Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bust: How Republicans Lost the War on Drugs 3/5

by Nomad

In past installments in this series on America's war on drugs, we examined Nixon and Ford. Now we turn to the Democratic president Jimmy Carter.
Deeply entrenched distrust for the president within the CIA would prove to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Part 3. Where the Rational Met Reality

Carter's Way
The 70s were a time of reformation after the hectic and often frightening social shakeups of the 60s. Watergate and the subsequent Church Senate Committee Investigations had opened up the heart of the political system and most Americans were appalled at the grimy business of running the country and managing the world.

What was needed was a complete overhaul starting at the top. Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian, peanut farmer with the down-home Georgian accent seemed to be the style of leadership the country demanded.
And so in 1976, against all expectations, The Waltons moved into the White House.

The white middle class conservative values of "dominant social order" were being re-evaluated, questioned and challenged in a variety of ways.
The extreme conservative opinion, typified by white frustration, tainted with bigotry and, simplistic, backward views of the world,  was being mocked weekly on television shows like All in the Family and other programs. It is no surprise then that the failed drug policy should once again come under greater scrutiny.

In some ways, President Carter did, in fact, pick up where President Ford had left off. And as we mentioned in the previous post, that new direction had already been sabotaged. While marijuana was now being considered harmless and non-addictive, cocaine was added to the same category. (We should take a closer look at the possible reason for this.) In any case, this coupling, for whatever reasons, proved to be a major blunder.

Both, under President Ford's directive, were now to receive far less attention from law enforcement. Meanwhile the focus was concentrated on the heroin trade. 

Progress combating the illegal import of heroin too was hampered. That had much to do with the CIA and its antagonism toward Carter and all he represented. 
It was common knowledge that high level intelligence officials in the agency had no great love for Carter. Perhaps it was to be expected since President Carter had campaigned as an outsider who was coming to Washington to clean the mess that the Church Committee had revealed.

Drugs and The Central Intelligence Agency
Admiral Stansfield Turner, Carter's Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and de facto head of the CIA,  described the relationship like this:
The CIA did not like President Jimmy Carter... The wolves in Clandestine Services went for the president's jugular and eventually destroyed his presidency.. The non-hiring of George H.W. Bush as DCI gave the momentum to the creation of a CIA in exile. This was a group of out of work agents. By the time Reagan and Bush took office, they had a choice of two CIA's they could do business with- one that require oversight by Congress and another off the books group made up of the old boys.
In the book, American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan, author Peter Dale Scott suggests that CIA had, when necessary, used the drug cartel operations for their own purposes. Protection of drug traffickers, therefore, was part of the agreement.

That strategy had gone back as far as the 1940s to contain Communist China. Since that time, it had also been used to secure petroleum resources and to allow access for covert operations in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan,   countries in Latin America and other areas the Third World. 
The result, writes Scott, has been a staggering increase in the global drug traffic and the mafia type organizations associated with it.

What had once been portrayed as moral war against drugs had been overshadowed by a decidedly immoral (or at least amoral) struggle abroad against Communist encroachments. This significant hypocrisy made fighting the drug war in the US next to impossible.
It posed unanswerable questions: Were illegal drugs and the addictions that resulted worse than godless Communism? Was a policy that criminalized a majority of Americans worse than either of them?

*   *   *   *
During this decade, the move to decriminalize marijuana continued with eleven states voting in favor of the relaxation of drug laws on cannabis possession. Middle-class Americans, region by region, were trying to make up their minds. 

In fact, in 1976, President Carter's campaign platform had included marijuana decriminalization with certain conditions. On August 2, 1977, President Carter made his position clear in a message to Congress.
My goals are to discourage all drug abuse in America--and also discourage the excessive use of alcohol and tobacco-and to reduce to a minimum the harm drug abuse causes when it does occur.
He noted that the funds to fight the war on illegal drugs was not unlimited and so they must be spent intelligently. Among his proposals: Law enforcement must targeting drug dealers and organized crime that facilitated drug smuggle and distribution.

The United States had to, said Carter, make more effort at establishing international treaties with countries where the drugs originate, cutting off the supply at its source.
More money should, he said, be spent on drug rehabilitation and research in the medical causes of addiction. This was something that many drug policy analysts had been saying for years.

However in that speech, President Carter also observed that this noble mission had to be based on realistic goals.
No government can completely protect its citizens from all harm not by legislation, or by regulation, or by medicine, or by advice. Drugs cannot be forced out of existence; they will be with us for as long as people find in them the relief or satisfaction they desire. But the harm caused by drug abuse can be reduced. We cannot talk in absolutes--that drug abuse will cease, that no more illegal drugs will cross our borders--because if we are honest with ourselves we know that is beyond our power.
The federal government had its place but there had to be limits too. It was, according to Carter, an opportunity to ask serious question about the reasons for drug abuse.
The drug problem, he suggested, was also the sign of a deeper spiritual problem in the American soul that had to be addressed. Just as the Hess report has once recommended to Nixon.
"..we must understand why people seek the experience of drugs, and address ourselves to those reasons. For it is ultimately the strength of the American people, of our values and our society, that will determine whether we can put an end to drug abuse."
Decriminalization, But not Legalization
As far as marijuana, President Carter's view was more logical than any previous president. The past policies were not working.
Marijuana continues to be an emotional and controversial issue. After four decades, efforts to discourage its use with stringent laws have still not been successful. More than 45 million Americans have tried marijuana and an estimated 11 million are regular users.
It made no sense, he said, to enforce a punishment for possession of a drug that is more damaging to individuals that the use of the drug itself.  "Nowhere, said Carter, was this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use."
We can, and should, continue to discourage the use of marijuana, but this can be done without defining the smoker as a criminal.
If we look at the evidence, Carter said, things immediately become clear. "States which have already removed criminal penalties for marijuana use, like Oregon and California, have not noted any significant increase in marijuana smoking," he said.
The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse concluded five years ago that marijuana use should be decriminalized, and I believe it is time to implement those basic recommendations.
The president said  he supported legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
He stressed that this decriminalization is not legalization. Violators would receive a fine rather than a criminal penalty.  

The dangers of cannabis according to Carter might be much more subtle than other drugs.
While there is certain evidence to date showing that the medical damage from marijuana use may be limited, we should be concerned that chronic intoxication with marijuana or any other drug may deplete productivity, causing people to lose interest in their social environment, their future, and other more constructive ways of filling their free time.
(Today the Internet and computer games fit that description precisely.) 

Studies were revealing some interesting social trends when it came to marijuana use. One study showed that by 1978, only a third (35 percent) of American high school seniors believed that people who smoked marijuana regularly risked harming themselves.  

The use of this particular drug was much more widespread than anybody wanted to acknowledge. One out of ten Americans used marijuana every day and by 1979, a quarter of Americans aged 12 to 17 (24 percent), and nearly half of 18 to 25 year olds (47 percent), and nearly one in ten of those age 26 and older (9 percent), had used marijuana at least once during the previous year. 
One study found that about 25% of high school seniors said that private use of marijuana should be against the law and about 60% had used marijuana at least once during their lifetimes in 1979. 

If nothing else, this information proved one thing: the anti-drug message that cannabis was a threat to health simply was not working at any level. Teens were simply not buying it. 

For better or worse, what was emerging instead was a kind of reasonable tolerance, an attitude similar to alcohol. Even non-users pointed out that Prohibition in the 1920s was largely a failure and responsible for the rise of organized crime. Criminalizing a widely used but harmless drug and you ended up making one out of ten Americans into felons. What was the point?
Reflective of the shift in attitudes, when Gallup polls asked Americans what  the most important problem facing the country today was, the issue of drug abuse wasn't even mentioned at all by 1979. A source notes:
Between 1979 and 1984, drug use and abuse did not appear at all in the Gallup polls among the most often mentioned problems facing the country, indicating a relatively and consistently low level of concern about the issue.
During the Carter administration, the Senate Judiciary Committee, following the president's recommendation, voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Carter's own drug czar, Dr. Peter Bourne did not see marijuana, or even cocaine, as a serious public health threat. The Stanford-trained psychiatrist had previously opened a free-clinic in Haight- Ashbury district of San Francisco.

According to Bourne, prison was absolutely not an option when it came to pot smoking. It was an injustice that didn't stop the problem and instead just destroyed lives. Over time, Bourne convinced the president that the war on cannabis had become a dangerous and expensive distraction from more serious drugs like heroin.

The Bourne Fallacy
Importantly, Carter's drug czar did not want to stop there. Therein lies the problem.

Bourne's take on cocaine was as equally relaxed as marijuana. In a 1976 article he called coke "probably the most benign of illicit drugs currently in widespread use. At least as strong a case could be made for legalizing it as for legalizing marijuana."

(Later conservatives would point to this attitude on coke as an example of Carter's much too soft approach. However, as we have already seen in the second part of this series, Bourne's position was merely a more openly-expressed extension of President Ford's stance and supported by Ford's White Paper Report of 1975.)

If coke didn't worry decision makers greatly, it might have been because the price of coke alone tended to make it a rich man's pleasure. For that reason, it was treated in a very different way than street drugs.Throughout the 70s, coke was an emblem of status for the Hollywood moguls, the high-gloss entrepreneurs and the Vegas rollers.
Gradually, by the end of the decade, cocaine use was trickling down to the upper middle class, the lawyers, the businessmen, the bankers and the politicians. Soon, with the advent of crack, it would begin to destroy the lower classes too.

*   *   *
In the end, the reasonable and serious approach would soon be cast aside for a tougher approach.  By the late 1970s, drug use by Americans reached its all-time high.  Drug enforcement agencies blamed that on "relaxed attitudes" on the dangers of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs. The costs of the anti-drug program were soaring beyond the clouds..

According to the 1979 National Survey on Drug Abuse, more than two-thirds of young adults, age 18-25 reported experience with an illicit drug. About three in ten youth, age 12-17, and one in five older adults, age 26 and older, reported having used an illicit drug.
However, if marijuana had been excluded from that survey, the numbers would have looked very different.

Nevertheless, these statistics were useful for conservatives. It was the evidence they needed to take a much harder line against all illegal drugs, just as Nixon had ordered in the first place. The figure of the survey sent shock waves through the law enforcement, civic, and educational communities.

That harder line would be launched by an outspoken politician who back in 1974 after being shown the results the deeply-flawed Heath Tulane study said:
‘I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-Bomb blast.’
The age of an enlightened- or at least, a tolerant- policy on marijuana was about to be swiftly overtaken by something else. The new politics of old (and some would say obsolete) values.  

The conservative approach, filled with manly bluster, with outright ignorance and sweeping hypocrisies, would eventually be where covert operations collided with public policy, and where the war on drugs would eventually met its public opinion Waterloo.

In the next two Republican administrations, the costs on the anti-drug war would climb from $2 billion in 1980 to an astounding $12 billion by the end of the George H.W. Bush presidency.
Yet, the levels of US drug addiction rate would remain unchanged.