How A Watergate Burglar Inadvertently Helped Fight Marijuana Prohibition
Article by Richard Cowan.
The death of G. Gordon Liddy, the most famous of the Watergate burglars, brought back some funny memories.
Liddy and I crossed paths twice, although we didn’t actually meet the first time. I come from a long line of Republicans and I was even briefly the President of the Yale Young Republicans, circa 1960, so even though I didn’t even like Richard Nixon, I somehow ended up in Washington a few days after the Watergate burglary in June of 1972.
I even had an appointment at the Republican National Committee and when I arrived they were changing the locks on the front door. I was told that it was a precaution because there had been a minor burglary at the DNC… Yep. One cannot be too cautious.
I had actually been smoking what we called “Grass” for almost five years, so when I found out that NORML was located a few blocks away I went by to give them a few dollars. But then found out what was really going on, and, as I like to put it, I went to work for a better class of criminals.
Flash forward to 1992. Liddy had gone to prison for about five years as a result of his role in the Watergate fiasco, but in 1992 he began what was to be a very successful career with a radio talk show. And I ended up back in DC as the National Director of NORML.
In the meantime, I had joined the Drug Policy Foundation (now the Drug Policy Alliance) and I attended conferences where I met a number of Dutch anti-prohibitionists who became good friends.
One of the things I learned was that lying about the Dutch drug policies, particularly about Amsterdam and the Dutch tolerance for marijuana and the “coffeeshop” system, was a major part of the American Drug War.
So… I decided that I would go to Amsterdam, so I could confront these lies by saying, “I have just returned from Amsterdam, and…” Besides, I really wanted to go to Amsterdam.
Entirely by coincidence, the day before I left we got an invitation from Liddy’s show to debate two apparatchiks from the Drug Czar’s office. Talk shows loved the marijuana debate because it always “lit up the phones”. But we really had a hard time getting any media coverage. (Talking to adults about marijuana prohibition would send the wrong message to children.)
So there I was in the studio with Liddy, who was always polite, and the Czar’s little helpers, who were dolts. I brought up Amsterdam and — sure enough — these two officials of the United States government blasted one of America’s oldest allies with the Prohibitionist Party Line.
Allen St. Pierre, then the Deputy National Director who kept NORML alive before, during and after my tenure, had recorded the program, so asked him to transcribe it and fax it to me in Amsterdam. (High tech in 1993)
I made copies and gave them to all of the officials I met. They all spoke perfect English, so it was fun to watch them read it. Amsterdam supposedly had the highest murder rate, the highest heroin use rate, etc
“Well, that’s not true…” “That’s not true…” “Why are they saying this???”
Our oldest ally could not figure out why the “Leader of the Free World” would be lying about them.
Over the next few years, Allen and I kept the Dutch embassy informed about the anti-Dutch propaganda and finally the Dutch embassy even held a press conference to try to explain the truth. No major media outlet attended it. So the band played on.
Five years later, lying about the Dutch was still an integral part of the American prohibitionist propaganda, so when Clinton’s Drug Czar, General Barry McCaffrey started his European tour, he “labeled Dutch drug policy an ‘unmitigated disaster.’
See PROFILES IN PROHIBITION: GENERAL BARRY MCCAFFREY’S WAR ON MARIJUANA USERS
And from Stanton Peele:
“McCaffrey cited putative murder figures in the two countries to support his position: the U.S. had less than half the murder rate of the Netherlands, he said — 8.22 murders per 100,000 people in 1995 compared to 17.58 in the Netherlands. "That's drugs," he confidently assured the world.”
The erroneous Dutch and American murder rates were contained in McCaffrey's European trip briefing book.1 The drug czar's book contained similar misinformation about drug use: for example, "30.2 percent of Dutch youths say they have tried marijuana, vs. 9.1 percent in the United States." This figure represent lifetime use for the 16-19 years age group of the Amsterdam population in 1994,2 but only current (past month) use by the American group — obviously a ridiculous and unfair comparison! The comparable lifetime prevalence ("ever used") figure to the 30.2 percent for the Amsterdam population for American youths is 38.2 percent in 1994. In the U.S., this figure for 1997 was 49.6 percent!3
The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics emphasized in a special press release that the actual Dutch murder rate is 1.8 per 100,000 people, or less than one-quarter the U.S. murder rate. For McCaffrey, a man trained on body counts during the Vietnam War, such figures are made to be manipulated — who can tell who is telling the truth anyhow? In McCaffrey's view, the Dutch perspective has been dishonestly hyped: "Through a slick misinformation campaign, these individuals perpetrate a fraud on the American people, a fraud so devious that even some of the nation's most respected newspapers and sophisticated media are capable of echoing their falsehoods."4
But what public health figure actually is under the illusion that the U.S. homicide rate is lower than those in Europe? The discrepancy is monumental among males age 15-24 (a peak drug using period), where the Dutch homicide rate is one-fiftieth that in the U.S.
Homicide Deaths per 100,000 Population
Males Age 15-24
United States 36.8
United Kingdom 2.1
Source: World Health Statistics, Annual 1995,
(Geneva: World Health Organization, 1996),
Table B-1. "Homicide" refers to "E55: Homicide and injury purposely inflicted by other persons."
Also, note that the US, with less than 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners, has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. USA! USA!
See Yes, U.S. locks people up at a higher rate than any other country
How many millions of arrests and ruined lives could have been avoided if the US had simply acknowledged the truth?
Freedom has nothing to fear from the truth.
Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and author of Different CBD Extracts, What To Choose?