Walter Cronkite: Telling the Truth
About the War on Drugs
As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my
nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement:
"And that's the way it is."
To me, that encapsulates the newsman's highest ideal: to report the facts
as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that
Sadly, that is not an ethic to which all politicians aspire - least of all
in a time of war.
I remember. I covered the Vietnam War. I remember the lies that were told,
the lives that were lost - and the shock when, twenty years after the war
ended, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara admitted he knew it was
a mistake all along.
Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While
the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought
on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own
I am speaking of the war on drugs.
And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money,
will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all
to see: the war on drugs is a failure.
While the politicians stutter and stall - while they chase their losses by
claiming we could win this war if only we committed more resources, jailed
more people and knocked down more doors - the Drug Policy Alliance
continues to tell the American people the truth - "the way it
I'm sure that's why you support DPA's mission to end the drug war. And why
I strongly urge you to support their work by giving a generous donation
You see, I've learned first hand that the stakes just couldn't be higher.
When I wanted to understand the truth about the war on drugs, I took the
same approach I did to the war in Vietnam: I hit the streets and reported
the story myself. I sought out the people whose lives this war has
Allow me to introduce you to some of them.
Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine
grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the
sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in
But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with
Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where
she thought Jeff could be reached.
An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors,
simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug
dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was
sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.
To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend - who actually knew
something about dealing drugs - was able to trade information for a
reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole
had nothing with which to barter.
Then there was Jan Warren, a single mother who lived in New Jersey with
her teenage daughter. Pregnant, poor and desperate, Jan agreed to
transport eight ounces of cocaine to a cousin in upstate New York. Police
officers were waiting at the drop-off point, and Jan - five months
pregnant and feeling ill - was cuffed and taken in.
Did she commit a crime? Sure. But what awaited Jan Warren defies common
sense and compassion alike. Under New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug
Laws, Jan - who miscarried soon after the arrest - was sentenced to 15
years to life. Her teenage daughter was sent away, and Jan was sent to an
In Tulia, Texas, an investigator fabricated evidence that sent more than
one out of every ten of the town's African American residents to jail on
trumped-up drug charges in one of the most despicable travesties of
justice this reporter has ever seen.
The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors
say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their
suffering - as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the
wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somehow a criminal who
threatens the public.
People who do genuinely have a problem with drugs, meanwhile, are being
imprisoned when what they really need is treatment.
And what is the impact of this policy?
It surely hasn't made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up
literally millions of people...disproportionately people of color...who
have caused little or no harm to others - wasting resources that could be
used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching
With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones
and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a
very precarious condition.
Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort - with no
one held accountable for its failure.
Amid the clichés of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the
scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we've become
blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too
expensive, and too inhumane.
But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say
what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.
That's where the Drug Policy Alliance comes in.
From Capitol Hill to statehouses to the media, DPA counters the hysteria
of the drug war with thoughtful, accurate analysis about the true dangers
of drugs, and by fighting for desperately needed on-the-ground reforms.
They are the ones who've played the lead role in making marijuana legally
available for medical purposes in states across the country.
California's Proposition 36, the single biggest piece of sentencing reform
in theUnited States since the repeal of Prohibition, is the result of
their good work. The initiative is now in its fifth year, having diverted
more than 125,000 people from prison and into treatment since its
They oppose mandatory-minimum laws that force judges to send people like
Nicole Richardson and Jan Warren to prison for years, with no regard for
their character or the circumstances of their lives. And their work gets
results: thanks in large part to DPA, New York has taken the first steps
towards reforming the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws under which Jan was
In these and so many other ways, DPA is working to end the war on drugs
and replace it with a new drug policy based on science, compassion, health
and human rights.
DPA is a leading, mainstream, respected and effective organization that
gets real results.
But they can't do it alone.
That's why I urge you to send as generous a contribution as you possibly
can to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Americans are paying too high a price in lives and liberty for a failing
war on drugs about which our leaders have lost all sense of proportion.
The Drug Policy Alliance is the one organization telling the truth. They
need you with them every step of the way.
And that's the way it is.