David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 5/7/04
One of the less reported aspects of the Richard Clarke book was the discussion of priorities within the FBI prior to 9/11. Drugs figured prominently; the drug war was a top area of concern -- by order of Attorney General John Ashcroft himself (though to be fair, drugs were a high priority under previous administrations too). Drugs are such a high priority for Ashcroft's Dept. of Justice, in fact, that mere days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they began a series of raids against California medical marijuana cooperatives -- the first such raids in three years -- consuming the time of trained law enforcement personnel who might instead have been put to work defending the nation rather than persecuting sick people and their caregivers (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/209/medmjwar.shtml).
Years before, leading drug reform pioneer Arnold Trebach, founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, expressed this sentiment in a speech delivered at a 1996 criminology conference in Jerusalem:
What is not generally recognized is that the skills and personnel most successful in enforcing prohibition are also the most effective in curbing terrorism.At DRCNet we were seven or so years behind the curve in starting an organization, relative to Arnold. We partially made amends for that two years later by issuing our own warning note on a closely related issue destined to hit our country in the face: In issue #21 of this newsletter, December 1997, we highlighted the Taliban's human rights violations and support for terrorism, and condemned a UN and Clinton administration plan to fund them to do extermination of opium poppies in Afghanistan (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/021/editorial.shtml).
We should set rational priorities for law enforcement. And we shouldn't violate our moral principles to turn a blind eye to murder and repression and support for terrorism, building up those who commit such evils by shortsighted acts of realpolitik. It shouldn't require the destruction of a pair of skyscrapers, and a former terrorism czar going on TV, to drive these obvious connections home to our nation's political leaders.
Too bad that police and prosecutors in New York City, the target of the worst attack, haven't yet gotten the priorities part straight: Ten days ago, District Attorney Morgenthau's office issued a press release bragging about the achievement of a full six police agents in finding an alleged dorm room college drug dealer. Instead of stopping her from selling drugs right away, they first waited for her to sell drugs to them eight times, in order to be able to bring charges against her carrying possible multi-decade sentences. The ultimate cost to taxpayers may well exceed a million dollars.
The fate of the rulings in the Supreme Court is uncertain; perhaps they will ultimately be overturned. Only time will tell. But in the meantime, medical marijuana is legal under both state and federal law, within a certain framework, in the several western states making up the 9th Circuit. So the post-9/11 Ashcroft medical marijuana raids were not only a foolish misapplication of limited police and investigatory resources -- they may actually have violated our nation's laws. At least a distinguished panel of high-level federal judges thought so, based on fundamental constitutional principles. If the Supremes eventually decide otherwise, the most the raiders will be able to say is that some judges think their raids were legal. There's no judicial consensus that the raids were legal under the Constitution. And with a host of successful pro-medical marijuana initiatives on the record, bills passed in some state houses, and polling showing public support for medical marijuana in the 70 or 80 percent range, clearly the public for the most part doesn't believe that medical marijuana should be illegal, regardless of whether it is now. I'd wager that fewer that one percent of one percent of Americans consider arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning medical marijuana patients or their providers to be as important to the nation's interests as protecting us from terrorists.
What better time to choose more rational priorities than in this new, uncomfortable world we inhabit? What more important time to return to first moral principles, and see how we can better, if not perfect, our own morality and the actualization thereof? Will clearer thinking about priorities and the drug war make us safer?
I don't know, but I hope so. Certainly it will help us in a lot of other ways. Let's not wait until another skyscraper tumbles down or for something even worse, before we learn from the mistakes of the past and present.