No Victories Yet in Drug War

September 12, 1992

If the Senate Judiciary Committee is to be believed, the Bush administration's three-year, $32 billion war on drugs has been a failure. If we are to believe Bob Martinez, the administration's drug policy director, the Bush anti-drug strategy has been successful in gradually reducing the amount of drugs available on the nation's streets. Since this is an election year, the assertions by both sides have to be viewed with considerable skepticism.

Clearly, drug use in America is still widespread. Despite massive expenditures to intercept drugs at the border, vast quantities of heroin and cocaine are flooding the U.S. In virtually all American cities, cocaine, crack, marijuana and heroin are openly sold and easily bought.

Even with massive public relations and educational efforts against drug use, three million more Americans have become addicted to drugs in the three years since Mr. Bush put his anti-drug programs in place. The only consolation is that the number of drug users in the U.S. has declined from 14.5 million in 1988 to approximately 12.6 million drug users today.

Even though most of the government's anti-drug dollars have been spent on law enforcement, and record numbers of drug dealers have been arrested and imprisoned, there is no perceptible decline in the drug trafficking or the accompanying lawlessness. During the Bush administration's war on drugs, 71,700 Americans have been murdered -- the highest number ever during a three-year period. The Judiciary Committee report projects that if present trends continue, there will be more than 250,000 drug-related murders this decade.

Even more tragic is the fact that in many cities the drug epidemic has destroyed the social and economic fabric of black and other minority communities. For many residents in these communities, trafficking in drugs is the major economic activity. With the exception of Manuel Noriega, the administration has done little to apprehend and convict the top echelon dealers and the middle-class users, who are predominantly white.

As a result, a disproportionate amount of law enforcement effort has been focused on the small-fry dealers and pushers -- most of whom are black. It is therefore no surprise that at any given time, about one-third of the black males in Baltimore are either in jail, under court-supervised probation or on parole for drug offenses.

The nation's current drug policy is not working. Only one addict in 10 receives drug treatment. Dealers still reap billions of dollars in illegal profits. Large sections of our cities are becoming uninhabitable. To solve the nation's drug problem and curtail its corrosive impact on communities, politicians are going to have to move beyond scoring political points. They need to develop some new and imaginative approaches to combat this deadly scourge.

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