America’s drug abuse woes have been exacerbated by a lack of leadership from above and at the local level, four former drug czars told a gathering of some 2,500 anti-drug activists Tuesday.
Still, they said, the nation has repelled other illegal drug crises, such as crack cocaine and methamphetamine, and can do it again, even with marijuana. The keys are national leadership, public education and support for front-line opponents of drug abuse.
“Without national leadership, I can’t imagine how we are going to pull this thing together,” said Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a drug czar who served under President Bill Clinton.
Although many presidents have clearly stood against drug abuse, President Obama, “to my knowledge, has not given a single speech on drugs,” said William J. Bennett, the nation’s first drug czar, who served under President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“We see now what happens when people walk away [from fighting drugs] at the national level — it destroys the foundation of all the work we did,” said John P. Walters, drug czar under President George W. Bush.
These men and Lee P. Brown, who also served as drug czar under Mr. Clinton, urged leadership at national, state and local levels.
It’s not just national politicians who are on the line, Mr. Brown told the national conference of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), which is meeting this week at Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center at the National Harbor in Maryland.
In all communities, and especially ones with drug-related gangs and violence, the police and community leaders have to work together — neither can deal with the problems by themselves, Mr. Brown said.
Also, there has to be public education, including education for the local legislators, the panelists said.
Already, “overwhelming” research points to risks and adverse effects of illegal drug use, including a portion of pot smokers who become addicted to daily use. Additional factors are the exorbitant levels of hallucinogenic properties in some dispensed marijuana; the loss of motivation, focus and attention common to pot smokers; and loss of as many as eight IQ points with some kinds of marijuana use.
“You have to have a screw loose to think it’s not a danger to your business to have your employees on drugs,” said Gen. McCaffrey.
It’s true that not all marijuana users go on to do hard drugs; it’s also true that people who do go onto harder drugs almost always start with marijuana, said Mr. Bennett, who has just released a book with co-author Robert A. White, called “Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana is Harming America.”
Mr. Walters told the audience that they were “the end of the line” — the people “who are trying to help kids avoid death and the path of destruction” — and that they and their allies must fight an array of opponents, including pro-drug messages on social media and in the press, and wealthy backers of the new “drug industry.”
Mr. Walters suggested three ideas to experiment with:
• Routine testing of marijuana samples in communities. The public should know if there is mold, pesticides and herbicides laced into their cannabis, he said.
• Work with the legal profession to bring class-action lawsuits against drug industry on behalf of victims harmed by drug use. “Let’s use the sharks to kill the wolves,” he suggested.
• Random drug testing in schools. This not only identifies children and teens who need treatment, but exposes gangs, and backs up the non-drug-using students who are saying no to illegal substances. “You can create enclaves of safety for young people,” Mr. Walters said.