Editorial: Strange Logic 1/29/99

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This week, Republicans, led by Representative Mike DeWine (R-OH), held a news conference to introduce their newest piece of omnibus drug legislation, "The Drug-Free Century Act." True to form, the bill proposes more spending on enforcement, longer sentences and more money for foreign interdiction efforts. Protecting children was once again a major theme of the day, as was the Republicans' insistence on bringing mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine into line by reducing the amount of powder required for an offender to qualify for a five or ten year vacation courtesy of the federal government.

The absurdity of creating harsher sentencing schemes in the name of protecting children, in the face of all evidence against their effectiveness in limiting kids' access to a particular substance was lost on legislators, despite the fact that DeWine himself offhandedly pointed this out. In discussing the crack vs. powder sentencing disparity, DeWine said that we must send "the right signals" both to our youth and to those who sell drugs. He called crack cocaine extremely dangerous "and frankly, easily accessible" to kids, but went on in the next breath to state that he and his colleagues were committed to protecting children by bringing sentences for powder into line with the tough penalties for crack.

John Ashcroft (R-MO) followed DeWine and spoke about methamphetamine, the use of which is exploding in the West and Midwest. Ironically, the penalties for methamphetamine already equal those for crack cocaine.

Clearly, we have passed the point where even the drug warriors are listening to their own rhetoric. DeWine had it right, crack cocaine, its declining popularity among young people notwithstanding, is easily accessible despite the fact that it's possession and sale is punished as harshly as any other illicit substance. In other words, if the idea is to keep the drugs away from children, enforcement and punishment, no matter how draconian, has proven to be an abject failure. If, on the other hand, the idea is to lock up as many young, poor, non-violent and mostly non-white low-level dealers and users as is humanly possible, the strategy has been a raging success. Today in America, one in three young black males is under the supervision of the criminal justice system. It is certain that the booming prison industry, as well as the prison guards' unions and the police lobby think that the Drug Free Century Act is just dandy.

For parents and other taxpayers, however, the time has come to demand an accounting from our leaders. In the text of the 1986 crime bill, it was declared that America would be "drug-free" by 1995. At zero-minus four years, America is not only far from being "drug-free," but our children have greater access to drugs, are being used and placed in mortal danger as informants, are being locked up, and are being inundated with more useless rhetoric masquerading as "drug education" than at any time in this nation's history. Today's phony debate between the Clinton White House and their "ten-year plan" and the Republican leadership and their "Drug-Free Century Act" is yet another exercise in rearranging the deck chairs, while continuing the practice of lining the pockets of their contributors in drug war-related industries.

We have been at this drug war for a very long time now. But hundreds of billions of tax dollars and millions of wasted lives later, our children, not to mention our Bill of Rights, are in greater danger than ever before. Unless and until the American public takes a good hard look at the Alice in Wonderland nature of our drug policy, there will be no end in sight. When leaders of Congress can stand straight-faced in front of the TV cameras and earnestly state that the drug policy that America needs centers on increasing penalties for powder cocaine -- or anything else -- to the same level as we have long required for crack cocaine, something is seriously wrong. Because in spite of the hundreds of thousands of years in sentences that have been handed down to crack offenders over the past decade, the stuff, in the words of warrior Mike DeWine himself, is still "easily accessible" to our kids. Listening to this nonsense makes it abundantly clear that in the war room, the intellectual cupboard is bare.

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Issue #76, 1/29/99 Your Tax Dollars at Work: US Developing Fungi to Kill Narcotics Plants | Higher Education Act Student Reform Effort | Rep. Ron Paul to Introduce Financial Privacy Legislation to Block Intrusive "Know Your Customer" Banking Rules | Hemp for Victory | Israel to Set Standards for Medicinal Use of Marijuana | Life for Nonviolent Juveniles Proposed in Virginia | The Lindesmith Center Drug Policy Seminar Series, January through April | Conferences and Events | Harm Reduction Training Institute, Winter '99 Calendar | Report: Militarized Democracy in the Americas | Editorial: Strange Logic
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