The Kingpins of Drug Legalization: Investigating Their Role in the Culture War
 
Who are the voices crying out for the de-criminalization of illegal narcotics, and what are their real objectives? The answers may surprise you.


by Michael J. Ard

 As a preschooler in his native New Orleans, he watched in horror as a neighborhood man jabbed a heroin needle in his arm. And as he grew older, more terrible scenes would follow: drug-related stabbings, gun fights, and the deaths of friends from overdoses. His French Quarter neighborhood transformed from an open, friendly place into a type of prison in reverse in which decent people caged themselves behind barred windows and doors while criminals and addicts roamed freely.

DEA Badge"This really is what formed me," says Wayne J. Roques, now a 26-year DEA veteran who has made it his life's work to protect people from the dangers of illegal drugs. He has fought the drug war on its many fronts by busting suppliers, promoting prevention and treatment programs, and carrying on the war of words in many op-ed pieces. Yet despite the many successes of the DEA in combating the problem, Roques laments that the problem of drug abuse has gotten worse due, in part, to a persistent view among many influential people that legalization, not criminalization, will solve America's drug problem. Their erroneous views continue to influence politicians, bureaucrats and the public at large. But as Roques will be quick to tell you, the abstract musings of the legalizers do not address the concrete issue: that drugs ruin lives. This is such an obvious fact to anyone who has had a friend or relative on the stuff--sadly an ever-growing percentage of our population--that it is a wonder the legalization idea has any staying power at all. Yet the kingpins of legalization have been very successful in pushing their arguments in the media, the popular culture, and even in the speeches of highly visible public officials.

Therefore, the questions we must ask are: 1) From where are the legalization kingpins getting their strength? and 2) What could be the motives behind this strength? Do they hope to gain something greater than just legalization? With the firing of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders on December 8, 1994, the drug legalization movement lost one of its most visible spokesmen. Elders, with her frank talk about sex education, contraception, and drug legalization allowed those concerned to see the essential links between these issues. It is probably not by mere coincidence that these positions--seemingly unrelated--are held by the same people, usually on the political left. The loss of Elders on the heels of a conservative takeover of Congress does not mean that threat from the legalizers has abated. Their ideas could easily find a home with many in the Republican congress because of their attachment to libertarianism.

Antonio GramsciLegalization is promoted by an assortment of people and foundations with a variety of agendas that might best be thought of as a " counter hegemony," an idea of the Italian Communist theorist Antonio Gramsci, a strategic genius whose work should be familiar to all cultural warriors, both good and bad. The mission of these Gramscite kingpins is to change the attitudes within the culture of the dominant hegemony, not necessarily to overthrow the political order immediately. This, they understand, will naturally come later after the traditional ideas of the dominant culture are extinguished. In the meantime Gramscites are carrying out their transvaluation of values by working within the educational institutions, media, entertainment, etc. Although some of their members might prefer a " war of maneuver," that is, as Gramsci put it, an attempt to secure ends via frontal assault, the dominant strategy within the legalization movement now appears to be a "war of position," the slow but steady building of networks within the dominant culture.

All the while the legalizers will present themselves as fiscally prudent, defenders of civil rights, sensitive to the rising tide of violence. Their solutions promise to solve a variety of ills, from overcrowded prisons, to drive-by shootings, to foreign relations with Latin American states. Through these efforts they will try to manipulate public opinion toward a new "common sense" concerning drug legalization. I saw for myself the wide breath of these arguments at the national conference of the Drug Policy Foundation, held in Washington D.C. during November 1994. After spending several hours listening to self-contradictory positions, I came away convinced that what was more interesting was the strategy and aims of the movement itself.

But before taking on those questions, let us take a brief look at their stock arguments and attendant fallacies before we address the real important issue of the Gramscite endgame. The Legalization Argument in Brief: In general, legalizers begin with certain unquestioned presuppositions. The first, especially popular since the Reagan and Bush administrations, is that the United States is "losing the drug war." The second is that " prohibition" is a violation of human rights, whether is be alcohol or drugs. The third is it is the drug war, not drugs themselves, that are causing violence and crime. Finally, the drug war is inherently racist because it has been directed almost exclusively at immigrant groups since dangerous drugs first arrived in America. All of these presuppositions, of course, have been contested with an equally impressive array of facts.

But the legalization kingpins do not confront contrary positions, they merely ignore them. If one takes their dubious assumptions for granted, legalization becomes the simple solution for a freer, more just society. It would decrease the crime of our inner cities. It would eliminate the need for "mafias" to distribute the stuff. It would drastically reduce the prison population. It would allow us to better combat diseases like HIV that are sometimes spread through multiple needle use. It would protect our civil liberties by reducing the need for police searches, roadblocks, random urinalyses, etc. It would show mercy to the sick, because it would make available illegal drugs that may have some medicinal value, like marijuana for glaucoma and AIDS sufferers. It would improve our relations with drug-producing countries, like Peru and Colombia, because no longer will we be violating their sovereignty by insisting on crop eradication and the like. And, for the fiscally-conscious, it would allow us to transfer needed resources from drug interdiction to more humanitarian-related endeavors, like education and treatment. In a certain way, it has the same seductive appeal that communism had in a recent age. It will solve all the world's problems and bring about a utopia here on earth.

The difficulty lies in the issues that the legalizers so studiously avoid. They shy away from discussions about why drugs were criminalized in the first place, why prohibition of alcohol was essentially a public health success, why criminal deterrence is possible to calculate only when enforcement is absent, and perhaps most importantly, what their brave new world of decriminalization would really look like. Like the communists themselves, they remain vague about how we get to the utopia--they are destroyers, not creators. Their new " common sense" , for instance, devotes little attention to the real problem of drugs after legalization. Would drug supplies be left to the free market, or would they be under strict government control? And if under the free market, how do they avoid violent competition for distribution? If under government control, how to avoid black markets? The " don't ask/don't tell" drug policies of the Netherlands and Switzerland are to the legalization kingpins as Castro's Cuba or Allende's Chile are to nostalgic Marxists-- paradises of the mind bearing scant resemblance to reality.

An example of this mindset may be found in a 1989 article "Why Not Decriminalize?" co-authored by Arnold Trebach, president of the Drug Policy Foundation and Eddy Engelsmann, a " Dutch Drug Czar." Both praise efforts made to ignore the " soft drug" trade--to legalize these drugs de facto. They cite statistics to show that this policy works, and has not led to increased abuse. More recent reports have suggested the opposite. These " soft drugs" have opened the door to cocaine, heroin and other " hard drugs" and the Dutch are growing tired of their beautiful country being turned into an international drug clearing house. Dutch Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin recently pointed to this failure and launched a policy of cracking down on the proliferating "coffee-houses" which Trebach and Engelsmann praised as a pragmatic approach for distributing marijuana and hashish to "kids."

Pressure to act may also be coming from other members of the European Union who are horrified that their children are turning up stoned and broke in Rotterdam or Maastricht. And now that trade barriers have been virtually eliminated, many see the Netherlands as the weak link in the continent's drug defense system. The Swiss likewise have closed the drug trade in that Elysian Fields of addiction, Zurich's famous " Needle Park," because it was attracting drug adventurers from all over Europe, and the ill-effects were spreading throughout the city. They recently followed up with a national referendum to evict asylum-seekers who used this as a mask for their drug trafficking activities. As the recent history of both the Netherland and Switerland shows, de facto legalization merely increases social pathologies and human misery. Sometimes even the legalizers' acknowledge the human suffering.

addict.jpgIn a powerfully descriptive but, from my perspective, bizarrely reasoned piece for the Jesuit magazine America, Daniel M. Perrine presents a portrait of the life of the some young addicts in a Rotterdam safe area called Platform Zero. Taking up the legalizers' mantle, Perrine shows us how these young mainliners, jabbing imprecisely at veins in their arms and necks, are really only rebelling against an alienating mainstream culture. We need these forelorn victims in areas of high visibility, in fact, to educate others of their folly. By this logic, we should set aside downtown buildings for suicide leaps as a vivid reminder that taking your own life could be hazardous to your health. Reading his piece leads one naturally to the question Perrine never asks: Can't we stop these young people from killing themselves?

Legalizers usually limit their discussion to decriminalize drugs like marijuana, cocaine or maybe heroin, but rarely do they venture into discussing more potent " designer" drugs, like the synthetic heroin fentynal, said to be 1000 times the strength of street heroin. One may conclude that the prohibitionist state would continue for some of the worst drugs, but perhaps this is wishful thinking. And finally, they rarely consider the "externalities" of drug use. Their premise of drug use as a " victimless crime" is contradicted by a wide variety of sources that stress its contribution to street violence, domestic violence, child abuse, workplace mishaps, and enormous health costs. Nearly all opponents of legalization point to these externalities as the crux of the problem and fear they would require an even more intrusive state after legalization.

Despite the many arguments of the legalizers that the increase in drug supply after legalization would not raise the addiction rate among the population, we have several historical examples which suggest the opposite. According to William Donohue, after the British won the Opium Wars in 1858 and forced China to accept the drug, addiction rates in the Middle Kingdom soared to nearly one-third the population. Conversely, he also indicates that harsh penalties imposed on drug use in Franco's Spain severely curtailed addiction. One might also note the how those of the Singapore School, indefatigable critics of Western liberal decadance, have trumpeted their own success in dealing with the problem: capital punishment for traffickers. And of course, even in the United States, one sees a strong correlation between the increase in drug supply and the rise in usage: reversing a twelve year decline, now the number of teenagers who claim to have tried marijuana is again on the rise, perhaps responding to the relaxation in drug interdiction by the Clinton administration.

As former Drug Czar William Bennett wrote about the problem, "so it seems to me that on the merits of their arguments, the legalizers have no case at all." As one scrutinizes their cases, it is difficult not a reach the same conclusion. Indeed, many of the people who attack the legalizers most vehemently do so because of the personal losses they have suffered because of illegal drugs. The legalizers many omissions and breaches of logic seem so obvious, one is led to consider that there may be other reasons why so many intelligent people would give both economic and intellectual support to this movement. Although I have only the space to speculate on these matters, I believe that the legalization kingpins represent part of a new wave of threats to free, limited governments and democratic capitalism. And this time the enemy strategist is not Lenin, but Gramsci.

William F. Buckley, Jr.Who are the Legalization Kingpins? The drug legalization movement has attracted people from all walks of American life. Although many of its adherents hail from deep within the American "counterculture," for instance, the members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and the militant homosexual organization Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), its far more influential loyalists are members of the " mainstream" culture. Among these we have intellectual-celebrities like William F. Buckley, Jr. and Chicago school economist Milton Friedman as well as lesser known intellectual-leaders like Arnold S. Trebach of American University and the president of the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF), and Ethan Nadelmann, formerly of Princeton University but now head of the Lindesmith Institute in New York.

Some prestigious think tanks have supported legalization, notably the Cato Institute and its heads Ed Crane and David Boaz. Some well-known law enforcement officials, like former New York City Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy, have been outspoken legalizers; Murphy himself serves on the board of directors for the Drug Policy Foundation. Other former high profile public officials that have either supported or been sympathetic to legalization are George Schultz, former Secretary of State, Mathea Falco, former assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters in the Carter Administration, and David Condliffe, executive director of the DPF and former "drug czar" under New York City mayor David Dinkins. And finally powerful public interest groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have forged alliances with the movement and actively fight its battles. Some politicians have been conspicuous in their support for legalization, but they are few in number due to the possible political repercussions. Among them, Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke continues to be the most outspoken, along with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). Their own unique public personas allow them to be so outspoken: Schmoke as a black Rhodes scholar and big city mayor, Frank as an open homosexual and important voice within the Democratic party.

Most politicians who may sympathize with legalization, however, relegate themselves to talking about demand-side approaches and "education and treatment." The focal point of the drug legalization movement might be considered the previously-mentioned Drug Policy Foundation (DPF), located in Washington D.C. Although it often portrays itself as a think tank devoted to study the issue, it is unquestionably a legalization outfit judging from the lack of any anti-legalization arguments at their Washington conference. It receives generous support from people who have made money in a variety of high profile occupations, and many prominent people sit on its board of advisors. The Drug Policy Foundation had enjoyed funding from Chicago commodities broker Richard J. Dennis, and now international financier George Soros has contributed generously to the cause through his Open Society Institute. Additionally, one may find celebrities backing the movement: Hollywood actor Richard Dreyfuss has lent his support to some legalization conferences, and recording mogul David Geffen, who contributes copiously to a variety of political causes, has also provided financial assistance.

As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted, the Cato Institute, a Washington think-tank committed to libertarianism, has been a long-time advocate of drug legalization, and has maintained connections to the Drug Policy Foundation through its financial supporter Richard J. Dennis. Now it poses to have the kind of influence that the Heritage Foundation had during the Reagan administration. The Institute enjoys the financial backing of the Kansas oil heir Charles Koch, as well as major multinationals such as Coca-Cola, Citibank, Shell Oil, Philip Morris and Toyota. Although many lawmakers will insist that they oppose legalization, one should not ignore the libertarian ideas of many of their younger, more ideological staffers.

So although legalization would seem to have been washed away under the social conservative flood of the mid-term elections, one should not discount its reappearance under more respectable guises. The Cato Institute's vice president David Boaz made a speech in 1988, the previous high tide of legalization, claiming that the day would come soon when a critical mass is reached in favor of decriminalization. Along with Cato' s president Ed Crane, he has been a steadfast legalizer and has, like Dennis, maintained at least informal ties with the Drug Policy Foundation. Boaz also sits on the DPF's board of advisors. Another Cato senior fellow, Doug Bandow, has written in favor of ending the policy of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, another favorite issue with the DPF.

George SorosThe American Civil Liberties Union has maintained a long interest in the legalization issue, and in some ways acts as the glue binding the movement together. One can see informal ACLU connections with the Drug Policy Foundation through its executive director Ira Glasser and also with the Soros Foundation, whose current president was the former ACLU executive director Aryeh Neier. Glasser, referred to by Arnold Trebach as a " philosopher king" of the movement, was one of the most stirring speakers at the DPF's Washington D.C. conference. During the 1960s his ACLU adopted a "medical" instead of a "criminal" conception of drug use, and by the early 1970s it was firmly in the legalization camp on marijuana. Although it has vacillated on hard drugs in the past, it has, in the opinion of William A. Donohue, sustained one's constitutional right to kill oneself with heroin. And of course, any efforts by the government to impose more controls, testings or criminal penalties to discourage drug use conflicts with the ACLU's " atomistic idea of liberty" and will be opposed within the union's power to do so. Glasser's own words at the DPF conference confirm Donohue's analysis. There he insisted that " the core premise, prohibition, must be defeated." It is the " fundamental dysfunctional error." Keeping true to the Gramscite strategy, he pointed to the advantages of having respectable personalities like Buckley, Friedman and George Shultz on board so as not to appear as "1960s left wingers."

The key is to force the issue onto the mainstream agenda, but " we thought that with Clinton and Lee Brown (the Administration's Drug Czar) in there we could--but we couldn't." Perhaps relishing in his coronation as " philosopher king", Glasser concluded with Platonic detachment by saying "we have to speak to the black community, who [sic] do not understand where their own self-interests lie." It is also instructive to look at some of the outside contributors and the activities they are involved in. In the entertainment industry, David Geffen, legalization backer, outspoken homosexual, president of Geffen Records and the richest man in Hollywood, has maintained a high political profile, especially since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. He was proud of his good relationship with the White House and his friendship with former chief of staff Mack McLarty. Following in the footsteps of billionaire and putative altruist John D. Rockefeller, he began his own tax-exempt David Geffen Foundation which has been donating $5 to $8 million each year to "non-partisan" political causes such as AIDS, abortion rights and homelessness. Geffen himself has also supported the election bids of important Democratic politicians like Charles Robb. By his own account, his interest in politics was kindled by the Republican National Convention in 1992 and its selfish "white, Christian, heterosexual males." Geffen contributed $10,000 in 1993 to the Drug Policy Foundation, but that may not be the limit of his interest in the legalization. One may wonder how this interest may translate into some of the entertainment projects that he produces.

Karl PopperFrom the world of international finance, George Soros's contributions to the legalization movement are potentially even more significant than the entertainment industry's. His generous donations to the Drug Policy Foundation have been channeled through his Open Society Institute (OSI), an organ of his extensive Soros Foundation. The president of the Open Society Institute is Aryeh Neier, former executive director of the ACLU who also writes a human rights column for the left-wing The Nation magazine. Concerning Soros's donation, Neier said, " Soros doesn't think the drug war makes any sense from an economic standpoint. There's an enormous crime problem that is attributable to drugs, there are vast numbers of people in prison and people who are dependent on drugs." The Open Society Institute wishes to encourage these voices of dissent on prohibition, and additionally, seems to want groups like the DPF to move into the mainstream by stressing " treatment and humanitarian endeavors." What is Soros's interest in drug legalization? Ostensibly, it is purely humanitarian and libertarian, based on the anti-metaphysical philosophy of his former teacher, the positivist Karl Popper. Also his education at the London School of Economics, an institution founded to promote Fabian socialism, may have shaped his politics to something other than a simple respect for capitalism and democracy, as his foundation's literature claims.

Soros may be a democrat, but in the spirit of Popper, he is no believer in the benefits of nationalism, judging from his hostility toward the conservative, nationalist party in his native Hungary. His philanthropy to the DPF could be of a piece with his other grants to Mandela's ANC and social democrats in Eastern Europe, and his creation of the Central European University. The Open Society Institute has also forged a deal with the U.S. government to expand and preserve the Research Institute of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in addition to starting a media training center. Its Health and Medical Program is involved in educating schoolchildren about drugs and alcohol, sexuality, AIDS and the environment, among other things. Perhaps the most chilling of the Institute's projects is one called "Project on Death in America." This is a description of the project as taken from the OSI's public relations literature:

"There has developed in contemporary American culture a profound dread of death and the process of dying. The goal of OSI's Project on Death in America is to understand and transform the forces that have created and now sustain the current culture of dying....Public school programs, consumer groups, media, and other forums will be used to facilitate public discussion of dying and bereavement. Finally, the project will work to influence government and institutional policies around this issue to improve the process of dying and bereave- ment in the United States....The project will support a faculty scholars program and symposia to encourage the development of special competencies related to the area of dying. "

Soros himself explains the projects of the Open Society Institute and helps take us a step further in connecting his various goals:

"The OSI will directly administer programs involving research and public education as alternatives to law enforcement in dealing with the drug problem in the U.S.; research and public education on ways to help the dying end their lives with dignity, comfort, and freedom from pain...."

Simply the shadowy nature of Soros's money-making ventures makes one suspicious of his good intentions. His Manhattan-based Quantum Fund, a hedge fund that bets on the devaluation of national currencies, is incorporated offshore in Curacao in order to avoid SEC regulations. Naturally, the reaction of several European central banks and governments to his habit of shorting their currencies has been resoundingly negative. He has been blamed for forcing the British pound off the European exchange-rate mechanism in 1992, as well as undermining confidence in other currencies. Judging from the power and influence he wields, one would do well to scrutinize his activities. He clearly has grand designs, and clearly he believes he can accomplish them. " I am sort of deus ex machina," he told an interviewer in reference to his activities. " I am something unnatural."

Rolling Stone

Soros helped former Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann to establish the Lindesmith Institute in New York City, a think tank devoted to the legalization issue. Nadelmann, as an international relations theorist, has been extremely aggressive in promoting a justification for world-wide legalization. His articles crop up everywhere, in popular magazines like Rolling Stone and academic journals like Daedalus, and they all echo his essential message of the harm caused by reactionary prohibitionist regimes. In a 1990 article for the prestigious journal International Organizations he described the nature of "Global Prohibitionist Regimes" that focused on preventing piracy, slavery or drug trafficking. Throughout the piece Nadelmann implies that drug-taking is a normal, human compulsion that should not be discouraged. He concludes his article by suggesting that drug prohibition is doomed to failure because it is essentially impervious to law enforcement activity. Nadelmann is the very model of a Gramscite intellectual. At the DPF conference Trebach called him the " intellectual godfather" of the legalization movement, going so far as to say that " Ethan made me a full-scale legalizer."

Nadelmann's speech was a Gramscite call to arms. Although he clearly saw " Black Tuesday" (the Republican victory in Congress) as a set-back, still in his view public support for marijuana decriminalization is on the rise and the media is focusing on "the evils of prohibition." We must continue hammering prohibition as the root cause of the problem, he implored, as well as continue to emphasize the progress made by the Swiss, Dutch and others for legalization. (He never mentioned their recent setbacks in Europe.) And in a line that perhaps signals the cynicism of this movement, Nadalmann exclaimed that " even the black blessing of AIDS is helping us move forward. "His strategy was clear: " Make prohibition work on our terms, not their terms....Work within the mainstream to move it in the right direction." And like his fellow speakers, he kept with the theme that any step taken for "harm reduction" by the government is a move closer to legalization. DEA special agent Roques enjoys the analogy that a single minded focus on "harm reduction" is like "trying to win a war by only treating the wounded." Prevention programs, on the other hand, are trying to protect people from being wounded in the first place and are a necessary part of any offensive/defensive strategy.

"Defensive" strategist Mathea Falco, ex-assistant secretary of state for International Narcotic Matters during the Carter administration, works at least unwittingly with the movement in the mainstream. Now the president of an institute in Washington D.C. called Drug Strategies, Falco has argued for an end to aggressive supply-side approaches, preferring instead more education and treatment. " Education and treatment," like "harm reduction" approaches, happens to be the mantra of the legalization kingpins as well. She advances this argument in a book sponsored by the Twentieth Century Fund entitled Winning the Drug War and in a widely-publicized report from her institute entitled Keeping the Score. The thrust of her works forces drug problem solutions into a false dichotomy: either supply interdiction or demand reduction, but not both. Since supply efforts appear to be failing, its time to shift to demand. This is a highly flawed strategy as any drug warrior like Wayne Roques could tell you. According to its public relations literature, the well-connected Drug Strategies receives grant money from the ubiquitous Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Soros Foundation, and boasts of having on its board popular author Michael Crichton, president of the Children's Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman, and former World Bank president and eminent Trilateralist Robert S. McNamara, among other notables.

Falco does not quite abandon supply, or " offensive" efforts, but she would weaken them considerably. In a recent piece published in Daedalus, Falco argues for less U.S. direct involvement in drug interdiction, and more international cooperation under the guise of the United Nations. "In many ways, the United Nations can work more effectively with drug source countries than the United States," she writes. "World opinion and resources channeled through the United Nations often have more impact than bilateral pressure because they are more politically acceptable." And in a statement that she probably now wishes she could take back: " special UN enforcement teams could assist governments which ask for help in attacking the traffic, in much the same way as UN peacekeeping forces now work to end civil strife in Yugoslavia and Cambodia." Falco's suggestions to essentially defang the American drug interdiction efforts present part of a concerted effort on the part of some international relations writers to deny that drugs can be considered a national security threat. Such a revelation would come as a considerable shock to well-respected strategists like Mao Tse-tung, who used narcotics to great effect against his nationalist enemies and American forces in South East Asia.

However, a recent publication by the Rockefeller-backed Council on Foreign Relations entitled Defining National Security puts the matter succinctly: " Domestic drug consumption is a societal ill that is not usefully defined as a national security problem....Drug trafficking should not be seen as the cause of domestic drug consumption and its concomitant problems and, therefore, it should not be viewed as a significant threat to national security." Just like many of the legalization kingpins, the author defines drug addiction as being a "disease" which suggests no free will on the part of the victims. With such a definition, naturally the amount of drugs that enter the market would have no consequences; those who suffer from the disease will use them, those who do not, will abstain. Legalization and Latin America Keeping with this theme, a single line in the 1988 Mexican/American relations book Limits of Friendship summed up the conventional wisdom among Latin Americanists on the drug issue. As Jorge G. Castaneda wrote in his half of the book: "Mexico does not have a drug problem; the United States does." Since the Reagan administration began to fight the drug war in earnest, books and articles have abounded whose presupposition was this single line by Castaneda.

cocaine.jpgYet, rather than admitting that this drug problem may cause a security threat to the United States, these same writers have urged the U.S. to give up the war and concentrate on demand instead. One example of this current trend is Rensselaer Lee's 1989 book The White Labyrinth: Cocaine and Political Power. At the heart of this well-documented account of the South American drug war lies the thesis that vital American interests of promoting economic growth, enlarging democracy and even fighting Marxists guerrillas are being hindered by continuing with this war. He presents a convincing portrait of the Herculean task of fighting the intricate, determined and well-prepared drug lords of Colombia and Bolivia, but he leaves the reader with no clear sense of the policy alternatives. However, although he does not advocate legalization as the answer, he presents a strong case for it in his conclusion. Despite it all, he ends by suggesting that the United States would be better off encouraging economic and political development and de-emphasizing the drug war. Lee's tentative verdict notwithstanding, some prominent figures in Latin America have come forward to demand legalization. The former Colombian prosecutor general Gustavo de Greiff has argued for some variety of legalization on the editorial pages of the Washington Post. His message contains a certain gravitas because of his ostensible rigor in fighting the narco-traffickers in his homeland. For his "coming out" on legalization, de Greiff has become the toast of the legalization movement and the recipient of an award from the Drug Policy Foundation.

Despite the defeatism and legalizing sentiments of many within the Latin American studies community, one is beginning to see greater resolve on the part of Latin Americans themselves in fighting the drug war. According to James A. Inciardi, a well-known spokesman against legalization, there is no meaningful sentiment for legalization in neither Venezuela nor Colombia; instead, those countries are afraid that the United States is wavering in its commitment to the fight. Growing fears about the "narcodemocracies" in Columbia and Mexico from former DEA director Joseph Toft and Mexican investigator Eduardo Valle Espinosa may be galvanizing more resistance to the narcotraffickers. Presidents Zedillo Ponce de Leon of Mexico, Sanchez de Lozada of Bolivia and even Samper of Columbia are taking strong, or at least well-publicized, actions against narcotrafficking due to revelations of the corruption it has brought to the political systems. Additionally one might expect these actions to continue as Latin Americans become more aware of the growing drug use in their countries. Clearly Latin Americans see drugs as a security threat and a threat to extending the economic benefits of NAFTA throughout the region.

Capturing the Culture

The strategy of the Gramscite intellectual is to wage his war within the superstructures of civil society, in other words, to capture the culture. This could be done through media and academic sources, as we have seen above, but also through modes of entertainment. When one realizes this, the changes that have occurred in popular culture over the last four decades become more understandable. It is difficult not to notice, for instance, the extent to which drug-related themes have dominated movies and popular music since the 1960s. It is also hard to imagine an aspect of the dark side of popular culture that has been exposed in greater detail than the drug culture. Actors, musicians and other personalities that have succumbed to addiction and even death are not pitied, but are lionized by the media. Though the vehicle of endless talk shows they discuss in detail their lives with drugs and how they became "clean." The intended message is that this dissuades the public from drug use, even though an underlying message is that glamorous and attractive people enjoyed drugs for long periods and managed to pull themselves together with hardly a hair out of place.

Yale University law professor Steven B. Duke has suggested a reason for this cultural phenomenon. In a book entitled America's Longest War: Rethinking Our Tragic Crusade Against Drugs, he provides a valuable summary of the many legalization arguments currently being made. Particularly useful is one section entitled " Autonomy Costs" in which Duke and co-author Albert Gross list several reasons why drug prohibition is a blow to human freedom, citing its racism, elitism and even religious intolerance among prohibition's many faults. The book breaks no new ground, and repeats many of the time-tattered fallacies about successful programs in Europe. Yet it allows the reader a meaningful glimpse into the mind of the typical legalizer. Note for instance this passage on how prohibitionism maintains the status quo and suppresses new ideas: The 1960s, with its love-ins, flower children, sexual liberation and social protest, was a time of intellectual and moral ferment. Virtually every idea and every institution was questioned. One institution subjected to intense scrutiny was drug prohibition. The questioning was so effective that numerous states decriminalized marijuana, and virtually everyone between the ages of fifteen and thirty tried the drug. This social protest contributed greatly to progress in civil rights and put an end to the Vietnam war. Most of those who are now in control of the drug war were frightened by the sixties, and still are....Drug prohibition is motivated in part by a fear of the resur- gence of the essence of the sixties, which was social revolution.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Yale Law School professors still pine for the idealism of the sixties: as George Orwell wrote, there are some mistakes only intellectuals can make. A recent work by Myron Magnet does much to debunk the myth of the 1960s as a liberating decade. Much of the current problems we endure today--illegitimacy, homelessness, domestic violence, urban poverty--can be traced, according to Magnet, to the new culture of permissiveness promoted by sixties radicals and their allies in the intellectual communities. Their belief in the liberating power of drugs has been especially damaging to the underclass and has turned them into permanent, dependent " victims." Vogue magazine, perhaps not noted for exposes on weighty themes, recently outlined the connection between drugs and glamour and their potential influence on the young. In this revealing piece Charles Gandee points to the beginning of Hollywood's depiction of the drug world in films like The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955. Since the mid-fifties when the topic was regarded as scandalous, now movies about drugs and addicts are commonplace. Popular music started dealing with the drug issue by the mid-sixties, but has made up for lost time with an even more aggressive push.

gang.jpgHardly regulated to the radio airwaves, this message about norming drug usage reached more young people with the advent of cable TV and Music Television (MTV) by the late 1970s and early '80s. According to Gandee, many of MTV's music videos adopt a "value-free" approach to dealing with the drug issue. The new trend that he notices, however, is how the drug culture is now permeating the message of the fashion industry, and how some famous models that are widely admired by girls and young women have publicly admitted their habit of, and indifference to, illegal drug use. Rolling Stone, the well-known broadsheet of the "mainstream" counterculture, devoted a May 1994 issue to the issue of drug legalization. It featured a lead piece co-authored by Ethan Nadelmann and the magazine's sybaritic editor Jann Wenner which predictably decried the "futile war on drugs." Other contributors described drugs like crystal methamphetamine (" ice"), a dangerous stimulant, in a typically "value-free" style. Such is the message this mass-circulation magazine sends to its young audience. But Rolling Stone is not the only culprit.

Scholastic Update, a magazine designed as a classroom tool to teach high school students about current event, shows us another way in which children may conditioned to a new "common sense." In its article entitled Where Do You Stand? one will find a highly biased argument in favor of legalization. The piece features highlighted quotes by teenagers saying that marijuana is harmless, as well as picturing marijuana "fashions." In addition it lists various popular television performers and rap musicians who have used and enjoyed marijuana in their shows. Of course, the only anti-legalizers cited in the piece are stodgy politicians. Two recent books by film critics have pointed to Hollywood's willingness to extend the counterculture's norms and values into the traditional mainstream culture. Of the two, Michael Medved's Hollywood vs. America is perhaps more optimistic about Hollywood's desire to change its message to correspond more closely with public attitudes. Although he mentions the 1988 star vehicle Tequila Sunrise as unusual in its depiction of charismatic and romantic drug dealers, other more recent films have stressed an anti-drug message. Richard Grenier is more pessimistic, and realistic, about Hollywood's intentions in Capturing the Culture, a book of reviews which he prefaces with a thesis that much of Hollywood is carrying out a Gramscite strategy to destroy traditional American norms. For Grenier, there must be an underlying reason why producers would back such counter-value pictures like Tequila Sunrise even though the public has made it clear that overt drug norming does not sell theater tickets. More financially successful are covert strategies like in the film The Big Chill which attempt to norm drug usage less obviously. The war for position, in other words, can be more effective than the war of maneuver. The drug legalization movement, deeply entrenched within intellectual circles and Hollywood smart set and perhaps gaining influence within schools and the media, could continue to have a major influence over the "common sense" of minority groups and young people.

What Do the Kingpins Have in Common?

In a DEA information booklet self-effacingly entitled How to Hold Your Own in the A Drug Legalization Debate, the question was asked, what motivated the legalizers? The following response was provided: Some of the media, certain quarters in academia and some frustrated Americans see legalization as an option which should be discussed. The panel discussed some of the factors possibly motivating advocates of legalization in order to appreciate the complexity of the debate. The group noted that many who advocate legalization are attempting to "normalize" the behavior of drug-taking and that many are people who have tried drugs without significant adverse consequences. Others see potential profit in legalizing drugs and still others simply believe that individual rights to take drugs should be protected. The group also acknowledged that the legalization concept appeals to people who are looking for simple solutions to the devastating problem of drug abuse.

No doubt all these motivations describe certain people within the movement, but these are by no means the entire list. It is tempting to see if one can find the common thread that links all those who have an interest in seeing the legalization movement succeed. This is difficult to do because not everyone who participates in the movement has the same end in mind. It is possible that many " marriages of conveniences" are struck for the sake of achieving limited goals, e.g., DPF conference attendees like the Families Against the Mandatory Minimum or ACT-UP may simply wish for sentencing reform or needle-exchange programs, etc. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that many of the legalizers have been long-time advocates of a stronger security state. For example, Patrick V. Murphy, perhaps the most visible law enforcement official in the movement, has pushed throughout his long career for both legalization and a national police force.

His Police Foundation had been funded during the 1970s by the Ford Foundation to study this issue. In a recent Washington Post op-ed piece, he repeated the usual legalization arguments about how the "war on drugs" has not worked, and called for legalization. In a rhetorical flourish typical among the legalizers, Murphy refers to the drug war as a "jihad." " During the Bush administration," Murphy writes, " the amount of money spent enlarging the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and on increasing the number of prisons, more than doubled from $3.5 billion to $9 billion. Yet it has not led to a commensurate reduction in the size of the drug trade."

Although an advocate of a national police force, clearly his advocacy does not extend to the ones currently in existence. Shadow players within the legalization movement are tax exempt foundations. Not just upstarts like the David Geffen Foundation or the Soros Foundation, but even "establishment" institutions like the Ford Foundation have been dependable money sources for legalization studies. During the 1970s Ford funded the Drug Abuse Council which recommended decriminalization, and it has also contributed to the Drug Policy Foundation more recently. This funding remains consistent with most of their projects that have endorsed statist solutions for all problem solving. It is hard to ignore the interconnections within the movement and what they might mean. Major foundations like the Ford Foundation that have been supporters of socialist causes and world government have commissioned studies favoring legalization. Other foundations promoting similar foreign policy objectives like the Twentieth Century Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation's Council on Foreign Relations have also funded studies that recommended revamping our entire approach to the issue, as we have seen above.

As the DPF conference demonstrated United Nations organizations like the World Health Organization have sponsored studies--with, in my opinion, highly suspect data collection techniques--that have favored legalization. Major international financiers like George Soros have donated money to the cause in the interest of " public debate" on the issue which apparently works within his larger objectives. Advocacy groups like the ACLU, long-time allies of international Communism, have pushed for legalization as a civil--and human--right issue. The homosexual community, closely aligned with the ACLU has committed money to drug legalization as well. This dedicated lobby has forged strong links to teachers' unions like the National Education Association and the medical community. Its recent push for health care reform clearly appears motivated in part by the need to treat the alarming drug addiction among homosexuals. The legalization kingpins, few in number, but highly visible and with powerful backing may be considered as part of a "counter hegemony" movement that continues to work to abolish limited government and democratic capitalism by undermining their moral foundation.

This is the Gramscite endgame. If they are successful, they will destroy the capacity of a large part of the population to even take care of itself, let alone participate in a deliberative democracy or a market economy. The squeeze on middle class and working people, the guardians of the system, will be two-fold: break a large percentage of them down with drugs, and then force the remainer to pay for their welfare. This should not be regarded as a conspiracy theory. These diverse groups cited above clearly share common interests. After all, they 1) hold in contempt the traditional Judeo-Christian norms of our culture, and 2) desire to advance statist solutions for any and all problems. They do not, however, need to conspire; their interests naturally draw them together. Those who wish to combat the kingpins ought to raise the level of debate to the moral issue. As the ancients remind us, happiness means some possession of the four cardinal virtues: courage, prudence, temperance, and justice. Drug use assaults all these virtues because it makes man more of a beast, a creature only concerned with physical desires. If we believe in the classical notion of politics as the search for the good regime, and that philosophy as the search for the good life, we could not easily arrive at a conclusion that these can be achieve through greater access to mind-altering substances.

Abandoning the wisdom the ancients, the legalization kingpins are the spiritual descendants of the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud, all who reduced man to nothing more than bundles of idiosyncratic, materialistic and sexual desires. But they also return us to the pre-Socratic tradition of the Sophists, who taught rhetoric over reason. It is doubtful whether democracy under this philosophical conception today could sustain itself anymore than it could in the sophists's day. The state of legalization they describe would be a place fit not for men, but only for gods and beasts. Therefore, in the struggle against the legalizers' "counter hegemony,"one should first know the extent of the movement, its potential to do harm, and its likely agenda--the Gramscite endgame. Exposing the movement's various interconnected parts is key to this fight along with holding up to ridicule their abstract arguments. This will force the kingpins from their comfortable "war of position" in a dangerous "war of maneuver" which they know they cannot win. All along, one must reject the idea that legalization is merely a public policy choice, and continue to stress this as a moral battle for the lives of our children and for the soul of a good society. The culture war is winnable, but only if you know your enemy.


Bibliography and Sources:

According to Special Agent Roques of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Elders was provided this information by Eric E. Sterling, coordinator of National Drug Strategy Network and president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C. That the Drug Strategy Network is pro-legalization is beyond question and has been confirmed by Steven B. Duke in America' s Longest War (New York: 1993) p. 275. Antonio Gramsci describes "common sense" as the traditional, popular way of looking at the world. See his The Modern Prince in Prison Notebooks (International Publishers: 1971) p. 134, 197. According to David Forgacs in An Antonio Gramsci Reader, (New York: 1988) there are elements of truth and falsehoods in common sense that must be played against on another in the struggle for a counter hegemony. p. 421.

For Gramsci on "war of manuever" and war of position" see:

For the standard legalizer statement on the Netherlands, see:

For an account of Netherland's position in the international trafficking network, see:

For these points as a response to the legalization arguments of Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, see:

My summary of the legalization arguments are taken from:

Congressman Frank was a featured speaker at the Drug Policy Foundation's 7th Annual Conference. During his speech he intoned that legalizers must not deceive themselves about the popularity of legalization among the general populace; the constituency is actively hostile to decriminalization, and there will be no congressional backing for legalization measures unless there is a vast change in public opinion.

According to DPF literature, Richard Dreyfuss moderated a public forum in Beverly Hills last July that questioned the validity of drug prohibition. He may not be, however, a legalizer. In a May 1993 interview with The Progressive he claimed he was ambivalent about legalization. "It could be the death knell of our national character." (May 1993) p. 34.

Cynthia Cotts, " Smart Money" Rolling Stone (May 5 1994). Cotts's article, ostensibly a piece of straight reportage, was extremely sympathetic to the legalization movement. Her byline said only that she has covered drug issues extensively for The Nation and The Village Voice. It should have also said that she is on the staff of the Drug Policy Foundation. Ibid.

Harvard professor Mark Kleiman, himself a legalizer, said this in the same article about DPF: " DPF has been enormously effective in maintaining the war on drugs. They' ve posed a choice between straight legalization and the war on drugs, and that makes it easy for the American people to decide: They're against legalization." In other words, the Soros support may be an effort to get DPF to take on the war of position.

Two examples of the "defeatist" theme are:

Additional Sources:

Steven B. Duke and Albert C. Gross, America's Longest War (New York: 1993). At the eighth annual Drug Policy Foundation, Professor Duke sat on the panel chaired by Congressman Frank. Duke admitted that he had taught the Clintons while they were at Harvard, but "has never been asked for advice" since.

How to Hold Your Own in the Drug Legalization Debate, U.S Department of Justice, Unpublished Document, 1994. At the 7th Annual Drug Policy Foundation Arnold Trebach publically made several gleeful references to the title of this document. According to Special Agent Wayne Roques, D.E.A., however, many people dropped out of F.A.M.M. because they suspected it as a front for the drug legalization lobby.


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