Last time we checked in on the bizarro nexus between cannabis and terrorism, it was none other than actor/director Tommy Chong who was feeling the Bush administration's post-9/11 wrath. In fact, the stoner icon, whose fabled act was concurrently resuscitated for Fox's drugged and confused comedy hit That 70s Show, was being slapped by John Ashcroft with a nine-month prison bid, a $20,000 fine and over $100,000 in seized assets for selling bongs. The terrorism connection? He was sentenced on Sept. 11, 2003. And if you think that's a specious connection, it's only gotten worse since. In fact, over the last few years, "terrorist" has become an epithet for all seasons.
In 2003, Iraq occupation architect Richard Perle slapped investigative journalist Seymour Hersh with the term, saying, "Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly." As if filing a story about the doomed occupation of a sovereign state in the pages of the New Yorker was the same thing as flying a 747 into the World Trade Center.
In 2004, Secretary of Education Rod Paige called the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, "a terrorist organization" because of what Paige defined as the "obstructionist scare tactics" used by its lobbyists. Because we all know it's every educator's dream to buck the systemby blowing themselves up in front of their students.
And just this month, the Bush administration decided to employ the term to legally target the entire Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a sovereign nation's standing army numbering in the hundreds of thousands. When you want a war that badly, you'll pretty much do or say anything to get it.
So how does the Bush administration get away with crying terrorist at every opportunity? Say hello to the Military Commissions Act. Thanks to this 2006 piece of legislation, terrorism has become the basis of American foreign and domestic policy. Yes, the term has become equivalent to everything from ideologically driven violence to petty theft, and can be used to incarcerate, exterminate or character assassinate anything in sight.
It's no wonder then that federal officials are now revisiting their previously failed effort to link terrorism to cannabis, the only real cash cow in the government's so-called War on Drugs. Only difference is, this time, they don't have Tommy Chong as a scapegoat.
Unable or unwilling to solve the nation's crippling meth addiction or its hypocritical dependency on prescribed narcotics like oxycontin, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) recently rang the terrorism alarm to nail pot growers in Redding's Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. Along the way, ONDCP "czar" John Walters showed off not only the Bush administration's love of twisted terminology but also its subcultural savvy by coining a memorable phrase of his own.
"We have kind of a reefer blindness," Walters explained during a Redding press conference on the ONDCP's Operation Alesia, a cannabis-eradication program coordinated by the California National Guard's Counterdrug Taskforce and the Shasta County Sheriff's Office. Walters followed that clever turn of phrase with the reliable terrorist designation to describe the armed growers cultivating cannabis in Shasta County. "These people are armed; they're dangerous. [They're] violent criminal terrorists." He even went so far to argue that the "terrorists" growing weed in Shasta County, as the Redding Record Searchlight reported, "wouldn't hesitate to help other terrorists get into the country with the aim of causing mass casualties."
Except there seem to be a couple major problems with Walters' characterizations. For one, Walters declined to explain during the press conference what Operation Alesia's specific goals were. More importantly, he didn't offer up any concrete names of the terrorists or their ideological objectives. What legalization advocates and law enforcement authorities alike were left with was yet another hazy strategy based on loose terminology whose only purpose it seems is to confiscate as much pot as possible from Shasta County's public lands.
A noble pursuit to be sure, but counterterrorism? Hardly.
Especially when rural Shasta County's biggest problem is meth, not marijuana, addiction. Further, Walters' coded terminology, when unmasked, is not employed to raise awareness of al Qaeda's grand cannabis cultivation strategy to destabilize the American government, but rather to inflame regional biases against, you guessed it, Mexicans. Especially the undocumented variety, who are "the other terrorists" Walters mentioned looking to get into the country and, what again? I asked Mike Odle, public affairs and communications officer for Shasta-Trinity National Forest's Northern California Coordination Center to elaborate on what was behind the increase in cultivated cannabis on Shasta's public lands.
"Most of the increase can be attributed to the proliferation of foreign Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs), mostly Mexican in origin, which operate in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and throughout California and much of the United States," Odle explained to me by email. "Frequently using illegal aliens residing outside the United States, or recently smuggled across the [sic] boarder, these Mexican criminal groups establish, maintain and protect an increasing number of clandestine operations."
Yet, predictably, Odle couldn't explain what made them terrorists.
"Some DTOs have been linked by law enforcement and investigations to terrorist organizations and pose a substantial and increasing threat to national security," he added in a subsequent email. "Our primary concern here on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest is the safety of our forest visitors and agency employees and the negative impacts marijuana has on the environment and natural resources, no matter what name is given to the DTOs that are illegally growing marijuana on America's public lands."
No matter what name is given? Easy enough if you're the one doing the naming. If you're the one being flippantly tagged a terrorist? Not so much.
Plus, there are enough holes in the argument to plant your own cannabis seeds. To start with, cannabis may be many things, but it is far from an environmental negative. It has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, can grow in almost any climate, and is a naturally occurring dioecious perennial. (In other words, it's not fossil fuel.) Further, Odle's claim that safety is Shasta's first concern is understandable, but he offered no examples of violent activity by any of the area growers to legitimize the ONDCP's inflammatory language. Sure, the fact that "some" DTOs have been linked to terrorist organizations is educational, but as with everything the ONDCP touches, specifics are elusive and generalizations are everywhere.
I pressed Odle for further clarification on the terrorism question. But instead of al Qaeda, all I got was more obfuscation. And more Mexicans.
"Do [sic] to ongoing investigations, I am limited in what I can share," Odle explained in another email. "When we do the investigations we try to get up as far as we can into the food chain. We work closely with the DEA, FBI, ICE and other law enforcement agencies that have the capabilities to identify who these folks are and what links they may or may not have."
Fair enough. It's out of his hands. Any concrete local examples?
"I can [sic] site an example in a case we are now finished investigating. The Forest Service was heavily involved with the eradication of marijuana gardens associated with the Magana drug cartel. The Magana drug cartel operation and investigation occurred throughout National Forests in California, Utah and Arkansas, with direct ties to Mexico. Investigators in the Magana case said cartel leaders brought in illegal workers from the Mexican states of Michoacan and Jalisco."
In short, terrorism isn't the real problem here, it's illegal immigration. Not convinced? When you get a chance, search Google for "Magana drug cartel" and let me know if you can find anything. Even better, try the ONDCP, and let me know if anything unrelated to cocaine shows up. Even if you give Walters, Odle and other so-called counterterrorism experts their due on the Magana drug cartel or other so-called terrorist organizations who the ONDCP cannot actually name (making sure to look up the definition of "cartel" in the process, if you want to be exhaustive about it), what you end up with are cannabis traffickers and cultivators operating illegally on public lands using undocumented immigrants.
Illegal activity? Fine. Terrorism? Are you high?
The Bush administration's hypocritical bait-and-switch between terrorism and immigration is clumsy for certain, but it is especially glaring in light of a recent Washington Times article criticizing none other than President Bush himself. According to the piece, a "2006 audit showed federal, state and local governments are among the biggest employers of the half-million persons in the U.S. illegally using 'non-work' Social Security numbers-numbers issued legally, but with specific instructions that the holders are not authorized to work in the U.S." And that charge was leveled by Iowa Republican and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee Rep. Steve King, in a politically conservative publication founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, cult leader of the Unification Church.
Even the Moonies think that Bush needs to start throwing what the president's own drug czar would call terrorists out of his own White House, before he starts worrying about anyone else. After all, according to the audit, his own government is a much worse offender than the ragged Magana cartel growing cannabis in the forests of Redding.
By the time the ONDCP's talking points touched on other byproducts of commercially cultivated cannabis terrorism-"fire violations, unsanitary conditions, littering, smoking, building unauthorized structures, unauthorized camping and cutting trees without a permit to name a few," in Odle's words-I began to more fully understand the power of language. By capitalizing on a nationally manufactured fear and simply merging words into each other, the Bush administration has created from its hyperreal imagination a living policy that can have real-world ramifications for those trampled beneath its fluid terminology.
The good news is that the Democrats in Congress are at least trying to make up for their heinous complicity in the Military Commissions Act, whose passage helped enable this linguistic nightmare in the first place. As recently as July 2007, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Henry Waxman wrote Walters asking why American taxpayers have been footing the bill for ONDCP officials to travel around the country with Republican candidates stumping for election at the behest of Karl Rove. Striking hard at Bush administration politicization of the ONDCP is a good start, but stopping their ability to label anyone anything they want would go much farther to restoring sensible policy, on drugs and everything else, for the rest of our new millennium.
We're going to need help soon, if the recent white papers on drug abuse from the ONDCP are any indication. Because they've enlisted God for help in beating back the devil weed, as their fact sheet "Marijuana and Kids: Faith" explains: "Religion and religiosity repeatedly correlate with lower teen and adult marijuana and substance use rates and buffer the impact of life stress which can lead to marijuana and substance use. ... Other studies show that teens who don't view faith as important are up to four times more likely to use marijuana."
In other words, smoke up, heretical terrorist! You're not only fueling al Qaeda's mass murder by purchasing weed cultivated by illegal Mexicans in the rural public lands of the world, but you're also turning your back on God in the process. As well as replacing the Bush administration's real world with your selfish virtual reality in which cannabis is a relatively harmless, naturally occurring plant that can chill you out as much as it can fill you out. A massive, multiplayer simulation where pot is a viable medicinal alternative to synthesized painkillers like oxycontin, which ease your agony by killing you off altogether.
According to the Bush administration and its politicized ONDCP, you need to unplug from that moonbat matrix and start praying. Fast. Or else.
Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared in Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.