George Will

     So, should there be an armistice on this front, too? Walters responds that the bulk of the demand for illegal drugs is from addictive users. Of the 19 million users, 7 million are drug-dependent. Marijuana use is a ``pediatric onset'' problem: If people get past their teens without starting, Walters says, the probability of use is ``very small'' and of dependence ``much less.''

     Use of marijuana by youths peaked in 1979, hit a low in 1992, and then doubled by the mid-1990s. The age of first use of marijuana has been declining to the early teens and lower. Often, Walters says, the ``triggers'' for use are ``cultural messages'' -- today, for example, from rap music. Nevertheless, teen marijuana use has declined 18 percent in the last three years.

     Because marijuana is, unlike heroin and cocaine, not toxic -- because marijuana users do not die of overdoses -- its reputation is too benign. The 5  million users in the 12-to-17 age cohort are, Walters believes, storing up future family, school and work problems, and putting their brain functions at risk with increasingly potent strains of marijuana. Many of which -- and perhaps one-third of the total U.S. marijuana supply -- come from Canada. A few years ago police estimated that there were 10,000 growers in the Toronto metropolitan area.

     Last year 400 metric tons of cocaine were seized worldwide, but 200 entered the United States. However, some seizures, by causing abrupt shortages in some metropolitan areas, cause addicts to seek detoxification. Walters says that breaking the ``French connection'' did that in New York in 1972. Even Prohibition, he says, for all its bad effects, changed behavior: after repeal, per-capita alcohol use did not return to pre-Prohibition levels until the 1960s.

     Walters says the data do not support the theory that society has a ``latent level of substance abuse'' -- that if one problem declines, another rises commensurately. And he thinks indifference to drug abuse, which debilitates the individual's capacity to flourish in freedom, mocks the nation's premises.

     Having studied political philosophy at the University of Toronto with the late Allan Bloom, Walters describes the drug war in Lincolnian language: ``There are certain requirements of civilization -- to keep the better angels of our nature in preponderance over the lesser angels.''

     Fighting terrorists, he says, is necessary even though it is like seeking a needle in a haystack. Illicit drugs -- millions of tons marketed to millions of Americans -- are at least not a needle-in-a-haystack problem.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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