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by Hugh Downs

Recorded: April 14, 1994


I received a letter from Mr. Clifford A. Schaffer recently. Clifford Schaffer is the co-author of the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy, the now famous Hoover Resolution that seeks to end the violence caused by the infamous war on drugs.

I long ago realized that a shooting war waged against a medical condition is inappropriate. I have never really understood why it is that so many individuals in the government could have chosen such an ill-advised and disastrous course, and perhaps I never will understand. But Mr. Schaffer tells me that the situation is worse than I had imagined.

I should say at the outset that I learned that Clifford Schaffer is the man who coined that most quotable of quotes, "More Colombians die from American tobacco than the number of Americans who die from Colombian cocaine." I have found this particular fact a sobering notion to ponder and have repeated it, even on this program. Now that I know the source, he should get credit. His letter contained many such startling facts about the bloody and unjust "war against drugs" -- facts that made me stop and wonder why we continue to fight it. Mr. Schaffer tells me that in six short years, in the year 2000, the United States of America will have a prison population bigger than all the Nazi concentration camps put together.

Let's put this projection into perspective. Mr. Schaffer says, "Right now we have about 1.3 million people in prison. More than 600,000 of them are there for non-violent drug offenses. For every person who died from illegal drugs last year, 150 people went to prison. Most of them were black men."

The expense of maintaining a prison population is staggering. If nearly half of them don't belong there, then something is terribly wrong.

As the drug war escalates, more prisoners will be taken and more dead and wounded will litter our streets. Remember, by the year 2000 we will have more prisoners than all the Nazi concentration camps combined. Mr. Schaffer's prediction seems almost incredible, but one look down the street will convince almost anybody that America is a dangerous place. Many foreign governments routinely issue warnings to their traveling citizens that America is a dangerous place. We are, after all, at war.

Drug warriors justify their war against the American people by claiming that certain illegal drugs are killing our children, killing adults, and generally ruining our society. But look at the figures on drugs and death. In a typical year, the approximate number of people who die from taking cocaine hovers around 2,500 people. Heroin deaths are less than that, at about 2,000. To give some perspective to these numbers, it's useful to bear in mind that 2,000 people die every year from taking aspirin, too. Aspirin can cause catastrophic intestinal bleeding and death. And can be easily used to that effect, legally, by suicides.

Tobacco which, so far, is still a legal drug, kills around 400,000 people every year. The government supports tobacco production, and helps to sell American tobacco products around the world. Another 50,000 people die from sidestream tobacco smoke. These deaths occur in people who don't smoke at all; they just happen to inhale other people's smoke. Ironically, tobacco is considered such an acceptable drug that, according to Peter McWilliams, four major tobacco companies (in other words, drug dealers) became "partners" in the anti-drug group Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Every year, approximately 10,000 people die from prescription drugs. Some of these deaths are due to miscalculated self-medication; others are due to interaction with existing medical conditions (or with other drugs) that were unforeseen or ignored by the prescribing physician; and I'd guess that some of these deaths were intentional suicides too.

The total number of deaths due to all the illegal drugs combined is about 4,500 people. Now compare 4,500 deaths with the number of deaths due to prescription drugs, alcohol (which is about 80,000 people), tobacco, over-the-counter aspirin, and sidestream smoke. The total number of deaths due to these legal drugs is well over 500,000 people -- every year. The multi-billion dollar drug war ignores the half-a-million deaths due to legal drugs and instead makes the illogical claim that 4,500 deaths due to illegal drugs justifies a multi-billion dollar shooting war.

So far, I have not mentioned marijuana. Marijuana is illegal and tens of thousands of non-violent people are in prison because of it. There are no deaths attributed to marijuana use. Nobody dies. In fact, Mr. Schaffer tells us that "Even the DEA itself says that there has not been a recorded death due to marijuana in the history of the United States."

Apparently, millions of Americans continue to smoke marijuana regardless of the law and regardless of the war waged against them. Neither prohibitive law nor official brutality seems to have it's intended effect.

There is something else about marijuana which grabs our attention. Marijuana is also a pharmaceutical drug that has established therapeutic use in a variety of medical conditions. But, since it is caught up in the hysteria of the drug war, doctors are prohibited from conducting research on marijuana and patients are deprived of its benefits.

A recently published book called Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine tells all. The authors of this book are Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar. Dr. Grinspoon is a medical doctor and an associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. Mr. Bakalar is an associate editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter and a lecturer in law in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard.

The authors record a surprising number of therapeutic uses for marijuana -- the list considers more than twenty years of research. Marijuana counteracts the violent effects of chemotherapy used in cancer treatment --- and to those who say that marijuana must be bad because it is smoked and smoking is bad, Dr. Grinspoon points out that the more powerful strains of marijuana found today actually require less smoking to obtain therapeutic levels. Patients consistently report that synthetic versions do not work.

The pressure on the eyes resulting from glaucoma is relieved with marihuana use. The amelioration of other conditions, too, are on record; and conditions that include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, paraplegia and quadriplegia; AIDS; chronic pain; migraine; pruritis; menstrual cramps and labor pain; and even depression and other mood disorders.

It makes you stop and think. Here is a weed, growing wild that millions use whether there is a law against it or not. It kills no one. It has been in continuous use for about 5,000 years that we know of, and it has recognized medical applications. And yet the government is waging a deadly and expensive war against it.

This mystery deepens considerably when we learn that the government sits on an impressive pile of studies that recommend the decriminalization of, not only marijuana, but of several other drugs as well.

In 1944, there was the LaGuardia Committee Report; in 1967 there was the Baroness Wootton Report published by the government of Great Britain. In 1969, the Canadian government published the Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. In 1972, there was Dealing with Drug Abuse: A Report to the Ford Foundation. Also in 1972 the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs came out.

In 1973, the US Federal Government itself published the Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. In 1980, the United States Drug Abuse Council published The Facts About Drug Abuse. In 9182 there was An Analysis of Marijuana Policy and most recently, the state of California's study titled, The Report of the California State Research Advisory Panel.

All of these official studies urge decriminalization. The also add the sensible caution that all drugs are dangerous drugs. Many drug war proponents are aware of these studies but mysteriously, they continue a reign of bloodshed in spite of the evidence. They continue to panic the nation with myths and half truths about drug use. Based on fictions, and fallacies, the drug warriors extract billions of dollars from the public treasury and ruin the lives of people who, in many cases, are already in ruinous condition and need medical attention.

At the beginning of their book, Dr. Grinspoon and Mr. Bakalar quote another, earlier Harvard professor, Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead said, "The rejection of any source of evidence is always treason to that ultimate rationalism which urges forward science and philosophy alike."

Many Americans are in step with this sentiment and condemn those people who champion violence and drug hysteria as committing precisely this kind of treason. The evidence that urges use to decriminalize drugs and stop the violence is plentiful.

I find it hard to imagine that the drug warriors are really so dull-witted that they cannot grasp this evidence or that they cannot grasp the findings of their peers. In fact, it is entirely possible that some of them actually do grasp the facts and dishonestly argue against them. But why would anyone do that?

Dr. Grinspoon and Mr. Bakalar make a fascinating suggestion as to why this could be true. They say, "Attitudes toward minorities, work, worldly success and failure, sex and family life may be the real issues in the controversy about drugs. Drugs are symbols charged with cultural tension. Repressed anxieties may be displaced onto drug users as a form of scapegoating."

The authors point out that "We do not fine or jail the patients of someone who practices medicine without a license, or the customers of a manufacturer who disobeys consumer protection laws, yet mere possession of cannabis and other illicit psychoactive drugs is a Federal crime. The metaphor of war is rarely invoked in the name of consumer protection but constantly used in the assault on psychoactive drugs. The reason is that laws controlling these drugs are ultimately aimed not at consumer protection but at containing what is believed to be a threat to the social fabric and moral order."

But, in light of all the government studies, and the growing number of Americans who have signed the Hoover Institution's Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy, it is right to wonder if the drug soldiers themselves might not have fallen over on the wrong side of the moral fence.


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