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Rose Richard:Indicting the war on drugs

James Madison once said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” This, my friends, is a good way to describe the toll the war on drugs has taken.

The war on drugs was started by Richard Nixon, who promised prior to his election that he would be our law-and-order president. But neither law nor order had much meaning to Nixon, other than it was a good lie to tell the people who’d vote him into office. He ended his presidency in ignominy and shame. He broke the laws he’d promised to uphold and lost any and all credibility when it came to law and order.

Such has been the fate of the war on drugs. The latest affront is operations “Pipe Dreams and Headhunter,” two moronic attempts by a law enforcement agency (the DEA under the Justice Department) to sound like they have a clue about drug use. These two operations target owners and operators of head shops. Yes, head shops. They are not targeting violent dealers or prolific traffickers, they are basically chasing a legless man.

Stationary targets are the easiest to hit. And marijuana users are far easier to bust, because there are so many of them, and because they aren’t usually the most sophisticated users and often do not take great pains to hide their casual use of marijuana. They are teen-agers, doctors, lawyers, librarians, your mom, anyone really. It’s estimated that 72 million Americans have at least tried pot once. And the number increases steadily each year.

As a result of the 50 arrests resulting from the DEA stings on head shops, the Bush administration is pounding its chest as if it’s cured heroin use, which is far from reality. Targeting head shops is like pissing in wind. You aren’t doing anything to stem the tide of drugs headed into the country or to satisfy the demand of the consumer, whether it is a college student wishing to unwind after midterms or a hardcore methamphetamine addict.

Punitive actions are what make the U.S. drug policy so ineffective. There is a refusal of lawmakers to see the drug problem as more than a simplified moral one. What makes this even more problematic is that the concept of morality is so subjective. What about the Native Americans who consider peyote-eating an important part of their spirituality? John Ashcroft’s morality is certainly at odds with this. And yet, the practice in question, to its Native-American practitioners, is a holy act.

Our drug war also fails in terms of harm reduction. We have few needle exchanges or methadone programs; where they do exist, they are overtaxed. Our jails are clogged with people (mostly African Americans) who have been put there on petty drug offenses designed as deterrents, which aren’t working.

That drug laws unfairly target minorities, particularly African Americans and the Latino/a populations, even though white folks use more drugs than either, is a reality. A hugely disproportionate portion of African-American men have been jailed, simply because mandatory minimums for drug offenses have been created, taking power away from judges to form sentences due to circumstances, etc. Many police departments use racial profiling, whether they admit it or not, to stop cars on the highways and byways of America, in the hopes that they will come upon the next big bust.

As it exists now, the war on drugs is an ugly cancer on America. It allows for all sorts of ancillary social ills other than just the terrible consequences of drug abuse itself. Because we have very few needle exchange programs, addicts who use syringes are at greater risk and contract diseases like AIDS and hepatitis in greater numbers, putting further burdens on our health-care system.

I could go on.

Simply put, the recent “victories” of the DEA are really a farce. An example of how far the war on drugs hasn’t come, because the DEA can’t get rid of the really big and dangerous problems. Clap your hands now, boys, because someone, somewhere is dying because you saw their drug addiction as a moral weakness and not a health problem you could have done something to alleviate with the right kind of actions.

John Ashcroft really ought to ask himself right now, “What would Jesus do?” After all, despite the fact that I’m a badly lapsed Catholic, I do recall something in the bible about “whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” Remember that when they call your number, my friend.