BOOKS & THE CULTURE of his interviews with political players and drug warriors from the past three decades is that the conflation of heroin and marijuana, and later cocaine and crack cocaine, into a single omnibus “enemy” has been a consciously manipulated process guided more by politics than by science. Administrative rhetoric and the out-of-hand dismissal of contradictory evidence \(‘and a post-Great lowed consecutive administrations to treat drugs as a crime problem \(with the help of a media all too excited at the prospect of the question of treatment for that portion of drug-userswhich Baum finds to be statistically marginalfor whom drugs become a problem. Of course millions \(some estimates run examine personal experience, smile slowly, and tell you yes, happily, there’s a difference between use and abuse. Some presumably lesser number of recreational cocaine users will tell you the same thing. The numbers are broken down by age cate gory in the regular polls and fluctuate from year to year. For instance, the 1995 University of Michigan “Monitoring the Future” poll, which has been keeping an eye on drug patterns for twenty years, finds that teenage drug use has doubled in the last five years. That statistic was well-reported. There’s another categorical statistic from the poll that was not so well reported. It asks teenagers how easy they think it is to find drugs. The number of respondents claiming that yes, drugs are “fairly” or “very” easy to find was 87.8 percent in 1975. The number is 88.5 percent in 1995. There have been no statistically significant variations in the number between the two dates. The conclusion is obvious: drug availability is not linked to drug use. And furthermore, the Drug War seems to have no link to drug availability, much less use. After almost thirty years of a presidentially-mandated War on Drugs, your kid can have a joint in his or her hand within the hour, betcha. Zero Tolerance seems to equal Zero Effect. So who, precisely, benefits from the War on Drugs? Local police departments, for one, who often get a cut of asset forfeitures in drug cases and so have a financial motive. And of course, persons holding stock in the exploding private prison industry are tickled pink. For the rest of us, Baum argues, the Drug War has served little function other than its most frightening: a political wedge into civil liberty, by means of which otherwise lawabiding citizens may legally have their phones tapped, their doors kicked in, their homes seized, and their selves imprisoned. These pages are filled with political machinations followed by horror stories of lives needlessly disrupted by federal intervention and punishment, all for a few pot plants. For a few seeds. There might be a reasoned trade-off in there if any of this were keeping crack off the street and drugs out of children’s hands, but if you’ve seen a child oro street lately, you know that it’s not. If there’s a difference between drug use and drug abuseand of course there is you won’t hear this year’s presidential CHASING THE DAY’S CRACK SCARE An interview with Dan Baum / ” live in a town in western Montana called Missoula, which is really about as crimeand drug-free a place as there is anywhere, and in 1991 the D.E.A. came to town and just ran riot, busting old hippies for growing five or ten marijuana plants. This is the D.E.A. And they confiscated their houses and they sent them to federal prison for eighteen months to five years. Every week there was another big bust in the paperwith a big color picture on the front page of another person that everybody knew, going off to jail. One was the chairman of the art museum board, one was a former city councilman, who was the area’s most prominent environmental activist. It was one after the other. It was really scary. The whole town felt kinda under siege. The mayor denounced it because the mayor hadn’t been informed that this was going happen. It was scary, it was something everybody was talking about. I started looking into it to do a piece for The Nation, and was just amazed at the shit I was finding. You’ve been a reporter a long time, usually you know when you set out what the story is, and your reporting is just getting the facts and the figures and the quotes to back it up. I would come home every night and say to my wife, who’s a reporter, ‘You won’t believe what the government can do to you. You won’t believe how many people are in prison, what has happened to the Supreme Court, what has happened to the Fourth Amendment.’ I was just astounded. I was the drug war reporter for the Atlanta Constitution in 1985, when crack was first appearing, and you’d think I would know better. I went back and read my byline file in Atlanta and found that I myself had written some of the most egregious bullshit, panic-mongering crap, and I think I’m a good reporter. I had come from the Wall Street Journal to the Constitution, you know, and I had politics, and I remember when I was at the Constitution I was always saying to my editors, ‘You know, I want to step back and do some more indepth reporting about what’s really going on,’ and they never said, ‘Don’t do that,’ but they always said, ‘Sure, Dan, that would be great, but first there was a crackhouse raided on MLK Boulevard today and we need that for the two-star.’ It was always chasing that day’s crack scare story. I started looking for critical writing about the drug war, and found very little. And what little I found, none of it explained how, in a democracy, we could have gotten to such a point. David Foreman, the leader of Earth First!he once said that the earth isn’t dying, it’s being killed, and the people who are killing it have names and addresses. And I always really liked that quote, because we have a tendency I think, maybe as Americans, maybe as humans, to just think that things happen, and that the way it is now is the way it’s always been. And what I liked about Foreman’s quote is that he was saying no, there are names and faces we can put to this, this was done to us. And this is certainly true with the drug war. This was not haphazard and random. This was done.” B.T. 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 25, 1996
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