Those of us who grew up in the 60’s often speak nostalgically of those days when drug use became fashionable. Marijuana use was part and parcel of the social and political upheaval of the times. When America decided it had a problem she did as all addicts first do…she blamed someone else.
The first scapegoat was Mexico. President Richard Nixon appointed Myles Ambrose Commissioner of Customs, a likely place to implement a policy to stop the flow of drugs.
Ambrose told Frontline, “I thought it was crazy, we had these meetings in the Justice Department and decided they were going to close the border. They were going to close the border as a kind of a shock treatment to the Mexicans. I think it was September 16th that we closed the border effectively. Cars were backed up as far as you could see, and we kept it going maybe five days.” So much for that idea.
Next the best and the brightest of the Nixon administration considered “pre-emptive buying”, i.e. buying up all the loose opium on the planet. Ambrose reminded them, “You can grow opium on probably 70% of the earth's surface. I'm in the wrong business if you're going to do this kind of thing. I mean you'll have a lot of people that you'll be buying up in the next growing season."
So then it was off to war. Nixon declared war the following year, calling drugs, "public enemy number one in the United States." Presidents generally choose words thoughtfully. When Nixon used the term “war” every American knew what it meant. By then we had been at war in Viet Nam for years and the images of that war translated into where we thought we were headed in this one.
By definition, war is an openly declared state of organized, violent conflict, typified by extreme aggression, societal disruption, and high mortality. The Thirty Years' War in Europe was fought from 1618 until 1648. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in history. It ended not on the battlefield but in a negotiation, not with a single treaty but several. The war on drugs has been our “Forty Years War” and 40 years later, we might ask ourselves, as clinicians often ask addicts as they report on repeated drug use, “how’s that working out for you?”
From 2006 until I retired last January, I served as the highest ranking official in Wyoming state government with responsibility for drug policy. I administered funding of programs for treatment and prevention and the state’s drug court program. Now that I have had time out of office to reflect and am no longer living in the political fish bowl, I want to use this blog as a space to create a genuine dialogue about how to negotiate an end to this war.
As a result of forty years of “mission creep” the endgame has eluded us. The collateral damage has become unacceptable. Never has American politics permitted an honest conversation about how to end this war but the time has come for us to at least talk about how we get to the negotiating table. But since you and I are not seeking public office, let’s talk!
To be continued…