Asa Hutchinson
Drug Enforcement Administration
Commonwealth Club of California
San Francisco, California
February 12, 2002

"Let's Not Punt on Third Down"

photo - Administrator Hutchinson testifying
Administrator Hutchinson




photo - President Bush
George W. Bush


Thank you, Cynthia, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It is good to be in San Francisco. Yesterday I left our nation's capital to head West. For some time I had been excited about the opportunity to address the historic Commonwealth Club of California. This is a remarkable occasion for someone from rural Arkansas; however, as the occasion neared, I started to second-guess my good judgment.

Maybe it is not such a bang-up idea to defend our nation's drug policy in the city of San Francisco which has such an extraordinary tradition of toleration for drug use. From the popularity of the opium dens of the late 19th century, to the drug culture thriving in the Haight-Ashbury district of the '60s, to the Cannabis Buyer's Club of the New Century, San Francisco has been the hot spot for challenging current thinking on drug laws. Well, perhaps it is my love for challenges, but I concluded that any audience that genuinely cares and wants the facts is one I should address.

I also thought about the level of interest in the subject of combating illegal drugs. Is our anti-drug effort still a major concern of Americans? Well, I picked up a few publications to read on my flight. I picked up USA Today. The headline on the front page reads, "Ecstasy Grows as Danger to Teens." The New York Times front page reads, "Small Towns Confront Upsurge in Drug Use." Vanity Fair featured "Afghanistan's Deadly Habit," an article about the connection between drugs and terrorism.

And then today President Bush announced a commitment to the anti-drug effort in our country that is balanced and that demands accounting for results. The President's plan set a national goal of reducing the availability of drugs by five percent each year over the next five years. And so after reading those articles, after understanding the President's commitment, I concluded without question the problem of drug abuse is still on the forefront of our national agenda, and it is because it impacts our families, our neighbors, and our communities on a very personal level.

That brings me to my subject: Don't Punt On Third Down. As I mentioned, I'm from Arkansas, I grew up there, went to school there, and had the great opportunity to represent the Third District of Arkansas in the United States Congress for almost six years.

As you might have guessed from the title of my speech, I'm also a football fan, and coming from Arkansas, we live, eat, and breathe Razorback football. I still remember a football game that we played in October of 1966. It was a big game for our state. Arkansas was playing Baylor University. Arkansas was the favorite to win, we were ranked Number 5 in the nation, and we were on a 24-game win streak, but it was raining heavily. Our coach, the legendary Frank Broyles, decided to play a conservative game, as I recall, and because of the fear of fumbling, we ultimately punted on third down. As a result, the Razorbacks lost that game 7-0.

Some people today, out of concern that we're not making enough progress in the drug fight on first and second down,want to punt on third down. But that does not reflect the reality or a true perspective of our efforts.

ONDCP logoFirst of all, there is too much at risk to punt on third down. Many of you saw an ad that ran during the Super Bowl that was sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It portrayed the drugs-to-terror link and illustrated that buying drugs is not just illegal, it is not just harmful, but in many instances serves to fund violent groups.

Now, I'll certainly give a caveat here that just because someone purchases drugs in this country does not mean that their money winds up in the hands of terrorists. I would not make that claim, and neither did the ad. But at the same time, the connection is very clear: The drugs-to-money-to-terror relationship is historic, it is current, and it is threatening to our future. And let me elaborate:

photo - FARC members

photo - Shining Path guerrillas
Shining Path Guerrillas

photo - Hamas member

Armed groups use illegal drug profits to fund their terrorist activities and to enforce control over the local population in many geographic areas of the globe. In war-torn Colombia, the insurgent group FARC raises funds from the drug trade to purchase weapons and to finance their attacks on the innocent.

In Peru, the Shining Path Guerrillas fund their political and military power and influence by taxing local drug traffickers.

In the Middle East, terrorist groups such as the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah are involved in the drug trade to finance their terrorist activities.

In Southeast Asia, the United Wa State Army consisting of over 16,000 armed troops, is funded primarily by the methamphetamine and heroin drug trade. Wherever drug-funded terrorist groups flourish, long-term peace and political stability are diminished.

More recently, we look at Southwest Asia where the Taliban built its financial base from heroin trafficking in Afghanistan. Many of the Al Qaeda associates were directly involved in drug trafficking alongside the Taliban, and they provided heroin that produced dependency in many other surrounding countries.

But the anti-drug effort is not just about violence in far-off places such as Colombia or Mexico; it is also about the high school student who drops out of school because of methamphetamine addiction; or the son who sacrifices a future because of an all-consuming cocaine habit; or a 50-year-old accountant who developed a heroin addition and lost his family. These are real people with real heartaches that deserve real chances in life. And so there is much at risk, and we must pursue progress and not punt on third down.

Secondly, I think it's important that we should not give up hope because America can achieve success. One of the great myths of this decade is that there is no success in our anti-drug efforts in this country. But the facts are that cocaine use in this country is down by 75 percent during the last 15 years. That's 4 million people fewer that use cocaine on a regular basis today than 15 years ago. Overall drug use has been reduced by 50 percent since it reached its peak level in the late 1970s. That's 9.3 million people fewer using illegal drugs.

If we achieved that kind of success on any other social problem from domestic violence to child abuse, someone would receive the Medal of Freedom. Clearly, we have much more progress to make, but the fact is there has been success in our anti-drug efforts.

But most of that success was achieved between 1982 and 1992. In 1993, our nation's attention was diverted to the Gulf War, resources were moved from the anti-drug effort, and the legalization movement gained momentum. Since 1993, drug use among teens has flattened.

There are two conclusions we can reach from those statistics: We can either think that we have reached the optimum level of drug use in this country where we cannot make any more progress. Or the other conclusion is that public policy and leadership make a difference in our fight against drugs, and we can reduce dependency even more.

photo - Governor Johnson

The wrong conclusion is that we have not made enough progress and, therefore, we should legalize harmful drugs. That, to me, is punting before we have given ourselves a chance to make a first down. I've had the occasion to debate New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who is someone I have respect for, but he supports legalization. I've engaged in debates with him at the University of New Mexico and at Yale University Law School. And let me tell you, I've learned two things: If you want to find a conservative audience, don't come to San Francisco and don't go to Yale Law School.

Yale Law School crest
Yale University
Law School

As Governor Johnson made a very eloquent presentation on drug policy in favor of legalization, I knew that I was losing the audience. So, when it was my turn, I asked the question: How many of you support legalization of marijuana? Eighty percent of the audience raised their hand. I looked down at the 20 percent that didn't raise their hand, and they were all DEA agents in the front row. And I was just glad that they didn't raise their hand.

There are three basic arguments that Governor Johnson and other legalizers present. The first argument is that the drug war is a failure. We've all heard that, and I've recited the statistics to contradict that. It's important to remember that those are more than numbers-they represent lives saved from drug addiction.

The second argument is an economic one that legalization would eliminate the profits and put the cartels out of business. But if drugs were legalized, then you'd have to legalize everything to take the criminal element out. Are the cartels going to be out of business if you legalize marijuana? No, they would also look at heroin, at cocaine, at methamphetamine.

Let's look at this argument even closer. A legalized drug scenario usually includes limiting drugs to users over the age of 21. The people that advocate this position don't understand the drug use problem in America. The majority of illegal drugs are consumed by people under the age of 21, and so an illegal market and organized crime to supply it would remain. After prohibition ended, did the organized crime element in our country go down? No. It continues today with other crime.

Legalization would not put the cartels out of business; legalization would not diminish the need for law enforcement.

A third argument for legalization is that drug use would decline. Well, I think it is important that we learn some history. A legalized environment does not discourage drug use. We've engaged in this anti-drug effort in this country not for 20 years, as many people believe, but for 120 years. In 1880, many drugs, including opium and cocaine were legal. During that time, we had the highest level of drug use ever in our nation, per capita. There were over 400,000 opium addicts in our nation. That's twice as many per capita as there are today.

San Francisco certainly had some experience with that problem. Drug historian Jill Jonnes reports that in 1877 a Dr. Winslow Anderson of San Francisco wrote that, "A large proportion of the city had taken up smoking opium, hitting the pipe as often as three times a day." Jonnes reports that "Clearly alarmed by this development, San Francisco passed the first anti-drug law in the United States, an 1875 city ordinance aimed at the opium-smoking dens of Chinatown." The law worked, as did public education on the dangers of opiate addiction.

By the early 1900s, the overall consumption of opiates was declining in the nation. So, clearly, drug abuse is an historic problem in our country. We have fought this fight before. We've tried legalization and learned that it brings increased addictions and social costs. Enforcement of anti-drug laws started here in San Francisco. They should not end here.

The laws of economics do not support the legalization of drugs, and history tells us that drug use goes up when the criminal law parameters are removed. That's the review of our past strategy. How about the strategy as we move forward? How do we make a first down? We do it with a strong program of enforcement, and a stronger program of education and treatment of those who have addiction problems.

Enforcement is necessary because it puts a risk in trafficking and sends the right social parameters for behavior in our country. But if you look at enforcement alone, it is not going to do the job. It takes education to teach young people to make the right decisions in life, and it takes treatment to reduce the demand for those who have developed an addiction problem. And so I believe that we should look at new ideas in our anti-drug efforts in this country.

We're open to new ideas like drug courts that provide strong treatment programs for those that have an addiction problem and are convicted of non-violent crime. I've met drug court graduates. I've seen how their lives have been saved by holding them accountable.

Jennifer Malloy is one of those graduates from Youngstown, Ohio. I suppose Youngstown, Ohio, is famous for Congressman James Traficant, but, to me, Youngstown is also famous because I met Jennifer Malloy there. She's someone who had a good job, who lost that job because of a cocaine habit, who was convicted of felony breaking and entering, who, instead of going to prison was given a chance at a treatment program through a drug court. After a year of intensive counseling, she broke her addiction and graduated from drug court. At the graduation ceremony, she hugged the judge and turned to her arresting officer and thanked him for saving her life.

And so I believe the investment in treatment pays off. I believe the new idea of drug court is having great success.

As part of the balanced approach of our anti-drug effort, the DEA has begun a new initiative called IDEA, which stands for Integrated Drug Enforcement Assistance. With this program, we give lasting impact to drug enforcement operations. The DEA takes pride in removing criminal organizations from neighborhoods. But if the demand remains and the community has not changed, then another trafficking organization takes over.

That is frustrating to law enforcement. We want our work to have lasting results. With the IDEA program, our approach is to dismantle the criminal organizations, but at the same time work side-by-side with the community on drug awareness and prevention efforts and build treatment programs and community coalitions.

With IDEA, we will double the number of our demand reduction coordinators in DEA. These are agents that work in schools and communities to educate about drugs. We will also encourage 15 percent of the seized and forfeited assets be transferred to treatment and education programs. This builds the team concept between all those that are engaged in the anti-drug effort.

And so we should not debate our drug policy in terms of legalization; we should debate our drug policy in terms of new ideas. Parent Corps, which the President has talked about, and diminishing the treatment gap are things that need to be done.

Before I conclude, let me address an issue of some note in California: The use of marijuana as medicine. Please understand that the DEA will not go out of business regardless of the direction Congress and the courts give us on this subject. Congress has designated marijuana as having no medicinal value. The Supreme Court affirmed this designation.

The DEA must simply follow the law. It is not a priority, but it is simply a responsibility that we have to enforce the law. Under the law, we're required to listen to the scientific and medical communities.

What science has told us thus far is that there is no medical benefit from smoking marijuana. It is not recommended for the treatment of any disease. It is appropriate for a doctor to prescribe Marinol, which has the active ingredient of marijuana. That can be taken in different forms, but the scientific community has not given conclusive results in regards to smoking marijuana and any benefit that would be derived from it.

However, we at the DEA realize how important it is to keep listening to science, and that's why I have authorized studies with smoked marijuana in humans. Under a program established by the state of California, two researchers at the University of California, San Diego, are studying the safety and efficacy of cannabis compounds as an alternative to treating certain debilitating medical conditions.

But some want to legalize marijuana not just as medicine but as a recreational drug. They believe it's harmless and can be used responsibly, but there's a growing number of people out there who are not finding it quite so harmless.

In 1999, more than 200,000 Americans entered substance abuse treatment primarily for marijuana abuse and dependence. Adolescent admissions to substance abuse facilities for marijuana grew from 43 percent of all adolescent admissions in 1994 to 60 percent in 1999.

Consider the case of Dawn, a 17-year-old New Yorker who started smoking marijuana with her friends when she was 12. At first it was just something she did to relax on weekends. After a while it became an every-day habit. She said it made learning difficult. Quote: "I'd learn something one day, and the next day I'd have no idea what the teacher was talking about." Dawn eventually entered a residential treatment program for help in breaking her dependence. So clearly, while some people are able to quit marijuana use, others are not so fortunate.

The New York Times newspaper banner

Marijuana use does have consequences. It's a more quiet, longer-term consequence as compared to dramatic heroin or cocaine habits, but equally insidious. I read recently in The New York Times about Mark, a restaurant owner from Vermont. He started smoking marijuana when he was 13 and was smoking it daily by the time he was in college. He became dependent on it, tried to quit many times, and eventually did after attending a treatment program. But Mark, now 40, looks back at his life and wonders what it might have been like without marijuana. Quote: "I'm the only one in my family who wasn't an Ivy Leaguer. I should have been right up there with the rest of them."

Let me conclude by saying I do believe that this effort fighting substance abuse in our country is about our nation's character and its future. Lt. Colonel William Barrett Travis on February 24, 1836, wrote a letter when he and his men were under siege at the Alamo. He wrote this letter, quote: "To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World: I am besieged by Santa Anna and his forces. The enemy has demanded a surrender; otherwise, we are to be put to the sword. I've answered the man with a canon shot. I shall never surrender or retreat." And then he said, "I call on you in the name of liberty, patriotism, and everything dear to the American character to come to our aid."

In fighting against drugs in our country, it is my view that we should not surrender. We should not give in. We should not punt on the third down. Doing so would be giving up an opportunity to make our country better, stronger, and freer, and, in doing so, strengthen the American character. It was so important in 1836, it's so important in the year 2002, and will be so important to the next generation of American leaders. Thank you very much. ##

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