By his own estimation, Peter Bensinger ’58 is not one of the best-liked men in Yale’s history.
“I’m probably the grad that has been sued the most,” he said jokingly.
Bensinger, CEO of Bensinger-DuPont and former Director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, discussed his litigation-prone experiences under the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations and current and future prospects for the drug war at Dwight Hall Thursday. The talk marked the final event of “Intersections,” a year-long program designed to provide a forum for students to reflect on the work they have engaged in within the community.
Over the past three decades, Bensinger has been at the center of the war on drugs, which, he said, has left him with many enemies and many lawsuits. But he has never lost.
“I’ve never been found guilty of violating anyone’s civil rights because no one has a civil right to break the law,” Bensinger said.
Bensinger said his interest in social justice began to take shape during his days a Yale undergraduate.
“When I was here, I was actually a volunteer at Dwight Hall,” he said. “I worked with a variety of programs.”
But it was only after 10 years in business that Bensinger switched to the field that he still works in today. He currently runs Bensinger-DuPont, a Chicago-based consulting firm that helps individuals solve problems such as gambling and drug abuse.
Drug issues, Bensinger said, present the same problems they did 30 years ago. He said there is hope in the reduction of drug abuse, but “there is no magic wand.” He suggested the need for major reform to curb drug abuse, but opposed the legalization of drugs like marijuana as a remedy.
“Marijuana shouldn’t be legalized,” he said. “It is difficult to justify it on a medical basis. The FDA has not approved this drug. It’s not medically sound. If the medical community think it’s a cure, then let them have it.”
Rather than reducing drug abuse, Bensinger said “legalization would open up the gates for more addiction.”
As far as punishment for drug abuse, Bensinger stressed the need for more and better prevention and treatment programs.
“I’d like to see fewer people in prison and better probation,” he said.
But, at the same time, Bensinger championed the enforcement of existing anti-drug laws.
“Don’t give up enforcement any more than you do with the speed limit,” he said. “Because when you do, you’ll have accidents.”
After his talk, Bensinger fielded questions that ranged from issues of drug and race to his work in Latin America as Director of the DEA.
Students appreciated Bensinger’s talk for its freshness, but some thought many questions were left unanswered.
“I feel like it was interesting to hear [Bensinger’s] perspective,” Chiraag Bains ’03 said. “But I still am not sure about a lot of what he said. I feel the war on drugs has been misguided and has resulted in disproportionate incarceration of people of color. He really never touched on that.”