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Rethinking The War On Drugs

July 28, 1996

Regarding your June 9 review of Dan Baum's "Smoke and Mirrors" by Michael Massing:

Massing's review is an interesting exercise in double-think. Massing spends the first several paragraphs in unrestrained agreement with Baum that the drug war is a wasteful and destructive boondoggle, based less on an honest attempt to protect society against drug abuse than on cynical and extremely wasteful efforts to further the ambitions of various unsavory vested interests.

He then abruptly switches gears and chides Baum for not offering a plan to replace the drug war. This premise, namely that one is not entitled to document the lunacy of a destructive policy unless one has a replacement, is neither a logical nor a valid excuse for persisting in the original folly.

Massing also offers carping disagreements about subsidiary issues, such as just how bad is crack and does Baum portray its evils sufficiently? Also, just how much stealing do heroin addicts engage in? These are relatively trivial points that have little bearing on the main message of the book, which is that a public policy unthinkingly endorsed by many Americans is producing social and fiscal disaster.

It is sad that after such a promising beginning in which he indicated that he had caught a glimpse of the forest, Massing plunges into a thicket and wastes his effort bumping into trees. This is a disservice to Baum's fine book, which is a must-read for all voters.

THOMAS J. O'CONNELL

SAN MATEO

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