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E-Letter To The New York Times Re: "Adjusting Drug Policy"

Your editorial "Adjusting Drug Policy" while correct to encourage efforts to reduce the demand for drugs, manifests the largest blind spot in the "war on drugs" - the continued neglect of the role that major financial institutions play in the trillion-dollar drug trade. Your decision to frame the drug debate as an "either -or" option of stemming the supply or demand for drugs, overlooks the sector where the supply and demand for drugs meet - in drug profits that eventually end up in US banking institutions or their related offshore banking facilities.

What makes your editorial even more ironic is the fact that yesterday's New York Times, which features the editorial, also includes an article, "Citibank Criticized for Slow Response to Money Laundering Scheme", that demonstrates the role that US banks play in laundering drug money.

And to add insult to injury your editorial refers glowingly to the movie "Traffic", as a catalyst for a much -needed debate over US drug policy. But we guess it should come as no surprise that the movie "Traffic" - made with the assistance of the US government - does not deal for one second, with the role that US banks play in the laundering of dirty drug money.

You are correct to reason that decreasing the demand for and supply of drugs should be a top priority. And you do well to advise that the demand side deserves more attention in the way of increased funding for treatment and rehabilitation programs.

But to totally ignore the fact that not one major banking institution has been punished with the loss its charter for enabling money laundering is inexcusable. There are over 100 instances of where banks have been proved guilty of the practice and not a single one has been put out of business. Imagine the message this sends to America when low-level drug dealers and small businesses are imprisoned and shut down for doing the same.

We find it more than interesting that the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream print media are quick to target money laundering, on their editorial pages, when it comes to making the case that "third-world" dictators are stealing money from their country and laundering it overseas in US bank accounts; and yet, as a unified chorus, remain totally silent when it comes to opposing these very same banks when they provide the same illegal service for international and domestic drug dealers.

If the New York Times reporters can recognize the problem of money laundering then certainly it is not too much to expect that the nation's most influential editorial board would put its weight behind an effort to hold financial institutions responsible for the function that they serve in maintaining and growing the world's drug trade.

Anything less not only makes the war on drugs ineffective but also makes it look like a sham.


Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

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