At this very moment, a man named John Walters is sneaking around the country on a mission to find new and unusual ways to disgrace the ideal of civil liberty. He is cunning, brutally insensitive and wholly opposed to the very freedoms you and I are supposedly entitled to. He is not, however, an enemy of the state; he is employed by the state. Mr. Walters works at a little agency named the Office of National Drug Control Policy – an organization not nearly as innocent as it sounds. John P. Walters is this nation’s “drug czar.” I know what you’re thinking: “WTF? America has a czar?” Why yes, yes it does. The best part is that he even abuses his power with the same panache as an imperial Russian despot!

Mira Levitan

Pardon the bitterness found in my sarcastic tenor … and welcome to my column on the American Drug War – an issue that excites my ire on a daily basis. For as long as I have been a journalist, I have always felt obliged to document each new injustice that is borne from this conflict. Yet, there’s never enough that can be written about this socio-political folly; one could pen volumes.

The war on drugs as we know it today – which is, without a doubt, the most foolish and cruel undertaking the U. S. government has taken against its own people – was initiated by Tricky Dick in 1970. His $17 billion-a-year legacy continues under the guises of “saving America’s youth,” “combating terrorism” and other similarly fantastic lies.

I am appalled every time I think about Nixon’s brainchild. Forget Watergate; that was a minor slipup when compared to the horror of our current treatment of drug abuse. Hunter S. Thompson said of our late president: “Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.” Considering the damage done by such a costly, liberty-infringing war, I’m quite inclined to agree.

Let us critically examine what makes the whole campaign bogus with a timely case study. The Ecstasy Awareness Act, introduced to the House over the summer, is the latest piece of reactionary legislation to be pushed by the thugs at the ONDCP. The authors of the bill purport in their abstract that the EAA is aimed at “preventing the abuse of the illegal drug commonly called ecstasy.”

Poppycock! This is just the shady semantics of the drug war. Essentially, the EAA is a harsher incarnation of last year’s RAVE Act, which was just barely shot down by worried activists. The bill stipulates that venue owners may face up to 20 years in prison, along with a maximum fine of $500,000 if their premises are the site of the use, distribution or trafficking of any illicit drug.

So, aside from having absolutely nothing to do with ecstasy harm reduction, the bill is grossly unjust because it punishes individuals who might not even have any knowledge of illegal activity at their establishment.

The same goes for the newly proposed extensions to Justice Department’s overbearing and arguably unconstitutional PATRIOT Act (that wonderful piece of legislation that enables authorities to suspend all of your rights as a human being if you’re suspected of being one of “them”) The proposed “drugs and terrorism” law would allow extended penal sentences to drug sellers with indirect (i.e. unintentional) ties to terrorist groups. Moreover, it would also allow the government to virtually unrestricted access to an individual’s confidential records.

The American government isn’t waging a war on drugs; are American troops firing upon the cannabis fields of the Pacific Northwest with RPGs? No. That’s because the government is waging a war on American citizens (Read: minorities, children, business owners).

I am reminded of this every time I watch the movie “Traffic.” Near the conclusion of the film, Michael Douglas’s (he plays a newly-appointed drug czar) stirring press conference captures the very essence of our nation’s drug war. As he tears up, he explains that a war on drugs is a war on individuals with personal problems, just as it is also war on their families, friends and colleagues. I’ve seen the film six or seven times now, and I am always impressed by its realism. But I have to lament on Steven Soderbergh’s inaccuracy in portraying a drug czar with a heart.

Our nation’s problems with drug abuse are infinitely complex, as suggested by the lack of progress made in over 30 years of “battle.” If they are to be remedied, they must be done through true rehabilitation and an examination of cultural context, not incarceration. If we have a “problem,” it is because of the way that our own society functions, not because a poppy plantation exists in some third-world nation.

Yet the alarmist policymakers on the Hill remain ignorant of this fact as they descend upon the drug-using populace like Big Brother. (They should rename the “War on Drugs” to the “War on Your Freedom of Consciousness,” though I suspect that it would be too Orwellian for the American palate.) The enormity of such a campaign, almost designed in its scope to undermine the civil liberties of the people, single-handedly questions the progressiveness of our nation.

Never mind that one of the filthiest intoxicants known to man is peddled legally on every college campus in America; but if you’re caught putting fire to a spliff, a dirty czar named Walters will violate your derriere. Remember, folks, this is war.

– Neal would like to thank Summerson Carr for all the insight and support she extended to him over the summer. He can be reached at npais@umich.edu.






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