Bill Moyers Essay: Alternatives to the Failed War on Drugs

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Bill Moyers considers legalized, controlled drug use as an alternative to criminalization.


DAN RATHER: There was more tough talk from President Reagan today about drug abuse. This time, the President said he wants the anti-drug message made clear to the countries that produce narcotics. Also, more than 300 members of Congress officially went on record endorsing a call to the nation’s broadcasting networks to devote more time to the evils of narcotics. That’s in the background and the subject of CBS News Correspondent Bill Moyers’ commentary tonight.

BILL MOYERS: Every administration’s war on drugs has failed. President Reagan’s of the last five years has failed, too. It’s in shambles — poorly financed, undermanned, exploited by politicians as addicted to publicity as junkies to dope. The more the government tries to cut off the supply, the more bountifully the stuff spreads. Read what’s happening in Miami and you see the poison in our wells- drug profits so enormous, they’re corrupting police, who can make in one payoff almost what they earn legitimately all year.

The profits, of course, come from demand. People who desperately want the stuff will get it, no matter what. This leads a professor of medicine here in New York to call for something different. Dr. Herbert Berger says efforts to cut off the supply has only increased the cost. Take the confiscation of a large shipment of heroin in 1982. It was greeted by much publicity and praise, but it created a scarcity that practically doubled the price of street heroin. To make their supplies go further, the pushers then diluted them. Addicts needed larger doses to get their kicks. Unable to support their habit with legal activities, they mugged and robbed for the money. The net result: crime increased and not an addict was cured.

Dr. Berger thinks the proper treatment of the narcotics problem is to give certain drugs away in properly staffed clinics. He says this would take the profit out of the business and dry up the market. It could diminish an entire subculture of criminals and bring addicts to a place that might be able to help them.

The notion offends those of us opposed to the taking of drugs and there’s nothing to prove it would work, but in the crime and corruption and the loss of life and the billions spent for nothing, we have plenty of proof that what we’re already doing is not working. Perhaps the colossal fraud and failure of the war on drugs will inspire a more realistic approach, one that doesn’t threaten our civil liberties or endanger our relations with other countries.

Mr. Reagan is calling for a national crusade to persuade users to break and stop the habit. This should enlist all of us, parents, teachers, media, peer groups, all of us. But the sick don’t get well on command and addiction is a disease rarely cured by the billy club or the bully pulpit.

This transcript was entered on June 17, 2015.

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