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'Traffic' School: Lessons in the War on Drugs

February 05, 2001

Dr. Herbert D. Kleber's response to "Traffic" screenwriter Stephen Gaghan's contention that [former drug czar] William Bennett contributed to his friend Rob Bingham's death from heroin is specious (" 'Traffic' Screenwriter's Sentiment Is Misplaced," Jan. 29).

Kleber would have us believe that the Bennett-Reagan years were an Enlightened Age in the area of drug policy. On the contrary, the Bennett watch saw the emergence of "zero tolerance," the most misanthropic public policy since the Inquisition.

Nice try, Dr. Kleber, but those of us whose lives were destroyed, not by drugs, but by your administration's knee-jerk response to them, know better. You should leave "spin" and "legacy management" to the experts, like Bennett himself.


Eau Claire, Wis.

Kleber misreads the intent of Stephen Gaghan's comments about his friend. The screenwriter for "Traffic" gave a very balanced and compassionate look at the evils of the drug trade. The fact that said drugs were illegal enhanced the movie's message and his friend's "bad boy" image, as teenage smoking and drinking does for those younger than 18.

The drug trade is so profitable because it is forbidden, as every study has shown. And hard-drug users are a very small percentage of those addicted, which include smokers and alcoholics. Why cannot the puritans of this world understand such simple economics, instead of continuing to throw money at their concept of evil?

There are brave voices in this country now speaking for legalization so that these truly sick people can be humanely treated. We forget so easily that Prohibition did not stop us from drinking, just as the war on drugs will not stop illegal drug use. Only its legalization will!



In discussing heroin addiction, Kleber claims that legalization would destroy even more lives. Perhaps, but I don't think anyone in the drug policy reform movement wants to see TV advertisements calling upon viewers to run down to the local convenience store to buy heroin.

There are cost-effective alternatives to the zero-tolerance approach. The Netherlands has successfully reduced overall drug use by separating the hard- and soft-drug markets and establishing controls for age.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, replacing marijuana prohibition with regulation would do a better job protecting children from drugs than the failed drug war. Marijuana is the most popular illicit drug. Compared to legal alcohol, marijuana is relatively harmless. Yet marijuana prohibition is deadly. Although there is nothing inherent in marijuana that compels users to try hard drugs, its black market status puts users in contact with criminals who push them.

Current drug policy is effectively a gateway policy. Sensible regulation is desperately needed to undermine the black market. Unfortunately for Americans, our leaders are more prone to counterproductive preaching than pragmatism.


Program Officer, The Lindesmith

Center-Drug Policy Foundation

Washington, D.C.

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