Record-Journal, Meriden, Conn., Thursday, April 19, 2001

Drug war opponent speaks at library

By Evan Goodenow Record-Journal staff

MERIDEN - The war on drugs is an even bigger addiction than the drugs themselves, a reform advocate argued Wednesday night.

"This has grown from a nickel-and-dime operation of items sold in the 1920s to an overarching $450 billion dollar underground economy that controls most of our international policy and all of our domestic policy," Efficacy President Cliff Thornton said during a talk at the Meridian Public Library. "Every social problem is two degrees from the drug war. It's connected to everything we do. One-third of every tax dollar goes to fight the war on drugs.

"Efficacy is a Hartford-based nonprofit group devoted to social reform that Thornton and his wife, Margaret, formed in 1996. The idea for the group grew out of a series of shows on drugs the Thornton did on their University of Hartford radio talk show, also called "Efficacy."

Since then. Thornton, a 56-year-old Windsor resident, has given hundreds of speeches and presentations on the drug war. A scheduling mix-up forced Thornton's speech into a corner of the library, leading to a discussion before an audience of a half-dozen, but he still remained passionate about the subject.

"We should legalize marijuana outright, and at the same time, medicalize cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin," Thornton said. By medicalize, Thornton means that doctors would be allowed to prescribe cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. Legalization would put the black market out of business, and money spent fighting the drug war could be diverted to drug education and medical treatment to fight addiction, Thornton argued.

Thornton does not believe that legalizing or making drugs available through prescription would lead to an increase in drug use, a key argument put forth by many in the war on drugs. Thornton also contends that while addictive, marijuana, cocaine and heroin ingested in their pure form are far less dangerous than the government believes, saying that people have used those drugs in plant form for thousands of years.

Prohibition of drug use has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry of prisons, policing for profit, workplace drug testing and weapons systems, like the Blackhawk helicopters being manufactured in Connecticut and sent to the Colombian military as part of a $1.3 billion anti-drug initiative. "The only thing we do by eradicating a drug cartel or a drug dealer is to create a job vacancy. That's the only thing we do. They are literally lined up to take their places. Period," said Thornton, who believes the drug war has unfairly punished a disproportionate number of minorities. "What we have today has nothing to do with drugs. It's about power. It's about control it's about coercion. It's about money."

Thornton blames gutless politicians and an apathetic public for allowing the drug war o go on for 30 years. "This thing is slapping everybody upside the head, but we as an American people can't see it because we're worried about our next latte, or what car we're going to get, or what school we're going to get our children into at the expense of everyone else. And the government loves it," he said.

Audience members supported Thornton's view that the drug war affects everyone. "The common ground is every single American pays taxes," said Andrew Lennon a Middletown resident and Libertarian Party member.