Guns, Drugs and Mucho Dinero
Last week President Bush visited with his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe in the seaside city of Cartagena. Newspapers both in the United States and abroad published a picture of both presidents before a military honor guard with the caption, "Partners Against Drugs," giving credence to the belief that you can print just about anything on paper. The truth is that Uribe and Bush (and their predecessors) have been as effective in curbing drug trafficking and use as Cheech and Chong.
Plan Colombia--the latest foreign aid boondoggle of US taxpayer money--is picking up steam with a promise of over $3 billion in military assistance over the next five years. The funds will be used to propel Colombia's own Orwellian anti-drug program titled "Plan Patriota" (Patriot Plan; Sound familiar?). The "plan" is to put an end to the communist FARC guerillas and the right wing paramilitary that have terrorized Colombia's countryside for decades. The "plan" also intends to eradicate "illegal" drug crops like marijuana, coca and poppy, used in the manufacture of cocaine and heroin. Both the FARC and right wing paramilitary participate in and profit from the drug trade.
In order to emphasize the importance of Plan Colombia and the War on Drugs, President Bush has found it necessary to change the lexicon to bring the "war" into the post-9/11 era. No longer do the terms communist, guerilla, drug dealer, drug lord, smuggler or kingpin seem to elicit the indignant response they once did, so the President's advisers came up with a new term: "narco-terrorist." The current US administration (as well as those that will follow) will link every "criminal" or "undesirable" act to terrorism. Already the office of National Drug Policy in an ad campaign attempted to link everyone who buys illegal drugs in America to terrorism. The logic (or rather lack thereof) was that the money used to buy "illegal" drugs ended up in the hands of terrorists, in essence making every inner city (and suburban) pot smoker, crack and heroin addict an accomplice of Osama bin Laden.
The extradition of "narco-terrorist" Gilberto Rodriguez-Orjuela, the boss of the infamous Cali Cartel, is being hailed as an unprecedented action. This has actually all happened before. Carlos Lehder, a relic of the War on Drugs during the 1980s, sits in a federal penitentiary, and Pablo Escobar (Remember him?) was killed in a joint US-Colombian military operation in 1993. Willie Falcon and Sal Maglutta, allegedly the ringleaders of the largest importation operation of narcotics in the United States, are also doing time in federal prison. Despite all these "victories" by the government's drug warriors, drugs are still cheaply and readily available all over the US.
Money and power are the main factors that propel the war. The "illegal" drug trade is extremely profitable, making it possible for drug dealers and terrorist to live lavishly, bribe corrupt government officials and purchase sophisticated weaponry. History has already taught us that the legal status of the product (prohibition) will not deter its use or consumption, but will attract criminal elements to its trade and distribution. Drug dealers and terrorists aren't the only ones addicted to drug money. Numerous government agencies and thousands of bureaucrats are also dependent on the perpetuation of the War on Drugs for their employment and livelihood.
By the government's own admission, there are 1.5 million Americans in jail for violation of drug laws. Last year alone there were over 700,000 arrests for marijuana possession and distribution. Minimum sentencing guidelines for drug violations have reached a point where drug offenders get stiffer sentences than murderers or rapists. In November, Weldon H. Angelos, age 25, was sentenced to 55 years in prison for making three marijuana sales while in possession of a firearm (which he did not use). Judge Paul Cassel (US District Court), who sentenced Angelos, was critical of the minimum sentencing guidelines imposed by the federal government and pointed out that earlier (using the same federal guidelines), he had sentenced a man to 22 years for beating an elderly woman to death with a log.
Confiscation of private property without due process is something we imagine only happens to people living under Third World dictators. Yet right here in the United States, thousands of Americans have had their cars, boats, planes, real property and cash confiscated without the benefit of a trial. Laws spawned by the War on Drugs like Zero Tolerance trample the most basic of rights and tilt the balance of power in the government's favor. The confiscated items are sold and the proceeds are mostly kept by the agencies that confiscate them, as an incentive (to confiscate more) or reward.
Recently the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding medical marijuana. Some Supreme Court justices seemed to have forgotten that they are supposed to be the guardians of the Constitution. Justice Souter was concerned that recreational users (who by his Honor's own admission are already using) would take advantage of medical marijuana laws. Justice Breyer worried that potheads might claim "mine is medical, (dude)", and Justice Scalia was concerned that some folks might dishonestly claim "alleged medical needs." Someone better remind the justices (pronto) that they are there to protect the citizens of the United States against unconstitutional laws, not to play doctor.
The arguments against legalization of marijuana and other currently illegal drugs have lost all credibility. Illegal drugs alter mood or consciousness--isn't that what Prozac, Zoloft and a host of other "legal" drugs do? Illegal drugs have serious side effects--have you listened to the side effects disclaimer on a "legal" drug ad lately? The question should not be whether marijuana, cocaine or heroin are safe, but whether the government should spend billions of forcibly confiscated tax dollars while trampling on every conceivable right just to keep some individuals from puffing on a joint, inhaling from a crack pipe, popping Ecstasy or sticking needles in their arms.
The aggressive prosecution of the War on Drugs will not only serve to preserve the profits for drug dealers and terrorists, but will ensure that Americans will continue to see their tax money wasted while simultaneously being deprived of their most basic rights. The caption on the previously mentioned picture of Bush and Uribe would be a lot closer to reality if it read, "Partners against freedom and common sense."