Source: Providence Journal, The (RI)
Author: Froma Harrop
Published: Sunday, December 19, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Providence Journal Company
Contact: [email protected]
The money in illicit drugs doesn't all go to bad guys carrying AK-47s
and driving BMWs. About $69 billion of it last year went to police,
federal agents, judges, jailers and other drug-law enforcers across the
United States. These are the good guys, but most are not so good that
they will admit that the war on drugs is a waste of money and lives. The
war is how they make a living.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wasn't thinking about the billions
when he played the innocent during the recent arguments on medical
Breyer conceded that he didn't really know whether marijuana helped
cancer patients in ways that pills do not. But it puzzled him, he said,
that the patients' lawyers didn't just go to the federal Food and Drug
Administration and insist, "You must take it off the list of banned
drugs if it has an accepted medical use and it isn't lacking in safety."
Sounds like common sense: Make a scientific evaluation of medical
marijuana, and then decide whether or not it belongs in the people's
But that's not going to happen. A week later, the federal Drug
Enforcement Administration told Prof. Lyle Craker, a horticulturist at
the University of Massachusetts, that he couldn't grow marijuana for the
purpose of making such an evaluation.
Craker is an expert on medicinal plants. (Over 25 percent of all
prescription medicines are plant-based.) He wanted to grow the type of
marijuana needed for secondary clinical trials -- which are run by DEA-licensed
Observe how DEA bureaucrats draw a perfect circle of frustration. They
say that researchers should instead use marijuana grown at a University
of Mississippi lab. But the marijuana there is low-quality and worthless
to the scientists.
Then they tell Craker that there's no need for his improved marijuana,
because no one is doing secondary trials, anyway. But people aren't
doing secondary trials because they can't get the plant material to do
them with. "It's kind of silly here," Craker concludes.
DEA officials are not biologists and have no idea what distinguishes one
type of marijuana from another. But that's not the point of the
exercise. The point is to stop any activity that might eventually hurt
Do the math: The DEA has nearly 11,000 employees and a $2 billion
budget. America last year arrested 1.6 million people for nonviolent
drug offenses. Half were for marijuana (with 80 percent for possession).
The number of marijuana arrests, 734,000, nearly equaled the population
of South Dakota. Imagine what legalizing marijuana would do to the DEA's
Marijuana has yet to kill anyone, yet anti-drug advocacy groups like the
Partnership for a Drug-Free America portray it as a scourge. And why
not? Condemning marijuana helps score $20 million in annual revenues for
the Manhattan-based nonprofit. Its president makes a quarter of a
million, and the next five highest-paid employees rake in close to
There's far less money in opposing the war on drugs. Just ask Jack Cole,
a former undercover narcotics agent who helped found a group called Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition. The members are mostly cops, judges,
corrections officers and former DEA agents who think that the "war"
amounts to throwing $69 billion down the rat hole.
In his 26 years with the New Jersey State Police, Cole saw the drug
problem getting worse, as spending on the war mushroomed. The
prohibition on drugs has created "obscene profits" for criminals, he
notes. For example, the value of heroin increases 17,000 percent from
the time it leaves the farmer in Afghanistan to when it sells on
"When I arrested someone for robbery or rape, I was taking someone
dangerous off the streets," Cole says. "When I arrested someone for
selling drugs, I was creating a job opening."
Cole's group offers a simple plan: Legalize all drugs. The federal
government could give addicts the drugs they crave, then treat them.
"Medical marijuana would be Drug Policy Reform 101," Cole says. "This is
the very least anybody can do for anyone."
But the smallest retreat is billions in lost revenues for the warriors.
And that's why the bureaucrats and every player in this war will fight
against legalizing medical marijuana, for as long as it takes.
Froma Harrop is a Journal editorial writer and syndicated columnist.
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