Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Drug War Is Only a Hallucination

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Drug War Is Only a Hallucination

Article excerpt

While Robert E. Burns recuperates from recent surgery, we are running an "REB classic." This column first appeared in June 1990. Sadly, the topic remains very timely.

FOR A WHILE IT WAS A SCENE THAT POPPED UP FREquently on the evening news. A number of law-enforcement people proudly surrounding a table on which lay packages of illegal drugs, some drug paraphernalia, a few weapons, and usually a proliferation of cash, the latest fruits of the "drug war."

But the American public's attention span being what it is, drug raids--unless it's the spectacular variety with the narcs in coveralls breaking down doors--don't make the evening news as often these days. Even so, the war presumably continues. When it began, those in charge said it could take 10, 15, or 20 years to turn the tide against drugs. Now they claim to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Of course, every schoolchild who watches Saturday morning cartoons knows that such a light might be the front of a giant locomotive coming our way. But our fearless leaders in both the White House and the Congress will have no truck with long-term solutions. Long term solutions can't be measured by opinion polls; and, after all, don't we derive our principles of governance by thrusting a moistened finger into the wind?

I call our drug war cynical because it is obviously not intended to solve the problem of illegal drug use with any seriousness. Consider for a moment: When the drug war began, the White House proposed funding it with something like $10 billion, whereupon our vigilant Congress one-upped the funding to something like $14 billion. Not long after, the need to bail out the crumbling savings-and-loan industry arose, and our we-ain't-got-no-money federal government, overnight, came up with cash and promissory notes totaling $200 billion. Now, $200 billion is 20 times $10 billion and, in view of these numbers, how can we be expected to take the present drug war seriously?

I am not maintaining that a problem as serious as the ravaging U.S. drug culture can be solved simply by "throwing money at it." But money, lots of it, is needed if we are to have treatment programs for the addicted who must often wait many months even to begin treatment. And money, lots of it, is needed for law enforcement on the local level, money that can't be raised by states and smaller governments whose tax bases are already stretched to the limit. To the treatment programs and state and local law-enforcement people, our federal drug war says blithely, "That's your problem. …

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