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The Drug Free Century Act

By Gary Callahan, Prisoner of the Drug War

Just when it looked like some common sense and enlightenment was about to burn through drug war dust, and the smoke left by the self-immolated Newt Gingrich, here come the Republicans again, Trent Lott no less, lead pilot in yet another bombing mission with "The Drug Free Century Act" (Senate Bill 5). It's an act, all right, the longest running dog and pony show on Earth. The idea behind this ludicrous highflying title is that virtually all crime is drug related. Says Senator Lott:

"Whether it is a vicious drive-by shooting in a large city or a routine charge on a local docket, the root cause of crime today is always the same: access to illegal narcotics."

This shameful nonsense must be countered with some hard facts. It has been said that there is more mayhem in a gallon of whiskey than a ton of opium. Were illegal substances decriminalized and regulated the local docket Mr. Lott is so worried about would shrink down to real crime dimensions, as the Swiss recently discovered with their heroin program. It is real crime that should concern us, not the kind of crime that's created by the stroke of an opportunistic politician's pen. Rape, car jacking and armed bank robberies aren't caused by drug use, you take the prohibition-spawned violence out of the equation (which has diminished considerably in the last decade anyway). Crime overall has plummeted to 1970's levels and yet here we have more drum beating, the same self-serving claptrap and the ever expanding American gulag system roaring on regardless. Sanity, it seems, is no longer relevant in the United States.

The "scores of drug related bookings" Mr. Lott refers to are for nickel and dime sales and possession charges, which tie up police who ought to be going after the real bad nasties instead of making those sales lucrative by insuring the health of the black market in them. Risk equals high price equals profit.

The Drug Free Century Act will, according to Mr. Lott, require each U.S, Attorney to establish an armed violent criminal apprehension task force which will target the repeat offender by prohibiting probationary sentences to anyone with a prior conviction for a violent felony (with the exception of government informants of course), or serious drug abuse. So Mr. Lott and the 'Off With Their Heads' gang want to smash the addict flat. For his information, only snitches usually get his so-called 'probationary sentences' anyway, and although most drug law violators are nonviolent, he cleverly lumps them in with "armed violent criminals," the catch-all phrase. Where has this guy been?

Drug law violators already serve prison terms far out of proportion to the gravity of their offenses; more than murderers and rapists and armed bank robbers in most cases. Yet this senator wants to raise the ante by equalizing powder cocaine penalties with those in place for crack cocaine violations, regardless that every study to date shows crack cocaine penalties are scientifically illogical, too punitive and tainted with racist application. We suspect this equalization in penalties is to 'prove' that crack laws are somehow just and not racist by the expedient of locking up as many whites for as long for powder, as blacks for crack, since supposedly whites use and traffic in powder more than blacks do. Well, isn't that a typical federal non-solution?

The Drug Free Century Act will bar any federal money from being spent on clean needle exchanges for addicts, even though this means twenty or thirty thousand new cases of HIV/AIDS every year from dirty needles. Why not treatment and compassion rather than driving those people into the alleys and flophouses? What puts the public at more risk: rampant HIV/AIDS or a heroin addict in a drug treatment program? It won't be long and they'll be selling condoms made from 18 wheeler inner tubes and, unlike the addict, who can at least shake his habit, no one shakes AIDS.

"S.5 maintains the key to preventing drug use through strong family values." says Lott, as if federal legislation has something to do with family values. When did this happy event occur? The federally sponsored drug war is currently making orphans of nearly two and a half million children who have one or both parents behind bars. Millions of children have already grown up in this country without their fathers in the last twenty drug war years and now, increasingly, mothers are being put away, most for minor peripheral roles in drug violations and for ludicrous lengths of time: five, ten and even twenty years.

In the civilized world a five-year prison sentence is considered crushing, but in America ten to thirty year sentences are handed out like it's no big deal. There are individual federal judges who have sentenced nonviolent drug law violators to tens of thousands of years in prison, with no end in sight. Doesn't Mr. Lott realize what a father away from a family for ten years means? It is the end of that family usually, plunging the wife into instant poverty and life on the public dole, with the children blown to the wind. Make no mistake, America at the end of this most sorry of centuries is a savage, repressive, brutal place, made so in large measure by ill-conceived laws and programs and by the most appallingly oppressive and expensive prohibition policy mankind has ever known.

Has it worked folks?

Hell no, it hasn't, and Mr. Lott envisions a larger role for the military to play in counter narcotics strategy because, he says, "the U.S. military regularly conducts peacekeeping efforts throughout the globe, even in areas where U.S. interest is minimal." Like Somalia, for instance, remember that one?

Our military's record of 'peace keeping' in recent years includes some of the worst debacles this country has ever experienced, from Vietnam, Lebanon and the horrible Panamanian fiasco to the CIA killing fields in Central America where the U.S. government itself was involved in smuggling drugs into the country, chiefly cocaine, to support its dirty, clandestine warfare under the rubric that the ends justified the means. The list goes on and on and we very much doubt that military machinery will do anything but bring us to grief in this alleged Drug Free Century and bring needless disgrace upon the military, the target being, of courser a domestic one, quite unlike the one we faced in Germany and Japan in the 1940s. There is no comparison and it is mendacity at its worse to say there is.

And when on Earth has there ever been a drug free century? The problem with American policy makers is that they have deluded themselves and a large segment of the public into thinking that substances like opium, marijuana and cocaine are somehow 'new' and recent to the American scene. Fact is these are age-old products with histories far longer than alcohol or nicotine. They were even legal in this country until the misbegotten Harrison Act of 1914, and all the tortured, often commercially suspect legislation since.

Mr. Lott and his Republican cabal actually believe that all of the tons of marijuana and other illegal substances brought into the U.S. are consumed only by addicts. Hasn't it occurred to this Constitution-crushing clique that vast numbers of people use these substances with little or no ill effects, on a parallel, for instance, with the way alcohol is used? As a matter of fact, in many areas of this country marijuana is a mainstay crop that keeps small farms going, helps pay the rent, puts clothes on the kids and food on the table and keeps the family off welfare. It props up countless small businesses in this country, something the government refuses to recognize. Why aren't these obvious things stated?

We heartily agree that children should be kept away from drugs just as legislation and regulation tries to prevent them access to alcohol. We agree that drug use should not be extolled or encouraged, including alcohol, ironically advertised everywhere. But to make these ludicrously bold assertions about a drug free century is disingenuous, dangerous and cowardly because it diverts us from meaningful discussion over the issue.

This country needs to deal with drug use in an honest fashion and move away from this self-serving bombast, calculated for re-election campaigns. We need to distance ourselves from the "Just Say No" hypocrisy and the illusory Leave It To Beaver world that never existed and get some purposeful dialog opened up. If it is true that in thirty years of escalating and oppressive drug war tactics marijuana is easier for a minor to obtain than a can of beer, then maybe we need to reject the kinds of strategies that makes it so. Perhaps, like alcohol, regulation is more effective than 'control', which has controlled nothing.

Moreover we need to recognize that tens of millions of Americans have exercised the free choice of naming their poison, for good or bad, for whatever reason and quit demonizing them over it, cease hounding them out of their stake in America by threat and forfeiture and job loss and imprisonment. This takes a certain level of sophisticated thought and consideration of what human nature is, and it begins with acknowledging the idea of free choice and the liberty to do as one wishes as long as it doesn't tread on others; a concept we have all but buried in this country, and what it was founded upon in the first place. We need to bifurcate the terms drug use and drug abuser for in truth, they have distinctly separate meanings. If we cannot come to grips with the drug issue in a sane, truthful and compassionate way, we will destroy our government and ourselves, and the next century might be drug free according to Senator Lott's definition, but it also won't be worth living in, with half the population in prison and the other half guarding it.

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