The Other Perspective

In his January State of the Union address, President Bush said, "Another
cause of hopelessness is addiction to drugs. Addiction crowds out
friendship, ambition, moral conviction and reduces all the richness of life
to a single destructive desire." He asked for $600 million more to treat
another 300,000 addicts.

Only a week earlier, the Journal of the American Medical Association
reported a study confirming the gateway hypothesis that youthful use of
marijuana leads to later use of cocaine, heroin and other drugs -- and to
addiction. The president is hoping to save 300,000 of those current and
future addicts before they are lost for good.

Perhaps "destructive desire" and gateway risk were on the minds of voters
last November as they dealt a significant setback to state initiatives
legalizing pot. In Ohio, Arizona, Nevada and South Dakota, voters
overwhelmingly rejected the opportunity to oppose the drug war instead of
the drugs.

This is quite a shift from the years between 1996 and 2000 in which the
proponents of drug legalization marched from victory to victory until, by
the end of 2000, eight states had approved the smoking of marijuana as
medicine and the weakening of antidrug laws. Well-funded legalizers crafted
a message of compassion for the sick and wrongly incarcerated, and the
voters bought it.

Based on that background, many expected more drug approval from the states
targeted in 2002. Time magazine extolled "The New Politics of Pot," and
mused "Can it go legit? How the people who brought you medical marijuana
have set their sights on lifting the ban for everyone."

This time it didn't work. The pro-drug initiatives went down by 61 percent
in Nevada; by 67 percent in Ohio; by 57 percent in Arizona; and by 63
percent in South Dakota. In Michigan and Florida, pro-drug initiatives were
beaten back before making it to the ballot.

What turned the tide? Possibly it was that very recognition of deceit in the
medical claims for smoked marijuana and the fiction that rapists and murders
are going free while police fill jails with "nonviolent marijuana users."
Perhaps voters simply realized that they had been lied to, and that
legalization would only spread more drug misery.

The voters were right. A joint of today's super-strength marijuana is not
medicine -- and it is not innocent fun. Marijuana enfeebles the immune
system; it produces five times the lung damage of tobacco; it assaults the
brain and nervous system in the same way as heroin or cocaine, priming the
brain for serious addiction.

Pot erodes memory and learning. It impairs the ability to judge and react.
Marijuana accounted for 110,512 emergency room episodes in 2001. The
prospect of a drugged citizenry, moreover, does not bode well for a free

The war on drugs is not lost. A tough and integrated drug strategy based on
interdiction, treatment, prevention and law enforcement cut drug use by half
- -- and by up to 81 percent among teens -- during the 1980s. Those strategies
are being applied today and teen drug use, following a 1990s increase, is
again headed down.

Legalizing drugs means more drugs and more drug addicts for whom, said the
president, "the fight against drugs is a fight for their own lives." To be
sure, "destructive desire" is not something to enshrine into law.

MANON G. McKINNON is a nationally distributed independent journalist who
specializes in reporting and commentary about illegal drugs.

Pubdate: Mon, 24 Feb 2003
Source: Duluth News-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2003 Duluth News-Tribune