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Stanford, Yale Law Report Include Drug Policy Critiques


September-October 1994

Two major alumni magazines have included critiques of national drug policy in recent issues (Steven B. Duke, "The Drug Quagmire," Yale Law Report, vol. 40, no. 2 (Spring 1994): p. 8-12; Joe McNamara, "Drug War Follies," Stanford, vol. 22, no. 3 (Sept. 1994): p. 54-62).

A short extract from the new book by Steven B. Duke (Professor of Law of Science and Technology at Yale Law School) and Albert Gross critiques the war on drugs by examining the illogic underlying the law's disparate treatment of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, alcohol and tobacco, and the frequently analyzed "costs of prohibition." The book, America's Longest War: Rethinking Our Tragic Crusade Against Drugs, Tarcher/Putnam, 348 p., $26.95, with a foreword by Kurt L. Schmoke, Mayor of Baltimore, can be ordered by calling 800-788-6262. A paperback edition is now being released.

Joe McNamara lucidly writes about the inevitable failure of the war on drugs from the perspective of his 37- year career in law enforcement. He begins with his own experience walking a beat in New York City's Harlem in 1957. He tells how the Rockefeller laws -- mandatory minimums, including life sentences, for drug sellers -- resulted in "creat[ing] legions of teenage career criminals."

One day McNamara and his partner nabbed an addict, who pleaded, "don't arrest me, I'll give you a dealer." The junkie walked down the street with the cops ten feet behind:

talking to one person after another. The third dealer agreed. When they went into a hallway, we charged in and arrested the dealer ... It amazed me that in bright daylight the man talked to pushers about buying illegal drugs with a marked police car and two uniformed policemen 10 feet away. None of the men had been deterred by our presence ... They had no reason to be hesitant. If we had not known what the addict was doing, we would have guessed they were talking about cars, girlfriends, sports or any other innocent thing. For the first time, I realized how truly ineffective the police are in preventing drug use through enforcement of criminal statutes.

McNamara's narrative is filled with anecdotes of drug war ineffectiveness. Police disrupt the "French Connection," but corrupt detectives steal the heroin from the police property room and sell it back to street dealers. Later Mexican and then Southeast Asian heroin fills the supply routes. "Also, the drug war has turned into a race war." And the ONDCP "Pulsecheck" of February 1994 reports that "heroin use was steady or increasing and purity of the drug was high, that crack use seems stable in many areas or higher, and that marijuana use is rising."

McNamara studied the effectiveness of drug arrests by the New York City police from 1967 through 1972. Drug arrests were 16,599 in 1967 and 49,455 in 1970. During the five years studied:

murder, robbery, burglary and larceny went up when drug arrests increased and declined when the police made fewer drug arrests. Methodological constraints make it impossible to describe this as cause and effect ... Professor Jerome Skolnick of Berkeley [President of the American Society of Criminology], a noted scholar on police tactics, has concluded that a few years ago, when Oakland police arrests of drug dealers disrupted the hierarchy of the local drug market, additional homicides occurred as new groups fought for dominance.

This is an excellent article. Call The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (202-835-9075) if you would like a copy, $3.00 for copying and postage.