Recently, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, our nation's "drug czar," was
invited to Orange County for a debate about drug policy. He said all he
had time to do was give a speech and take a few questions.
My question was: Many people here in California feel that the federal
government is closed-minded, even arrogant, in dealing with medical
marijuana. Since Proposition 215, which allowed sick people to use
marijuana as medicine if it was recommended to them by a doctor, passed
by a large margin in this state, and similar measures have passed in four
other states plus the District of Columbia, will you now do what you can
to cause the federal government to allow the will of the voters in these
states to prevail?
McCaffrey's answer was, in essence, that since in his mind marijuana
was not a medicine, the voters in all of these states could pound sand.
Our drug czar has now gone back to Washington. But there remain many
other critical questions I want to ask him about our nation's failed war
* Have you considered that the enormous problems in countries like
Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Afghanistan are really not caused by drugs as
such but by drug prohibition? That is to say, the problems come directly
from the money obtained from the sale of these drugs. So couldn't we use
our intellect, strength and ingenuity to come up with some way of
deprofitizing these drugs? This will probably not have any adverse effect
upon the availability of these dangerous drugs, even to our children or
even to people in prison, because under the present policy the drugs are
already fully available. But if we could take the money out of the
equation, we wouldn't have to consider sending our nations' troops and
treasure down to these countries to fight these unwinnable wars.
* Have you considered that since all neutral studies have shown
overwhelmingly that programs of needle exchange for drug-addicted people,
which allow a dirty needle and syringe to be exchanged for a clean one
with no money changing hands and no questions asked, do not increase drug
usage but do greatly reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus, hepatitis
C, tuberculosis and other serious diseases both to the drug users as well
as to their sexual partners and to the newborns of female drug users?
Since these programs have been endorsed by organizations like the
American Medical Assn., the Centers for Disease Control, the National
Commission on AIDS and the General Accounting Office, as well as by the
secretary of Health and Human Services, will the federal government now
finally change laws that make these programs illegal?
* Do you know what other countries around the world are doing about
these problems? For example, are you aware that Switzerland, in an effort
to reduce the harm caused by these dangerous drugs, has implemented pilot
programs for drug maintenance in 15 of its cities? These programs allow
addicted drug users to have access to low-cost pharmaceutical morphine,
heroin and methadone, which can be injected under strict medical
supervision in licensed medical clinics. The programs have been so
successful in reducing crime in the neighborhoods surrounding the clinics
and increasing the health and employment of the clients that more than
70% of the Swiss voters opposed an initiative that would have abolished
them. Since reducing crime and increasing general health and
employability of our people are good things, why have we not established
similar pilot programs in our country?
* Don't you realize that our war on drugs is not working, and that our
prohibitionist policies are significantly adding to our problems here in
Southern California, as well as around the country and the world? Don't
you realize that just because some of us talk about changing our policy
does not mean that we condone the use or abuse of these dangerous drugs?
* Finally, since you control a federal budget that has just been
increased from $17.8 billion last year to $19.2 billion this year, is
asking people like you if we should continue with our nation's current
drug policy like a person asking a barber if one needs a haircut?
These are some of the questions I would have asked our country's
spokesperson for the status quo, if only he had had the time.