- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

The success of the drug war film "Traffic," the tragic shoot-down of the American missionary team in Peru and the re-arrest of drug-bedeviled actor Robert Downey Jr. have once again brought the issue of drugs to the forefront of national discourse.

As usual, the drug issue has simmered below public consciousness, only to be given new life by intense media coverage of drugs and the "Beautiful People" of Hollywood, and the horrible mistake in the air over Peru. The tendency of this issue to take center stage, disappear and then rise again like a Phoenix has led to an inconsistent national debate about one of our nation´s most pressing national security problems. Now that these recent events have reinvigorated public consciousness, new ideas and suggestions are being discussed in greater detail. However, one idea constantly being put forward is legalization of drugs.

Proponents of legalization point to the high costs and apparent failure of the war on drugs as reasons to seek a new course of action. Unfortunately, this and the fear that the battle cannot be won decisively have led some to call for an end to the fight. Additionally, the lack of honest public debate has led to confusion among many Americans about the devastating consequences of legalization. The National Defense Council Foundation (NDCF) believes that it is only a matter of time before the lack of consistent leadership, fear and confusion lead to the misstep of legalization.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy makes clear in its 2001 annual report that drug use is directly linked to vexing social issues, ranging from increased crime rates, drug-driving, domestic violence to illness and reduced worker productivity. Legalizing drugs would only exacerbate these issues. Statistics support this claim. Over 51 percent of inmates report that they were under the influence of controlled substances while committing their crimes. Legalizing drugs would increase the number of users and addicts, thereby increasing this crime statistic.

Drug use also leads to higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and astronomical health care costs. Between 1992 and 1995, the amount of money the U.S. spent on health care expenditures due to drug abuse rose from $9.9 billion to $12 billion. Health care problems resulting from legalization will cause these figures to increase exponentially. As an example, the "medical marijuana" effort the vanguard of legalization ironically neglects to say that one joint has 33 percent more health-threatening carcinogens than a normal cigarette. Statistics on the use of the drug Ecstasy also demonstrate this point. In 1999 there were 2,850 "emergency room mentions" for Ecstasy, up from 253 in 1994. This shows the growing availability and use of dangerous methamphetamines. Legalization would only serve as a stimulant to this alarming trend.

These domestic concerns do not even take into account the international ramifications of legalization. A 1990 NDCF report pointed out that the first result would be international legal complications. If drugs were legalized in the United States while remaining illegal in other nations, it would become increasingly difficult to decide what constitutes a drug crime in different countries. Extradition agreements among nations could be jeopardized. American leadership and efforts currently play a crucial role in suppressing world drug supplies. U.S. abdication in the war would be like a dam breaking, flooding the world with drugs.

America faces an uphill battle in the battle against drugs, but this does not mean that we should give up. Our main goal should be the reduction of drug use and supply to their lowest possible levels. In cooperation with other nations, the United States must devote equal attention to both demand and supply activities, and this policy must be articulated by President Bush immediately. The momentum gained under Presidents Reagan and Bush, but lost under a Clinton administration lacking sufficient commitment, must be regained. The new Bush administration has demonstrated its strong willingness to lead the drug fight with the prompt nomination of drug czar John Walters, who served as chief of staff to former National Drug Control Policy chief William Bennett. Hopefully, his leadership will pull us back from the precipice and show us that legalization is not the easy way out. It is a canard that can only lead to accelerated social, economic and political destruction, jeopardizing our national security.

F. Andy Messing, Jr. is the executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation. He is a retired Special Forces major who has traveled to more than a dozen areas of illegal drug operations world-wide. He advised then-Gov. George W. Bush on this issue in 1998. Patrick J. Oswald is a research assistant with that foundation.

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