David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 8/24/01
As we prepare this 200th issue of our newsletter, I find myself reminded of a complaint lodged a few years ago by an old friend and fellow believer in the cause: Our e-mails always contain so much bad news. Not that he blamed us, of course; the grimness of the topic is a reflection of the extremity of the drug war itself. The Week Online with DRCNet is just the messenger.
More recently, though, my friend told me he was encouraged: The news isn't always all bad anymore. Some of the news we report is actually good. And he's not the only one to make that observation. Though in some ways things are unquestionably getting worse -- the prison population, for example, rose again last year, and the Ecstasy and OxyContin hysterias are certainly discouraging -- in other ways things are improving or starting to improve, or at least getting worse more slowly than in the recent past.
Sometimes a news item is neither bad nor good, but just there. It might be interesting, it might be revealing, it might be funny or make a point. One event in the latter categories took place in New Orleans a few years ago: A marijuana plant somehow took root and sprung up out of a crack in the stairs at the foot of the local courthouse.
It wasn't really good news or bad news, though it brought some cheer to workers in the city's tourist-oriented party economy. It did make a point, in a humorous way, about the futility of the government's attempt to wipe out use of the plant through force of law. A similar incident in Israel made the international Jewish press, after authorities discovered that an unknown gardener had apparently planted a marijuana patch inside a traffic median dividing a busy street -- again illustrating the ubiquity of the plant's human use despite legal sanctions applying to it around the world.
A recent event in Colorado took the "random marijuana" phenomenon to a new level. Last week, a knee-high marijuana plant was found growing in the backyard of the Denver mansion of Gov. Bill Owens. Media outlets, as well as the governor's own staff, had a field day making marijuana-based headlines or jokes. "Yard Has Gone to Pot" at the governor's mansion, wrote the Denver Post. "Was it Pot Found at Governor's Joint," asked the LA Times. A spokesman for the governor called the story "planted" and a "joint effort" by his political opponents. All in all it was almost as bad as the spate of "Agony of Ecstasy" headlines that appear almost routinely in papers around the country these days.
Yet what was a laughing matter for the governor's staff and the media, could just as easily have torn a person or family's lives apart if the plant had been spotted in some other backyard. Indeed, Fred Hopson, a medical marijuana patient in Colorado's Park County, and his partner Shannon Scott, faced possible incarceration and forfeiture of their home to the government last year, after an eight-person SWAT team stormed their house at 5:30 one morning. The camouflaged, helmeted paramilitaries pointed rifles with gun lights in their faces, made them get out of bed naked and threatened to explode a grenade in their basement.
But at least Hopson and Scott are alive. In 1999, a 45-year-old Mexican immigrant from northeast Denver named Ismael Mena, was shot and killed by a SWAT team. The police had obtained a warrant to search for cocaine, but they broke into the wrong house, Mena's, while he was sleeping, and the tragedy unfolded from there.
So while the pot plant in the governor's backyard was neither good news nor bad news, it would almost certainly have led to bad news, maybe even deadly, if spotted elsewhere. The fact that no armed or legal threat was leveled at the hard-line drug warrior governor, illustrates the sickening double standard that exempts the rich or powerful, for the most part, from the drug war's excesses, but subjects the ordinary or unlucky to the Stalinist tactics of an out of control drug war police state. At least that is the point that this story highlighted for me.
Tonight DRCNet and friends will celebrate this 200th issue milestone at the Velvet Lounge, a fine establishment on the U Street strip in Washington, DC. For despite all the bad news that we report in the Week Online's bits and bytes each Friday, the good news is there too; at a minimum, the level of opposition to the drug war and the ability of our movement to be heard is growing by leaps and bounds. The sustained growth of our subscriber base is one example of this: Over 21,000 readers get the Week Online, and not a day goes by without more signing up and signing on.
You, our readers, therefore, are a part of the good news, and we hope you won't forget that -- and we thank you for living with the bad news these past four years since the publication was launched, and the nearly eight years since the founding of this list itself. But also remember the thousands more taken from their homes and their lives, each day that the drug war is allowed to rage unchecked. And continue to read, and continue to speak, until it ends.