Friday, March 21, 2008


> AS HE TROOPS about Europe, with notebook and camera crew, guidebook
> author Rick Steves witnesses what the late historian Barbara Tuchman
> called "The March of Folly," the sites of wars and witch hunts waged
> by feckless rulers.
> Steves has come home with a mind to take on our leaders' folly, the
> federal government's enduring, woefully unsuccessful War on Drugs,
> and the battle front against marijuana.
> He would replace a strategy of locking people up with a policy
> designed to lessen harm. It's a lot like the "Four Pillars" approach
> to drug use adopted by Vancouver, B.C.: treatment, harm reduction,
> prevention and -- for profiteers of the business -- enforcement.
> "I'm just tired of watching people embrace lies because they think it
> is dangerous to do otherwise," Steves explained.
> The futility of the drug war, started by the Nixon administration,
> can be seen in sweeping statistics as well as individual cases of human hurt.
> The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 97.8 million
> Americans, age 12 and older, have used marijuana at least once. The
> ranks of semi-regular smokers total more than 25 million.
> If 39.8 percent of those over 12 have taken a toke, the number of
> young people getting high is higher. The DEA says that totals 41.8
> percent of 12th-graders -- 31.7 percent have smoked in the past year
> -- 46.9 percent of college students and 56.7 percent of young adults.
> Can our drug warriors claim success given these figures?
> Steves says officials abroad shake their head at the ham-handed
> tactics of America's drug bureaucracy. "Europe has had a 15-year
> track record dealing with drugs as a health problem, not a crime
> problem," he said.
> Or drive 144 miles north and talk with Canadian Sen. Larry Campbell,
> a former police officer, coroner and Vancouver mayor. "They're still
> in 'Reefer Madness,' " Campbell said in an interview, referring to a
> laughable anti-drug movie of the 1930s.
> The drug warriors' tactics, of late, have been to attack civil
> liberties and stomp on privacy.
> An example is requiring random drug tests for those involved in high
> school athletics. In a case from tiny Wahkiakum County, the state
> Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week against the school
> district's policy of pee-to-participate.
> Bill Clinton quibbled, waffled and evaded the
> have-you-ever-smoked-pot question far into the 1992 campaign. He
> finally put the country in stitches with his "I didn't inhale" line.
> But our first baby-boomer president signed a punitive law passed in
> 1995 by the Republican-controlled Congress. The law denies federal
> student loan assistance to convicted marijuana "offenders."
> What's the effect? In 2006, 696,074 Americans were arrested for
> marijuana "offenses." Of this number, 88 percent were charged only
> with possession. The number charged with sale and/or manufacture
> totaled just over 90,000.
> Hence, thousands of college students have been denied aid, and
> thousands of other worthy citizens endure petty penalties.
> A friend of mine works summers for the National Park Service, and
> wants to make a career with the agency. He is a) an Eagle Scout, b)
> an Olympic Peninsula native, c) a trained climbing guide and rescue
> technician who d) has earned two master's degrees, and e) presents
> research at scholarly gatherings on how to minimize human effects on
> fragile natural systems.
> One step remains: He must take a law enforcement course. Because he
> took a toke on a joint two years ago -- and answered the question
> honestly -- the guy must wait an additional year to learn how to
> shoot straight.
> The have-you-ever question has not intruded into the 2008
> presidential campaign. A Hillary Clinton enforcer tried to gin up
> attention into Barack Obama's confession of youthful marijuana use,
> but was forced to leave the campaign.
> Still, as Hendrik Hertzberg wrote recently in The New Yorker, neither
> Obama, Clinton nor John McCain seems willing to rescue the country
> "from the larger disgrace of the drug war -- the billions wasted, the
> millions harmed, the utter futility of it."
> As usual, the initiative must come from the bottom up. As with global
> warming, Seattle is a test market for change.
> It's appropriate. In 2003, Seattle voters adopted Initiative 75,
> making pot possession our city's lowest law enforcement priority.
> Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske cites, with a hint of pride, the low
> number of stand-alone marijuana smoking arrests.
> The American Civil Liberties Union has put together a multimedia
> public education campaign, "Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation,"
> which includes a Web site (, a booklet and
> a 30-minute video. Steves is host.
> Comcast is offering the video free to subscribers through its On
> Demand service. Comcast subscribers can watch the program by entering
> 888 on their cable remote, going to Community, and looking for the program.
> It's a modest beginning. Steves jokes about hosting because a
> politician would run the risk of being "Swift-boated."
> One hopes, however, that the ACLU will get bolder.
> The marijuana front consumes $8 billion in taxpayer dollars each
> year. To what end? What does society gain from all those possession arrests?
> Sensible Americans look out today and see a country that needs to be
> extracted from its failing wars.

> Newshawk: Please Write a LTE
> Pubdate: Fri, 21 Mar 2008
> Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
> Webpage:
> Copyright: 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
> Contact:
> Website:
> Details:
> Author: Joel Connelly, P-I Columnist

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