July 4, Independence Day, 1996
President Bill Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington DC. 20500
Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein
112 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Congressman Ron Dellums
1301 Clay St.
Oakland, CA 94607
Dear President Clinton, Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein and Congressman Dellums,
I am writing to you because you are my elected representatives and because you are Democrats. I come from a family of Democrats and I have voted Democratic in every election since I became old enough to vote, in 1968. I voted for each of you and, with the possible exception of Congressman Dellums, I doubt that I shall vote for any of you--or any other Democratic candidate--again.
Why? Because I and 60 million other Americans like myself are being persecuted by you.
You see, I am a marijuana smoker. I have smoked marijuana occasionally--sometimes more--sometimes less--for the past thirty years.
Except for the fact that I smoke marijuana, I am not a criminal. I am not an "addict" or a "drug abuser" and certainly not a drug "dealer" or "pusher." Other than coffee, I do not use any other drug--no, not even beer or wine--and certainly not tobacco. I have no criminal record. I have never been arrested for anything. In all my years of driving, I have only one moving violation (for crossing a barricade). In every other respect I am a "law abiding American citizen."
But you, my elected representatives, have waged war on me and my fellow marijuana smokers for thirty years.
Now I understand that drug abuse is a serious problem for some people. Like you, I've seen heroin addicts, cocaine addicts, people strung out on amphetamines, Valium and Quaniprin. I've seen a few people get into trouble using psychedelics without proper guidance or supervision. And I've seen dopers who smoked compulsively. I understand that approximately 3,500 deaths occur every year from illicit drug abuse. Many of these deaths, however, are preventable and owe more to the drug's illegality than to the toxicity of the drug itself.
As bad as this figure is, however, it pales in comparison to the 300,000 annual deaths attributed to tobacco--not to mention the 100,000 annual deaths attributed to alcohol. My only brother was killed by a drunk driver, so I understand what a tragedy this is.
But these aren't the drugs targeted by your so called "War on Drugs!" On the contrary, the Tobacco Industry, which lies with impunity to Congress while addicting thousands of new users to nicotine every day, is institutionalized within the Federal Government. It receives enormous annual subsidies.
We disparage Great Britain for addicting millions of Chinese to opium during the Opium Wars of the past century. But, except for the fact that tobacco is more deadly and nicotine harder to kick than heroin, how is the Federal Government's complicity in addicting millions of its own citizens to cigarettes any different? This is not to mention the hundreds of millions more users the U. S. Tobacco Industry addicts world wide.
Meanwhile otherwise law abiding citizens like myself are threatened with the loss of their property, their civil liberties and their social respectability because we like to get high. You get away with it because most of us are pacifists at heart. (The number one drug associated with violence is alcohol.) We toke up, turn on and, for the most part, mind our own business.
But for thirty years now, since the time I became old enough to vote, this country, my country, has been engaged in an ever escalating, ever more repressive war against citizens like myself. Rather than asking the question, "what is the most effective and humane way to deal with drug abuse," you and your predecessors have chosen to play power politics with this issue. Rather than treating drug abuse like the social and public heath issue it is, you--through your legeslations, your rhetoric, your lies (we all know you did enhale, Bill) and your political posturing have chosen to make this into a criminal justice issue. You have played upon the fears of the many for your own personal and political gain: first by "getting tough" on drugs and then by "getting tougher" on the crime and violence that inevitably results from their prohibition.
This is inexcusable. I say shame on you!
Every time you speak about the issues of drug abuse in this rhetorical prejudicial and militaristic way, you contribute to the gravest social ills facing our nation. You do great harm to all Americans, drug users and non users alike. Perhaps you think you are helping; but you are dishonest with yourself. How many millions of Americans, especially young, poor and non-white Americans, feel persecuted by their government and their society because you have chosen to make them defacto criminals? How many otherwise law abiding citizens have been arrested, tried, convicted and imprisioned for non violent offenses? How many families have been torn apart because their son or daughter or mother or father was arrested, humiliated and made a criminal? How many neighborhoods have been turned into war zones because of the War on Drugs? How many innocent people have been killed by the violence that goes hand in hand with prohibition? Do you know? Do you even care?
As a pot smoker, it is not I who have failed my country or my society, it is you, my elected representatives, who have failed me. You have failed to preserve my Constitutionally guaranteed right to the pursuit of happiness. My right to worship as I please with the sacrament that speaks to me. My right to the security of my home and protection of my property from unreasonable search and unlawful ceasure. You have failed every drug user, every drug abuser, every drug addict, every prisoner of the War on Drugs and every victim of the crime that the War on Drugs produces. These victims are children, parents, policemen, and, yes, drug enforcement agents. You have failed the citizens of this country by either refusing to stand up for what you must know is right or by selling out your genuine values to the demands of money, power and politics. Oh, of course, you say to yourselves that not a one of you would get re-elected if, like Surgeon General Jocylin Elders, you were to stand up and say that drug abuse is not a criminal problem and cannot be solved by criminal means. None of you have shown the courage, conviction, intelligence--in a word, leadership--of Jocylin Elders.
Leadership, real, genuine, moral leadership, does not compromise to politics. Not when the stakes are as high as this. Real leadership, such as shown by Jocylin Elders and FDA Director, David Kessler (who is bravely combating the Tobacco Industry in the face of tremendous opposition), takes a strong position against lies and tyranny and confronts it in whatever form it takes. Jocylin Elders may never hold another public office, but she has something you don't have--integrity and a clear conscience. Yes, her political career has fallen victim to this stupid, vicious lie called the "War on Drugs." But she is a hero.
It is time for you to stand up for what is right. If you don't understand this issue, then it is time you educated yourself. That means evaluating all sides of this issue. It means understanding who gains and who looses by perpetuating this War on a sizeable minority of Americans. I am enclosing a bibliography of readings which I recommend to your attention. Dan Baum's book "Smoke and Mirrors; The Politics of Failure" is an especially important work every one of you should read. I am also enclosing a copy of an annonimous publication, "The Duplicity of the War on Drugs," which makes very interesting reading. Yes, ALL drugs are dangerous if used unintelligently and irresponsibly. Did you know that more deaths result from aspirin overdoses annually than have been recorded for marijuana in the entire history of its use? This is a fact; unbelievable but true.
It is also a fact that criminalizing drugs and drug users does not and can not solve the problems of drug abuse. All that can and will result from perpetuating this prohibitionist strategy is to further waste valuable tax dollars; further alienate and criminalize primarily poor, young and non white Americans; further erode our civil liberties by the implementation of increasingly draconian and unconstitutional laws; further guarantee that poverty and violent crime will remain the day to day reality of the American inner city; further generate vast and unregulated sums of money which can be and are used to corrupt officials at every level and in ever sector of our society. That is what your "War on Drugs" does. That is what it will always do.
Is this what you want? How far must American society decay, how many million more American lives must be ruined by this failed "policy" before you wake up?
If the War on Drugs can't stop drug abuse, what can we do to prevent, or in any case, limit the harm caused by drugs?
To me and to increasing numbers of Americans, drug users, non drug users, conservative, liberal, and libertarian alike, the answer is clear: The very FIRST thing you must do is STOP THE WAR. End it. Call a total halt to it. Call a cease fire, a truce, an unconditional moratorium. Simply STOP it!
Oh, yes, I suppose if you must you can go on with your plans to interdict sources of illegal drugs coming into the United States from other countries. But if you are going to do that, I highly recommend that you stop subsidizing the Tobacco Industry which "legally" (i.e., with no moral obligation or ethical concern for the physical health of our fellow human beings) sells their poisonous, addictive drug, world wide. While you're at it, if you are serious about interdiction, you'd better put a muzzle on your special operatives who are the primary conduit for heroin and cocaine into this country.
SECOND, open up a dialogue, a national discussion and forum. Let all the pot heads and drug users come out of the closet and speak for themselves. Who are they, what do they want? Begin to ask the important questions: What is this problem we're all so afraid of? What is drug abuse? How wide spread is it? How is it different from mere drug use? What are its real, as opposed to its purported dangers? And, to the extent that it is a genuine health problem, how can we solve it?
Just opening a dialogue of this sort would make such a difference in the social and political climate of this country. We are living in a climate of escalating violence and fear you know. At least that's what you keep telling us, even though statistically violent crime is decreasing.
Americans are not stupid. Given the opportunity and the right information, they can be educated. If, that is, you stop playing upon their latent racism, their economic worries and their social vulnerability (their worst fears and nightmares) and just give them the facts.
And what are those facts? The facts are that drugs have played a role in human society throughout all known history. They aren't anything new, nor are they anything to particularly fear. This is not to say that a certain informed caution is not warranted. For whatever reason, many human beings like to alter their consciousness. Some enjoy it more than others and a few "enjoy" it to excess. The fact is, however, that most drug users, when given the right information and the socially sanctioned setting within which to use them, learn to handle their drug use responsibly. Many experiment or self medicate with a drug for a time and then simply quit. Or they form a responsible relationship with the drug while continuing to be productive members of society. This is as true today as it was a thousands years ago.
It is true that a few drug users become lost in their drug use and these people need special help and attention. In fact, it may be that one of their primary reason for turning to drugs is that they feel society does not value them or their lives. Given the War on Drugs, and so much else that is unjust in our society, it is hard to argue they are wrong.
So, instead of arresting these people and making them criminals and out-casts, we will provide them with counseling, treatment and unbiased information to deal intelligently and responsibly with their drug use. We will also hold drug users accountable for their behavior. It is against the law to harm another person and his or her property. Being under the influence of a drug should not be a justifiable defense for breaking the law.
THIRD, now we can begin to ask the difficult question about what to do with the drugs themselves. I do not know what policy will arise from this dialogue but I can tell you what I think.
I propose that Marijuana be made as available as liquor. That is, sold only in certain licensed stores and then only to adults. I would allow individuals to grow up to 12 plants for their own consumption (some regard these plants as sacred and form strong, spiritual attachements to them). Heavy fines or penalties could be legislated for anyone selling marijuana, or any other drug, to a minor or without a state license. Personally, I would put cigarettes in this category as well. I would also regulate and tax (see below) the advertising of drugs including alcohol and tobacco. In my opinion, the glamorization of drug use in advertising and the media contributes signifcantly to drug abuse. The details of these advertising and media restrictions would need to be worked out; but at the very least all sales of drugs should be accompanied by accurate warnings from the office of the Surgeon General.
All other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and so forth, including the psychedelics, should be available only by prescription via one's personal physician.
Clinics staffed by licensed professionals could be set up to help provide this service. This brings the drug user into regular contact with medical and social service supervision. In this setting the drug user will be given the information he or she needs to handle their drug use intelligently and responsibly. No attempts will be made to dissuade these users, or to make them feel guilty about their drug use. Instead, they will have the opportunity to speak frankly and honestly with informed personnel who's sole function is to help them stay physically and psychologically healthy. Obviously if a user is abusing a drug, that is to say, if his or her drug use incapacitates them for participation in society, then further treatment may be necessary. And it bears repeating that if a drug user breaks the law he or she is to be held accountable for their behavior just like anyone else.
How will these clinics be paid for? They will be paid for by taxes on the sale of currently illicit drugs with the inclusion of tobacco and alcohol, and taxation of whatever advertising is alowed. Even if these revenues do not cover the costs of these clinics (I believe they will) it will certainly be cheaper than the TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars currently being wasted on this unconscionable "War on Drugs."
Now it may be that the system I have outlined is unworkable. It has not been tested, so there is no way of knowing. I am certain that even if it did not work well, it would work better than what we are doing now.
Clearly, whether it is through this or some other system, we must do something. What you have been doing is nothing less than a social disaster that has negatively impacted the health and well being of every American.
Unfortunately, I doubt you will do anything. After years of being made to feel like an "outsider" and "the enemy" by the government of my own country (this was Nixon's original intent, was it not?), I have very little faith that you will even attempt to stop this insane War on Drugs. I've lost all confidence that any of you will take a position of leadership and integrity like that displayed by Joscylin Elders and David Kessler. I personally feel that all of you, with the possible exception of Congressman Dellums, are either cowards, or, worse, co-conspirators in this crime against the American people.
This is why I no longer call myself a Democrat. I'm telling you up front that I will never again vote for any party or candidate who maintains that the War on Drugs is a viable option for dealing effectively with drug abuse. It is worse than a lie, it is manipulative propaganda. What is more, I and a growing number of my pot smoking friends, will no longer just sit by while you wage war on us and our neighbors. From now on we will actively campaign against you, your reelection, and all other Democratic candidates and platforms until your position on this issue has changed.