by Asa Hutchinson Decrying "Myths" of the Drug War Reform
Drug Enforcement Administration
Modernizing Criminal Justice Conference
June 18, 2002
(Director often deviates from prepared text.)
Good morning. I'm honored to join such a
prestigious conference. Many thanks to our host organizations:
John Jay College, the London Metropolitan Police, and the FBI
for their tremendous achievement in gathering the best minds in
criminal justice policy in Europe and the United States. To the
faculty and staff of John Jay, thank you especially for not only
preparing students for a career in law enforcement, but through
conferences such as this, for also challenging those in leadership
toward more effective policies.
It is a distinguished privilege for this
farm boy from Gravette, Arkansas, to be in the land where the
principles of liberty were instituted so many thousands of years
ago. Through the ancient rights and liberties laid down in the
Magna Carta in 1215 to the institution of the writ of habeas corpus
in the 17th century, we find the very foundations of our democratic
In the modern world, when Great Britain stood
courageously against tyranny in World War II, and now in our war
against terrorism, we seek to secure that rule of law that was
born here so many centuries ago.
We fight to uphold those same principles
of liberty and freedom today in our post-9/11 world. England has
been America's staunchest ally in that fight. I know we all look
forward to hearing Prime Minister Blair later today. He has defined
the attacks against America very clearly as a battle between not
just America and the terrorists, but between all of the free and
democratic world and terrorism.
I am here to speak about another war today--the
war on drugs. It is a fitting topic, perhaps not as appealing
as the war on terrorism. But there is a real parallel there between
fighting terrorism and fighting drugs.
The nations represented in this room understand
war of any kind should be avoided, but not at the sacrifice of
freedom. Wars must be fought to sustain democracy, but they are
not without costs. We know that the costs of war must be weighed
against what is lost when war is not waged.
These realities of war are common in democratic
societies, and they are true also when it comes to our shared
struggle against illegal drugs. If we avoid the war, then democracy
will suffer; if we flinch at the costs, then a greater price will
be paid by families, communities, and by our nation.
Drugs weaken us, threaten the rule of law,
and insidiously endanger our way of life. The anti-drug effort
is truly a fight between the free and democratic world and the
world of drugs that seeks to enslave and corrupt.
At its very basic level, the anti-drug effort
is a fight for individuals: to live their lives free of the destruction
of drugs. And it's a belief in that freedom that brought me to
the DEA. I came to drug enforcement because it's a cause I believe
in from the bottom of my heart. It's a cause with hope and optimism.
And it's a cause that makes a difference in the lives of individuals
and the life of our nations.
There aren't many other criminal policies
that are as studied, debated, and analyzed like the U.S. war against
drugs. Since coming to the DEA, I've debated a number of critics
of our anti-drug policies. As a former prosecutor, I enjoy engaging
in that kind of lively debate. As an attorney, I enjoy looking
at the evidencelooking at the facts about our drug policiesto
find the truth.
And I've found that many misunderstandings
of the U.S. war on drugs persist. If we want to truly examine
U.S. drug policy, we have to embrace the facts and dispel the
myths. I'd like to talk about four myths in the U.S. anti-drug
1. The first is that there has been no progress
in the U.S. war against drugs.
Some say our fight against drugs has been
a failure, and we have not made any progress. But when we look
at measurements there, we see a different story.
First, on the demand side. We've reduced
casual use, chronic use, and prevented others from even starting.
Overall drug use in the United States is down 50% since the late
1970s. That's 9.3 million people fewer using illegal drugs. We've
reduced cocaine use by an astounding 75% during the last 15 years.
That's 4 million people fewer using cocaine on a regular basis.
The crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and
early 1990s has long passed. We've also reduced the number of
chronic heroin users over the last decade. And the number of new
marijuana users and cocaine users continues to steadily decrease.
This is not to say we have reached our optimal
level of drug abuse. We still have much progress to make, particularly
with drugs like Ecstasy and methamphetamine. But the bottom line
is that our current policies have kept drugs away from most Americans.
On the supply side, we're having successes,
too. And this is where the DEA focuses much of our efforts: enforcement
and interdiction. The goal is to increase the risks to traffickers
and decrease drug availability.
I'll give you some examples. First, with
cocaine. Based on interagency estimates, cocaine flow from South
America to the United States has decreased by almost 20% in just
the last 5 years. In 1996, it's estimated 600 metric tons were
sent to the United States. By 2001, that dropped to 500 metric
Also with cocaine, we've begun to see purity
decrease somewhatabout a 9% decrease overall. The reasons
are many and complex, but one that must be credited is our international
effort to restrict the supply of potassium permanganatea
chemical necessary to cocaine processing. That effort is impacting
the quality and is making processing more difficult for producers.
We're aiming to have a similar impact on
methamphetamine. To do that, we're targeting not only traffickers
of meth but suppliers of pseudoephedrinea main ingredient
of meth. In Operation Mountain Express, we targeted rogue chemical
companies in the U.S. and shut down that source of supply. Manufacturers
were forced to find another source. They turned to Canada.
But in another phase of our operation, we
targeted that source and seized 30 tons of pseudoephedrine and
dismantled major trafficking organizations. As a result, meth
manufacturers are having more trouble obtaining the materials
they need for their dangerous recipes. Prices have risen for illicit
supplies of pseudoephedrine and have caused street prices of meth
to go up as well.
We also increase traffickers' risks through
interdiction. The increased law enforcement presence at the U.S.-Mexico
border since September 11th has resulted in increased drug seizures.
Customs officials seized more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine along
the border in the last six months, almost twice as much as the
same period last year. At one of our ports in Texas, seizures
of methamphetamine are up 425% and heroin by 172%. Enforcement
makes a differencetraffickers' costs go up with these kind
The new Office of Homeland Security President
Bush is creating will make our border interdiction even more productive
by coordinating efforts more effectively.
But the question always remainshave
we significantly reduced the availability of drugs on the street?
We're not making that argumentyet.
There is such an overproduction of cocaine, heroin, meth, and
marijuana that there exists excess supply. To reduce that, we
need to look beyond interdiction to source country production.
We look to Afghanistan that produces 70 percent
of the world's supply of illicit opium in 2000 and has stockpiled
a large part of that supply. And certainly European countries
are most impacted by that supply. We're making an international
effort there to destroy poppy crops and institute alternative
crop development and criminal justice system development.
It's not an easy task. We're up against hundreds
of years of tradition. But we have a unique opportunity to break
It can be done. Consider Bolivia, a country long-dependent on
coca production. But over the course of just 5 years, they eradicated
over 90% of their illicit coca. They did it through crop eradication,
alternative crop development, and law enforcement interdiction.
President Jorge Quiroga has said, "Bolivia shows what a little
country with a big problem, a plan, and a lot of will can do."
Drug addicts have told me the way to prevent
others from becoming addicted is to reduce availability. They
tell me how easy it was to start and how hard it is to stop when
drugs are readily available, at low cost, and high purities. U.S.
anti-drug policies are making progress against all of those.
#2: The second myth is that U.S. prisons
are filled with people convicted of drug possession.
There is a perception that law enforcement
targets drug users for arrest and treats them as solely a criminal
offender and not someone who may need treatment. They couldn't
be more wrong.
Only 5% of people in U.S. federal prisons
for drug offenses are there on possession convictions. In our
state prisons, it's somewhat higherabout 27% of drug offenders.
But from my experience as a federal prosecutor,
most of those in prison on possession charges are traffickers
who plea bargained down to a possession charge, or are people
with repeat offenses. The fact is, you have to work pretty hard
to end up in jail for drug possession in the United States.
There has also been an important shift in
the U.S. criminal justice system to treating nonviolent, first
time drug offenders rather than incarcerating them. We've got
an extremely successful way to do thatthrough drug courts.
Working within the criminal justice system, drug courts provide
close accounting and monitoring of an addict's treatment program.
I'll talk more about that later, but it makes my point that we're
not incarcerating drug usersthe numbers don't support it
and neither does the institution and expansion of drug courts.
#3: The third myth is that marijuana is a harmless drug and therefore
should be excluded from the anti-drug effort.
Drug legalization advocates in the United
States single out marijuana as a different kind of drug, unlike
cocaine and heroin and methamphetamine. They say it's less dangerous.
And I know some countries in Europe have lowered its classification
But in the United States, there's a growing
number of people who are not finding marijuana quite as harmless
as it's purported.
In 1999, a record 225,000 Americans entered
substance abuse treatment primarily for marijuana abuse and dependence.
It's second only to heroinand not by muchas the drug
people seek treatment for. In addition, about the same number
of people87,000sought treatment at hospital emergency
rooms for medical problems related to marijuana as those for heroin-related
Clearly, marijuana causes health problems
and dependence. It impacts young people's mental development,
their ability to concentrate in school, and their motivation and
initiative to reach goals.
And, like all drugs, marijuana harms far
more than the user: A study in the United States showed that showed
as many car accidents were caused by drivers using marijuana as
were caused by alcohol. Of adult males arrested for all kinds
of crime, 40% of them tested positive for marijuana at the time
of their arrest.
#4: The fourth, and final, myth is that there
are no new ideas in the fight against drugs.
U.S. anti-drug efforts are sometimes classified
as the "Just Say No" approach. But our approach goes
well beyond that. There are a lot of innovative ideas in American
drug policyideas that are achieving success. They are all
predicated on our nation's overall strategy to have a balanced
approach: one that combines enforcement and prevention and education.
Enforcement is necessary because it puts
a risk in trafficking and sets the right social parameters for
behavior in our country. But enforcement alone 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 heal those
who have become addicted. The Bush Administration is investing
more in prevention and treatment efforts than ever beforewe've
increased funding for those efforts by almost a quarter from 1999.
For just treatment alone, we've budgeted $3 billiona 27%
One of the most successful new ideas in our
country is drug courts. I understand here in Great Britain, you're
using them to some degree. I can only encourage you to use them
more. In the United States, we've got 600 in operation, with plans
to greatly expand because of their tremendous success. Through
close supervision and monitoring by the court, nonviolent drug
offenders are overcoming drug addiction.
I've met drug court graduates. I've seen
how their lives have been saved by holding them accountable. I've
seen how, one by one, they contribute to decreased demand for
drugs. It's clearly an investment in treatment that pays off.
And it's one of the most important things we're doing in the anti-drug
Another new idea we initiated at the DEA
is an Integrated drug Enforcement Assistance program. We call
it IDEA. 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's frustrating to law enforcement. With
the IDEA program, our approach is to dismantle the criminal organizations,
but at the same time work side-by-side with the entire community
on drug awareness and prevention efforts and build treatment programs
and community coalitions to dry up the demand. We're working with
schools, civic groups, businesses, churches, and health professionals
to build that team approach.
We're supporting it by doubling the number
of DEA agents assigned to work with communities on demand reduction.
We're also encouraging that 15% of the seized assets from an operation
be transferred to treatment and education programs. Last year,
we seized $176 million in assetsgiving 15% of that would
make $26 million available to communities.
In the prevention arena, educators are using
new ideas to keep our young people off drugs. I visited an extremely
successful program in New York City last month. Prevention counselors
educate students about the dangers of drugs. But then they do
a lot more: they teach them how to say no, how to resist peer
pressure, how to set goals. The counselors become mentors, give
structure to these at-risk kids, get them involved in positive
alternatives to a life of drugs and crime. In short, they work
to build the character of these young people. As a result, students
in New York City schools have the lowest substance abuse rates
in the state.
So those are four myths about U.S. drug policy
and some pretty convincing evidence why they are, in fact, myths.
They're dangerous beliefs because people draw a faulty conclusion
from them: that we need to abandon current drug policy. That drugs
need to be decriminalized, legalized, or somehow managed.
I know that some nations here today may be
going in that direction. I would have to respectfully disagree
with those approaches. In many cases, they provide band-aid solution:
a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Maintaining addictions
will never bring down demand. Decriminalizing classes of drugs
will never send the message that drug abuse is harmful. The only
way to end the many devastating effects of drug abuse is to overcome
addiction and stop using drugs. It's not an easy thing to do,
but that's where I believe we should put our energy and resources.
In deciding where to go with drug policy,
we have the responsibility to look at the facts and see where
we can make progress.
That progress doesn't come overnight. But
it will come. America has had a long problem with drugs. It's
not a war we've been fighting for 20 years. We've been fighting
it for 120 years. In 1880, many drugs, including opium and cocaine,
were legal. We didn't know their harms, but we soon learned. We
saw 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. And like today, we saw
rising crime come with that drug abuse.
But we fought those problems by passing and
enforcing tough laws. Americans learned that drugs are illegal
because they're harmful. And they workedby World War II,
drug use was reduced to the very margins of society. And ever
since then, we've looked to our drug laws to teach us acceptable
parameters of behavior. We look to our laws to uphold standards
of accountability. The fact is-- that it is our laws that today
keep the vast majority of our citizens away from drugs.
And we need to have a position that honors
those laws and teaches respect for them. Our laws need to clearly
echo the belief that drugs harm our citizens and weaken our nations.
Particularly in our post 9/11 world, when citizens are looking
to strengthen our institutions of government to fight the war
on terrorism, they also need to look to our institutions to fully
engage in the war on drugs.
And that is our responsibility as government
leaders. Winston Churchill said that, "The price of greatness
is responsibility." And so I believe all of our great nations
have that responsibility to take us in a direction that will lead
us away from permissive drug abuse and drug dependence. A direction
that will take the next generation to an even greater future.
A future that upholds the rule of law and the lasting traditions
of liberty and freedom that have been secured and fostered over
centuries here in Great Britain. Thank you. ##