CAFFERTY: When we come back on IN THE MONEY, cutting the grass. New figures show marijuana arrests are way up while they're down for cocaine and heroin. Find out if law enforcement is putting the focus where it's needed most.
CAFFERTY: Well if you think the war on drugs is being fought in city crack dens or makeshift crystal meth-labs out there in Middle America, you're only about half right. A recent report suggests 45 percent of all drug arrests are marijuana-related, and that is up 28 percent -- from 28 percent a little more than a decade ago.
Why the new focus on grass? Let's find out from Peter Reuter who's a professor of public policy and criminology at the University of Maryland. Professor, nice to have you with us.
PETER REUTER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Thank you very much.
CAFFERTY: Is this a conscious decision on the part of drug enforcement people to target marijuana over things like cocaine, heroin and other harder drugs?
REUTER: I've not found any evidence for that. It's really quite surprising. You've seen this change throughout the country, more in some cities than others, but really in most of the country. And nobody ever sort of declared there was a war on marijuana. It's not as though marijuana use has sort of gone up in this country. There's talk about increased use amongst adolescents and that did go up in the mid 90's. But really for the country as a whole marijuana us has been stable for about 15 years now. So it's really quite a puzzle for why this happened.
SERWER: All right so you're not sure why it is --
SERWER: I think most people now, you know, it's different from the '60s when you had a generation of people who never tried marijuana. Now we're all grown up, people have experimented with marijuana they know it's not dangerous, they know it's not a big deal. Many members of the administration have smoked marijuana --
SERWER: Why, why is this happening then? I mean --
REUTER: Right. No, it's a fair question. One theory is just it's sort of part of the quality of life policing movement that led to police sort of going after small infractions because that's a why of catching people that are going to sort of do things that will create greater problems. But I actually -- I don't find it very plausible for marijuana. If you look at who gets arrested for marijuana, it's particularly amongst young people. Big increases are amongst people under the age of 18. And it's very hard to see that that has been focused on, on kids who are sort of particularly sort of risky to the population -- you know, to the public generally.
LISOVICZ: You know Professor, I mean there's a wide -- a wide swath of the population that thinks pot smoking is relatively benign. Would you see this as almost an encouraging sign that federal authorities are cracking down on marijuana, as opposed to the fact that maybe fewer people are doing crack?
REUTER: Well, it is true that actually -- crack and heroin and cocaine have all been declining slowly but steadily over 10 or 15 years, met amphetamine's been going up, but still a substantially smaller problem nationally than the others. If you want to be optimistic, sort of take solace from this, you could argue that yes, it's a sign that other drugs aren't getting worse. It's not a great defense for arresting 700,000 people last year for basically possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
CAFFERTY: You wrote, or co-authored something called an analytic assessment of U.S. drug policy. We've been fighting this war on drugs for a very long time at a very large cost, with very mixed results.
CAFFERTY: We have U.S. armed forces on the ground in Afghanistan, walking around the poppy field, where the bulk of the world's opium is grown. We have working knowledge of all of the cocaine operations in South America. And the critic of U.S. drug policy say if you want to get it off streets in this country it could be done, we just simply choose not to do it and yet we continue to throw tens of billions of dollars every year at this so-called war on drugs. Give me your take on that idea if you would.
REUTER: Sure, Afghanistan accounts for at least 70 percent, probably more, of the opium in this world. You're right, it's easy to identify where it's grown. They're not trying to hide it much. It's certainly technically possible to spray it. If you care about the stability of the government of President Karzai, spraying poppies is one way of really putting the whole Afghan Democratic enterprise at risk. This is the principal source of earnings for very large numbers of farmer out there. Their impoverished, they are not growing rich growing poppies.
They're a little less poor than they would otherwise be. But if you start spraying it, then the stability of that government gets threatened. And we care about the drug problem in this country. We care even more about maintaining a stable Democratic government in Afghanistan and that's a real tension. It's more complicated in Columbia. Again, you've got some of the same tension. After the cocoa fields, you will increase political resistance to a government that is not in great shape, in which the U.S. cares about. There it's actually so technically more complicated and the U.S. does a lot of spraying. It is -- Columbia still produces a great deal and if the U.S. is aggression and successful there, it can really move to Peru and Bolivia. There's been a lot of movement over time around the Andes.
SERWER: You know Peter just to follow up on your answer to Susan's question. What you're suggesting is the drug enforcement police efforts in this country, because there's less heroin and cocaine, they're concentrating their efforts on marijuana, which is not a very comforting thought. Let me ask you something. There have been incremental moves towards legalizing marijuana in this country, medical use -- do you ever think we'll see marijuana legalized?
REUTER: There's no great popular support for any, really, major change. I mean, the medical marijuana is I really think, a sort of -- sort of almost diversionary matter. The question of whether marijuana is medicine is sort of -- almost a factual question. The government has been unenthusiastic about supporting it. Supporting research about marijuana. So the sort of folk war has arisen and that gives popular support to the notion that marijuana should be available for certain purposes. But if you look at the opinion polls about changing the laws even with respect to removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, there's no great support.
LISOVICZ: But Professor, do you favor it?
REUTER: Yes, I do. I can give a complicated answer, but if you put it to the short version, yes, I do favor that.
SERWER: Interesting, interesting perspective. Peter Reuter, professor of public policy and criminology at the University of Maryland, co-author of "Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy." Thank you for coming on the program.
REUTER: Thank you.
Newshawk: Nicholas Thimmesch II
Source: CNN (Web)
Show: In The Money
Host: Jack Cafferty
Copyright: 2005 Cable News Network