Institute for Ethics & Policy Studies
Drug testing policy environment and history
|The war on drugs is in truth
a war on some drugs, their enemy status the result of historical
accident, cultural prejudice, and institutional imperative. The taxonomy
on behalf of which this war is being fought would be difficult to explain
to an extraterrestrial...Is it the quality of addictiveness that renders
a substance illicit? Not in the case of tobacco, which I am free to grow
in this garden. Curiously, the current campaign against tobacco dwells
less on cigarettes’ addictiveness than on their threat to our health. So
is it toxicity that renders a substance a public menace? Well, my garden
is full of plants—datura and euphorbia, castor beans, and even the stems
of my rhubarb—that would sicken and possibly kill me if I ingested them,
but the government trusts me to be careful. Is it then the prospect of
pleasure—of “recreational use”—that puts a substance beyond the pale? Not
in the case of alcohol: I can legally produce wine or hard cider or beer
from my garden for my personal use (though there are regulations governing
its distribution to others). So could it be a drug’s “mind-altering” properties
that make it evil? Certainly not in the case of Prozac, a drug that, much
like opium, mimics the chemical compounds manufactured in the brain...
Someday we may marvel at the power we’ve invested in these categories, which seems out of all proportion to their artifice. Perhaps one day the government won’t care if I want to make a cup of poppy tea for a migraine, no more than it presently cares if I make a cup of valerian tea (a tranquilizer made from the roots of Valeriana officinalis) to help me sleep, or even if I want to make a quart of hard apple cider for the express purpose of getting drunk. After all, it wasn’t such a long time ago that the fortunes of the apple and the poppy in this country were reversed.
- Michael Pollan, Opium, Made Easy: One gardener’s encounter with the war on drugs, Harper’s Magazine, March, 1997
While Mr. Pollan’s opening sentence is beyond dispute (as we shall confirm below), I will not be holding my breath with respect to his speculative musing in the latter paragraph above.
For, our government “finds,” on the basis of myriad reports—derived principally from news stories and social science investigative methods of wildly variant quality—that the use of illicit drugs, particularly in the workplace, is a sufficiently adverse social and economic phenomenon to justify the coerced participation of millions of asymptomatic citizens as “donors” of bioassay specimens for chemical metabolite analysis to uncover the presence of forbidden psychoactive recreational toxins. Willing, even eager submission to non-cause drug testing is coming to be seen as the latest variant of the Loyalty Oath, with aspersions cast upon the motives and character of dissenters. Legions of survey researchers provide an endless outpouring of statistics purporting to demonstrate the alarming prevalence and horrific economic and epidemiological costs of drug abuse. Vendors of laboratory services assure us that their technologies are utterly reliable, that only the “guilty” need be concerned. It’s For Our Own Good, we are soothingly told.
Is any of this so? Are the enabling laws and policies ethical and wise, grounded in coherent history and viable scientific data? Are such measures critical to public health and safety? Are the analytical procedures and technologies truly effective, and fail-safe to the point of negating reasonable concerns over the possibility of false accusation? Can the nation’s laboratory infrastructure deal competently with the already huge and rapidly increasing sample workload? Is such a forcible deterrence strategy the only feasible option available to us for promoting the health and welfare of both individuals and society as a whole?
The questions are timely ones. A spate of expansive and harsh new drug testing legislative proposals is under consideration by the 105th Congress and state legislatures around the nation, and commercial vendors of analytical technologies are rushing to market patented (and, as such, potentially enormously lucrative) alternatives to the conventional urine and blood tests traditionally used in drug bioassay. There now exist methods that use hair and saliva samples, as well as a recently introduced “patch” that, when worn on the skin, ostensibly reveals the presence of illicit compounds. Also recently in the news were reports on the commercial availability of a $20 drug testing “smear kit” called DrugAlert™ that parents are being encouraged to use on their childrens’ clothing, furniture, and possessions if they suspect their kids of drug use. The kits are returned to the vendor for analysis, after which a “confidential” report of findings is mailed back to the parents.
How did we arrive at such a state of alarm? The path leading to proposals for a panoptic metabolite surveillance state is a perplexing one.
While reflexive prohibitionists have waxed ascendant since the early 1980’s to dominate the official U.S. drug policy agenda, much scholarly, even-handed, and nuanced historical research is available from the federal government itself. One example will suffice here to provide an overview of drug use history and policy evolution in the United States. A 1979 monograph entitled Themes in Chemical Prohibition by William L. White (Drugs in Perspective, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1979) summarizes the phenomenon clearly:
The study of the historical themes in chemical prohibition movements can provide a helpful tool in understanding those institutionalized beliefs and myths which pose powerful barriers to any alteration in social policy on “drug abuse.” This paper identifies the nature of those themes and presents the author’s perceptions of how these inherited belief system have severely limited our options for more enlightened and effective strategies for the social control of chemical intoxication.
Chemical intoxicants have been available to humans in almost all cultures since the beginning of time. Each culture through succeeding generations has assumed the task of defining and redefining which chemicals will be blessed, celebrated, or tolerated and which chemicals will be forbidden, legally prohibited, and condemned. In like manner each generation has confronted what the policy would be toward those persons who disobeyed the rules about the use of chemical intoxicants. The conversion of these policy definitions into law has often followed prohibitionist mass movements which sought through a variety of propaganda techniques to instill in the culture at large a certain set of beliefs and fears about the drugs in question. When these movements have been effective at generating statutory prohibition of specific drugs, this set of beliefs and feelings toward certain chemicals and persons who use them evolves over time to the point where they are seen as flowing from unchallengable sources. At this stage, alternatives to the policies that reflect these prohibitionist themes are viewed as unthinkable.
This paper is based on the following premises:
1. Current strategies toward the use and abuse of mood-altering drugs continue to be based on a set of beliefs generated from the prohibitionist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
2. The cementing of these prohibitionist beliefs into the very social fabric of American culture is one of the primary barriers to changing an outmoded and nonfunctional social policy. The integration of these beliefs into our culture has been so complete that to question them is immediately experienced by the culture at large as an attack on the institutions which have proliferated these beliefs, e.g., our national leaders, the 1aw, our educational and religious institutions, and the family.
3. The development of national policies toward mood altering drugs has not and cannot be intelligently addressed until we expose and modify the irrational fears and beliefs upon which current policies are based.
White examines eight core themes that drive the prohibitionist agenda:
One cannot but be struck by how little social and official attitudes have changed since 1979. Excerpts from each of the foregoing eight themes drive the point home:
1. The Drug is Associated With a Hated Subgroup of the Society or a Foreign Enemy
The association of particular drugs with hated minority groups and foreign enemies has a long and colorful history in the United States. The association of opium with the Chinese, of cocaine with Blacks, of, alcohol with urban Catholic immigrants, of heroin with urban immigrants, of Latinos with marihuana, the claim that a myriad of foreign enemies were using these drugs against the U.S., and the image of drug crazed bohemians such as Ludlow, Baudelaire, and DeQuincy all were integral to the propaganda that generated the prohibitionist policies on each of these drugs...
2. The Drug is Identified as Solely Responsible for Many Problem in the Culture, i.e., Crime, Violence, Insanity.
The attributing of crimes of violence, sexual assault, insanity, moral decay, etc. have been an integral part of efforts to prohibit the currently illicit drugs. A key element in this theme is the arbitrary designation of “good” and “evil” drugs with evil drugs possessing powers that can overwhelm all efforts at human control. “The Devil made him do it” is changed to “the drug made him do it.”...
3. Survival of the Culture is Pictured as Dependent on Prohibition or Continued Prohibition of the Drug
Implicit in the attribution of society’s problems to the use of particular chemicals is the assumption and implication that these problems will disappear as prohibition becomes effective The elimination of the drug and its use is thus characterized as crucial for the survival of the culture. Such claim have been characteristic of nearly all prohibitionist movements...
4. The Concept of “Controlled” Usage is Destroyed and Replaced by a “Domino Theory” of Chemical Progression
The history of prohibitionist pronouncements is replete with examples which propose a “domino theory” of chemical usage. Such a theory holds that the use of a particular drug (usually the one presently targeted for prohibition) inevitably and with rare exception leads-to the use of other drugs (usually drugs already prohibited or drugs already defined as evil). For example, the publication in 1798 of Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical by Benjamin Rush includes the following comments from an anti-tobacco essay: "A desire of course is excited for strong drink, (by smoking tobacco) and these (cigarettes) when taken between meals soon lead to intemperance and drunkenness...
5. The Drug Is Associated with the Moral Corruption of the Young, Particularly Their Sexual Corruption
Chemicals have long beep inextricably linked in prohibitionist literature with the sexual corruption of young people. Joan Fran Rauch attacked chocolate in 1624 as a violent inflamer of passions. Tobacco was linked with sexual immorality in the 1850’s,41 and the association between opium and the corruption of young women began in the 1880’s with the publication in 1882 of H.H. Kane’s Opium Smoking in America and China...
6. Both User and Supplier Are Defined as Fiends, Always in Search of New Victims; Usage of the Drug is Considered “Contagious”
The prohibition propaganda which has surrounded the presently illicit drugs represents a blatant manipulation of the symbols of evil that would do credit to Jonathan Edwards. Nothing can so excite an adult population as can anything which appears to threaten their own children. Since the Harrison Act of 1914, the user and the seller of illicit drugs have both been characterized as evil, criminal, insane, and always in search of new victims, the victims are characterized as young children. Drug usage is characterized as “contagious;” its increase (real or imagined) is characterized as an “epidemic.” Efforts to reduce drug usage are referred to as the “war” on or “battle” against drug abuse. Persons who sell are called “pushers” in spite of increasing evidence that most persons get drugs, particularly their first drug, from friends and not some arch villain who seduced them on a street corner.
7. Policy Options are Presented as Total Prohibition or Total Access
Prohibitionists have always characterized themselves as being in a moral/religious battle against evil. This quality of the prohibitionist movements eliminated the option of compromise. The choice as they saw and presented it was total prohibition or total access to the hated drugs. It was not that other methods of controlling use did not exist or would not work; it was the idea that all usage was sinful and must be stopped. Like an ongoing morality play, this same issue gets played out-repeatedly today with a new cast of characters. As bills are introduced to lower criminal penalties for various illicit drugs, one can anticipate any number of legislators standing to attack reduced penalties as an invitation for use and a first step toward legalization of drug X.
8. Anyone Questioning Any of the Above Assumptions is Bitterly Attacked and Characterized as Part of the Problem That Needs to be Eliminated
A reading of any number of works which trace the development and evolution of our narcotics policy, all demonstrate the personal hazards in challenging those policies. To attack or challenge existing policies has opened one up for charges ranging from a lack of patriotism to charges that the critic is himself part of the international drug conspiracy. To most persons, confronting the issues surrounding the inadequacies of existing drug policy is simply not worth the challenges to their own personal integrity.
Anyone even mildly familiar with present-day War On Drugs rhetoric will readily note that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” The graphic below is emblematic of anti-drug attitudes during the 30’s and 40’s era of “reefer madness.” While current anti-marijuana rhetoric is a good bit more muted on the surface, modern drug prohibitionists continue to insist that cannibis is the “gateway drug” leading to inexorable “shame, horror, and despair.”
In Smoke and Mirrors (1996, Little, Brown, & Co. NY) former Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Baum dates the beginning of the modern War on Drugs in 1967 as then-Presidential contender Richard Nixon and his advisors looked for a winning election strategy in the face of the problematic Vietnam war that so vexed the nation. A tough-on-crime posture would serve, with illicit drug use an opportune focus:
Two months before the election, Nixon stood in the shadow of Disneyland’s Matterhorn and put the capstone in his law-and-order campaign by conjuring up a War on Drugs. “As I look over the problems in this country, I see one that stands out particularly,” he told a rally of Republican supporters. “The problem of narcotics.”
Drugs, Nixon said, “are among the modern curse of the youth, just like the plagues and epidemics of former years. And they are decimating a generation of Americans.” Half of all crime in New York, Nixon insisted, was committed by drug addicts. So his administration, he promised, would “accelerate the development of tools and weapons” to fight illegal drugs...
“I believe in civil rights,” Nixon concluded. “But the first civil right of every American is to be free from violence, and we are going to have an administration that restores that right in the United States of America.” (pp.11-12)
Among the tools the Nixon Administration would soon employ were drug-sniffing canine searches for marijuana possession by U.S. troops in Vietnam, a policy that begat the unforeseen consequence of increased heroin use (quoting a Pentagon researcher):
...“Human ingenuity being what it is—and the desire for an intoxicant in Vietnam being what it was—many soldiers simply switched” to heroin, which was odorless, far less bulky than pot, and in Vietnam, extremely inexpensive. (p. 50)
Field commanders would soon pine for the days when the relatively benign cannabis “weed” was the G.I. intoxicant of choice. The first drug testing machine, an opiate-detecting “behemoth the size of an office desk,” would soon be deployed to address the far more serious heroin problem, and the era of mass drug screening was born.
The drug issue proved to have sturdy domestic political “legs” that to this day stride with a forceful gait. In the early 1970’s, drug-related empirical hyperbole also took off with a zest that shows no signs of abating (see Chapter 2). Politicians fell all over each other trying to up the ante. Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, trying to one-up the drug-crime statistics proffered by George McGovern, asserted that “[T]he total cost of drug-related crime in the United States today is around $10 billion to $15 billion.” Virtually unnoticed went some inconvenient countervailing data:
In fact only $1.28 billion worth of property was stolen in the United States in 1972 (the figure had actually fallen slightly from the previous year). That includes everything except cars, which junkies don’t usually steal because they can’t easily fence them, and embezzelment, which also isn’t a junkie crime. The combined value of everything swiped in burglaries, robberies, and muggings, everything shoplifted, filched off the back of a truck, or boosted from a warehouse, was $1.28 billion. Yet during the heroin panic of Nixon’s War on Drugs, junkies would be blamed for stealing as much as fifteen times the value of everything stolen in the United States (Baum, p. 69).
Equally hyperbolic was the resurgence of the “gateway drug” theory of marijuana use by the time Ronald Reagan took over the Presidency. Previously employed during the “reefer madness” antidrug campaigns prior to World War II, the gateway theory is but the classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. Baum notes more inconvenient data:
The gateway theory is lunatic. The number of Americans who have smoked pot has skyrocketed in the past 30 years—to as many as 70 million—while the number of heroin addicts is about the same in the mid-1990’s as it was in 1970: about half a million. (p. 153)
Ronald and Nancy Reagan would put the War on Drugs in high gear. First, there had to be a political make-over to neutralize the First Lady’s image problem. As John Gilliom recounts:
Public opinion polls suggested that Nancy Reagan was increasingly seen as a Marie Antoinette who partied with the wealthy and aspired to little more than expensive china and designer gowns...the White House staff apparently developed a consensus that the drug problem would provide a more useful and politically resonant issue for the first lady than her soon-to-be-forgotten Foster Grandparents program. Soon Mrs. Reagan was widely seen meeting with concerned parents, attending drug abuse conferences and counsleing centers, and urging children to “just say no.” Once her national Just Say No campaign was under way, writers for The New York Times and The Washington report [sic] that senior management made it clear that Nancy Reagan was no longer a safe target for cynical news coverage. (Gilliom, Surveillance, Privacy, and The Law: Employee Drug Testing and the Politics of Social Control, 1994, University of Michigan Press, p. 29)
Mrs. Reagan would subsequently be heard to opine during the course of her much-publicized “Just Say No” campaign that “there is no moral middle ground; indifference is not an option,” and that drug users were “accomplices in murder.”
Noted iconoclast author and Syracuse University Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Thomas Szasz, in his recent book Our Right to Drugs, recounts in detail the 1980’s history of what he views as an utterly sinister practice reminiscent of the Soviet and Red Chinese practice of “denunciation,” one which got its “Joe McCarthy” rebirth in this country during the Reagan administration, and a practice that continues to this day:
President Reagan claimed that he stood not only for family values, but also for less government. As an abstract proposition, he surely would have agreed that a person’s loyalty to his family is more important and should be more enduring than his loyalty to a temporarily expedient government policy. But talk is cheap. When the Reagans’ vaunted family values were put to the test of practical politics...They embraced one of the most characteristic and most despicable practices of the great socialist states of the twentieth century: turning children against their parents in a holy war against the enemies of the state.
Szasz recounts a number of widely publicized episodes of children turning their parents in to the authorities for drug possession and use, noting how such tactics were (and continue to be) encouraged by law enforcement and other authorities. The Reagans themselves publicly applauded these acts, and the authorities responded with gusto:
From parents denouncing their children, children denouncing their parents, and students denouncing each other, it is only a small step to people denouncing neighbors and even strangers they suspect of using illegal drugs. This public-spirited act is now encouraged in many American communities. In 1990, Chattooga (Georgia) County’s major newspaper, The Summerville News, added “drug coupons” to its pages, inviting readers “to fill in the names of suspected drug users and send them to the sheriff.” In Anderson County, South Carolina, the sheriff put up billboards that read: “Need cash? Turn in a drug dealer.” Informers were promised 25 percent of the assets seized from any dealer they help arrest.
Reagan Administration Attorney General Edwin Meese, long an opponent of crime-fighting restrictions like the Miranda Rule, saw great potential in enlisting employers in the fight against illicit drug use through mandatory screening: “Since most Americans work, the workplace can be the chokepoint for halting drug abuse.” (Gilliom, p. 35, Meese quoted originally in NY Times, October 31, 1986)
Two additional key administration operatives also added their efforts to the Reagan drug war. First, Dr. Robert L. DuPont, a psychiatrist and Reagan “Drug Czar” who would go on to become a tireless advocate for the commercial drug testing industry (more on Dr. DuPont elsewhere in this thesis). Second, the highly visible and forceful Dr. William Bennett, also to become a Reagan “Drug Czar,” despite his lack of training and experience in areas such as law enforcement and public health. Dr. Bennett saw illicit drug use in simple black and white: it was a moral issue, one bound to the dictates of authority. Once authority had spoken on drug use by declaring certain substances off-limits, users should suffer the penalties for transgressing. Bennett would brook no discussion of social or epidemiological “root causes” and “victimless crime” concepts. Drug users should pay dearly. Pay with their freedom, pay with their jobs.
Compliance, not health, was the real issue. “Now that the government has spoken to the subject that drugs are unlawful,” said Paul McNulty, a Bennettista soul-mate directing communications at the Justice Department, “a person who disobeys the law has made a moral choice and should be dealt with appropriately.” Bennett freely admitted drug enforcement was but an instrument of a wider agenda, calling for “the reconstitution of legal and social authority through the imposition of appropriate consequences for drug dealing and drug use.” “The drug crisis,” he told the Washington Hebrew congregation, “is a crisis of authority, in every sense of the term, 'authority'.” (Baum, p. 266)
While Bennett disdained any epidemiological analyses or addiction disease-model theories of drug use, he was not against using the epidemiological model when it suited his purpose. Dan Casse, a Bennett assistant, one day proposed a “contagion” model that might prove useful:
I studied under James Q. Wilson at the Kennedy School...He posits a contagion model. It isn’t hard-core users that spread drug abuse, because everyone can see that they’re a mess and nobody wants to be like them. Instead, it’s the casual user, the one whose life hasn’t fallen apart that is the vector for drug abuse, because he makes it look like you can use drugs and not pay a price. (Baum, pp. 272-3)
In epi-speak a “vector” is an organism that transmits a pathogen through the environment. The mosquito is the principal malaria “vector,” and so on. So, the otherwise prosperous and productive casual drug user could be targeted as a disease “vector” that had to be “quarantined” through tactics like drug screening and harsh economic legal sanctions. “I like it,” Bennett said. (Baum, p. 273)
In other words, don’t set a bad example, or we’ll ruin your otherwise nice life for you.
In 1986 Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12564 (“Drug-Free Federal Workplace Order”) which is generally regarded as a watershed event in the history of employee drug testing. A telling passage in E.O. 12564 makes perfectly clear the intent of his action:
The use of illegal drugs, on or off duty, by Federal employees is inconsistent not only with the law-abiding behavior expected of all citizens, but also with the special trust placed in such employees as servants of the public.
The “law-abiding behavior expected of all citizens...” Such compliance was to be enforced through the use of the employee drug test. Steven L. Nock observes:
Indeed, the testing component is the only significant part of this executive order. Illegal drugs, by definition, are illegal, so there was little an Executive Order could do about enforcement of existing laws. Clearly, existing judicial practices were perceived by the President to be ineffective. Executive Order 12564 must be seen as a statement that normal judicial procedures were inadequate: only extreme measures, in this case drug tests, would do. (see Nock, The Costs of Privacy: Surveillance and Reputation in America, NY, Aldine DeGruyer, 1993)
Once federal employees were ordered into routine laboratory scrutiny, legislation aimed at the private sector would not be far behind. The 1988 Drug-Free Workplace Act (41.USC.701 et seq.) is generally cited as justification for non-cause drug testing programs in the private sector. It requires that any business or institution receiving $25,000 or more per year in federal funds—directly or “indirectly”—have in place a documented “drug-free work place” program. While most administrators and executives are led to assume that the Act requires drug testing, the reality is that there is not one word in the legislation requiring nor even recommending testing. The act basically mandated that an elaborate “Just Say No” program exist on paper. The authors of the National Academy of Science Under the Influence? report observed that “Contractors were not required to implement a drug-testing program, but could do so in order to demonstrate compliance.”
As we shall see in detail elsewhere in this work, however, legislation is afoot in Congress to put some teeth into workplace drug prevention by explicitly requiring drug testing throughout the public and private sectors. Leading the charge in the effort is the self-appointed Field Marshal of the War on Drugs, New York Representative Gerald B.H. Solomon.
As noted earlier by William White, policy advocates frequently employ the “War” metaphor (e.g., “War on Poverty,” “War on Cancer,” etc.) to underscore the urgency of their causes. Where drug abuse is concerned, “war” goes far beyond rousing imagery, with Constitutionally debatable paramilitary activities undertaken in foreign nations and aggressive military-style armed actions against domestic drug marketeer suspects.
Moreover, the political and peer pressure to get on board and publicly demonstrate a home-front commitment to the War on Drugs causes otherwise reasonable people and organizations to indulge in ill-considered measures. For example, in 1994 Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh enacted a random drug testing policy, complete with an anonymous tip phone line. Mellon officials insisted “Nothing is wrong. [The bank] hasn’t lost large sums of money to fraud, or seen a sudden outbreak of violence in the workplace.” Jim Fauzio, Mellon’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Manager, allowed that the program “was not in response to any specific problem or event.” Mellon officials claimed their intent as simply that of good, concerned corporate citizens. Similarly, the Charlotte, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce joined in 1994 in a hard-sell campaign to encourage all employers in the area to begin drug testing. Their literature included the exhortation: “Don’t be the last company to start drug testing.” Hewlett-Packard also succumbed, taking the policy a step further to include even the company’s independent contractors; San Francisco-based technical writer Bill Knutson had worked for HP for years in a contracting capacity, working offsite using his own computer equipment. The company informed him in 1995 that henceforth he would have to submit to drug testing as a condition of further work assignments. HP public relations official Mary Lou Simmermacher said simply that “the company decided to follow the lead of other companies” in enacting the drug testing policy. She offered no information indicating that a drug abuse problem existed at Hewlett-Packard Corporation.
Drug and Alcohol treatment centers, always on the lookout for opportunities to fill empty, expensive beds, eagerly joined in. A typical pitch is seen in the media campaign by Peninsula Hospital of Knox County, Tennessee, whose primary ad slogan in the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s was “We Can Help Even Those Who Don’t Want Help.” Implicit in the appeal: Turn your loved ones and acquaintances in. It’s for their own good.
Just don’t forget to bring their insurance cards.
One last example of this phenomenon: The leading commercial drug testing vendor in Las Vegas has repeatedly run a large, multi-column newspaper display ad admonishing, in bold letters, that “If you’re not pre-employment drug testing, you’re hiring the rejects of those companies that do.” No data are, however, provided to buttress such a blanket assertion, an allegation some might consider a libel toward the predominantly drug-free workforce. At the very least, such a broad claim constitutes false advertising, given what we know about reasonably estimated drug use prevalence rates in the work place.
Naive business policies aside, the more important casualties of our drug siege policies include our democratic tradition of open debate of policy alternatives. Wartime gag rules are advocated; Lee Brown, former head of the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy, immediately reacts on national TV to reports of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders’ statement proposing scientific study of legalization issues by stating that “there will be no discussion of the legalization of drugs; even the discussion is harmful.” Former “Drug Czar” William Bennett asserts that “responsible intellectuals shouldn’t discuss the possibility of drug legalization.” Former Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates, testifying before Congress, argues that even casual drug use is “treason” and that such users ought be “taken out and shot.” (He later assures reporters that he is not merely indulging in hyperbole.)
Or note the reaction to a federal commission report recommending the equalization of sentencing guidelines pertaining to criminal convictions involving “crack” a.k.a. “rock” cocaine versus the powdered form. The panel observes that, while the pharmacological effects of crack use are clinically equivalent to those of powdered cocaine, prison terms for crack offenders are many times more severe than are those involving powdered coke; in addition, nearly all crack cocaine convictions involve black defendants, whereas the majority of powdered cocaine offenders are white. Since white cocaine offenders are, on average, subject to far less severe prison sentences, and, are much more likely to be diverted to “treatment” than are blacks, some have argued that the current policy is inherently racist. President Clinton, smarting from charges of laxity and anxious to appear “tough” on the drug issue, curtly dismisses the commission’s recommendation out of hand:
The White House
Today I reject United States Sentencing Commission proposals that would equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine distribution by dramatically reducing the penalties for crack...I am not going to let anyone who peddles drugs get the idea that the cost of doing business is going down.
President Clinton would soon thereafter exhort first-time teen-age driver’s license applicants to step up and show their support, and “do the right thing” to set a good example by voluntarily submitting to drug testing as a condition of licensing.
The foregoing provides but a brief yet sufficient overview of the history and political climate that comprise the “background noise” of drug policy, a psychic pollution which contaminates and frustrates all attempts at rational and ethical policymaking in this area. We continue in Chapter 2 with a look into the sorry state of recent and contemporary drug policy data gathering and analysis.