Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
by Brian C. Bennett

The recent decision to move some 400 FBI agents from counter-drug to counter-terror operations may seem like a good idea, but if the War on Terror is anywhere near as "successful" as the War on Drugs, we are all in very grave danger.

Over the past 12 years, despite a doubling of the drug "control" budget, the nation is at best treading water in its efforts to stop its citizens from using the "wrong" intoxicants. During this time, street prices of heroin and cocaine have declined by 30 percent, while purity of street level heroin has increased some 35 percent. Cocaine has shown a modest decline in street level purity, dropping from 70 percent in 1990 to about 61 percent in 2000.

The drug war has had virtually no impact on regular drug use over the past decade or so, as the number of past year users of marijuana hovers around 18 million, while cocaine past year use has been stable since at least 1993 with some 4 million yearly users. This, despite record numbers of arrests for drug abuse violations over the same period. Arrests for such violations have climbed from just over 1 million in 1990 to some 1.6 million in 2000, a whopping 60 percent increase. The largest growth in drug arrests has been for marijuana possession which now accounts for 41 percent of all drug abuse violations, totaling some 646,000 arrests in 2000. On a drug user by drug user basis, the number of marijuana arrests should actually be much higher, given that some 77 percent of all illegal drug use involves marijuana. Of course, most pot smokers have jobs and don't drive around the inner city looking to score. They are much harder to catch, Dionne Warwick notwithstanding.

Interestingly, while drug use has remained constant during the 1990 to 2000 time frame, consumer spending on drugs has decreased a whopping 44 percent. In constant 2000 dollars, consumer spending on drugs went from some $115 billion to a mere $64 billion. If American drug users are "funding terrorists," we can presumably expect fewer terrorist attacks in the future due to this rapid and continuing decrease in available funding dollars.

Dig a little more and you can see the true horror of spending American resources on the drug war: all the resources spent trying to prevent people from intoxicating themselves with drugs other than alcohol are taking away funding, manpower, computing and intelligence resources that might be better spent trying to prevent people from killing us. If memory serves, during my lifetime there has been no jetliner taken down or shopping mall crowd murdered by exploding bags of pot. Next time you're waiting to take a flight at the airport and a friendly policeman walks a dog past you, what do you think that dog should be sniffing for? Personally, I am not afraid of a bag of pot.

The sad fact of the matter is that a wily terrorist seeking to get nuclear or chemical weapons across U.S. borders can do so easily by arranging a huge drug bust to divert attention from his own deadly payload. Think of it: FBI agents couldn't get a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui's computer because wanting to learn to fly but not land jumbo jets wasn't cause enough for reasonable suspicion. Had an anonymous tipster phoned the FBI claiming they bought a bag of pot from him, however, all manner of warrants, phone taps and arrests would spring forth immediately. A failure of intelligence indeed!

America needs to grow up. People who amuse themselves with the "wrong" intoxicants are not a threat to the life and limb of their fellow citizens, but suicide bombers accompanying their checked baggage onto an aircraft certainly are. If our "leaders" can't tell the difference between smoking a joint and killing people, the dark stain on our national character masquerading as the "just and moral" struggle against drug users will be taking a very ugly and tragic turn for the worse. While the DEA busies itself busting medical marijuana services in California, a terrorist may be assembling bombs in the building next door. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Written June 10, 2002

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