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February 2, 2007 - Ledger Dispatch (CA)

Editorial: That Other Muddled War

By Raheem Hosseini

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

I remember Nancy Reagan shaking hands with Gary Coleman on a very special episode of "Diff'rent Strokes." I remember watching eggs fry in a hot skillet and growing hungry for my brain on drugs.

I remember sitting in a darkened theater with about 15 other filmgoers and being unable to move because the horrifying drug opus "Requiem for a Dream" had reduced us to quivering masses.

I remember that commercial with the two guys sitting at a bar, talking about how smoking marijuana helped the terrorists.

I remember just saying no to that last one.

When it comes to the war on drugs, I consider myself a conscientious objector. And it's not because I foster romantic notions regarding experimentation and individual freedom, but because this intractable conflict has trudged on too selectively.

If you want to know what the difference is between crack and powder cocaine, it's these three things: Price, race and jail time.

And more than a decade after Californians passed the landmark Compassionate Use Act of 1996, the federal and state governments continue to stare at each other across the medicinal marijuana legal divide.

Stuck in the middle are the chronically and terminally ill, who can't freely access pain medication that would quell their agony. But hey, if they want to go down to the corner pharmacy for something a lot less effective yet far more addictive, current drug laws say no problem.

While counties like Amador do allow qualified medical patients to procure voluntary medical marijuana identification cards with a doctor's recommendation, these same communities don't permit the cannabis dispensaries that could actually fill the prescriptions.

You can find them in metropolitan areas, but many suburban and rural communities have placed moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries for fear that the federal government will knock them down.

It's a credible fear.

Drug enforcement agents jack-booted their way into several dispensaries last year, including ones in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

And while most dispensaries go about their business without federally sanctioned harassment, the raids that have occurred have been high profile enough to scare the timid. In the eyes of U.S. law, Hippie Hank and Chemo Carl are the same.

And yet, a recent government-funded survey found that illicit drug use among teens is actually on the decline, compared to a rising number of American youth who are beginning to abuse legal, prescription drugs.

So where's the drug protection that we actually need?

Allergies, nausea, muscle aches, impotence, depression, short attention spans, hair loss, chunky thighs - is there any ailment there isn't a drug for?

And here's a question for all the adults: Whatever happened to sucking it up?

Is life in the 21st century that unbearable, or are we ODing on a custom-fit society, where every petty grievance has a magic elixir and every wayward blister has a reconstructive surgeon and anesthesiologist standing by.

That's a rhetorical question. The answer is 'yes.'

But if the adults are acting like big babies, then the federal government is thriving in the role of enabler.

The Federal Drug Administration will greenlight Oxycontin, now a popular street drug because of its ability to knock fiends on their duffs, but hold up even discussing RU-486 until the nomination of its new director is held up by the Senate.

A $26 million fine against ineffective diet pills notwithstanding, the FDA has proven itself less as a competent oversight body and more as the gatekeeper of massive political contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.

As a result, the message given to America's youth is decidedly mixed. Kids may be young, but they're not stupid. They can smell the hypocrisy like it's oregano baking in a hot baggy.

After 88 years of this decomposing drug war - longer if you count Maine's passage of its prohibition law in 1846 -- we still can't pick our battles. Heck, we can't even keep steroids out of major league sports.

And just like that other disastrous conflict thousands of miles away, our war on drugs shows no signs of abating.

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