It alters perceptions and skews the ability to tell right from wrong. Ultimately, it results in a dysfunctional society. But it's not a drug. It's the War on Drugs.

Furthermore, the Strategy based the "war" on assertions about drug use stated as fact, but which are questioned by independent researchers across the country. To cite a few examples: the Strategy's contention that babies exposed to crack in the womb will never recover and constitute a "time bomb" that will "explode 20 to 30 years from now" is challenged by researchers at both Emory University Medical School and the National Association of Perinatal Research and Education, who find instead that most effects of cocaine exposure pass within several months and that most of the long-term symptoms popularly associated with "crack babies" stem instead from other conditions that commonly accompany cocaine use, such as poverty, violence, malnutrition, and poor prenatal care. The shibboleth that increased drug enforcement can reduce other types of crime is questioned by large studies in Florida and Chicago, where Florida State University economists found that diverting heavy police resources to drug enforcement resulted in a rise in both property crime and alcohol-related traffic deaths. The common belief that high murder rates are caused by people driven "crazy" by drugs is contradicted by an examination of 218 New York City homicides recorded as "drug related" in 1988. Five were caused by the psychoactive effects of crack (as opposed to 21 by alcohol), the University of Illinois's Paul Goldstein found; motives for the rest lay not in the pharmacological substance but in the nature of the illegal drug trade A either turf wars or robberies by addicts desperate to buy another dose.

"Any cocaine use may lead to addiction" the latest Strategy states, but that is disproved by the GAO study finding that fewer than six percent of all cocaine users use the drug daily.

While none of the studies challenging "instant addiction," "drug- crazed" crime, or a generation of "crack babies" is conclusive, they at least begin to lend academic support to a re-examination of current drug policy. On the other hand, research supporting the current drug-war policy A detailing the health dangers of drugs and linking drug abuse to crime, for example A isn't available from the Office of National Drug Control Policy or the Department of Health and Human Services.

"If you want mass studies, there aren't any," said Walters, who charted national drug-enforcement policy for four years. "It's very hard to get to the bottom of some of this."

Instead of "mass studies," the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House, and their allies in Congress and the courts generate support for the government's enforcement-heavy policies through moral assumptions about drugs and the people who use them. Speaking at Harvard in 1989, William Bennett summed up his abhorrence of drug use this way: "it makes a mockery of virtue." Federal judges have written into their opinions comparisons of drug users and dealers to "the vampire of fable" and an "external enemy," and one judge even suggested that compared with drug trafficking, "violent crimes may well be considered the lesser of two evils." Building more prisons is "the morally right thing to do," then-Attorney General William Barr said in a speech last April. Drug czar Bennett even suggested, on national television, beheading dealers.

Though neither Bennett nor his laissez-faire successor, former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, ever managed to test this last approach, such medieval reasoning permeates the National Drug Control Strategy, which effectively equate drug users with lepers, comparing them "in epidemiological terms" to a "carrier" whose drug use is "highly contagious." The casual user is singled out for punishment more than the hard-core addict because "he is likely to have a still-intact family, social, and work life. He is likely still to 'enjoy' his drug use for the pleasure it offers." Each year since 1989 the Strategy has called for ever-tougher sanctions against non-addicted, non-dealing consumers of illegal drugs. "Who's responsible?" George Bush asked in his 1989 speech. "Let me tell you straight out: Everyone who uses drugs. Everyone who sells drugs. And everyone who looks the other way." In other words, everybody, save the police and those willing to inform the police. The Bush White House called this principle "user accountability." Critics call it cruel and repressive.

"Drugs are illegal because they're immoral, and immoral because they're illegal," argues Professor Lynn Zimmer of City University of New York. "The mentality here is a concern not with health, but with compliance. That's why there's no parallel concern with alcohol and tobacco."

No effort is too extreme once drugs are established as the Antichrist and Congress has eagerly played along with the White House. "In the war on narcotics, we have met the enemy, and he is the U.S. Code," Democratic Florida Panhandle Rep. Earl Hutto complained during a 1981 hearing. "I have never seen such a maze of laws and hangups." Since then, Congress abolished federal parole. It let police share in the confiscated assets of drug dealers, giving them a financial interest in the drug war (state and local police collected $218 million in shared assets in fiscal year 1992, according to the Justice Department). Congress let police hold drug defendants without bail. It required states to revoke drug offenders' driver's licenses or lose federal highway funds. The list goes on.

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