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Books - The Great Drug War
Written by Arnold Trebach   

6 The Drug Warriors and Their Impossible Mission

I NEEDLED Barry Inman because I beat him back up the hill from the big marijuana garden. Even though my lungs were close to bursting and I was gasping for breath, I could not resist saying to the good-natured young officer as he reached the crest shortly after me, "I thought you young guys would set an example so as to encourage the rest of us." He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, Hey, we're not in a race.


It was August 6, 1985, the second day of the largest nationwide marijuana-cultivation crackdown in American history (and, as it happened, the fortieth anniversary of Hiroshima). The day was hot and dry. The long line of vehicles had kicked up the dust on the dirt road as we wound our way up the mountain earlier that morning and the taste of the stuff was in our mouths. We were in the beautiful and remote hills of Mendocino County at a spot perhaps 140 miles north of San Francisco.

He could have gone by me easily, of course, as we all dug our feet in for traction on that rutted old logging road which rose steeply for approximately a quarter of a mile from the plateau where the illegal crop had been secreted. Barry was 22 years old and seemingly in splendid condition, but he was weighed down somewhat by his AR-15 semiautomatic military rifle (not, a senior officer had just pointed out, a potentially fully automatic M-16, as the press often reports) and a huge machete.

Moreover, the crew-cut reserve policeman from the nearby town of Ukiah had spent the morning hiking through these hills to fix the location of the garden and had just used that machete to assist in cutting down the 220 marijuana plants that had been discovered. The young man had stopped to take a breath and to wait for a fellow officer halfway up the hill, when I passed him.

Reserve Officer Inman is a true frontline soldier in the American war on drugs, the real one, the war that finds young men with badges and weapons out in the streets and hills enforcing the policies of older men, who, as often as not, are confused about the reasons that impelled them to seek a military solution in the first place. Moreover, like virtually every civilian or military drug-enforcement officer I have encountered during the past 14 years, he seemed decent and well-motivated, the type of fellow you would want in the next foxhole during a battle—and about whom one often develops a sense of parental protectiveness, which creates outrage at the very thought that his life might be risked by high-ranking leaders who would send him out on foolish missions.

The California campaign in which he enlisted involved the greatest application of armed force to enforce the drug laws on American soil in our history. My trip to California at that time was part of an attempt to see the American drug war with my own eyes and to hear what the major participants, especially the police, have to say about its successes and failures. I came away from these excursions into the front lines of enforcement all over this country with greater respect for the personal courage and commitment of our police and even greater disdain for our drug laws and for the political leaders who continue to impose such an impossible mission upon the many fine men and women of American law enforcement. The situation in the hills of California provided especially revealing insights into why seventy years of drug enforcement have failed and into the great danger to freedom presented by massive, military-style enforcement of the drug laws—even when the action is being carried out by essentially well-meaning, good-natured enforcement agents.

The California anti-marijuana battle had been going on for several years and had gained wide notoriety—as had the allegedly superb variety of sinsemilla (marijuana without seeds) which Yankee ingenuity and frontier adventurism has created in these hills within less than a decade. I had made arrangements with lawyer Ronald M. Sinoway, a leader of the legal counter-attack on the drug war with an office in the tiny crossroads town of Miranda in southern Humboldt County, to be in this region during early August. It was then, Ron Sinoway had told me, that the harvest would begin in some fields and when CAMP, the California Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, would launch its third year of military-style activities. I had no idea that I would find myself in the middle of a nationwide police-publicity blitz, utilizing the CAMP program as a model to capture the attention of much of the world.

However, on Monday, August 5, Operation Delta-9 (the major active mind-altering ingredient in marijuana is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, sometimes called THC and sometimes delta-9) was launched involving marijuana-destruction raids in all 50 states by 2,200 federal, state, and local law-enforcement agents. Their immediate objective was to eradicate as many as 250,000 plants in three days. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who opened the campaign by viewing a raid in the Ozark National Forest, explained the broader purposes of the campaign during an Arkansas news conference: "increasing the cost to drug traffickers and eradicating marijuana crops in the United States." He added, "We are sending a strong message, both to the domestic producers of marijuana and to the source countries outside our borders, that the U.S. government takes very seriously the need to attack the production of this drug." The chief law-enforcement officer of the nation promised that no observed marijuana plant would survive on the land of the United States. Thus, Mr. Meese was responding to skeptics who doubted the nation's ability to curb marijuana cultivation significantly—and most particularly to those officials in foreign source countries, feeling the lash of U.S. criticism, who accuse the Americans of being more lenient on their own growers.

The attorney general was proclaiming a venerable theme since the first comprehensive American drug law, the Harrison Narcotic Act, was passed on December 17, 1914, in part to convince other nations that the United States would do its share in carrying out the new global drug-control order first formulated in the Hague Opium Convention of 1912. The basic concepts of that new law seemed quite logical and relatively easy to enforce. All civilized nations would agree that certain drugs, too harmful for general use, would be restricted by international treaties and national laws to medical purposes only. Regulations would be imposed on the growth, production, and sale of these particularly dangerous drugs in all nations. Eventually, it came to be accepted that some drugs—such as heroin and marijuana—were so attractive to potential abusers that they would be totally prohibited, even in medicine.

Difficulties in enforcement of the global order arose almost immediately. Moreover, fundamental questions were soon raised about which drugs deserved condemnation and prohibition, and which did not. Millions upon millions of basically decent people have regularly violated the drug laws of over 100 nations during the past seven decades. In America, as in other countries, the government responded by announcing periodically that it meant it, it really did, and that it was going to war against drugs. In some instances, these wars were announced by Presidents, sometimes by village mayors or chiefs of police.

Another curious habit, especially during the past two decades in America, has been that of declaring victory in the war on drugs—followed at a decent interval by the declaration of a new war, either by the original alleged victor or by one of his successors in office. Early in his administration, for example, President Nixon launched the first modern, massive war on drugs and by September 11, 1973, felt emboldened to declare, "We have turned the corner on drug addiction in the United States." It has turned out, of course, to be a much longer corner than he envisioned. This did not stop President Carter and especially President Reagan from declaring new wars and announcing at least partial victories.

Ronald Reagan's administration has made the greatest effort at enforcement of the drug laws in American history. No rational observer can fault him or his leading officials on the score that they did not try to make the drug laws work in our nation and around the world. A review of only those elements of his drug-control work involved with police, intelligence, and border interdiction reveals a massive commitment of will, money, equipment, and people. Even though I have long been a critic of drug wars, I was awed by a simple reading of the programs that have been developed by Mr. Reagan's drug-war grand strategists. Before his first year in office was over, those strategists convinced Congress to amend the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 so that the military forces could be used for the first time to assist civilian officers in the enforcement of the drug laws by providing equipment, training, and information—although the amendment did not authorize direct military enforcement of those laws. Also in December 1981, the President issued an executive order that directed the entire federal intelligence community, in particular the CIA, which usually deals only with foreign analyses, to provide guidance to civilian drug-enforcement agencies. During the next month, another executive order by the attorney general placed the FBI director in overall charge of the DEA and gave the FBI concurrent jurisdiction with the DEA in the enforcement of the federal drug laws.

Each of these actions demanded major political skill and fervent commitment to the cause of all-out enforcement of the drug laws so as to overcome major traditional obstacles. For decades, for example, the FBI has developed the habit of steering clear of the sometimes dirty business of drug-law policing and its great monetary temptations. Within a few months, the immense political power of Ronald Reagan had not only brushed aside that reluctance but had also thrown the elite FBI fully into the front lines and top echelons of drug enforcement. Yet these major accomplishments were only the beginning.

In response to urgent requests from leading officials and citizens to deal with a crisis in drug trafficking and related crime, in January 1982 President Reagan created the South Florida Task Force under the direct leadership of Vice President Bush for the purpose of coordinating all enforcement elements in the region: federal, state, local, and military. Out of the experience in south Florida grew the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System (NNBIS), which was given the mission of coordinating all efforts against drug trafficking over any American border. So also out of the south Florida experience came the establishment of twelve other Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDEs) that soon covered the entire country. The El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) was expanded to provide better tactical intelligence support to the major federal and state agencies involved in drug-law enforcement.

Operations have been mounted under the direction of the Vice President and other leading officials that have all of the look and feel of major military operations, especially in the Caribbean and the waters around Florida—as well as in northern California. Navy and Coast Guard ships and planes, aided by Air Force AWACs and Navy E2C electronic surveillance planes, have thrown up blockades to interdict drug-smuggling boats from South America. Combined air, sea, and ground operations have taken place in the Bahamas. To listen to a Coast Guard officer in the Executive Office Building right next to the White House in Washington, to the Vice President's staff director, and to young Coast Guard sailors in Miami, and also to read service newspapers with martial headlines ("Drug War D-Day") is to be aware of the presence of highly trained professionals who believe they are fully at war with drug traffickers and users. The connection between drug traffickers and radical terrorists in South America has lent reality to the war mentality.

In order to impress upon his warriors the seriousness and commitment of their commander-in-chief, President Reagan conducted an unprecedented White House ceremony on June 24, 1982. Attending at his direction were 18 federal agency heads, the Vice President, military leaders, the commissioner of the IRS—and there without need of orders, one assumes, the First Lady. The President explained that he wanted everyone to know of the new massive and coordinated federal strategy to control drugs, especially marijuana, and he hoped these efforts would erase "the false glamour" that surrounds it and other drugs. His concluding charge was: "We're rejecting the helpless attitude that drug use is so rampant that we're defenseless to do anything about it. We're taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts. We're running up the battle flag. We can fight the drug problem, and we can win."

A major objective in this battle plan is to cripple organized crime, which is so often involved in drug trafficking. The regional task forces have gone after major crime figures and have secured many arrests and convictions. Under the leadership of Rudolph W. Giuliani, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, new working arrangements were made with Italian authorities and indictments have been secured of the chiefs and sub-chiefs of whole Mafia families. To aid in the prosecution and more severe punishment of organization criminals and especially to ease forfeiture of their assets, the Reagan administration was able to persuade Congress to pass the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984.

More money and people were devoted to the federal drug enforcement effort. The total drug-enforcement budget (not including treatment and prevention) for fiscal year 1985 was more than $1.4 billion, almost a 100 percent increase over that of 1981, the last Carter budget. The FBI hired 1,000 new agents to work in the related fields of organized crime and drug trafficking. Many of the new, and the old, staff have solid educational backgrounds and are dedicated, highly trained police professionals. (Some of my former students, I have discovered, are involved in DEA and FBI drug-enforcement activities. How could they not be well-educated and competent police officers?)

The bill that finally emerged from that fateful summer of 1986 added even more money and power to the national effort to control drugs under the leadership of Mr. Reagan. Signed in late October, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 provided a vast array of new resources, including $1.7 billion in additional funds for that fiscal year. Save for the death-penalty provision, which liberals killed, most of the major drug-warrior proposals were enacted in some form. Drugs were formally declared a national security problem, which gave additional support to the use of military power to control trafficking. Moreover, money was given for more civilian police officers and for additional military aircraft in drug enforcement. For the first time, a mandatory minimum sentence was provided in the case of a conviction in a federal court for simple possession of any illicit drug, including marijuana. The first conviction for possession would draw a mandatory fine of $1,000; the second, 15 days in jail and $2,500. On the treatment side, several hundred million dollars were provided for new rehabilitation programs, but these were minor themes in the law.

There is more, much more, to the entire historic effort of the Reagan administration in the field of drug enforcement. Its work represents the culmination of repeated courageous efforts by American police and military officers in the seven decades that have passed since the Harrison Narcotic Act went into effect on March 1, 1915.

In most significant respects, however, all of those efforts have failed. Perversely, America's governmental, military, and police leaders act as if the opposite were true, as if the story of drug-law enforcement involved a long string of victories, interrupted only by occasional defeats—instead of just the other way around.

Yet the persistent, massive use of police and military power in drug enforcement continues.


The northern California anti-marijuana program started in 1983 at a time when the level of marijuana planting and associated violence from growers seemed to be beyond the resources of local law enforcement. Humboldt County Sheriff David A. Renner had observed in 1983, "You can't send four people to 1,500 plants guarded by you don't know who.... It was a year ago or more that we would ride through southern parts of Humboldt County and they would just see us and snicker." Fourteen northern California sheriff's departments followed DEA leadership and worked together that year. At an extra cost to the federal and state governments of $1.6 million, 524 raids were made which resulted in the arrest of 128 people and the seizure of 64,579 plants worth at least $130 million wholesale.

The CAMP report on 1983 expenses contained a laconic footnote: "Includes $500,000 for U-2 cost." Indeed, the DEA did contract with NASA for the use of the famous spy plane, which did fly some marijuana-search missions over American territory in California, with some success and a lot of ensuing outrage. For a variety of reasons, the missions apparently were not continued beyond 1983.

CAMP '83 was proclaimed a success by its organizers. Even so, it was clear that the surface had just been scratched, especially in Humboldt County, which has been portrayed by many observers as the world center of high-quality sinsemilla production. The DEA marijuana coordinator for California and the operational field commander of CAMP, William Ruzzamenti, in particular, seemed to be fairly spoiling for the campaign to begin again, his appetite only whetted. "The problem in Humboldt County is so gigantic that it could be an exaggeration to say that we got 10 percent there. But we learned a lot from Humboldt County—and I can tell you, they can expect more up there next year in the way of manpower and everything else," he said in late October 1983. The feisty DEA official then predicted, "Next year, with the resources of the federal government and the state, we will get rid of marijuana in Humboldt County. Those people are operating up there in their own little Valhalla wilderness thinking everything is beautiful, knowing they got away with it, but we will see what happens next year."

Because of the successes of 1983, 37 sheriffs signed up for the 1984 campaign, during which only 398 sites were raided but with a much higher yield per site. As a result, 158,493 plants were seized and 218 arrests were made. The extra costs contributed by the federal and state governments amounted to $2.3 million. Mock diplomas were printed at the State Printing Office in Sacramento for presentation at the post-season banquet. They were headlined "Bud Buster Award" and declared they were to be given to officers in recognition for "having turned the tide in the `war on drugs' " by eradicating "$325,000,000 + worth of the dreaded killer-weed sometimes known as `sinsemilla.' ... all accomplished while working to the haunting refrain of `Ride of the Valkyries.' You are a charter member of the million-pound club and have earned the title of BUD BUSTER EXTRAORDINAIRE and may now proudly proclaim: We came, we saw, we kicked grass!' " (Those who saw Apocalypse Now will recall that the "Ride of the Valkyries" was played by the helicopter-borne American assault troops to terrorize the Vietnamese enemy.)

Before coming to California in the summer of 1985, I called the DEA office in Sacramento to arrange an appointment with the field commander of these grass-kicking, high-spirited police, William Ruzzamenti. He and his staff could not have been more cordial and he readily agreed to see me for dinner when I was in the state. I found Mr. Ruzzamenti to be a thoroughly engaging and idealistic fellow, an opinion shared on a personal level by many of those in active opposition to the powerful force he leads. As it happened, I was in Ron Sinoway's office in Miranda, talking to him and his legal colleague, Melvin Pearlston, just before leaving for my drive to Ukiah and our dinner appointment. As I rushed out of the office toward my car, civil rights lawyer Sinoway said, "Give him my best regards. He's really a nice guy ... for a zealous drug warrior! Remind him that there was nothing `personal' about the fact that I made him a personal defendant in that suit."

When I transmitted those greetings, Bill Ruzzamenti replied a few hours later as we chatted over a beer in his room in Ukiah, "Oh, I know there's nothing personal in it. I don't mind being sued for twenty million, or a hundred million dollars, whatever it is. My wife told me to just write him a check. Anyhow, Sinoway was nothing until I came here and started CAMP. I made him what he is today!"*

Mr. Ruzzamenti does not joke, however, about his views of the harm caused by drugs, the dangers to the public created by marijuana growers, the vital need for CAMP, and his commitment to use every legal weapon in the American arsenal to pursue pot cultivators and their allies relentlessly. To Bill Ruzzamenti this is a war, a just and moral one, and he is on the side of right. After fifteen years as a federal narcotics agent, this well-groomed, slightly built, idealistic Californian, then in his late thirties, knows that he is doing precisely what his personal morals tell him he ought to be doing. He had seen the ravages caused by drugs to parents and children and concluded that his calling would be to get rid of the drugs and put people in jail who were dealing in them.

CAMP, with his active encouragement, regularly compiles and promulgates stories of violence by anyone connected with marijuana growing, whether on public land or on the grower's own plot. The releases make good copy and are regularly picked up by papers all over the country and in other nations as well. That persistent scary publicity accounts in part for the fact that the news of my impending trip was greeted with trepidation and warnings from my family and friends. I, too, was somewhat fearful and felt the apprehension I remembered that accompanied me on trips into the Deep South when I was a federal civil rights official in the early Sixties. The basis for my fear about California was exaggerated, as far as I can now tell. Northern California in the mid-Eighties is quite different from Mississippi and Alabama in the early Sixties.

Neither Bill Ruzzamenti nor any police leader I met in California, however, believes that the dangers of violent growers and their ilk are anything but very real. Mr. Ruzzamenti welcomes a growth in public fear about the dangers of drugs and of violent growers. Even sensational journalism which exaggerates those dangers is accepted as a just weapon in a necessary and harsh war. He believes that the press also overplayed the danger of the chemical herbicide Paraquat being sprayed on Mexican marijuana in the Seventies. "It was a hysteria situation which the media created—and we went right along with it because that's what killed the marijuana business in Mexico," he told local writer Ray Raphael, who related the conversation in his book Cash Crop (1985). "Now we would certainly hope that we would create a similar media event that would kill the marijuana cultivation here. I think we'd be silly to miss the opportunity." While the Mexican marijuana business has risen profitably from the dead, if it ever really was in that state, there is no doubt of the willingness of the DEA and CAMP to play upon the fears about drugs that may be generated, however hysterically, by the press. Mr. Ruzzamenti also favors the future use of Paraquat on American marijuana fields, a weapon which the DEA shelved temporarily in 1983 in the face of a NORML suit because of its environmental impact. (The DEA began using other herbicides in September 1985.)

Moreover, the field commander appreciates the practical and psychological impact of helicopters in this war. "The helicopters have provided us with a sense of superiority that has in fact established a paranoia in the growers' minds and has kept us from getting involved in violence with the growers.... When you come in with a helicopter there's no way they're going to stop and fight; by and large they head for the hills, and we don't get a confrontational situation," he explained.

Emboldened by what they saw as previous successes, the drug warriors made major plans for more of the same in 1985. A press release explained the continuing nature of the police commitment: "This year, seven CAMP teams, each consisting of 12 to 25 trained special agents and volunteers from participating agencies, are conducting raids in 38 California counties during the prime marijuana cultivation season—a 14-week period from July 15 to October 18, 1985." The approved procedure is for CAMP pilots to fly fixed-wing small aircraft, not helicopters, at heights of 1,000 feet or more over areas thought likely to have marijuana gardens. When I originally drove into this vast, open country, stretching as far as the eye can see in many areas, I doubted that it was possible for airborne observers to find a significant number of marijuana plants hidden in its distant reaches. Both police and defense lawyers, to my surprise, agreed that experienced officers can readily spot the plants either by direct observation or from photographs. From the air, I was assured, marijuana has a distinct shiny green color that fairly calls out, "Hey, look at me! I am illegal!" Even with the aid of a magnifying glass, I could not pick out the miscreant plants in photographs used successfully in some criminal cases, so I merely offer this as agreed-upon expert opinion.

Once the plants are sighted, the police then must scour maps to determine the precise location and ownership of the property, which may be a difficult and tedious task. If it turns out to be public land or private property for which consent may be secured, then no search warrant is necessary. Otherwise, a search warrant is obtained to authorize a raid on private property. Then one of the private helicopters CAMP has under contract for the duration of the summer campaign each year (seven in 1985) comes into play. The helicopters transport the raiders to the often inaccessible sites selected by illegal growers to make their valuable crops difficult to find. Frequently, the troops must do a great deal of hiking on the ground in order to reach the garden since the helicopters must find an open area on which to land. An advance party of three to four agents "secures the site" by checking for booby traps and armed guards. The remainder of the raiding party-8 to 20 officers—next moves in. The team then cuts down the crop and loads it in slings which are lifted by the helicopter and transported to a pre-selected site where it is weighed and burned. The actual execution of these raids, therefore, requires a good deal of planning, intelligence, courage, effort, and sweat.


That August 6 raid, with which this chapter began, was typical of CAMP operations. It was viewed by its leaders not simply as part of a law-enforcement effort but as a part of a major national program. At the 7:00 A.M. briefing in the Mendocino County sheriff's office, Bill Ruzzamenti made it clear that he believed in the whole ideology of the war on drugs which President Reagan has proclaimed and which I had heard explained to me so often by high-ranking drug abuse officials back in their Washington offices. I honestly did not expect to hear it 3,000 miles away from a police officer just before a raid.

When I heard that litany repeated to reporters early on that clear California morning, I suddenly realized that however much I doubted its basis in reality, I finally came to believe that Bill Ruzzamenti truly believed it and so did scores, even hundreds and thousands, of officials throughout the country. Their belief is powerful, more powerful and important, in a sense, than my disbelief under current conditions. It is terribly important that those who agree with me understand that Bill Ruzzamenti and most of his brothers-in-arms (some of whom I have literally cross-examined on this point in Miami squad rooms, in Washington, D.C., restaurants, and in the training rooms of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, near Washington) accept that vision of the drug world with all their heads, hearts, and guts. If they are performing, in the end, evil deeds, they do not perceive them as evil nor can they now understand the value system that suggests there might be other strategies to deal with drug problems.

Once we had all reached the marijuana fields on that hot day, the press was allowed a photo opportunity. After the dozens of accompanying press and television people (several from other countries, intent on learning about American methods) had taken all of the photographs of the standing plants they wanted, one of the lead deputies called out, "Cut and count!" Approximately ten uniformed officers, some of them baby-faced kids who were working part-time during the campaign for ten dollars an hour, began slashing away, most with sanviks, a Swedish-designed tool (sometimes spelled Sandviks) that works well on sugar cane or pot plants. Barry Inman was the only one I saw with a machete, which he happily wielded on plant after plant, his hatless head now glistening in the mountain sun.

"I love it," Barry told a reporter in our group as he worked with his machete. "Being able to take something illegal from somebody and getting the dope off the streets is a good feeling," he explained. He said further that he hated marijuana although he had never smoked it and did not claim to know much about it. "Some of my friends smoke but I don't associate with them any more because of it. They get all screwed up and can't think straight," he said. Every one of the young foot soldiers in the battle that day seemed to share Barry Inman's feelings about his work.

Many of those troops had stayed, as had I, in the Lu-Ann Motel at the north end of Ukiah, just off Route 101, the night before, where I saw them walking about in fatigues and field boots, carrying what appeared to be rifles, flak jackets, combat knives, and a great variety of pistols, not a few in rakish holsters. Incongruities abounded. A group of mid-level officers sat grouped near the pool that evening and planned the next day's assault, peering intently over maps on small boards. When I asked where I could get ice for my beer, they immediately interrupted their strategy session and pointed politely to the proper room. Most of the soldiers were intent not on maps but on relaxing and having fun that evening. They seemed to be decent young Americans, happily prepared to carry out a combat mission anywhere. But this was not anywhere; it was Mendocino County, in the heart of some of the world's greatest wine country, in the United States of America. That military presence seemed jarring and out of place there.

They were not, technically speaking, soldiers, but rather civilian police officers, operating in military style. All three levels of civilian law enforcement—federal, state, and local—were committed in a coordinated fashion. CAMP claims that officers from 110 agencies are involved in its campaign. Many of them come for a brief tour of duty from local police agencies in other parts of California. For some of these officers such combat duty in the hills is touted as Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team training. As of that day at the Lu-Ann Motel, a total of 1,020 raids had been carried out in northern California during three seasons. That degree of police persistence in one geographic area shows why CAMP seems to have set the record for the use of armed force in America to enforce civilian laws.

Laws prohibiting products that huge numbers of citizens desire have always created a lure for organized criminals. The American experience with alcohol prohibition was characterized by the rise of organized crime, especially the Mafia, to new heights of lawlessness and violence. Today, such criminals rarely deal in alcohol but in other proscribed though earnestly desired chemicals. Because they may defend their illegal enterprises with weapons and violence, a large-scale enforcement response—not simply a few police officers—is often necessary to control them.

For a short while on that Mendocino hill, I too was overcome by the conviction that this kind of massive police power was really needed, and I suddenly found myself cheering on the police officers. I was unprepared for the supportive feeling that welled up inside me as I accompanied them on this mission. I saw with my own eyes that they were dedicated, decent, and competent, and that the growers were criminals who had the effrontery to take over someone else's land (thus earning the label "guerrilla") and to cultivate an illegal crop on it. These actions by the guerrilla growers involved calculated, repeated invasions of the property of the Louisiana Pacific Lumber Company over a period of months. If those criminals could commit such acts of multiple trespass, I feared that they were capable of much worse. Under current laws and social conditions, then, this raid, and others like it, on guerrilla and commercial growers seem to make some sense.

That feeling of support, however, was soon largely overwhelmed by the contrary visceral feelings that welled up when I contemplated a small amount of the cut marijuana lying in a truck bed. For some reason, it had not been airlifted out. Two burly, young, armed officers sat proudly on the truck, looking like victorious gladiators. Had the truck contained the body of a wolf or a mountain lion or a deactivated bomb, I might have had a different reaction. Standing marijuana, I had just seen, is a beautiful dark green plant with a pleasant odor. Cut marijuana looks innocent and harmless. Even somewhat pitiful. Is this what these young police officers had just risked their lives to capture? While no violent growers were confronted and no booby traps were tripped, they might have been. Even in their absence, the movement of all of these people up hazardous mountain roads—the greatest danger, I am now convinced, that everyone faces in that region—and the whole process of cutting and helicoptering out the captured weeds represented hazards to the pilots, to the police, to the observers, and to the general public.

Following that raid, two California police officers and their pilot were killed when a small plane crashed while searching for marijuana. On October 29, 1986, moreover, a major disaster allegedly was almost caused by a helicopter on a DEA surveillance mission. The pilot of a United Airlines 727, trying to land in Los Angeles, claimed he was forced to fly over the top of the helicopter at an estimated 200 feet. The DEA claimed its pilot prevented the planes from even getting close. The incident occurred in the same general area where a private small plane collided with an Aeromexico DC-9 on August 31, 1986, killing 82 people.

In my scale of values, none of the risks involved in these raids, whether they be assessed as great or small, whether from violent growers or simple accidents, is worth the capture of innocent plants which could harm smokers only if they used the product repeatedly for many years.

Another jarring incongruity that day was created for me by the sudden appearance at the crest of the hill of John Ridenour. He was a gentle-spoken, 32-year-old local citizen in blue jeans, no shirt, long blond hair and beard, taking pictures of the scene with a 35-millimeter camera. Soon his wife appeared, carrying a small, well-fed baby. Apparently, they were trespassers since this was posted private property and Mr. Ridenour was not a lumber company employee. He was also in close proximity to that huge illegal garden and I wondered if he would have been arrested if we observers had not been present.

More surprising, he proceeded to give an interview to the press in which he admitted openly that he was a criminal, a mom-and-pop grower in the area. As he said this, heavily armed police were walking all over the trail, within earshot. When the press asked if he thought the police were acting properly, John Ridenour replied, "I haven't seen nothin' wrong this time or here. I thought all the guys and everything was fine. They didn't harass me... . I haven't seen any machine guns or that stuff that I'd ... heard about." He was asked if he had heard of people moving out or ceasing to grow because of the police campaign, and replied that he had not but that many of them had changed the way in which they grew their plants; they were growing fewer of them and seeking to hide them better. "Everybody's out to make a living," he explained in his quiet voice, "I'm sure that they don't wanna have to grow pot. People like the country and this is a way to get money. They're just making a living."

"What do you find to be a bigger concern, the police or pot rip-offs?" a reporter asked. "Pot rip-offs," the grower immediately replied, referring to private citizens who steal other people's illegal plants. This was not a great vote of confidence in American police power, even when it was wielded in the fashion of an invading army. John Ridenour also provided this inside overall assessment about the potential impact on his neighbors of the major law-enforcement effort unfolding that day before his eyes: "They are wasting their money and time. There is dope all over these hills. They are putting on a good show but they will never get rid of it. They will never win."

Others have expressed the same ideas with a slightly different twist. After he served as interim district attorney of neighboring Trinity County, Weaverville lawyer William Neill observed in November 1984, "It would take two divisions to enforce the law in a meaningful way" in order to control "Trinity County's largest crop." The local lawyer concluded, "Aside from how any of us might ... feel about the use of marijuana ... personally, I'm not keen on having two army divisions wandering about the county." Mr.

Neill might have added that there is nothing in the record of drug-law enforcement to suggest that even two divisions would be successful in controlling marijuana in that or in any county.


Unfortunately, too many leading officials do not understand the lessons of northern California as well as do Messrs. Ridenour and Neill, who have lived through them—nor does it appear that these prominent Americans have the vaguest idea of the reasons behind the historical repugance of America to the use of the military in civilian affairs. It had long been accepted in England that a magistrate or other leading law-enforcement officer of a country or shire, sometimes known as a shire reeve (later shortened to one modern word), could call upon the male citizens of the community over 15 years of age to assist him in the keeping of the peace or in apprehending felons. This "power of the county," one literal translation of posse comitatus, was to be used in the enforcement of civil laws. A related tradition grew up over the centuries, with roots as far back as the Magna Carta, that viewed with horror the use of the military to enforce those laws on local citizens. Whenever monarchs have called in military forces to enforce the law on a reluctant population, this usually signaled that there was massive defiance of some of those laws-and that a true civil war might be erupting.

Such was the case several centuries ago when the English living on the coast of the wild continent of America took up smuggling almost as a patriotic duty to defy the customs regulations of the government in London. The British responded by providing writs of assistance, which authorized general searches in homes for contraband, that is, goods smuggled from abroad without paying customs duties—and they brought in troops to assist in those searches and to whip these defiant citizens into compliance with the customs law. The results for King George III were less than successful. In the process of leading the appeal for the traditional rights of all loyal Englishmen, the fiery Sam Adams proclaimed in a speech in 1768 that "to be called to account by a common soldier, or any soldier, is a badge of slavery which none but a slave will wear."

Eight years later, Thomas Jefferson was moved to inveigh against the excesses of foreign soldiers as one of the reasons given to the world for the stunning, seditious action of secession from the lawful royal authority in America. While the constitution of 1787 did not expressly prohibit the use of the military to enforce the laws, it did place the civilian President in the position of commander-inchief; and within a few more years, the Bill of Rights demanded narrowly defined searches, thus prohibiting general search warrants, which had warmed the cockles of the royal military heart.

After the Civil War, federal troops were used to keep order in the defeated South. As has so often happened throughout history, the troops were soon imposing a form of colonial oppression upon the people and their leaders. That moved Congress to pass the act of 1878 which made it a federal crime to use the military "as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws." While this had the desired effect at the time, it soon was a largely forgotten law—in part because the military was thenceforth rarely called upon to enforce the civilian laws in the scale and style seen in the mid-1700s and the Reconstruction Era. Moreover, there were recognized exceptions to the prohibition on the use of the military in American life. For example, the Coast Guard is exempt because, while in time of war it is the coastal defense force of the Navy, in peacetime it is considered a civilian law enforcement agency with the mission to enforce customs laws, control our borders, provide search-and-rescue services, and aid navigation. In the event of insurrection or major civil disorder, moreover, it was accepted that troops could be used on a temporary basis so long as the emergency lasted.

Current fears, however, have induced a significant cadre of American leaders to raise the specter of a permanent breach of the traditional wall between civilian and military affairs—and that breach is justified in the name of enforcing the drug laws. How sad that hard-learned lessons of democracy and freedom are ignored by those who should harken to them most. While there is a basis in fact for their concerns about controlling the vast amount of drug trafficking coming over our borders, there is an edge of hysteria to the ideas proposed by some of those leaders now most vocally urging that we call out the marines to save our kids from drugs. A major tenet of these military-minded drug fighters is that the vast commitment of the Reagan Administration is not enough and that a real war with a real military and allied diplomatic commitment is necessary.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the powerful head of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, is one of the prime advocates of that position. He has consistently criticized the Reagan administration and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not unleashing a major military assault on drug trafficking. The black leader has demonstrated how otherwise sensible and humane politicians of the major parties seek to outbid each other in being tough on drugs. When I wrote an article in the March 1984 Justice Quarterly calling for "Peace Without Surrender in the Perpetual Drug War," he responded with an article in the next issue, agreeing with me that this nation has never won a war on drugs because in the past all of the wars have been limited and uncoordinated.

Accordingly, Mr. Rangel called for a "total war" on drug abuse, which would involve a single federal director of drug strategy (sometimes called a "drug czar") a more aggressive war, and the elimination of foreign aid to countries, like Pakistan and Colombia, that do not take more effective action to curb drug production and subsequent exports to our shores. The congressman seemed unimpressed with my argument to him several months later on a network television debate that we lived in a glass house on the latter score because a virtual army of federal police officers had not prevented wholesale drug dealing on the streets of the nation's cities, including those of the capital city outside the very door of the television studio.

Edward Koch, the flamboyant mayor of New York, is often engaged in political imbroglios with the Harlem congressman, but on drug issues they are like blood brothers, although there seems to be sibling rivalry as to which of them will win the Rambo award in that arena. Mr. Rangel has made a good try, but my vote would be for the mayor. In a speech before the National Press Club in Washington, Mr. Koch actually asked why Mr. Reagan should not order the Air Force to use F-15 fighter jets for the purpose of "shooting down" suspected drug smuggling planes as they approach our borders. Under questioning from incredulous reporters he amended his statement to a suggestion that the Air Force pilots might put the wheels of their jets on the cockpits of the suspects and thus "force down" the bad guys. There are those, of course, who may be equally incredulous at the amended reply.

Mr. Koch noted in the same speech that most of the heroin that is smuggled into the country comes from either Mexico or Southeast Asia. Accordingly, he asked, "Why shouldn't every passenger coming from those areas be subject to a strip search?" Noting further that border officials were now overwhelmed with incoming passengers, he had a practical suggestion for aiding them in their duties: use military personnel to carry out the vast number of bodily searches that would be required under this new policy which would greet hordes of visitors as they arrived at the shores of freedom. The Koch plan could mean soldiers in uniform with sidearms or M-16s greeting each flight from dozens of countries, selecting hundreds or thousands of passengers each day, on the basis of intuition or hunch, to step aside into small, convenient rooms, take off all of their clothes, and be subjected to a search of their bodily cavities and perhaps their bodily wastes.

One is forced to wonder if drug fear has so clouded our national reason that more Americans do not see the supreme irony in two of the highest elected representatives of the Jewish and Negro people—both of which have suffered centuries of abuse from the arbitrary actions of the military and the police of many countries—united on the need for more armed force to deal with a delicate human problem, one that involves serious civil liberties issues. It would be in keeping with recent history to see them united on more gentle and peaceful approaches to dealing with drugs.

More gentle and more peaceful proposals on this subject might also be expected to come from female officials (unless I am being hopelessly old-fashioned). This expectation has not been fulfilled, as demonstrated by the harsh martial posture persistently taken by one of Mr. Rangel's chief counterparts in the Senate, Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Like the gentlemen from New York, Senator Hawkins represents a constituency deeply troubled by drug trafficking and the violent crime and corruption that comes with it. * New York City and Miami have some of the worst drug trafficking and organized crime in America. Both are far more dangerous on those accounts than, say, northern California, Washington, D.C., or many other communities with reputations for drug problems.

Moreover, as was pointed out to me on the wall map in his Miami office by James Dingfelder, staff director of the Vice President's South Florida Task Force, the entire state of Florida sits there in the calm, warm ocean like a giant dock or a string of safe harbors, just inviting the friendly neighborhood drug smugglers from South America to drop in. The huge sea of Hispanic people on the peninsula provides a haven for traders from the south. Once in that haven, they can easily connect with the established Hispanic drug-smuggling infrastructure. It is understandable, therefore, why some local leaders have issued a call for greater police and military force in the Florida area. Ms. Hawkins has loudly echoed that call.

In May 1984 she made the then seemingly outrageous suggestion of sending American troops to South America. This was in response to the unsolved murder of Colombia's justice minister, Lara Bonilla, apparently by cocaine traffickers. Ms. Hawkins wrote President Reagan: "I urge you to offer whatever resources necessary including U.S. military personnel to the government of Colombia in their war on illegal drug trafficking." The senator also suggested dispatching "helicopters, flame throwers, night vision equipment, radars, and firearms," explaining that "while the measures I propose are drastic," they are necessary "to fight these mass murderers."

The Gainesville Sun, in an editorial titled "Adios, Colombia," objected to the vision of our young people in uniform "skimming the Colombian mountaintops in armed gunships seeking out drug smugglers" because "the prospect of the United States employing its military might to intervene in another nation's domestic crime problem ... is too chilling to seriously entertain. Americans certainly wouldn't tolerate the prospect of federal troops fighting domestic crime here at home." Senator Hawkins shot back a letter saying that "help from the military has been critical to the success of the South Florida Task Force," which assistance was made possible by the posse comitatus amendments which she claimed that she had introduced. "If we do not take some drastic steps to stop illegal drugs at their source, we can not only say `Adios, Colombia,' but also `Adios, Gainesville.' "

The dispatch of American soldiers to Bolivia by President Reagan in July 1986 showed that the proposals of Senator Hawkins were not so outrageous, after all. In the pursuit of the current drug war, what once seemed to represent extremism has often come to appear as moderation. Fortunately, the role of the American troops was to provide transportation and logistical support to the local forces and not to engage in battle themselves, as Senator Hawkins and others have suggested.

Those who agreed with two questionable assumptions—that drugs can be stopped at their source and that the military is an effective weapon in drug control—came out in support of a more far-reaching proposal introduced by another congressman from Florida, Charles E. Bennett, a Democrat, in 1985. The so-called Bennett Amendment called for expanding the exception to the posse comitatus restriction that had been voted in 1981 so that military personnel would be authorized to enforce directly the drug laws anywhere outside the territory of the United States. Even under the 1981 amendment, a Navy ship that spotted a suspected drug boat at sea, for example, could only inform civilian law-enforcement agencies such as the Coast Guard or DEA so they could later make the search and arrests. The Bennett Amendment would have allowed the Navy sailors to make the searches and arrests immediately on their own.

The amendment was also propelled forward on the legislative road by a good deal of emotion, some of it highly personal. Mr. Bennett recalled the rage he felt when he was forced to pay a drug dealer $100 for fear that the criminal would have his drug-dependent son killed if he did not pay. In 1977, his son died from a drug overdose. "I don't want to waste my pain," Rep. Bennett said. "There's hardly any limit to what I would impose on the big operators who would destroy America in making wealth for themselves."

The daughter of Congressman Stewart McKinney (R-Conn.) had been in serious trouble with drugs, a fact he mentioned when he urged his colleagues to allow the Navy and the Air Force "to interdict the greatest, slimiest, lousiest, cruddiest enemy we have got in this country, those people who would profit off of killing the kids of this country.... Drug dealers are killing our kids. Is it not the job of the military to protect this country, its future, its kids, for God's sake?"

Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.) told on the floor of the House that he was fully allied with Mayor Koch's position on use of the military, including putting the Army to work policing ports of entry (a proposal not directly involved in the Bennett Amendment). The New York congressman furthermore specifically endorsed Mr. Koch's line of reasoning that (1) since the DEA director had said, in an offhand comment, that he would need 40,000 agents, added to the 2,000 now on the force, to enforce the drug laws adequately, (2) this would take an extra $1 billion, which was not forthcoming in a time of massive budget deficits; accordingly, (3) only the military could do the job of drug-law enforcement without any appreciable extra expenditures.

Remarkably, it took the conservative, hard-line Secretary of Defense, Caspar W. Weinberger, to make the point that there was a compelling need to keep the military out of civilian life. In a letter to the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Weinberger declared that the Bennett Amendment would breach "the historic separation between military and civilian spheres of activity," which wall he described as "one of the most fundamental principles of American democracy." Therefore, the Secretary of Defense stated, "We strongly oppose the extension of civilian police powers to our military forces." More quietly, other Reagan administration agency heads involved in drug enforcement opposed the Bennett Amendment, to their credit. Even President Reagan and the First Lady have at times expressed doubts about going so far as to allow the military to get involved directly in drug policing.

The Bennett Amendment nevertheless passed the House on June 26, 1985, by an overwhelming majority, 364 to 51. However, later in conference committee with the Senate a compromise was worked out whereby funds would be provided to place more Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLETS) upon Navy ships. This would meet several objections, including one which argued that drug searches and arrests would interfere with military effectiveness. There is much truth in this position because most service people are not trained in the law of search and arrest, nor do their normal duty assignments allow time for them to testify in court cases. To Coast Guard sailors, on the other hand, this is standard duty. The new drug-control act of 1986 contained a provision for at least 500 of such trained Coast Guard personnel to be placed on Navy vessels in drug-interdiction areas. Thus the emotional move to give American military people the full powers of search and seizure has been defeated for the time being. Nevertheless, it is clear that the pressure for greater use of the military in the enforcement of the drug laws is growing.

Despite the reservations about the use of the military sometimes stated by President Reagan, he has authorized its wider involvement in drug cases—in almost every respect but actually carrying out searches, seizures, and arrests. On April 8, 1986, the President took the extraordinary action of declaring drug trafficking a threat to the national security in a secret National Security Decision Directive. That directive authorized greater use of military equipment, troops, and intelligence resources in assisting domestic and foreign drug police, reportedly over the strong objections of Secretary Weinberger. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 provided legislative support for most of these military initiatives. All of them should cause great concern in a democracy, especially the declaration that drug trafficking threatened the national security. One might argue more rationally that the drug laws and the wide-eyed drug warriors represented a greater threat. Throughout American history, we have seen that the depiction of a problem as a threat to the security of the country has often justified the most extreme measures in response.

If this hysteria continues, we may still reach the day when we will see American soldiers searching American citizens for drugs—and arresting them when contraband is found. It will be a sad day when that occurs, and we all should fervently hope—nay, pray, repeatedly, now that Mr. Justice Rehnquist heads the nation's judiciary—that such actions will be found unconstitutional by the courts.


Powerful, vehement support for the intensification of the war on drug trafficking, whether through military or through civilian agencies, comes from across the political spectrum in Washington. Despite seven decades of failure, the litany is still stated by leading officials that only through interruption of the supply can eventual victory over drug abuse be gained. Drug-enforcement chiefs pay lip service now to the notion that they cannot win this battle without help on the demand side, but when they let their hair down, they truly believe not in the power of denial by users—unless it has been forced on them by the police and by fear of job loss—but mainly in the power of interdiction and denial of supplies.

A middle-aged federal drug-abuse official said`to me in despair one day recently, "The ghost of Harry Anslinger hovers over Capitol Hill like a fog." He was referring to the head of the old Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), the original bureaucratic ancestor of the DEA, who reigned from 1930 to 1962, longer than any federal police official in the history of the country, except the remarkable J. Edgar Hoover. The closest living legacy of Mr. Anslinger, to my knowledge, is to be found in the personage of Mr. Jack Cusack, the chief of staff of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control and one of the most respected people in Washington on drug-enforcement issues. Like his current boss, Congressman Rangel, the New York City native, now in his early sixties, has always treated me with unfailing politeness, which, I fear, might not have been my treatment at the hands of Mr. Anslinger himself. When I first met Mr. Cusack in the office of Congressman Rangel, he said words to this effect: Doc, its good to read your stuff, kind of warms my heart, brings back the old days; you know, we considered your ideas way back and rejected them because they don't work.

It was the voice of Jack but the spirit of Harry. For 32 years, the most remarkable accomplishment of the monochromatic FBN director was to convince America and the world that there was no other way to deal with narcotic addicts than harsh law enforcement and complete prohibition of the truly bad drugs, even in medicine for the organically ill, for any purpose. Whenever anyone, even highly respected authorities, such as the New York Academy of Medicine in 1955, suggested more gentle approaches to dealing with some addicts, such as British-style medical dispensation of drugs, he reacted predictably. Mr. Anslinger usually replied that "the British system is the same as the United States system," and besides, the so-called British system of decriminalization of drugs has failed, both of which statements were untrue at the time. Bureaucratic descendants of Mr. Anslinger—including Mr. Cusack and DEA administrators Peter M. Bensinger, Francis M. Mullen, Jr., and John Lawn, among others—have produced ideological progeny of the same twisted veracity.

Thus, the core of the dominant American strategy is still strict law enforcement and the core of the law-enforcement ideology is the old-time religious covenant: thou shalt not use bad drugs even to help dying patients lest the wall of prohibition be breached and our innocent children get the wrong idea about drugs. When, accordingly, Mr. Cusack tells me that my old ideas have proved not to work, he is simply repeating a key sermon in that old-time theology. To a seminar of journalists at Washington's Watergate Hotel in 1985, he added another essential principle of the enforcement creed: "we did it before and we can do it again." As I was sitting there listening, it occurred to me that most of the reporters in the room were too young to realize that this was a World War II slogan referring to the Germans. In this context it meant that America had deliberately cut off the supply of illegal drugs in the past and thus had reduced drug abuse; once we truly make up our minds that we are united in this new war, we could cut off drugs and then the number of drug abusers would plummet once again.

Mr. Cusack makes an impressive presentation. He has had years of experience as a DEA agent and supervisor and can talk on the basis of a long record in the field. He was the chief American narcotics agent in Paris during the early Seventies when the famous French Connection heroin ring was broken, and thus participated in making drug-law enforcement history. That success was coupled with an agreement between the United States and Turkey under which Turkey began exerting control over its opium fields, from which the raw material for the French heroin had come. In Mr. Cusack's mind, and in that of the leading drug strategists of the nation, those twin victories resulted in a drastic interruption in the illegal heroin traffic and a corresponding drop in American heroin abuse and related crime. That is why, Mr. Cusack later told a reporter, he did not want to hear any talk that the war on drugs cannot be won by law enforcement. Those victories were "a classic application of narcotics-law enforcement ... When we cut availability, we eliminate drug abuse. It's just that simple."

How I wish that it were! We would gird our loins, unleash the military and the forces of law and order, make alliances with the good nations, and, World War II style, carry the battle to the bad, accepting whatever casualties were necessary to fight through to final victory. How simple the world did seem back in 1941, but now in all respects it is much more complicated.

A review of the factual record, and not simply accepted myths, leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that American law enforcement has never created a long-term interruption in the supply of any illicit drug. I do not report this failure with glee because the lives of all of us might be infinitely better if the opposite were true, if the enforcement theology applied to the real world. But it does not. What does apply is the Iron Law of the Opium Trade, and not only to America and not only to the modern era: Whenever there is a demand for an illicit opiate, such as heroin, in time a supply appears; and when one source of supply is cut off, another soon replaces it in sufficient volume to satisfy the demand. (This law also applies to most other illicit drugs, certainly to marijuana.)

Official federal intelligence estimates indicate that the interruption of the French-Turkish supply line did, indeed, result in a drop in the percentage of the illicit American heroin market filled by Turkish sources: from approximately 53 percent in 1972 to 9 percent in 1974. Thus, one might conclude, Mr. Cusack and his allies are correct; law enforcement works. This claim would be correct only if we ignored the broader reality. Mexican Mud, or brown heroin, soon flooded into the gap, rising from 38 percent of the American market in 1972 to 77 percent in 1974, again according to official federal reports, which leading American government drug-abuse experts seem not to read. The total supply of heroin also was soon back at a high level.

This is not to say that the police officers who busted the French Connection were wasting their time. It is to say rather that the police should pursue major drug traffickers and organized crime leaders because so many of them are vicious, violent criminals who engage in a wide variety of destructive activities, ranging in recent years from terrorism to bilking governments of perhaps a billion dollars in gasoline taxes to murder—all in addition to selling vast quantities of illegal drugs. The FBI, the DEA, and all major police agencies should continue to assign courageous, competent officers to pursue these social jackals because they harm civilization in many ways, not simply by selling drugs. Moreover, even if 20 French Connections had been broken, this would not have solved the drug problem in America. A twenty-first ring would probably have soon come out of the criminal woodwork with an adequate supply of drugs, which are relatively simple substances to grow or to refine. It does not take a horticultural genius to grow hardy opium poppies or a chemical wizard to refine heroin from a morphine base. Therefore, the destruction of most of the current major criminal networks would have only a temporary impact on the use and abuse of drugs.

What about the claim that abuse and crime by addicts went down when that Turkish supply was interrupted in the early Seventies? There simply is no evidence to support this widely held belief. It seems certain that many addicts reduced their use, especially on the East Coast, where there was a severe shortage for perhaps several years. When addicts reduce their use of heroin, this is usually seen as the supreme achievement of government policy. In fact, when a heroin supply line to a community is interdicted, three types of addict reaction are probable.

First, one segment of addicts will increase their reliance on other drugs, especially alcohol. It could be argued that this is a good result because alcohol is less expensive and crime will therefore go down. Yet alcohol has a more criminogenic impact than heroin or any opiate on the emotions of users. Heroin usually cools the passions; alcohol heats them up.

Second, a significant group of addicts will simply try harder and use every bit of their native ingenuity to snare some of the smaller amount that is still available on the street. This pursuit will require more crime because the drug will be more expensive.

Third, a group of addicts might well leave the whole illegal drug culture, at least for a while. They might decide: to heck with it, I've had enough, my girl is fed up with me, I'm getting tired of the continual hassle, I am finally going to stop using smack—either through a treatment program or on my own—and start living a straight life. This group will be older, more mature, and near the end of their deviant careers. The most powerful "cure" for heroin abuse and related crime is not found in medicine or law enforcement but in age. In the trade, it is known as "maturing out" of addiction and deviance.

Thus it is never clear, on balance, how the interruption of a heroin supply line will affect a given community or a whole nation. While we may like the idea of pushing a segment of the addict population out of the black market, this is done at the price of pushing some addicts to more crime and others to different drugs. While conventional drug-abuse experts claim heroin drives users toward crime, I say hogwash; they have not done their homework. The scientific evidence demonstrates that we are all better off if the heroin addicts have a reasonably steady supply of the stuff rather than the other drugs they seek at a time of shortage. In particular, we should fear their actions when they turn to alcohol, barbiturates, methaqualone, amphetamines, and PCP. I would prefer they stopped using any of these chemicals, including heroin, but I have no idea how to accomplish such magical events for most addicts.

When I reviewed all of the official crime data, moreover, I was unable to find any persistent pattern of a drop in crime during the early Seventies. In 1971, the rates per 100,000 population for the seven most serious crimes, the FBI's Crime Index, was 3,136.7 in the Middle Atlantic states. In 1972, it dropped to 2,858.5, again seemingly proving the police-supply theories correct. Yet by 1973, when the heroin shortage continued, the Crime Index in those states went up to 3,690.3, and by 1974 it was up further to 4,267.7. National crime trends mirrored those of the Middle Atlantic states. These official figures might be used to support the argument that a police-imposed interruption of supply causes a temporary downturn in crime and later a huge increase as addicts are pushed into a crime frenzy.

A more moderate interpretation would be that the destruction of an illicit heroin supply line causes many unpredictable and often inconsistent results, not at all like beating the Germans in Normandy or the Japanese on Guadalcanal. One of the most cautious and sensible reports on drug policy in recent history, the Ford administration's White Paper on Drug Abuse, issued by a White House task force in 1975, came to similar conclusions. It made no claim that the heroin shortage produced a drop in crime. On the positive side, the White Paper stated that successful supply-reduction efforts may reduce the number of new users, increase the number of established users who cease use, and decrease the overall consumption of current users. On the negative side, "young, casual users of drugs are stigmatized by arrest; the health of committed users is threatened by impure drugs; black markets are created and with them significant possibilities for corruption of public officials; and crime rates increase, as users attempt to meet the rising cost of scarce, illegal drugs." The task force added, "Finally, no supply-reduction effort can be completely effective. Even if we were willing to drastically restrict civil liberties .. . some drugs would continue to flow into illegal markets."

In other words, this White House task force was telling the Anslinger disciples of the world, including those converts in the Reagan administration, that it just ain't so, that the war on drugs simply cannot be won, at least not on their terms. Even if we flood the world with drug police and their military auxiliaries, and even if we interrupt illegal supply lines, we may cause more harm than good. As now conceived, the mission of the drug warriors of America is demonstrably impossible.

That conclusion stares them in the face if they will only look, and is stated, sometimes indirectly, by street-level officers. On the same day in June 1982 that President Reagan went out into the Rose Garden to announce a new war on drugs, the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department announced that it had achieved a major success at a spot a few miles north of the roses: the largest heroin seizure in departmental history, 6.7 pounds of 90-percent-pure drugs, worth $15.4 million. Yet Lieutenant Carl Alexander observed, "There will be a shortage out there on the street. The price of dope will probably go up. Crime may go up because junkies will need more money to pay the prices."


For those who believe in good old-fashioned American wars which reach predictable final satisfying scenes, dominated by demands for unconditional surrenders and total victories, such results are maddening. Conflict-ridden and unpredictable behavior lies at the heart of drug-human relationships, and strategies that ignore these complex relationships will always produce unexpected results. Several years ago, for example, the United States government led a national and international campaign to eliminate the abuse of methaqualone—known also by the trade name Quaalude and the street name "lude"—by prohibiting its use in medicine and convincing the sole U.S. manufacturer to cease production. Within a few months, every bit of information I encountered indicated that use and abuse of the drug was rapidly diminishing everywhere in the country. This remarkable event represented the second instance in American history wherein I have been able to identify a significant drop in the use of an illicit drug apparently through deliberately planned governmental action. The first involved that heroin shortage of the early Seventies, and we saw how that worked out.

For many months, it looked to me as if the prohibition of methaqualone would rate as the major exception to the consistent failure of prohibition policies in America. Then informants from the streets started to laugh at my naïveté on this matter. It was true, they said, that real 'ludes were hard to get, but the fakes were all over the streets and were being snapped up by the regular customers. In fact, many of the regulars liked the synthetics better than the originals. With good reason, for most of the counterfeit 'ludes were actually composed of Valium or other proven tranquilizers which had effects approximating methaqualone. During my visit to the Miami front in September 1985, I was told by streetwise experts that there was no great call for ludes in that area because the regulars were quite content with the substitutes, many of which were smuggled from Colombia and were sold at reasonable prices.

In a similar vein was the success of the combined Coast GuardNavy–Air Force–Customs war against drug traffickers in the southern approaches to America. In several operations, there have been naval blockades of the Colombian coast—code-named Operation Hat Trick—which, as Coast Guard Lt. Commander Terry Hart of the Vice President's office in Washington told me, "took down everything that moved." Such operations under the Reagan administration have been quite effective if we use the measure of the amount of marijuana seized—at least a million pounds annually in recent years. However, when I was in Florida in late 1985, I was told that marijuana was more difficult at that time for young people to buy than cocaine, which was plentiful and relatively inexpensive. One hopes that no Reagan strategist will applaud that victory.

Indeed, during my entire time visiting the area covered by the showpiece South Florida Task Force, I found precious little objective evidence of bottom-line success produced by the vast efforts of the many competent enforcement leaders and officers I met. Since 1980, the Miami Citizens Against Crime created a remarkable movement to beef up enforcement, including convincing the Reagan administration to set up that task force. In addition, local tax and bond monies were made available for more police and jail space, as well as for education of young people. While the crime rate dropped from 1980 to 1983, it started up again in 1984, and was rising even more in 1985. Violent crime associated with the cocaine trade, in particular, puts a blanket of terror over many parts of Miami. These trends were reported to me by straight-arrow retired Rear Admiral Van T. Edsall, director of MCAC, and now somewhat depressed over these results after so much work. I tried to offer what comfort I could by saying that success in such efforts was as rare as hen's teeth.

Street prices reflect this endemic lack of success. Illegal supplies of drugs have reached record levels while the massive Reagan enforcement effort has been taking place. In 1981, when President Reagan took office, the price of a kilogram of cocaine in south Florida was $60,000; by 1983, the glut had dropped the price to $20,000; during my visit in 1985, it had risen somewhat to $25,00030,000, still half the 1981 price.

"It's dropping out of the skies," admitted Jack Cusack in 1985. "Literally. In Florida, people are finding packages in their driveways that have fallen out of planes." Federal intelligence estimates for the entire country are consistent with such incredible events. For 1980, analysts set the amount of illegal imported cocaine at 40 tons. For 1985, these experts place the amount at over 100 tons, worth enough to dwarf the entire treasuries of most countries.

The advent of crack in 1985 and 1986 was created in large part because of the glut in the cocaine market. In this sense, crack was a packaging and marketing strategy to deal with the economic problem of an excess of cocaine supplies.

Failure is also documented in reliable surveys of illicit drug use. While I have argued that the so-called epidemic had leveled off by the mid-Eighties, the total numbers of users and abusers of virtually all illicit drugs are at very high levels. During the two eventful decades since 1965, a period in which drug-law enforcement has been at record levels, the number of people who use illegal drugs has risen sharply. How can any pragmatic American look at all of these bottom-line numbers and deny that they add up to massive failure, not simply of individual officials, but of the fundamental principles of our entire drug-control strategy?

Seventy years of drug-warrior rule, of the chemical march of folly, have produced a situation for all Americans, including those who have no involvement whatsoever in drugs, in which illicit drugs are now more available than ever, our streets are awash with criminals, our sick are suffering needless pain—and our liberties, our sense of peace and privacy, our very personal dignity are all being greatly curtailed.

* The suit is explained in the next chapter.

* Ms. Hawkins was defeated in the 1986 election by former governor Bob Graham in a campaign dominated by the drug issue. By impartial local accounts, the mood of the electorate had been affected by the hysteria of the summer of 1986. Candidate Graham managed to convince the voters that Senator Hawkins only appeared tough on the issue and that he would be even tougher.


Our valuable member Arnold Trebach has been with us since Monday, 20 December 2010.

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