WASHINGTON -- Exasperated by pessimism about the ``war on drugs,'' John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, says: Washington is awash with lobbyists hired by businesses worried that government may, intentionally or inadvertently, make them unprofitable. So why assume that the illicit drug trade is the one business that government, try as it might, cannot seriously injure?
Here is why: When Pat Moynihan was an adviser to President Nixon, he persuaded the French government to break the ``French connection'' by which heroin came to America. Moynihan explained his achievement to Labor Secretary George Shultz, who said laconically: ``Good.''
Moynihan: ``No, really, this is a big event.''
Shultz, unfazed: ``Good.''
Moynihan: ``I suppose that you think that so long as there is a demand for drugs, there will continue to be a supply.''
Shultz: ``You know, there's hope for you yet.''
Walters understands that when there is a $65 billion annual American demand for an easily smuggled commodity produced in poor countries, and when the price of cocaine and heroin on American streets is 100 times the production costs, much will evade even sophisticated interdiction methods. And, Walters says, huge quantities of marijuana are grown domestically, for example, in California, Kentucky and West Virginia -- often on public lands because the government can seize private land used for marijuana cultivation. And particularly potent strains of the drug are grown indoors. Marijuana possession, not trafficking, accounts for most of the surge in drug arrests since 1990. Critics suggest an armistice on this front in the $35 billion-a-year drug war.
Marijuana's price has fallen and its potency has doubled in the last eight years. So say David Boyum and Peter Reuter in their new book, ``An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy,'' from the American Enterprise Institute. They say that, although the number of persons incarcerated for drug offenses on any given day has increased from 50,000 in 1980 to 450,000 in 2003, the inflation-adjusted prices for cocaine and heroin are half what they were 25 years ago.