Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Do you have any sympathy for the police? Or the feds?
I mean, just a little? I do.
I figure you gotta muster at least a little compassion
for how rough and dispiriting it must be knowing
you've done your job well and worked your butt off and
maybe even risked your life, spending every single day
for two years straight following leads and compiling
evidence and coordinating a large drug investigation
across multiple enforcement agencies, all of which
finally culminated in a successful bust of some very
large meth operations.
And maybe you even made headlines by nailing a
notorious drug-making family that was capable of
cranking out upward of 20 pounds of meth a month, and
you were maybe lauded by the media and applauded by
your boss and glad-handed by the local mayor and
perhaps, even for a moment, felt as if something truly
good had been accomplished.
And then, well, then you turn around and realize it's
all pretty much a big, nasty joke. Pointless,
senseless, quite nearly useless, that what you've done
really makes no difference whatsoever. And what's
more, it never really has.
Is it not brutally true? Is this not pretty much the
norm now, the common wisdom, going on nearly 40 years
of the modern and abysmal war on drugs, hundreds of
billions spent, countless thousands of lives ruined,
prisons overflowing and yet we're still a nation
that's more illegal-drug happy than ever?
ain: yes. gain: no.
Sometimes you just have to ask. Because, truly, this
grand and insidious war must be one of our greatest
national embarrassments, an enormous, unspoken
failure, far worse in its way than the lost and
disgusting war in Iraq, given how it's caused more
misery and more pain and more destruction across
multiple decades and nations and governments and
continues to cost countless billions and yet has, as
all stats and studies reveal, almost zero effect on
the overall drug culture of the nation.
This was the example just recently, a little news
story that blipped across the wires saying how
investigators had finally busted a big meth ring from
San Francisco to San Jose, and though there wasn't
much detail, it was still enough to make you say,
"Wait a minute: Two years of investigating? Hundreds
of officers involved in the raids? One family alone
capable of producing 20 pounds of meth a month? That's
amazing. Yay, team. Yay, justice."
And it leads to the obvious question: Did it make any
difference? Is a baggie of meth any more difficult to
obtain right now than it was a month ago? Or is it all
merely the equivalent of trying to stop a raging river
with a fork? You already know the answer.
Maybe what's most confounding is the ridiculous
illogic of it all, how study after study proves that
the threat of arrest and punishment, no matter how
severe or lethal, has never been the slightest
deterrent to drug production, dealing or usage - save,
of course, for your average easily petrified assistant
manager who won't go near the pot pipe at the office
Christmas party because, oh my gosh, that stuff's
illegal and what if the cops come and take away my
It's all as amusing as it is tragic and pathetic. How
much we hate those swarthy terrorists! How much we
decry corrupt dictators and cruel governments! Yet the
U.S. government conspires and funds and works with
brutal warlords and terrorists and enormously corrupt
governments all over the world every single day
"fighting" the flow of illegal drugs (even as we're
often complicit in that flow), the vast majority of
which are less dangerous and violence-inducing than
good ol' all-American alcohol. Hypocrisy, thou art
Let me be clear. I am no pro-drug, legalize-everything
advocate (well, not completely). I enjoy illicit
substances on occasion, but I'm also aware of why they
call meth the devil's drug, the most insidious and
destructive of all soul killers, given its lethal
combo of chemical toxins and addictiveness and
white-trash bargain-basement affordability.
Nor do I doubt that drug-dealer culture, as a direct
result of the war, gets incredibly violent and
dangerous and makes for some mean streets indeed. I
live mere blocks from notoriously drug-dealeriffic
housing projects, where crime and gunfire and death
are pretty much weekly occurrences.
But something is deeply wrong with the overall
equation. There's something rotten and rather pitiable
about how we still consider punishment and
imprisonment the supreme solution, and it's evidenced
by every stupid comment I read from otherwise
well-meaning adults who respond to drug-bust stories
by sneering, "Yes! Lock them up for life! Kill all
drug dealers! They are ruining neighborhoods!
Destroying families! Scum must die!," all in a
typical, low-grade, George Bush, eye-for-an-eye,
pseudo-cowboy mentality, with not the slightest wisp
of a thought as to why drugs are so appealing, what
forces are at play in the human heart and mind, how
all those billions would go so much better for
prevention and treatment - and, oh yes, the idea that
those very dealers are the ones supplying their
friends and neighbors with coke for the next backyard
It is, you can say with a heavy sigh and a heavy heart
and a madly tangled mind, just one of those things.
One of those enormously uncomfortable and
disheartening situations in American society that
keeps eating at our national soul, simply because no
one, particularly not the politicians we hire to speak
up and put a stop to such idiotic hypocrisy, has the
nerve to speak up and put a stop to such idiotic
It is like farm subsidies. Like oil monopolies. Like
waterboarding. Like Homeland Security and big tobacco
and Dick Cheney. Everyone with the slightest
intelligence knows it's a huge failure. Everyone knows
it's a scam, a brutal lie, that it destroys far more
than it helps. And yet on it goes. It can make you
want to tear out your hair and wail at the moon. Or,
you know, start doing drugs.
-- Mark Morford columns with inset links to related
material can be found at
Mark Morford's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays
in Datebook and on SFGate.com. E-mail him at