going through the normal growing pains that all must go through, yet doesn't allow the teenager to view life through a normal viewpoint. I know. I have had to learn how to deal with people all over again since coming clean. It cannot be repeated enough: the use of drugs for the purpose of enjoyment is wrong.

    "I know. I have done drugs in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Washington, Vancouver, B.C., Hawaii, Guam, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mombasa Kenya, and Singapore. I have done drugs at Paris Island during boot camp; Cherry Point, North Carolina; Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; 29 Palms, California; on board the USS LaMoore County, USS Okinawa, and USS Belleau Wood. It's wrong.' -Unsigned

    We agree, it's wrong. And your experiences certainly document that the war against drugs has failed.... You were wise to leave Singapore. If caught, you would not have completed your itinerary. But we don't want to bring Singapore to America.

  15. The View From Abroad

    'As a career Foreign Service Officer, I have served in drug-producing countries and seen the disastrous effects our policy has on those nations and bow it benefits our enemies. We have created new sources of funds for politicos and caps already disposed to corruption. We risk the lives of brave American agents in a fight in which our 'allies' have no interest and see, rightly, as our problem, not theirs. We have huge bureaucracies in the State Department, Pentagon, CLI, DEA, FBI, AID, and Justice and legions of Beltway bandits thriving on the 'war' and its programs, conferences, etc. But the drugs still come; prices still drop; availability still rises-and the body count in our streets doesn't stop. The war is a massive fraud with incalculable negative effects at home and abroad. " -Name Withheld by Request

  16. Devolution

    "The most embarrassing aspect of the articles was that Steven 'l am-not-a-conservative' Duke was the only person to recognize what we should do: devolve the matter to the states. Let Utah maintain its prohibition, let the People's Republic of New York legalize... and let NR stop searching for a national solution." -Steven C. Russell, Bountiful, Utah

  17. If It Isn't Illegal ...

    'Tell me something, Mr. Buckley, if you can't educate someone on the dangers of drug use when it is illegal, how are you going to do so after it is legalized? I have two sons who are alcoholics. One of my uncles and my older brother both drank themselves to death. I shudder to think of the additional tragedies we would have bad to deal with if drugs were legal. Our laws against drug use are important, Mr. Buckley. May God help you to see that and to engage the enemies of right behavior.

    'What are my credentials? I am a janitor who has more sense than a fistful of intellectuals that write articles for magazines. ' -Jerry G. Allen, St. Louis, Missouri

    Were the people who, 63 years ago, ended Prohibition responsible for the tragedies experienced by your family? The argument would appear to be saying exactly that.

    We are grateful to our readers, as ever; and regret we can't, for obvious reasons, publish all that you wrote. The argument goes on. You have contributed to the public understanding, and to my own. -WFB End