A Texas-sized war on drugs
Austin, Texas — If anyone wonders why Texas is the first state in the Union to launch its own ''citizens' war on drugs,'' look no farther than Gov. William Clements himself.
The silver-thatched governor has a look of steel in his eye and a brass longhorn on his desk. Somehow you know he will be on the winning side, or know the reason why.
That same kind of gritty determination is behind one of the most coordinated and comprehensive state antidrug campaigns. First Lady Nancy Reagan has already visited Texas and given her endorsement to the aggressive state program.
''The drug issue is one of those things we've delegated to the federal government,'' explains Governor Clements, the first Republican Texas governor since Reconstruction. ''We started looking to [Washington] for help and then for the answers.''
Texas sorely needed solutions. With nearly 400 miles of coast, a 600-mile border with Mexico, and some of the loosest drug laws, the state had become a convenient doormat for drug smugglers. Two years ago, 90 percent of all heroin entering the US came in through Texas. By 1981 illegal drug traffic in the state had grown to $3 billion a year, according to state drug enforcement officials. ''I think the citizens of Texas realized they didn't have to put up with this anymore,'' says Col. James Adams, state drug enforcement director.
Apparently Governor Clements agreed. Three years ago, just after being elected, he appointed longtime friend and Texas millionaire-businessman H. Ross Perot to head the 17-member Texans' War on Drugs Committee. Its focus was threefold: education, enforcement, and legislation. Since then extensive antidrug statutes have been passed and a drug education drive has vigorously hit the trail. ''We've got mother-power on our side now,'' says Clements, a grin creasing his sun-tanned face.
Tapping into that grass-roots support has been the key to success for the committee. Not only have many parent groups sprung up, but public support was instrumental in getting controversial drug legislation passed last year.
The five statutes, drafted by the citizen committee and subsequently passed by the Legislature, significantly stiffen penalities for delivery to minors, trafficking, and drug paraphernalia manufacture. Provisions for revoking the licenses of physicians and pharmacists convicted of drug dealing have also been strengthened. And prescriptions for particular drugs such as amphetamines and barbituates must now be filled out in triplicate, instead of the usual duplicate.
Not only do the laws close loopholes for obtaining illegal drugs through legal channels, they crack down on smuggling. And by permitting the state to seize drug-related assets of the convicted traffickers (including planes, boats, and bank accounts), the state can net millions of dollars a year, in addition to putting the convicted dealers out of business.
The War on Drugs Committee has swirled out of the capital with all the ferocity of a Texas twister. And while the majority of the citizens seem to welcome the state's get-tough attitude, warning signs have been just as hastily raised by the Texas Civil Liberties Union (TCLU). ''We're really objecting to using drug hysteria to drastically alter civil liberties,'' explains exectutive director John Duncan.
The TCLU has quarreled with the state over the committee's funding: The TCLU asserts that the $500,000 annual grants come from federal money and thus entail some lobbying restrictions; the committee claims it's all state money.
However, the TCLU's chief objections fall in the realm of legislation: the triplicate-prescription bill and a new state wiretap law. While the TCLU admits that the Texas prescription statute is similar to those found in other states, it points out that the Texas law requires the extra prescription copy to be filed with the state police department, instead of the state licensing board as New York and Illinois require.
But it is the wiretap law to which the TCLU objects most strenuously. ''I don't think the (state's) point is antidrugs, but simply to increase citizen surveillance,'' says Mr. Duncan. Richard Salwen, counsel for the citizen's committee, maintains that the wiretap bill is not only constitutional, but that many other states possess similar statutes.