Watch out Boston, New England, America.
While weve been looking elsewhere, it appears more and
more newspapers, magazines and journals are grappling with the
debate over legalizing illicit drugs. Once the subject was considered
so taboo that no mainstream publication would touch it. Now,
stories on legalization are cropping up everywhere from The
Boston Globe to Time magazine.
issue burst on the national scene last year in May when Time
ran a cover story on drug legalization Thinking
The Unthinkable and Newsweek published
Should Drugs Be legalized? That same month saw
Jet with a story on Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmokes
proposal for legalization.
then, increased numbers of mainstream, mass circulation magazines
and newspapers have talked to experts, commissioned polls
and debated the merits of repealing laws prohibiting the use
of illegal narcotics.
for the recent turnaround in the press are arguable. However,
the most visible side effect of the nations war on drugsurban
street violence and death involving the drug tradeappears
to be the driving force behind the Fourth Estates growing
think you could argue it has nothing to do with crime issues
They are higher on the national agenda because of medical
issuesand make a case for that, Randolph
Ryan, eight-year veteran editorial writer for The Boston
Globe, offered in a recent interview with Quimby.
I think the reason everybodys teeth are on edge about
drugs now is that theres obviously an issue of violent
crime associated with the drug trade in a number of cities.
and away the city that has received the most recent attention
on this aspect of the problem is Washington, D.C. Drug related
violence there has accounted for 300 deaths, giving it the
highest per capita murder rate in the nation, and almost 50,000
arrests in the last two and a half years. Those numbers are
a big reason Ryan penned Another Route On Drugs
in his papers April 17, 1989 edition.
editorial was in no way a call for legalization but was, in
fact, a strong proposal for at least not ignoring anti-prohibition
solutions to drugs. In the lead paragraph, Ryan wrote, The
main reaction (to the rising death toll) has been the call
for tougher law enforcement. There is, however, a minority
of strategists who believe it will be necessary to turn away
from traditional strategies of prohibition and police work.
a fifty-minute interview at The Globes main office,
Ryan had this to say when I commented that the striking aspect
of the piece was not its content but the fact that it appeared
I think theres always (pause) a sense of care when youre
writing about an important public policy issue which is controversial
and which the answers (pause) are not clear.
all the editorial said, though, was that all the options should
be looked at. Right? Public policy options. My own sense is
that the subject of decriminalization of some drugsnot
all drugsfor a long time was not discussed at all.
asked if his piece was a first for The Globe in terms
of addressing the legalization issue on the editorial page,
Ryan again made the disclaimer(the content of
the editorial) is a whole lot different from putting the paper
on record in favor of decriminalizationbefore
tell the truth, I dont think in my memory we have ever
said, This is a really complicated question. There are
a whole set of arguments that have been passed over in most
of the public discussions about the drug war. And its
time these arguments be taken seriously. I dont
think weve done that.
The Globe has done is join a rising chorus of publications
that are taking the legalization debate very seriously. Since
early last year the issue has been given space in Business
Week, Macleans, The New Republic,
Christianity Today, USA Today, and Glamour,
to name a few.
course, the angles to this story are varied. Just as many
organs decry legalization as there are those that simply promote
investigation. In The New Republic, M. Kondracke wrote
Dont Legalize Drugs (June 27, 1988), while
T.C. Muck wrote Stoned Logic (Legalizing Drugs) in Christianity
Today (Aug. 9, 1988). Other stories have appeared in a
vein more or less represented by the likes of Drug Wars:
Legalization Gets A Hearing in Science (Sept.
2, 1988) and The Lesson of Prohibition in USA
Today (Dec. 1988).
seem much less willing than magazines to take on legalization.
Thats a big reason Ryans editorial is so startling.
Those that have touched on legalization, and taken a stand,
like the Chicago Tribune, more often than not oppose
it. This country already has enough misery from one
mind-altering legal drugalcohol, editorial page
editor Lois Willie wrote Quimby. One would assume the
rest find it somewhat harder to be so definitive, take the
safer course, and say nothing. Still, the nations newspaper,
The New York Times, on April 25, 1989, published an
editorial Drugs and Edward Brecher. It noted the
late writers contribution to the drug health debate
in his 1972 book Licit and Illicit Drugs. The editorial
states, He pierced the veil of moral righteousness and
special pleading that still colors drug policy, offering sober
prescriptions for limiting the damage that many Americans
still dont want to hear: Drug-free treatment of
heroin addiction almost never works. Nicotine can be as tough
to beat as heroin. Good or bad, marijuana is here to stay.
Times piece in no way addressed the legalization issue.
Yet it touched on some of the facts concerning heroin,
caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, barbiturates, amphetamines, tranquilizers,
cocaine, LSD, and marijuana, facts that lead to ever
more intelligent public discussion of the whole panorama of
drugs, legal and otherwise.
the outcome of the debate, drug legalization is an issue sure
to receive a growing hearing in the public domain. Ryan, for
one, assured me he would continue to investigate legalization
and write about it in the future.
main point were trying to make is to do justice to this
subject you have to go at it seriously. You cant just
dismiss the idea of decriminalization anymore than you can
dismiss the idea of presumptive sentencing, let say.
in Quimby Magazine 1989.