(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #52, 7/31/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
(visit last week's Week Online)
or check out The Week Online archives
1. NJ NEP Workers' Conviction Upheld in Appeals Court
In a state with one of the highest rates of injection- related HIV transmission in the country, needle exchange operators Diana McCague and Thomas Scozzare were rebuffed on an appeal of their conviction for furnishing hypodermic syringes. By a vote of 3-0, the New Jersey Superior Court upheld the August 1997 decision of the New Brunswick Municipal Court that found McCague and Scozzare guilty of violating New Jersey Statute 2C:36-6, which forbids the possession, sale, or distribution of needles.
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court was rigid in its rejection of the pair's arguments. In the official court opinion, it refused to acknowledge the possible public health benefits of the needle exchange run by the Chai Project, a non-profit corporation founded by McCague and dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV in the intravenous drug-using population. John Mackin, Community Liaison for the Project, said that the organization was "incredibly disappointed and infuriated" by the court's decision. "Not only are they taking away the livelihood of Ms. McCague and Mr. Scozzare," he stated, "but there was no recognition that what those two did was for the public good. We're out here trying to save lives, and they wouldn't even consider that."
McCague and Scozzare's troubles with the court began 2 1/2 years ago (http://drcnet.org/rapid/1996/3-19-2.html), when an undercover officer from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office visited a needle exchange operated by the Chai Project. McCague and Scozzare were manning the exchange site -- a van parked on a New Brunswick street -- at the time of the undercover officer's visit. When the two obliged the man's request for a "kit", an investigator from the New Brunswick Police Department arrested them and confiscated the syringes in the van.
Following their trial and conviction the next year, McCague and Scozzare took their case to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court with five basic arguments for overturning the verdict. The two claimed that 1) there is no harm or criminal intent in operating a bona fide needle exchange; 2) the doctrine of medical necessity, which exempts ordinarily illegal behavior if that behavior prevents an imminent medical danger, exonerates them from culpability; 3) the prohibition of needle exchange violates the exchange participants' fundamental right to life; 4) contradictory messages from the New Brunswick police regarding tolerance of the exchange interfered with due process (Police Chief Michael Beltranena was informed of the project in 1994 and made supportive comments about it that were published in a local newspaper); and 5) the de minimis statute, which protects citizens from absurd or trivial enforcement of the law, is applicable and should have prevented the case from going to trial originally.
Judge Donald G. Collester, Jr., delivered the opinion of the appellate court, handed down on July 23, specifically addressing each of the five arguments. Because the law forbidding needle distribution contains no language stating that the violation must include criminal intent, the court opinion claimed that a defense based on the absence of criminal intent was not valid. Judge Collester quoted a 1957 court opinion which stated, "When... one deliberately and intentionally does an act in violation of a positive law... he cannot be excused on the basis that his animating desire was essentially praiseworthy."
The court opinion also claimed that the argument of medical necessity was untenable. He stated that, because the specific purpose of New Jersey's needle legislation is to forbid the distribution of syringes for drug use, a needle exchange program is a pure law violation rather than something protected by the medical necessity clause. He also denied that the situation was one that would be covered by the medical necessity clause at all. "Defendants in this case," the opinion read, "were not confronted with a clear and imminent danger to themselves or others."
The court refuted the claim that denying clean needles violated a constitutional right to life by saying that such a right "does not encompass the use of prohibited substances at a reduced health risk." Following Police Chief Beltranena's testimony that his supportive comments had represented only his personal opinion and not that of his department, the court disregarded the complaint about due process. "Whatever [Chief Beltranena's] prior statements," stated the opinion, "... defendants were not immune to enforcement of the law."
The Appellate Court also sided with the original trial decision regarding the de minimis statute. Judge Collester quoted an opinion written on a similar case which stated, "There is nothing absurd about the application of N.J.S.A. 2C:36-6 to these defendants. Neither can their conduct be deemed trivial."
The opinion closed with a statement ominous for those hoping to find a loophole for needle exchange in New Jersey's strict anti-paraphernalia laws. "[T]he zero tolerance for the distribution of drugs and drug paraphernalia established by the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act," it read, "leaves no room for the creation of exceptions by judicial decree. Any change... is solely for legislative consideration." Given Governor Christine Todd Whitman's steadfast and vehement opposition to any mention of needle exchange, legislative change is not an easy assignment.
Currently, Diana McCague and Thomas Scozzare face the sentence imposed upon them by the municipal court: $705 each in fees and court costs, and the suspension of each person's driver's license for six months. Meanwhile, the futures of the Chai Project and of drug-related AIDS in New Jersey remain in doubt.
2. Oakland City Council Votes To Shield Local Cannabis Dispensary From Federal Prosecution
(Reprinted from the NORML Foundation, 7/30/98)
The Oakland (California) City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Wednesday designed to protect the city's local medical marijuana dispensary from federal criminal and civil liability.
The ordinance allows city officials to "designate" the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative to distribute medical marijuana to seriously ill patients. The legislation attempts to provide immunity to the Cooperative against a federal lawsuit aimed at closing the dispensary. Supporters of the ordinance believe that Section 885(d) of the Controlled Substances Act immunizes local officials who enforce local drug laws from federal sanctions.
"Because the ordinance relies on provisions of federal law, it may be replicated in cities throughout the country, not just in California or other states that may pass laws similar to Proposition 215," said attorney Robert Raich, who drafted the measure.
Oakland is the first city to apply the Controlled Substances Act in this manner, Raich said.
For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML at (415) 563-5858 or attorney Robert Raich at (510) 338-0700.
(Visit NORML at http://www.norml.org, or California NORML at http://www.norml.org/canorml/. Dale Gieringer can also be reached at [email protected].)
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on July 24 that nighttime searches could only be conducted following compelling reasoning as to why the search could not be conducted during the day. Patrick Fitch, age 32, had his 2 1/2 to 5 year sentence, for possession of drugs with the intent to deliver, thrown out of court because of an illegitimate nighttime search. In a unanimous decision, the court found that the affidavit requesting the search warrant gave no rational for conducting a nighttime search. "The privacy of citizens in their homes, secure from unreasonable nighttime intrusions is a right of vast importance," Judge John Gerrard wrote. "The affidavit contained no facts that would support an inference that contraband was being disposed of or hidden in such a manner that nighttime service was required."
Six officers and one police dog showed up to Fitch's home, with a search warrant, on April 19 at 10:00pm. The only one in the house at the time was Patrick Fitch's 61 year old mother. The police had no reason to believe that the accused was present at the residence at all, according to his lawyer, Adam Sipple. Another point of contention that was not addressed by the courts, because the case had already been thrown out, were Investigator Darwin Shaw's searches of the garbage outside of Fitch's home. Evidence found in the four searches of the garbage was used to obtain the warrant. Sipple told The Week Online, "We are pleased with the outcome, it recognizes the critical fact that those given the power to enforce the law are also required to act within its limitations."
The Oregon Supreme Court overturned a previous Oregon Court of Appeals decision that the use of drug dogs to find drugs required a warrant. The Supreme Court unanimously decided that a dog sniffing for drugs does not infringe on a citizens right to privacy. The Supreme Court stated, "The use of a dog to sniff property in this manner is not a search for constitutional purposes." The pertaining case involved Desmond Smith's storage locker, which was indicated by a police dog for containing marijuana in 1993. The police decided to search the storage locker after an informant claimed that Smith stored harvested marijuana there. In this case the police were "using a dog to detect the presence of a particular odor caused by the presence of odor molecules in the air outside a clearly defined, private space," stated an opinion by Justice Michael Gillette.
The New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled that police would need more than an informant tip to pull over and search a persons car. Five years ago, Joseph Zutic was arrested for possession of 13 grams of marijuana while returning from New York City to his home in New Jersey. The police had set up surveillance and pulled Zutic over after a "reliable informant" tipped them off to the fact that there would be marijuana in his car. The ruling stated that officers of the law would need more detailed information if they plan to legally conduct such searches. The Justices ruled that the marijuana found in his car could not be used as evidence. Matthew Priore explained the significance of this ruling to the Bergen Record, saying, "This is important because without it, you could basically just call in someone's name, give a general description, and the police can stop and search them. This requires much more specific information. It requires the police to do police investigations instead of just relying on the tip."
4. D.O.J. Asks for Dismissal of Hemp Suit
Last May, several Kentucky farmers banded together and filed suit against the United States government in an attempt to make industrial hemp a legal crop to grow in Kentucky. The U.S Department of Justice has asked for this suit to be thrown out of court in an effort to block the farmers progress. The Attorney General argues that even if federal law allowed the farming of hemp, state laws would still prohibit the growing of the plant. The Justice Department also stated that the growers cannot claim to have suffered from this law because those farmer were never allowed to grow hemp and were therefore not forced to change the way they do business.
The Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association lawyer, Burl McCoy, told The Week Online that he is not at all surprised at the Justice Department taking this sort of action. McCoy, who is a former U.S assistant attorney and a former Major in the U.S Reserves, told The Week Online, "They have us in sort of a catch-22." Both the state and federal governments resort to the same excuse, stating that even if growing hemp were legalized under their respective jurisdiction, it would still be illegal under the others. Association president Andy Graves told the Lexington Herald- Leader, "The truth is, this is their way of avoiding the issues. These guys don't want to know the truth, and for them to make an argument that hemp is bad, hemp is wrong, and hemp is marijuana would be to admit that 27 other countries we recognize are wrong to allow it. They don't want to argue the case because there is no rational argument to put up."
Many of the farmers in Kentucky, which is still largely a farming state, are trying to prepare for the future by embracing this new crop. McCoy stated to The Week Online, "Kentucky is still a grain state. However you may feel about tobacco, which is the largest cash crop in Kentucky, its demand is diminishing. Small farms are going to need a crop to fall back on in the future." Graves summed up his frustration in a comment to the Herald-Leader, "I don't like it. It offends me that my own government is acting like this."
For more information, check out the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Assoc. at http://www.hempgrowers.com, and our own pieces at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/048.html#ky-hemp and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/042.html#kentucky.
5. Feds Indict Peter McWilliams, Todd McCormick and Others, Alleging Vast Conspiracy To Supply Medical Marijuana
(By Dick Cowan, reprinted from http://www.marijuananews.com)
July 27, 1998, Los Angeles, CA: Writer-Publisher Peter McWilliams is being denied his AIDS medication while in Federal custody. McWilliams was arrested at his home at 6:00am, on July 23, by seven DEA agents for federal medical marijuana violations. McWilliams has not been given his AIDS medication since he was arrested.
"At the Bail Hearing, the Prosecutor, Fernando Aenlle-Rocha, assured the judge I would receive my AIDS medication," said McWilliams on Sunday still in Federal Custody. "I have not."
McWilliams was diagnosed with AIDS and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a result of the AIDS, in March, 1996. He has been taking the combination therapy of two anti-viral and one Protease Inhibitor since that time. Medical experts warn that noncompliance with the six-times-a-day treatment could lead to fatal mutations of the AIDS virus not treatable by the medicine. McWilliams will be arraigned on nine federal counts, all involving medical marijuana, on Monday, July 27th at 8:30am before Judge George King.
"Of the three vital components of the combination therapy, I have never been given one of them," said McWilliams in a phone interview from the Federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. "My doctor and every medical report I have read repeatedly stresses the importance of not missing so much as a single dose. I have taken my AIDS medication faithfully for 2 and 1/2 years. Now, there is a four day gap in that life-saving treatment."
McWilliams has been a vocal advocate of medical marijuana, an outspoken critic of the federal policies jailing sick people for treating their illnesses, especially since the passage of California's Proposition 215 in 1996.
"The Federal Government has arrested me to silence me," said McWilliams.
"But must it attempt to murder me as well?"
McWilliams has appeared on CNN, ABC News, TIME, CBS Radio Network, MSNBC, and dozens of other media advocating medical marijuana. He is the publisher of The Medical Marijuana Magazine online at http://www.marijuanamagazine.com.
McWilliams intends to detail his lack of promised medical treatment to Judge King at his Monday arraignment.
[Last-minute update: a judge has temporarily denied a request for reduced bail and house arrest for McWilliams, but has expressed concern about the denial of medication and will hopefully be issuing an order with regard to that. A legal defense fund has been established on McWilliam's behalf. We don't yet have the details, but you can get them by calling Lisa Sutherland at (310) 587-1469. Or get the information by subscribing to the DRC- EXTRA list for more frequent bulletins -- send e-mail to c mailto:[email protected] with the line "subscribe drc-extra your name". (Substitute your actual name or pseudonym where it says "your name".)]
6. Peaceful Prison Protest Earns Solitary Confinement
At least 150 prisoners formed a sit down protest at the Fox Lake Correctional Institution because of a department policy of moving inmates out of state. Bill Clausius, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, admitted that the
three-hour long sit-down was peaceful. In reaction to the demonstration, the prisoners who participated are being penalized with four months to a year of solitary confinement. Also, many of the protesters will get fewer visits and phone calls, less recreation time and allowed fewer possessions in their cells. There are varying reports on the number of inmates that took part in the sit down. DOC reports that there were 155 participants, but two prisoners who were present say there were several hundred.
Many of the protesters were moved to four other state prisons and more than a dozen were moved out of state even after the demonstration. More than 1,500 Wisconsin inmates are being held in Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and Oklahoma because of prison overcrowding. This practice has limited family interaction through visits, which some consider cruel and unusual punishment. Jody O'Kane, who took part in the event, wrote a letter to his family, excerpts of which appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal. "I spent 13 years being good, trying to do the right thing in prison, and now all of a sudden, as a reward for that, they want to send me to Tennessee somewhere. So what if I have to spend 20 years in prison. At least I can spend it in Wisconsin where I can see you and spend as much time with you on visits as I can. It is much better than going down there." Janet O'Kane, Jody's mother, whose ability o travel is limited by health problems, told the Journal about the protest. "They weren't violent at all. It was a peaceful sit-down just like in the 60's. Their whole point was to be heard, and so far they haven't been heard at all."
7. Action Request: The Tax Stamp Controversy
On June 6, 1994, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a state could not both prosecute a person for illegal sale/possession of a drug and also collect taxes on that drug. Peter Wilson felt this ruling would legitimize the sale of cannabis in Arizona if he paid the tax beforehand. He bought a $5,000 Arizona Cannabis and Controlled Substances Dealers License and pre-paid adhesive tax stamps. In 1995 Wilson was arrested for possession of marijuana. Justice of the Peace John Barclay failed to find probable cause that a crime had been committed, noting, "it would appear that... the legislature intended that it would be possible to legally possess marijuana (under title 42)." In 1996, when Proposition 200 was passed, allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, Wilson was quoted on the front page of the Arizona Republic as willing to supply the marijuana needed by medical marijuana patients. After this event, Peter Wilson was again arrested for marijuana-related charges. In this trial, he was not allowed to tell jurors about his license or about the previous verdict by Justice Barclay; nor he was allowed to use religious arguments to prove innocence. He was found guilty by the jury on seven of the eight charges and faces jail time. On August 4, 1998, a judge will be sentencing Peter Wilson. Please write to the judge and ask that Peter Wilson be given no more than probation, and remember to be polite:
Judge David Cole
8. New Zealand Health Ministry: Pot Poses No Serious Risk
In a statement submitted to Parliament this Thursday, the New Zealand Ministry of Health told a select committee inquiry into the mental health effects of marijuana that, "Overall, the current public health risks of cannabis use are small to moderate in size, and are less than the public health risk of tobacco or alcohol use." While it noted that large amounts of marijuana caused acute temporary impairment to thinking, and that some forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, could be exacerbated by marijuana use, the statement also said that research shows that even long-term, heavy use of marijuana does not cause great damage to cognition, but that the vast majority of marijuana users in New Zealand use the drug only occasionally.
The Ministry's statement largely squares with the conclusions of more than a dozen blue-ribbon reports commissioned by several governments over the past one hundred years, including the Commission of the Australian Government in 1977, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse convened by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1972, and the Report by the Dutch Government in 1995.
In an interview in the New Zealand Dominion, New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust director and DRCNet advisory board member Dr. David Hadorn said that the criminalization of marijuana causes more harm to the mental health of New Zealanders than the drug itself. "Creating a climate of criminality around cannabis use," he said, "insures that the relatively few people who develop problems are less likely to seek help. This sets off a spiral of alienation, marginalisation and anti-social behaviour, which too often can culminate in criminality, mental illness and violence."
(A number of the reports cited have been re-published in DRCNet's Online Drug Policy Library; the are listed at http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/, Major Studies link.
Last Sunday's episode of the comic strip Doonesbury dealt with the issue of under-treatment of chronic pain from the drug war, and announced to the baby boomer generation what they have in store in old age if the drug war continues in its current form. You can read it on the Sacramento Bee web site at http://www.sacbee.com/smile/comix/ -- follow the Doonesbury link, select July 26 and click.
11. A Campaign for Substance Awareness
An organization in New York State, the Orange County Citizens for Substance Awareness (OCCSA), has gone on a crusade seeking disclosure of honest information on the serious health-related risks of various drugs. The group's call is prompted by a study which reveals that 575 people in Orange County die annually from drugs and that almost all such deaths are caused by tobacco and alcohol.
"If our goal is to protect public health, we need the disclosure of accurate information about the documented risks associated with all dangerous substances. Hundreds of people are dying each year in this county due to drug use, but the public is not being made aware of the risks associated with the use of common-accepted drugs," said Michael H. Sussman, an attorney and spokesperson for the group.
An OCCSA survey in early 1995 revealed that most Orange County residents believed, mistakenly, that the bulk of drug-related deaths stemmed from abuse of illegal drugs, when in fact, fewer than 1% of drug-related deaths were related to the illegal drugs. According to federal date, there were 578 drug-related deaths in 1992, 455 tobacco- related, 120 alcohol-related, two related to cocaine, one related to opiates, and none from marijuana.
In 1994, OCCSA mounted a public education campaign featuring a billboard in Chester, NY, listing these numbers. Recently, however, according to OCCSA, the billboard owner took the OCCSA advertisement down, without explanation and in violation of the rental contract.
For further information, contact Michael H. Sussman at (914) 294-3991. Take a look at OCCSA's billboard at http://www.drcnet.org/images/occsa.jpg.
The OCCSA billboard illustrates how badly skewed current policies toward substances are, in light of the actual harm caused by the different substances. The legal drugs alcohol and tobacco have an enormously greater medical impact on society than all of the illegal drugs combined, and alcohol plays the principal role in substance-related violence and other criminal activity.
A common response made to this point by prohibitionists (and other unconvinced citizens) is to call that a reason to keep the illegal drugs illegal -- do we want to have such huge problems with those drugs too, as we have with the legal drugs? While this argument doesn't answer to the disparate resources applied in, say, drug education vs. tobacco and alcohol education, it does evoke the fear of a "nation of addicts" that stands in the way of drug policy reform.
There are at two fundamental flaws to their argument. First, they are comparing certain drugs that are legal, with _other_ drugs that are illegal. Different drugs have different effects, different use patterns, different sociological associations and different interactions with policies. One needs to look at legal alcohol vs. prohibited alcohol, for example, or legal opiates before 1914 vs. a war on heroin today, or Dutch marijuana coffeeshops vs. marijuana arrests every 49 seconds in the U.S., to make a valid comparison. Not that the analysis stops there -- one needs to also look at differences between times, countries, cultures, circumstances, etc. But at least we then have the beginning of a reasonable comparison.
Secondly, the argument entirely omits the fact that drugs, both legal and illegal, do not exist in isolation from one another. Alcohol use patterns are not independent from marijuana use patterns are not independent from use of other drugs. For example, increasing marijuana use may be associated with decreasing use of alcohol, or vice-versa. While it is conceivable that experimentation with or even longer-term usage of the currently illegal substances could increase following legalization, it is not at all clear that overall intoxication from all substances combined would increase -- especially given the fact that the illegal drugs currently are widely available despite prohibition, and can be purchased by high school and junior high school students at school, from other students.
The argument that use of and harm from the currently illegal drugs would skyrocket to the level of use and harm of the currently legal drugs, implies that legality is the defining factor determining their level of use -- that is, all legal drugs are going to be used at approximately the same rate or order of magnitude. But the same type of reasoning should then imply that all illegal drugs would be used at the same level as well.
We know, however, that different illegal drugs are not all used at the same rate. Marijuana is enormously more popular than heroin, cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine combined. It's not that marijuana is legal where the other drugs aren't, and it's not that the marijuana laws go unenforced. (Remember, one arrest every 49 seconds.) Fewer people use heroin or cocaine, because heroin and cocaine are scary and are widely understood to be dangerous. There's simply no basis for the belief that scary drugs like heroin or cocaine, at least in their current, highly intense forms, would ever be as widely used even as marijuana, let alone alcohol.
13. Office of National Drug Control Policy Hard at Work
Those of you who missed the legalization debate last week at Intellectual Capital, can access the archive at http://www.intellectualcapital.com/issues/98/0723/.) There are discussion forums following both Charles Blanchard's and Nadine Strossen's articles, as well as following the online poll. The debate was especially rousing, thanks to the participation of Blanchard, ONDCP's chief counsel, and ONDCP staffer Rob Housman.
Two weeks ago, DRCNet summarized ONDCP chief Barry McCaffrey's visit to Europe in which he made a spectacle of himself by promulgating extreme, verifiably false data about the Netherlands in the international media. Most notably, McCaffrey claimed, during a speech in Sweden, that the homicide rate in the Netherlands is double the homicide rate in the United States. It turned out that McCaffrey's number was off by a factor of ten, and that the homicide rate in the U.S. is 4 1/2 times that of the Dutch. (See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/050.html#footinmouth.)
The performance of ONDCP staff on intellectualcapital.com was little better. For example, Rob Housman wrote on page 3_c that "... if you look at 1992, U.S. youth drug use is way below Dutch (10.6 versus 30.2 percent prevalence). So where are your facts?"
A week earlier, a DRCNet representative attended Barry McCaffrey's press conference at the National Press Club and picked up one of ONDCP's press packets, which included several colored charts. One of the charts explains the origins of Housman's numbers: the U.S. numbers are for ages 12-17 while the Dutch numbers are for ages 16-19. It is obvious that 16-19 year olds, half of whom are legal adults (at least by U.S. standards), are going to use marijuana more frequently than 12-17 year olds, half of whom are under 15. In no way is this a valid comparison between the two countries. (We've scanned the ONDCP graph and have posted it online at http://www.drcnet.org/graphs/ondcp1.html.)
Housman also wrote, "how do you know about Netherlands use? They have not released full youth drug use stats since 1992 -- wonder why? So how can you compare?" We're not sure what he means by "full stats", but there certainly are adequate statistics available for as recently as 1997, with which to make a legitimate comparison. For example, a publication of the Netherlands Institute of Health and Addiction reports that past-month and lifetime prevalence of marijuana use among Dutch 12-18 year olds are 11 and 21 percent respectively. The corresponding U.S. rates, from the University of Michigan Monitoring the Future Study, are 18 and 38 percent -- the opposite of what Housman and ONDCP claimed on the net and to the media. (Much more such data is available from the Common Sense for Drug Policy "Drug War Factbook", at http://www.drugsense.org/factbook.htm.)
When the defenders of current drug policies have to constantly resort to the most misleading tactics to make their case, what does this suggest about the policies?
(Note: staff of the ONDCP are known to be monitoring this list as well as DRCNet's discussion lists. We invite them to submit a response to this piece, but forewarn that we are likely to print a response to their response.)
14. EDITORIAL: The Pompano Beach Twelve
In Pompano Beach, Florida this week, a dozen kids ranging in age from four to eleven were brought to the attention of local law enforcement for playing a pretend game that they call "dope dealer." The game, it seems, is simple, with youngsters trading leaves, which represent money, for plastic baggies containing pretend "drugs." "We play dope dealer all the time," a seven year-old later said, "And tag."
Even the worst excesses of the drug war are justified, again and again, as vital, lest we "send the wrong message to our children." Perversely, however, the drug war and the black market that it creates not only puts the drugs and the drug trade within easy reach of our kids, but also creates a culture of prohibition that inundates their lives.
For the twelve kids from Pompano Beach, the drug trade is no abstraction. Two homes on their block stand boarded as ex- crack houses. One can be sure that a large number of the older teens in their neighborhood, and certainly those who drive nice cars and wear expensive jewelry--in other words, the obvious role models--are involved to one degree or another in "the business."
And the culture of prohibition does not stop at the outer edges of crack-infested neighborhoods. For it is from these communities, poor urban as well as suburban areas, that America's youth culture originates. Rap music that reinforces the "Us vs. Them" nature of relations with the police, the baggy pants and homemade tattoos apropos of prison life, and the cultivated fear that passes for respect on the streets have all found their way into the youth mainstream. The fact is that the music, clothes and language of America's youth all have their origins in the ghetto -- just ask any marketing executive for Nike or Sony Records -- and the experiences of the kids from those communities are dominated by prohibition and its attendant economies.
Children, all children, internalize what they see around them. This might come as a surprise to politicians who think that kids take their cues from whether or not the President inhaled or how many mandatory minimum sentencing bills are passed, but it's true. Prohibition creates markets, which create entrepreneurs, who accumulate wealth, and they do so in open defiance of both the laws of the land and those whom we pay to enforce them. And despite the best intentions of those who want nothing more than to save the children by making prohibition work, the kids, large numbers of them anyway, will always be more heavily influenced by the actions and lifestyles of their direct elders--their siblings and cousins and neighbors -- than they will be by the admonitions of well-meaning adults.
Today, in Pompano Beach, Florida, and doubtless in communities across the nation, kids between the ages of four and eleven are playing "dope dealer." They are, as kids will do, absorbing the culture that they are exposed to. They are, it is safe to assume, not unlike their grandparents or great-grandparents, who probably played at being Al Capone or one of the other Prohibition-era gangsters. What is surprising is that we as a society insist upon fueling this destructive culture in the face of overwhelming evidence that prohibition is doomed to fail.
Our leaders tell us over and over again that they are sending a message to our children, and they are right. But the message is one of lawlessness and conflict and the normalization of violence. It is a message that is reinforced every time that we reaffirm our commitment to prosecuting a failed drug war. It is the message of the culture of prohibition, and it has come through loud and clear. Just ask the Pompano Beach twelve.
Adam J. Smith
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