Does the War on Drugs Need a New Strategy?

February 23, 1990

Report Outline
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The U.S. government will spend more than $9 billion this year on the war against drugs. President Bush believes his anti-drug strategy is working and has called for a significant increase in spending next year. But critics say the administration's strategy focuses too much on law enforcement and interdiction. They believe more money should be spent on treatment and prevention of drug abuse. Others go even further. They say the only way to control drug abuse is to legalize drugs and subject them to government taxation and regulation.

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The recent arrests of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the deposed Panamanian dictator, and District of Columbia Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. were just the latest developments in the nation's escalated war on drugs. Noriega's Jan. 3 arrest on drug trafficking charges, made possible by the U.S. invasion of Panama, indicated the Bush administration's commitment to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. Barry's Jan. 18 arrest for allegedly possessing “crack” cocaine was seen as a similarly strong signal of the government's commitment to pursue its war on drugs into every level of society. (Barry was indicted on Feb. 15 on three felony counts of lying to a federal grand jury about his cocaine involvement and on five counts of cocaine possession.)

But Barry's arrest carried another, more disturbing message on the prospects for victory in the war on drugs. In recent years, Barry has been one of the country's most visible drug warriors. He led the attempts to drive drug dealers out of his city's poorest neighborhoods and pleaded for an end to the drug-related violence that has turned the nation's capital into its murder capital as well. In speech after speech he exhorted schoolchildren to say no to drugs, and, when pressed on his own conduct, hotly denied ever having used illegal substances. But in the end, he, too, is alleged to have succumbed to the lure of cocaine.

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