Well, thank YOU! Mr. Ret. Gen. Fmr. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey! I’m actually 41 and my home in Oregon is not made of log, but thanks nonetheless.
Council on Foreign Relations
The President’s Foreign Policy Inbox: U.S.-Mexico Relations
Speakers: Barry R. McCaffrey, President, BR McCaffrey Associates LLC; Shannon K. O’Neil, Douglas Dillon Fellow For Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Scott Malcomson, New York Times Magazine
February 23, 2009
QUESTIONER: Hi, I’m — first, General, thanks for your excellent presentation today and for your long record of public service.
My question is, I infer from what you say — shouldn’t infer, it’s probably obvious — that at the root of the corruption in Mexico, including the lack of law enforcement, and the crime and violence, is the flood of drug money coming largely from the United States. Is there any change in U.S. drug policy that would dry up that profit?
… I’d just take it one step further, why not just legalize drugs? …
MCCAFFREY: There’s a 10-minute answer, there’s an hour answer, there’s a three-day answer. And, fortunately, since I’m not in public life, I actually don’t care. I care about 6th graders through 12th graders. If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.
Now, let me tell you, though, about drug policy, as a general tool. There’s 300 million 0of us, overwhelmingly we don’t use drugs — overwhelmingly. Unfortunately — again, pick a study you believe in, there’s probably 16 million of us that do, and have a chronic substance abuse problem.
It’s poly-drug abuse. It’s dominated by the most dangerous drug in America, bar none — alcohol. Or, would you prefer to say nicotine. You know, nicotine maybe kills — pick a number you believe, 440,000 people; alcohol maybe kills 100,000; illegal drugs maybe kill 50,000.
And so it’s a problem, you know, and it dominates — I tell people, find something you don’t like about America, and, basically we like a lot of what goes on here: spouse abuse, dropping out of school, STDs, you name it — at the heart and soul of it you will find a contributing or dominant factor is the abuse of illegal drugs or alcohol. So, all of us ought to say we’re against that.
And what do you do — and, by the way, it’s going down dramatically. Peak year of modern drug use in America was 1979. It was around — 13 percent of us were past-month drug users. Now, probably, it’s 7 percent.
In the Armed Forces, Active and Reserve, it’s probably under 2 percent — to include the Guard. And the reason for that, I might add — since half of our young people have used an illegal drug when they come in the Armed Forces, is because we got sergeants who act like parents are supposed to act. And so they say, look, if you’re in this squadron, in this battalion, in this wing, and you use drugs, we won’t lock you up, we’ll throw you out of the Armed Forces — which is what we do.
So, I would tell you drug use in America has gone down dramatically. Casual use of cocaine is down by 85 percent. Chronic illegal drug use is around 5 million people, and probably is stable, although it’s changed forms — new drugs show up, methamphetamines, OxyContin, chemically-produced opiate — synthetic opiates.
So, the drug use thing changes but, you know, I — and, by the way, here’s the final point just to consider, there’s a lot of things in life that if you are really bright, like most of us in this room — possibly exception being me, there’s all sorts of things that are good intellectual arguments. The legalization of drugs? We’re not going to do it. It’s not going to happen. Parents aren’t going to do it, police chiefs, employers. We can debate it all we want.
So, normally, people will retreat to marijuana. Well, how about marijuana? It’s already, de facto, a not-prosecutable offense everywhere in the country. If we arrested you and locked you up in a federal prison system for possession of marijuana, you had a little over 200 kilograms on you when we busted you — and, by the way, there’s room for more — but, by and large, in this country, we don’t prosecute.
Matter of fact, we basically don’t prosecute simple possession of heroin if we know you’re an addict. Go grab one of Ray Kelly’s cops — you got the best police force on the face of the earth here, probably — and, as a general statement, if you want to understand drugs, talk to an emergency room doc, a New York police officer, a local judge or a social worker, and they want to solve the problem with treatment, prevention, stabilization. And that’s essentially what we’re trying to do, but it’s really difficult.
So, anybody — this is sort of an older group, anybody got kids that are under 19 still in the room? A couple of you military guys do. Kids at 6th grade are drug free. By 8th grade they’ve seen and understand drugs, and there is probably higher rates of heroin abuse among 8th graders and 12th graders. By the time they’re 12th graders, half of them have used an illegal drug, and one out of four are past-month drug users. From that population comes the 16 million of us with a substance abuse problem.
You don’t want your kids to be a heroin addict when they grow up? Get them to age 19, eating supper with their parents, going to church or synagogue, play an organized sport, and where they clearly remember they heard mother or dad say, “In this family we don’t drink beer and drive; we don’t smoke pot and we don’t use ecstasy.” That’s the drug war right there.
And that’s the 10-minute, or five-minute — (laughter) — answer.
Great, Barry. I’ll tell that to my friend out here in Oregon who, truly, lives out in the boonies (not quite a log cabin), was a registered medical marijuana patient, growing twelve big ol’ pot plants out in her back yard. You sent your DEA agents to her back yard, ripped up those plants, held her at gunpoint, and terrorized her family. They harrassed her and destroyed her property. To this day a decade later she suffers from PTSD and cannot come to the city because of severe agoraphobia.
Glad to know that in private, you just don’t care, but in public, you had to wreck her life.