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Drug Policy Reform advocacy grows

Leading black intellectuals and public health advocates have joined drug policy reform advocates to criticize Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey for "a series of inaccurate and misleading statements" he has made over the last year.

The "Drug Czar"

The individuals sent their letter listing the General's misstatements on February 25, 1999, the same day McCaffrey testified before the House Committee on Government Oversight.

The letter signers include Harvard professors Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Dr. Orlando Patterson, and Dr. William Julius Wilson, as well as the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the National Black Police Association, the National Women's Health Network, and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy, who circulated the letter, said, "As the father of two boys, I find it deeply disturbing that the Drug Czar is making these misstatements while spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars urging parents to tell the truth about drugs. General McCaffrey should set a better example."

February 24, 1999
General Barry McCaffrey
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Washington, D.C.

Dear General McCaffrey,

As academics, journalists, public health experts, and community leaders, we are deeply troubled by a series of inaccurate and misleading statements you have made as Drug Czar.

In particular, we are concerned by statements you have made on the following:

Needle Exchange Programs

In March 1998, you described needle exchange programs as "magnets for all social ills," including violence, drug dealers and prostitution. Yet in study after study, scientific researchers have found that needle exchanges reduce the transmission of HIV without increasing drug use.

Also, in April, you claimed that two Canadian needle exchange studies showed that needle exchanges were ineffective in reducing the spread of HIV and may have worsened the problem. Missing from your analysis was the fact that Canada, unlike the United States, allows needles to be purchased without a prescription and as a result the Canadian study did not include more affluent and healthier addicts who were less likely to engage in the riskiest activities.

Your statements so disturbed the Canadian scientists that they felt compelled to publish an op-ed in The New York Times to repudiate the misuse of their findings.

Medical Marijuana

On August 15, 1996, you said, "There is not a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed. This is not medicine. This is a cruel hoax."

Yet exhaustive research, including numerous studies by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other authoritative institutions, have concluded that marijuana possesses therapeutic value and effectively treats chemotherapy-related nausea and appetite loss.

Even after the New England Journal of Medicine, which represents the mainstream medical community, editorialized in support of medical marijuana, you have made no statements recognizing the scientific research backing the medicinal value of marijuana.

International Models of Drug Control

On July 24, 1998 the Chicago Tribune quoted you as saying: "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States...That's drugs."

In fact, the Dutch homicide rate is only one-fourth that of the United States. The Dutch rate has never approached, much less exceeded, that of the United States.

When you claimed that the Dutch murder rate was higher, you blamed Holland's drug policies. Yet when confronted with the facts, you did not suggest that U.S. drug policies are the cause of our higher homicide rate.

The media and the public rely on your office to avoid unfounded speculation, to recognize and disseminate scientific consensus when it exists, and to provide, when available, material facts that could help us deal realistically and effectively with our very real problems of addiction. Therefore we urge you and other national leaders to provide the news media and the public with the most accurate scientific findings available. We realize that speaking forthrightly requires leadership and courage in the current ideological atmosphere but, given your distinguished record in the military, the public has reason to expect nothing less.

Working to end drug war injustice

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