Drug Bizarre

Robert Dowd is a veteran, a Southern Baptist, a Republican ... and a staunch supporter of legalizing drugs

Robert Dowd is talking about legalizing drugs again. He's sitting in an old easy chair -- vanilla with copper crisscrosses -- that clashes intensely with the sea of yellow and gold shag carpet flowing across his living room. Dowd is a mellow dude and a vegetarian who wants world peace. But something's wrong here. He doesn't fit in with the psychedelic crowd. He's a Southern Baptist, a World War II veteran, and a Republican. Dowd says he has never even tried marijuana, much less cocaine, heroin, speed, 'shrooms, peyote, acid, or Ecstasy.

Finally the retired lieutenant colonel offers a dose of reality: He has taken drugs. In fact, he is on them right now: beta-blockers, which his doctor prescribed to lower his blood pressure. Dowd is 77 years old. His wife Rosemary, whom he married 56 years ago, takes them too. "I did get drunk one time to see what it was like," he confesses. That was 1945 in a tent on an airfield in northern France. "I know what it's like to get a buzz on," he insists. "I was the life of the party for a while." But he always refused the celebratory shot of whiskey that awaited aviators upon their return from a mission. He also abstained from taking the Benzedrine in air force survival kits.

"More Americans have been killed due to the drug war than were killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars," Dowd calculates. He includes in his assessment the deadly violence between law enforcement officers and traffickers, as well as among rival drug gangs. "You don't have the liquor or tobacco dealers shooting each other," he notes. "They don't have to because they have legitimate markets and legitimate ways of resolving their differences." The federal government reports more than 14,000 people died in drug-related incidents nationwide in 1995, the last year for which statistics are available.

Dowd grew up in Miami, attended Edison High School, then left for the University of Florida. When World War II broke out, he joined the air force. His 30-year tour as an air force pilot took him to Europe, Korea, and Vietnam. He retired from military service in 1973, returned to Miami, and took a job in the mortgage division of the now-defunct Southeast Bank. He retired from Southeast in 1986.

Over the next few years, Dowd slowly organized his assault on the war on drugs. Headquartered at his pistachio green, canal-side home in South Miami, he assembled his primary ordnance, a book called The Enemy Is Us: How to Defeat Drug Abuse and End the "War on Drugs." After six years of rewrites and rejections, Dowd decided to self-publish. In 1995 he resurrected the Hefty Press, which his father-in-law, Caspar Hefty, founded in 1912 and dissolved during World War II. In 1997 the treatise was printed. Dowd issued 1100 hardcover and 3200 paperback copies; he has sold about 2500 and given away 1200.

In the book Dowd traces the history of federal drug-control efforts, from the Harrison Narcotics Control Act of 1914 to the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Prevention Act of 1970 to the wars on drug traffickers declared by presidents from Nixon to Clinton. Despite those actions the supply of illegal drugs increased. "Eradicating the drug supply by destroying drug crops in source countries and the attempted interdiction of drugs along smuggling routes have never been successful, going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt," the author contends.

Dowd concedes that his book doesn't break new ground. It synthesizes the ideas of drug legalization proponents of yore, from free-market addict Milton Friedman to Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann. Since the Seventies conservatives and radicals have smoked peace pipes over the issue at various times. In the late Eighties, politicians such as Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke advocated drug legalization, while others such as Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry used them. News magazines, including Time and the Economist, gave the debate extensive coverage. In the Nineties the polemic has centered on legalization of marijuana, especially for medicinal purposes.

Treat drugs like tobacco, Dowd argues. Turn the illegal trade over to pharmaceutical companies, regulate it, and tax it. Ban sales to minors, then expand education and prevention strategies like the ones that have helped snuff out tobacco use. "The United States can save over $40 billion of tax money spent on the drug war by all levels of government, plus reap over $20 billion in drug taxes to fund education, prevention, research, and rehabilitation," Dowd estimates.

Dowd has also penned numerous letters outlining his position and has dispatched them to members of Congress, journalists, doctors, drug scholars, and Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In a 1996 letter McCaffrey thanks Dowd for a copy of his book. "I agree with you that both the military metaphor and reality of a 'war on drugs' is unhelpful," McCaffrey continues. "However, complex problems generally involve multifaceted solutions. While demand reduction is primary, supply reduction is complementary." He closes by recommending Jill Jonnes's book Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs. "Her insight and research support our national strategy." Jonnes concludes that legalizing drugs would spawn 20,000 new addicts nationwide.

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