Published in the Tampa Tribune Jan 22nd, 2000

More drugs in our future:

 Regarding Parade magazine's feature article "We can keep our kids drug free for life" (Jan. 16): Our drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, says we don't need a war on drugs. This means we no longer need to:

  • Incarcerate 500,000 nonviolent drug prisoners;
  • Arrest a marijuana user each 65 seconds;
  • Jail sick people because they publicize their marijuana use;
  • Urine-test employees as a condition of employment;
  • Forfeit $400 million each year without charging the suspect;
  • Stop cars and intimidate "profiled," but uncharged, drivers;
  • Intimidate physicians who administer pain control drugs;
  • Use snitches, who often "testi-lie" against innocent citizens;
  • Terrorize innocent citizens with DEA home invasions;
  • Send billions of dollars and military advisers to Colombia's civil war;
  • Push "know your customer" laws onto banks, and
  • Federalize our local police forces.

Just kidding! I know McCaffrey has no power to stop these abuses.

Indeed, it is the failure of these abuses that leaves children of the final hope for abstinence. McCaffrey's office denies these failures as we used to deny the crazy aunt in the basement.

Examples of such drugspeak are rarely reported by the media. Last month the administration headlined the press release of the 1999 survey of U.S. 8th, 10th and 12th graders with "Drug Use Among Teenagers Leveling Off." Secretary Donna E. Shalala of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services even stated, "Today's report confirms that we have halted the dangerous trend of increased drug use among our young people." This is pure spin. In school we called it lying.

A quick read of the fine print of the 1999 survey shows some improvement in certain offbeat drugs, but it has nothing good to report for the serious drugs - the ones that would have been hyped had the news been favorable.

For example, among 12th-graders, current use of heroin is unchanged at 0.5 percent, near its all-time high, and cocaine has been up every single year since 1993 and is now at 2.6 percent. Even crack is up from 1998. Alcohol remains stable at an unbelievable 51 percent.

Politicians don't know what to do, and few have the guts to ask. They should challenge the "gateway theory." Does soft drug use really lead to hard drugs? History says no, that it is the prohibition of softer drugs, rather than the soft drugs themselves. We saw this gateway effect during alcohol prohibition. When Prohibition began in 1919, consumption of distilled liquor - known then as "ardent spirits" - declined at first, then rose to exceed its 1918 level by 1926 and kept rising. Beer, the soft drug of Prohibition, declined and didn't rebound to its 1918 level until after Prohibition ended. We saw it again during the Vietnam War when the Army clamped down on marijuana in 1969, and in 1971 President Richard Nixon began hearing reports of a heroin epidemic among the troops. We saw it again in 1985 when the cocaine market figured out how to convert cocaine to crack, its far more concealable, valuable and potent form.

We are seeing the gateway effect now as prohibition of marijuana drives users to alcohol and other hard drugs. Urine testing accelerates this perverse effect because marijuana can be found in the body for weeks, but alcohol and most other hard drugs dissipate in hours or days. Better the off-chance of future alcoholism or drug addiction than the very immediate risk of forfeiting property, forced drug treatment or loss of kids' college loans. I know of many parents who tell their kids that if they are going to do any drug, make it alcohol.

But medical experts rank alcohol as far more lethal, addictive and intoxicating than marijuana.

This situation cries for decriminalizing soft drugs, prosecuting those who sell alcohol to minors and offering drug treatment - not waiting lists - to all who ask.

JOHN CHASE, Palm Harbor, FL