Congressional Record


Vol. 142


No. 8

Senate (Legislative day of Monday, January 22, 1996)

DRUG LEGALIZATION * Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, yesterday the New York Times ran a piece noting that the lead story in the next issue of the National Review is going to call for the legalization of drugs. The rationale for this argument is that the war on drugs has failed and that the only solution is to declare defeat and turn the asylum over to the inmates.
    I am not sure just what information the folks at the National Review are using, but the facts are flawed and the argument is dumb and irresponsible.
    Mr. Buckley, the author of the piece, is safe in making such arguments because he personally does not plan to use drugs. No one of his immediate acquintance is likely to start using dangerous drugs. So the consequences of his advocacy will not be felt personally. Instead, the burden of his ideas will be borne by countless families whose kids -- the most at-risk population -- will fall victim to the consequences of drug abuse. The costs will also be borne by the public purse, as we have to treat the walking wounded.
    Although there is no public support for the idea of legalization, and none in the Congress, some of our culture elite -- left and right -- keep raising the idea as if it had some intellectual merit. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am therefore submitting for the RECORD a longer statement on the common mistakes made in the legalization argument that I hope will help in closing this latest chapter in foolishness.
    The statement follows:
STATEMENT BY CHARLES E. GRASSLEY: DRUG LEGALIZATION     I have been increasingly concerned about the tendency in some quarters to promote the legalization of drugs in this country. If there is any idea that is essentially without merit and without public support, it is that this country should entertain seriously the notion that dangerous drugs should be legalized and made widely available. Drug legalization is truly an invitation to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
    Unfortunately, many in the media and in our cultural elite, who have a disproportionate access to public communication and opinion outlets, have once again started to advocate some form of legalization. While this advocacy is not likely to lead to a major change in public policy, it can and does have an adverse influence on thinking about the dangers of drug. It sends a mixed message about the dangers of use that is particularly harmful when it touches our young people.
    As Bill Bennett and Joe Califano noted recently, drugs are illegal because they are dangerous, they are not dangerous because they are illegal. Legalization advocates, however, deploy a variety of arguments on behalf of their position that ignore this essential fact. They all too often resort to scare tactics, misrepresent reality, or skip over inconvenient facts. I think that it is important to set the record straight.
    There are a number of misconceptions about our efforts to deal with the drug problem. It is important to understand these and the common arguments used to promote them in order to arrive at a reasoned and reasonable understanding of what the drug problem is about. One of the first points to note is that our last drug epidemic--during the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s--was the result of arguments made by some that drugs were really not a problem and that everyone would feel better, live better, and prosper from the self-administration of dangerous drugs.
    The claim, made with considerable fervor, was that drugs were liberating and that only a repressive society would prevent people from achieving their true potential. By the late 1980s, we finally came to realize just what a cruel hoax, a big lie, these claims were. We are still trying to cope with an addict population from that ear, a period that has left us with a legacy of lives blasted by drug use, a cost that is borne by families and the public purse. We cannot afford to ignore this lesson, to repeat a disaster based on the enthusiasms of a few.
   Mistake #1: Prohibition doesn't, can't work. Efforts to keep people from using drugs, like alcohol prohibition, only encourages the idea of forbidden fruit, increases crime, and will always fail.
    The argument that prohibition doesn't work relies on a collective amnesia about this country's experience with alcohol prohibition between 1920 and 1934. In the first place, Prohibition did not make the use of alcohol illegal, only its manufacture and sale over a certain strength. It was, in effect, a control regime legalizing personal use. This effort came at the end of a very long history in this country of trying to reduce the consumption of alcohol from dangerous heights. The modern parallel is with the efforts to reduce tobacco use.
    Second, Prohibition did not lead to a major increase in violent crime, as is often claimed. The major increase, particularly in violent crime in this country, came between 1900 and 1910, well before the prohibition movement. Violent crime remained fairly stable or declined during Prohibition. While it is true that crime rates decreased after Prohibition this was not the result of ending Prohibition. Nor did Prohibition create organized crime. Major organized crime groups existed well before alcohol prohibition and they prospered after it ended.
    Third, major health problems, such as cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol-related psychoses, declined sharply during Prohibition. Alcohol consumption, even though it was not illegal, also declined sharply. It increased in the years following the repeal of Prohibition, as did the associated health problems.
    Fourth, it is important to remember also that alcohol, unlike dangerous drugs, had wide social acceptance and a long history of use. Alcohol can also be used by most people without creating impairment, either temporary or long term. Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin have no such long history of popular public use or acceptance, and their use is solely for the purpose of intoxication. In fact, the public has opposed these substances once they learned how dangerous and destructive they were. This is also true historically in this country and internationally. No society today has a legalization regime for dangerous drugs.
    In addition, it is clear that control efforts, when reinforced by serious law enforcement, prevention, and education programs do deter use, especially among young people. Our own recent experience illustrates how effective we can be. After decades of increasing use in this country, we reversed the trend of drug use when, beginning in the mid-1980s, we decided to just say no and to get serious about doing something. Overall drug use, apart from addicts, declined by more than 50 percent; cocaine use by 70 percent. Unfortunately, more recently, as we have moved away from these serious programs we have seen a return to use in the most at-risk population--teenagers.

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   Mistake #2: Legalization will mean less crime because the profit motive is removed and we will lock fewer people up when we make our drug laws more humane
    First, most prisoners in state and Federal prisons are not there for drug offenses as their first or major offense. Most offenders are in jail for violent or repeat offenses. Of these, despite the wildy exaggerated numbers often cited, only 10 percent of Federal prisoners and 17 percent of state inmates committed their crimes to obtain drugs. Indeed, research shows that most career criminals came to drug use after starting their criminal activities, not before. Legalization will not greatly reduce the crime rate, especially for violent crimes. Indeed, in so far as the pharmacological effects of drugs, particularly cocaine and other stimulants, exacerbate violent tendencies, legalization will produce far greater violent crime rates as the number of 'legal' addicts soars.
    Second, the vast majority of prisoners serving time from drug offenses are not there for use but for trafficking--individuals whose actions destroy lives and menace neighborhoods.
    Third, legalization will not end black markets for drugs, unless we are prepared to legalize drug use for all ages down to the age of 6 or 7. Only the most radical legalization advocates want to see kids using drugs. But to leave any population out of a legalization regime means leaving a black market. Crime will not simply disappear nor will the organizations that are currently trafficking in illegal drugs.

Mistake #3: Legalization will mean a healthier climate in which controlled drug use will provide quality control and monitored use
    This argument misses or misrepresents the issue. The issue is not whether we make drugs, which are inherently dangerous to use, more pure, but whether we permit their use at all. Britain led the way in trying to treat dangerous drug use as a therapeutic problem, regulating addicts through doctors' care. This was not an open drug policy for anyone to use drugs but a policy just for addicts. The result was a disaster. It did not prevent the spread of drug abuse. It only made doctors complicit in the act of promoting an addiction for which they had no cure. In effect, it reversed the normal doctor-patient relationship, putting doctors in the position of making their patients worse off. As a result, in Britain, addiction soared, addicts got worse not better, and the black market flourished. Similar experiences have visited similar efforts in other countries. Now, it seems that Switzerland is experimenting with a variation of this approach. The results are likely to be a similar disaster, making the government and the medical community complicit in spreading addiction.
    It is also important to keep in mind, that dangerous drugs are not synonymous with other controlled pharmaceuticals. The latter are controlled but they also have a therapeutic purpose. Dangerous drugs have no medical purpose. They are addictive and destructive. To argue that these drugs should be self-administered with the only control being over their quality is to argue for a massive increase in the addict population, adding an even greater burden to an over-taxed health-care system. In effect, the legalization argument requires society to endorse a self-destructive behavior and then requires society to provide perpetual care to the victims at public expense.
   Mistake #4: Deterrence does not work
    When you talk to former addicts or those who have given up use, one of the most important reasons they give for their decision to quit or seek treatment was the threat of criminal prosecution, the difficulty of acquiring drugs, and the cost. When drugs are perceived as expensive, dangerous and wrongful to use, difficult to get, and involve a risk of criminal prosecution, potential users forego use, and many current users quit. This remains true even though most enforcement efforts focus not on users but on violent offenders and drug traffickers.
    No program to prohibit drug use can be universally effective. Although we have long-standing laws against child abuse or murder or theft, these have not prevented any of these acts completely. No one doubts their importance, however, or the role they play in discouraging yet more of these actions than if they were not prohibited.
   Mistake #5: Legalizing drugs will remove the `Forbidden Fruit' appeal of drugs, which leads most new users, especially the young, into use
    If this is a valid argument, then anything that society prohibits for the general good would succumb to the same argument. Forbidding child abuse encourages child abuse. Prohibiting murder encourages it. This is the logic of the argument. In fact, the reverse in the case. We educate people's understanding of what is rightful or wrongful to do by the laws that we declare and enforce. Even during Prohibition, when use was legal, the simple message sent by society that use was bad caused significant drops in use. Whenever we have enforced our drug laws and backed these up with education and prevention programs endorsed by our civic and cultural leaders, we have seen use decline and young people forego use. When we ignore this simple reality we see kids returning to drug use.
    Unless one contemplates making cocaine and heroin routinely available to 12-18 year olds, something even few legalizers argue, then legalization will not remove the so-called `Forbidden Fruit' appeal. It will only add the idea that society condones use while continuing to prohibit access to the most at-risk population. Just the absence of a clear message on drug use in the last few years has seen teens returning to use in disturbing numbers. A legalization message would have devastating results.
   Mistake #6: Drug use is a purely personal choice. It is a victimless crime. The state has no right to keep people from using drugs
    The idea that an individual who uses drugs does so in some vacuum that affects no one else is another one of those fictions that obscures the facts. In the first place, drug users don't stay home. They go to work and play with the rest of us. They use the highways, they drive the school buses and trains, they fly the planes. They also encourage others to use, thus spreading the problem.
    People under the influence of dangerous drugs are more prone to workplace accidents, are more likely to have highway accidents, are more prone to use violence in public and family disputes, and are at greater risk for health care than are non-users. Addicts are far more likely to lose control over their own lives, and are more in need of public intervention. A considerable percentage, perhaps as many as 60 percent, of the homeless are drug and alcohol addicts.
    Some 2 percent of live births in this country--over 100,000 babies--are born addicted with life-long disabilities because their mothers used. Conservative estimates of the yearly social costs of drug addiction at current levels run around $70 billion. These costs are borne by families and the public purse. The number of users and consequently the number of addicts would soar under a legalization regime, compounding all the problems we currently have. There is no such thing as a purely private use of drugs without consequences. There is no known cure for addiction. A choice for legalization would be a self-inflicted disaster.
   Mistake #7: Since alcohol and tobacco are legal, and cause far more harm than dangerous drugs, we should make heroin, cocaine, etc., legal to be consistent. Doing so would not increase the number of users significantly
    Here is the legalization argument at its most outrageous. What people are asked to accept is the idea that because we have substances generally available that already cause major harm--tobacco and alcohol--we should add dangerous drugs to the occasions for woe for the sake of consistency. What the argument says is that since we have one major problem we should make it worse by adding another. Who are we kidding?
    In order to rescue this logic from being completely ludicrous, people are asked to believe a further assertion: that under a legal regime there won't be an increase in users. Really? Let's look at what we are being asked to believe. We are going to make drugs cheaper and freely available. We are going to see them aggressively marketed by the producers. We are going to have society condone the use of addictive substances. But, we are not going to see a significant increase in use. Such is our understanding of human nature?
    We saw what happened with drug use in this country in the 1960s and 1970s when we allowed the de facto legalization of drugs, condoning personal use and not enforcing our laws. That partial legal environment caused a dramatic increase in use. Can anyone doubt the effects if we condoned use outright? We cannot afford this kind of logic.
    These are by no means the only myths. Others hold that drug laws are racist--which is another big lie, but even if true it is hardly an argument for making drugs legal; that the health consequences of personal use are exaggerated; or that drug laws lead to locking up lot of innocent people. None of these arguments can sustain serious attention or thought. Nor is there any major public support for drug legalization. The argument is pressed by only a few, some liberal, some conservative. To make the argument requires, however, suspension of judgment, a willingness to accept assertions over facts, and a professional absence of mind that ignores experience.
    Unfortunately, while the argument for legalization has little public support, it is a major agenda item of many of our cultural elites. They have a disproportionate influence on our public discourse, on our radios and television, in the movies, in music and the arts. This means they have a disproportionate influence on the most at-risk population for drug users--our young people. By helping to obscure the message of the dangers of drug use, by encouraging it as part of a `liberated' life style, they contribute directly to use. When our political leaders remain silent they aid and abet this. The result in the 1960s made the point. Our recent experience confirms it: When you replace `Just Say No' with `Just Say Nothing' or `I didn't inhale,' you are opening the door to trouble.

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