The Washington Post
Friday, May 10, 2002; Page A36

Europe's Liberalized Drug Policy

The May 3 front-page story "Europe Moves Drug War From Prisons to Clinics" failed to show the negative effect of liberalization of drug policies in the countries cited. 

For each of the past three years, Europe has imported and consumed more than 200 tons of Colombian cocaine -- better than double the annual totals before 1999 and the new decriminalization movement. President Bush has stated that Europe is a major importer of heroin from Afghanistan.

As U.S. consumption of cocaine has decreased by two-thirds in the past two decades, Europe has become the new market. The Netherlands is now the top source of the Ecstasy reaching America's children. So we are paying a price for Europe's "harm reduction."

Moreover, Britain is not liberalizing its policies. To the contrary, it has reversed the laws legalizing heroin laws during the past decade because its addiction rate quintupled in that period. 

The story twice quoted the EU data coordinator as saying that drugs are widely available in prisons. If that is true, Europe should clean up its prisons. While it is true that the United States must expand drug treatment in the prison population because more than 60 percent of arrestees test positive upon entry, it is a myth that drugs are widespread in U.S. prisons themselves. Only 2 percent to 3 percent of prisoners actually obtain illegal drugs.

As U.S. drug use is dropping, Europe's is rising. Europe may be headed for the drug and crime disaster we had two decades ago, from which we are emerging as we spread the message about the dangers and enforce the law. 


The writer was director of public affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Policy from May 1995 until August 2001. 

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