Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bust: How the Republicans Lost the War on Drugs 2/5

by Nomad

  Drug War Ford
In Part 1 of this series we examined how  and why President Nixon declared his war on illegal drugs. However, the public learned the moral crusade was being led by a president with dubious moral qualifications.

In the second part of the series we carry on the story with the Ford Administration's efforts to make sense of Nixon's policy.  
That wasn't going to be easy.

Part 2. The Flaw and the Irony 

Ford's Challenge 
Richard Nixon Goodbye
In 1974, with a hearty arm wave from the doors of a helicopter, disgraced President Richard Nixon bid farewell to power. The anti-drug warrior was immediately replaced on August 9, by America's first and only unelected president, Gerald Ford. (In less than a year, Ford had gone from congressman  to vice-president to president.)

The Watergate investigation- as it turned out- was just the beginning of the government's distress. If the new president was calling for a "Time of Healing" it was soon clear that some people were not going to let the house cleaning end with Nixon. 

In January 1975, the Church committee, an independent investigation was established by Senate and continued the post-Watergate housecleaning. The target was no longer the president and his staff but CIA and claims of grievous misconduct, The committee's investigation pulled back  the cover on such things as assassination attempts against foreign leaders, covert attempts to subvert foreign governments and the FBI and CIA’s efforts to infiltrate and disrupt organizations here at home. (That's just the short list.) 
Senator Church, after reviewing the evidence of widespread abuse by the FBI, CIA, IRS and NSA, called the intelligence agencies "rogue elephants."

The investigation dragged on throughout most of Ford's time in office, and involved testimony from highest levels in the intelligence community. 

Under those circumstances, any attempt to restore the stability of the nation was going to be a challenge. Nixon's drug war was just another example of the general chaos in government of that time. And much of the problem, the confusion, centered on the policy stance on marijuana.

Confusion on the Ground
That anti-drug policy was in disarray. For personal use, the policy was particular unbalanced, oscillating between extremely harsh punishment on one side and outright legalization on the other. 
For example, the Supreme Court in 1975 ruled that it was not cruel and unusual for Ohio to sentence a person to 20 years for selling or even possessing marijuana. Yet, in the same year, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitutional right to privacy included possession of personal amounts of marijuana in the home.
These wild swings of enforcement and punishment were putting a lot of young middle-class otherwise politically conservative, law-abiding (and white) people in the cross hairs. 

During those years, the California legislature had been debating the full decriminalization of cannabis. A compromise was eventually reached in the Moscone Act of 1976 which reduced the penalty for personal possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a felony to a citable misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $100. 

The main reason for a California's radical re-think? After a careful analysis, the state found it simply could not afford to enforce the marijuana laws as they stood. The study commission by California Senates showed that in 1972, it cost the state $100 million a year to enforce the marijuana laws. (In 1960, it was only 8 million.) It was argued that the resources could be better spent on enforcing laws for more serious drugs like cocaine and heroin. That was quickly becoming the consensus.
There was some good news to report.
Amphetamine and LSD use during the 1970s had began to decline. This was primarily due to increased public awareness of its dangers and the ability to police the labs and monitor the raw materials for manufacture. (This decline continued until the 1990s when crystal methamphetamine, blew away whatever success law enforcement had achieved.)
*   *   *
At the time, President Ford seemed to have been aware that the problem of illegal drugs was much more extensive than most people realized. In Ford's April 1976 address to Congress, he said:
The not limited to youth or to the disadvantaged. It extends to citizens of all ages and all walks of life -- from the housewife to the college professor. The cumulative effect is to diminish the quality and vitality of our community life; to weaken the fabric of our Nation.
Despite millions being spent, the war on illegal drugs was, Ford admitted, definitely not the decisive victory that Nixon had hoped. Most resources and more programs, more tools for law enforcement, tougher laws were needed. It was too early to put up the "Mission Accomplished" banner just yet.
Ford told Congress:
By 1975, it was clear that drug use was increasing, that the gains of prior years were being lost, that in human terms, narcotics had become a national tragedy. Today, drug abuse constitutes a clear and present threat to the health and future of our Nation.
In that speech, Ford appeased the conservatives with tougher mandatory sentences for the sale of hard drugs and drug offenders, (for instance, a 5-year minimum sentence for possession of 4 ounces of heroin).

At least the language was tougher. The president used the power-language of launching "an aggressive attack against drugs."  It was the language of force and muscle that truly appealed to the frustrated American public. 

For this reason, perhaps, there was no talk about programs for the low-income groups to receive the treatment they needed in his speech to Congress. The closest Ford came was to call upon the American people to rally and for parents to provide a "loving and caring homes" and for all of us to offer a good example that life in the US was "still very meaningful and very satisfying and very worthwhile."

An example of anti-drug boilerplate. The problem was, of course, that many drug users did come from loving and caring homes. Some drug users had meaningful and satisfying lives. President Ford seemed to be implying that the nation's drug problem was the fault of bad parenting and poor role models. 

Tangled Webs of Coincidence
There was also another thing not mentioned in Ford's 1976 speech. While the president listed dangerous drugs like heroin, cocaine, and synthetic drugs -such as, barbiturates, amphetamines and tranquilizers- but significantly there is no mention at all about marijuana.

Dr. Robert Heath
That omission was particularly noteworthy since only two years before (1974) a university study had suggested the threat cannabis posed to brain circuitry.

Dr. Robert Heath of the Tulane Medical School in New Orleans had concluded that, based on his research with 13 rhesus monkeys, cannabis use had a persisting negative effect on the brain. Critics questioned the methodology of the study and the legitimacy of the results. 

Therein lies an interesting bit of history about the Tulane doctor. 
Dr. Heath would later be implicated in highly unethical human experiments which violated American Medical Association (AMA) codes on informed consent. These codes absolutely prohibited non-consent experimentation on human subjects and were formally recognized as rule of conduct for all clinical research following the Nuremberg trials of Nazi doctors. 

One test involved administering to African American prisoners prisoners in the Louisiana State Penitentiary the drug bulbocapnine to induce behavioral effects like catatonic states. (Think zombies.)
Black prisoners specifically prized as subjects. An Australian psychiatrist, Dr. Harry Bailey, one of the experimenters who had worked with Heath allegedly boasted in a lecture 20 years later that blacks were selected because it was "cheaper to use niggers than cats because they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals."

Another test involved schizophrenic patients who were given high levels of LSD. That 1957 study had been funded by the US Army and was probably related to top super-secret CIA mind control projects like MKUltra. One source explains:
According to one memo, the CIA sought information as to whether the drug could cause "loss of speech, loss of sensitivity to pain, loss of memory, loss of will power and an increase in toxicity in persons with a weak type of central nervous system."
Was it a wild coincidence that that very moment that the Church Committee was looking into human LSD experiments by the CIA on patients without consent? The Church committee's final reports mentions the details of this arrangement.
The search for suitable materials through standing arrangements with specialist in universities, pharmaceutical houses, hospitals, state and federal institutions and private research organizations. 
The annual grants of funds to these specialists were made under ostensible research foundation auspices, thereby concealing the CIA's interest from the specialist's institution.
Despite the strong possibility of bias and despite his dubious credibility, Dr. Heath's government-funded studies would later be used by a White House adviser on drug abuse, Dr. Robert L. DuPont
DuPont's position-even today- has been that relaxing laws on pot would be a big mistake.
Citing a massive new Federal report titled Marijuana and Health, DuPont told a Senate subcommittee of new evidence that pot may cause lower male hormone levels in men, interfere with immunity mechanisms and affect the fundamental chemistry of living cells.
Oh what a tangled web. 
Only last year, it was revealed that DuPont, along with another former high level official from that era, run Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, a company that specializes in workplace drug testing, among other employee programs. (This particular issue will play an important role later in this series.)

The Odd Couple
Let's return to our story.
If President Ford's hesitation on cannabis seems to run against the  evidence of the Tulane research, there was a good reason for it. 

In 1975, a year after the Heath/Tulane study and a year before Ford's speech, the president had taken a major step toward more sensible policy. He established the Domestic Council Drug Abuse Task Force. It was chaired by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and that task force was directed to assess the extent of drug abuse and to make smarter realistic policy.

The resulting report, the White Paper, produced some very interesting points. The government had to face some hard facts, facts that Ford's predecessor had chosen to ignore. The report read:
"We should stop raising unrealistic expectations of total elimination of drug abuse from our society. At the same time, we should in no way signal tacit acceptance of drug abuse or a lessened commitment to continue aggressive efforts aimed at eliminating it entirely. The sobering fact is that some members of any society will seek escape from the stresses of life through drug use."
For sensible policy, the classified report states, the federal government's job had to be limited. 
It can play a major role in limiting supplies of drugs, in maintaining a widespread treatment capacity, and in providing technical assistance, research, demonstration, and evaluation.
The report also maintained that that "all drugs are not equally dangerous". It advised that enforcement efforts should focus on "drugs which have a high addiction potential."
This does not suggest devoting all resources to the highest priority drugs, and none to lower priority drugs. All drugs are dangerous in varying degrees and should receive attention. But where resource constraints force a choice,
Was it parctical policy or admission of defeat?

According to the report, in this light, marijuana, the most widely used illicit drug, was a minor problem. An estimated 20 percent of Americans above the age of 11 - 25 to 30 million people - had admitted using it at least once. It concluded that in terms of both law enforcement and treatment, dealing with cannabis was a expensive waste of time.

It was much more logical to focus DEA and U.S. Customs Service efforts on "those drugs which inherently pose a greater risk—heroin, amphetamines...and mixed barbiturates.”

But lurking in the report was a fatal flaw in the report: something that would undermine the entire validity of report. When looking at cocaine, the report categorically states that: 
“Cocaine is not physically addictive...and usually does not result in serious social consequences, such as crime hospital emergency room admissions, or death.”
Cocaine, like cannabis, represented no threat and should, the report advised, be "de-emphasized." It is an astounding statement. Cocaine has traditionally been regarded as one of the most addictive drugs. True, compared to heroin and some narcotics, it was slightly less addictive but even that was debatable. 

How this peculiar conclusion was reached is unknown. As we shall see in the following part of this series, the coke exception may have more to do with foreign rather than domestic policy.
Conspiracy theorists could make the case of CIA influence over the report's findings. Cocaine and America's anti-Communist policy in Latin America (and elsewhere) were, after all, deeply intertwined. But this aspect would eventually be revealed a decade later.

The DEA today takes the position that this decision to relax law enforcement efforts on both marijuana and cocaine was a colossal mistake. 
It allowed the traffickers from Colombia to lay the foundations for what would become the powerful Medellin and Cali drug cartels. Both were to pose significant threats to the United States by the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Furthermore, the agency contends, "having already established marijuana distribution networks along the East Coast, they were easily able to add cocaine to their illegal shipments,"
That's a debatable theory since the client profile for these different drugs varied widely. Significantly, the DEA theory which in its essentials is probably correct, skips over the painful fact that when it came to cocaine and marijuana, the CIA had no interest in fighting the war on drugs. 

In any case, a new storm was on the horizon which would make landfall in the early 1980s. The subsequent evolution in the drug market would make that single but massive untruth- that cocaine was harmless- a new handicap in dealing with the drug problem. In a few years, cocaine, in a different form, would spread across the nation.
It would be called crack Cocaine and it would destroy Rockefeller's assertion that cocaine had "few serious social consequences." 

President Ford lost his re-election bid in 1976 to an obscure peanut farmer and governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter. The ball was now in the Democratic court.

However, mischievous Fate was still not finished with ex-president Ford. It had one more prank to play.

The First Lady
At the same time that the president was giving his 1976 speech, it would later be revealed, the First Lady, Betty Ford, was enduring her own drug-related life crisis.

She had become heavily addicted to both alcoholic and prescription pills such as Valium. A possibly- lethal combination. Lethal yes, and also perfectly legal.

Fifteen months after leaving the White House, her own family engineered an intervention and rescued Mrs. Ford from her downward spiral. With no small amount of courage, Mrs. Ford later went public in a way no former First Lady would have dreamt of doing. She announced that she was entering treatment for a longtime addiction. It was a painful but necessary step. 

This announcement came as a shock for the millions of middle-class conservatives that had once demanded tougher laws and harsher punishments for "those" drug abusers, the hippies, the anarchist and the negroes. They had been lead to believe that moral people didn't do drugs and only weak people got hooked on them.

Contemporary drug abuse had always been presented as part of life in the ghetto and with poverty and minorities, as much as with the hippie subculture of the 1960s. Upper- and middle- class drug abuse was largely ignored or considered strictly a medical problem.

According to the book Class in American, An Encyclopedia, some scholars believe that the largest group of drug abusers was in fact suburban women of the 1950s and 60s.. The abuse might have been a result of over-prescription by doctors and legal but it dwarfed that of ghetto heroin addicts.

That was only the beginning of the Betty Ford story. Following her treatment, she would go on to launch her own drug awareness program and clinic based on an enlightened approach. 
The aim was to treat a psychological, emotional and health problem. It could not be solved by making the drug addict into a abhorrent criminal. 

With openness and candor she spoke about her own drug problem. It was refreshing and in some ways, a revolution. Drug abusers were not "them" but one of us. Dealing with the drug problem required honesty and openness, not recrimination and moralizing. Mrs. Ford once said.
"People who get well often say, 'You saved my life,' and 'You've turned my life around. They don't realize we merely provided the means for them to do it themselves, and that's all."
As far as marijuana, Mrs. Ford was characteristically outspoken. She told an interviewer, her young adult children probably had smoked marijuana — and if she were their age, she'd try it, too.

It was a hard pill to swallow, so to speak, for the Silent Majority. After all, Betty Ford was nobody's idea of a counter-culture hippy. The truth was slowly but surely coming out.

The "Us" and "Them" Divide
It was perhaps interesting how the Ford confession was absorbed into the American psyche. On one hand, the Betty Ford treatment clinic (and all the similar drug treatment centers that followed) allowed people who needed help to find it. It allowed people to admit without social stigma that there was a problem and that they needed outside intervention. Hiding the problem was just another feature of the problem itself.
In this way, it was a breakthrough. 

On the other hand, this breakthrough also had a clear but unspoken element of class division. Generally the particular drug of choice became a one's marker social class and this was also true at the level of treatment. It soon became obvious that first class treatment was simply not affordable for everybody and effective, sympathetic optimal care in a market-driven society had to have its price. 

This reinforced the "us" and "them" point of view with a more direct emphasis on the class aspect. There was an attitude disparity which said, that for the white affluent segment of the population, drug addiction was a disease that needed treatment, and sympathy and understanding.

But if you were addict living on the street, especially a minority, it was a crime that deserved the harshest possible punishment.