Last week, the FBI warned that “a planned attack may occur in the United States or against U.S. interests on or around Feb. 12,” thanks to 12 terrorists led by Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei, a Saudi-born Yemeni. Suspecting this, federal officials should have deployed as many dedicated, talented agents as possible to protect high-profile targets such as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, or the pyramidal Transamerica Tower.
Think again. Washington instead chose February 12 to unleash tough, gun-toting Drug Enforcement Agency officers against AIDS and cancer patients. These federal agents raided a suspected cannabis cultivation center in suburban Petaluma, California, and medical-marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco and Oakland. They arrested four men who led these operations.
This unjust, outrageous, and ill-timed misallocation of law-enforcement resources epitomizes the Bush administration’s new effort to repackage the war on drugs within the war on terror.
“If you’re buying illegal drugs in America, it is likely that money is going to end up in the hands of terrorist organizations,” President Bush declared February 12. His point is not without merit when it comes to cocaine, some of whose proceeds reach Colombia’s Marxist FARC guerrillas. Likewise, the Taliban profited from heroin and opium smuggling. Of course, the war on drugs relegates these products to the black market, where shady characters dwell, rather than the sunshine of free trade.
That said, one has to smoke something pretty strong to conclude that someone who uses marijuana to fight life-threatening AIDS wasting syndrome somehow is in cahoots with al Qaeda. The Sixth Street Harm Reduction Center, a facility the DEA crushed February 12, served some 200 people enduring AIDS, cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other serious illnesses. They now must buy their cannabis through illegal drug dealers, or simply watch themselves deteriorate and die.
Three of the center’s associates face between five and 40 years in federal prison. Officials say James Halloran, 61, grew more than 1,000 marijuana plants in Oakland. That could cost him ten years to life behind bars. Compare these staggering potential terms to the actual penalties two men received January 31 for unwittingly helping 9/11 hijackers Abdulaziz Alomari and Ahmed Alghamdi secure bogus Virginia I.D. cards. Victor Lopez-Flores got 27 months in prison while Herbert Villalobos earned a four-month sentence. His previous 18 weeks in custody earned his immediate release.
The Bay Area clampdown recalls the DEA’s October 25 closure of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center. It operated with the blessing of West Hollywood officials and the L.A. county sheriff, all elected authorities. That was not enough to keep 30 DEA agents from spending six hours yanking 400 marijuana plants from its premises along with computers, documents and the medical records of its 960 patients.
Until the Feds intervened, these outfits operated legally. Fifty-six percent of California voters approved Proposition 215, a medical marijuana measure, in 1996. Initiatives also have legalized medipot in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Maine Oregon, Nevada, and Washington. While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last May that therapeutic grass suppliers cannot assert marijuana’s “medical necessity” to avoid federal drug laws, it did not address the validity of state statutes permitting clinical cannabis.
Federal heavy-handedness has made drug decriminalizers rail against DEA chief and former GOP congressman Asa Hutchinson. As the Drug Policy Alliance’s Glenn Backes says: “You have an appointed official, a career politician from Arkansas, who sits in Washington, D.C. and tells the voters of California and the other seven states that have supported medical marijuana: ‘It doesn’t matter what you vote for. I have your tax dollars and I’m going to spend them going after sick people.’”
Of course, drug warriors like Hutchinson target healthy pot smokers, too. The FBI reports that 734,498 Americans were arrested for marijuana violations in 2000. Nearly 88 percent of these individuals — precisely 646,042 – were arrested for mere possession.
As the U.S. confronts budget deficits and a growing surplus of enemies dedicated to America’s destruction, Washington must rearrange its priorities. Neither cancer patients nor classic rockers who use marijuana will murder another 3,000 innocent civilians in cold blood. Every federal agent who stops pot smokers from lighting up is one less agent who can prevent Americans from blowing up.