How to Stop the Murder
Begin with a consensus that illegal drugs are evil.

 by Joseph diGenova

Drug-related murders in this city are rising. A recent Rand Corp. report reveals that illegal drug use in the entire area is booming.  And last week's White House Conference on a Drug-Free America, along with civil and military unrest in Panama, makes it clear that illegal drugs are a national and international disaster.

Let's not kid ourselves.  There will be no quick fix.  It will take more money, more enforcement, more education and prevention, more treatment and more commitment from the American people.

The first, last and most important point, however, is that our society agree on one thing: that drugs are evil, that they have no redeeming virtue.  That consensus is now building.

Why is this so important?  Because it worked once, and common sense says it will work again.  In the early part of this century, heroin, cocaine and other drugs were not illegal, medical authorities said they were not dangerous, and stores across America sold them over the counter in various forms.  The result of that misplaced tolerance was a huge number of drug addicts throughout the population.  The American people were out­raged, and Congress began to respond in 1914 with tough laws, criminalizing posses­sion and distribution and setting stiff penalties.  The problem receded - until memories of that period dimmed, and tolerance eventually returned in the '60s.

While then are still some who advocate decriminalizing illegal drugs, their ranks are justifiably thinning for three powerful reasons. First, decriminalization is morally wrong.  Illegal drugs hurt the human body and - in many cases - kill their users.  In 1987 there were 219 deaths from cocaine, heroin and heroin substitutes in the District, up from 145 deaths in 1986.  Second, it does not work.  As the British have found with legalized heroin and as we have found with  methadone maintenance for heroin addicts, there will always be a black market for these drugs.  Third, advocates ignore our early 20th century history: that a consensus on the dangers of drugs can relieve the problem.

A new consensus will ensure success again. But there is no question that law enforcement has to keep unremitting pressure on both the supply and demand for illegal drugs.

The Metropolitan Police Department's Operation Clean Sweep, for example, is not only an effective means of arresting large numbers of retail dealers; it is also a way to keep faith with the people in the neighbor­hoods, to whom the drug dealer on the corner might just as well be Al Capone.

Adult drug arrests here have risen from 3,857 in 1979 to 13,785 in 1987.  Although some critics contend that Clean Sweep does not work—that it only sweeps the dirt around—they overlook the fact that the only alternative to vigorous police action is to begin to cede actual control of this city and other cities—social, economic and ultimately political control—to the dealers. That policy of accommodation has been tried in Colombia with disastrous and tragic results.

It is just as important to go after the middlemen and importers as the dealers. The police, along with agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency and senior prose­cutors, target kingpins and their organizations, such as Cornell Jones (now serving a 27-year prison term) and his Hanover Place gang, and the Italian Mafiosi who in 1987 linked up with Colombians in an attempt to sell cocaine through pizzerias in the District and Northern Virginia. We need more of these operations and more resources to support them.

We also must do as much as we can to interrupt the production of these drugs at their source.  When my office became the first U.S. attorney's office to secure the extradition of a Colombian cocaine distributor, Marcos Cadavid, a new chapter began in our international enforcement efforts.  The recent invalidation, under the deadly pressure of drug dealers, of our extradition treaty by the Colombia Supreme Court only serves to underscore how frightened these drug produc­ers are of American justice.  With most Colombian and other Latin American leaders genuinely terrified of the violence that the drug cartel directs, now is the time for U.S. policy-makers to be even firmer than ever, offering to send more American agents and, if need be, contingents of American troops to assist the local authorities to reacquire control over sections of their own countries.

While vigorous and costly prosecution programs are necessary, they alone are not adequate.  What they do is buy time and keep the situation from becoming worse.  Only when we reduce demand will our success be real.  Users must be told that they are stockholders in organized crime and must be punished.  That will occur only when the popular opposition to drugs becomes what Nancy Reagan calls "unyielding and inflexible and outspoken.''






©2005 diGenova & Toensing, LLP
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