Last Monday, with America tensely poised at Orange Alert against new terrorist attacks, vigilant, machine-gun-toting National Guardsmen were becoming common in New York’s subway stations. So, Attorney General John Ashcroft targeted a fearsome threat: marijuana pipes.
Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter encompassed raids on drug paraphernalia manufacturers, distributors, and their homes. At least 60 people have been arrested for supplying pipes, bongs, and roach clips. They face up to three years in prison and/or $250,000 fines. “This illegal billion-dollar industry will no longer be ignored by law enforcement,” Ashcroft roared on February 24.
And his muscle matched his volume. On the very day that New York state officials announced that they would dispatch 113 vans to detect and combat chemical and biological weapons, Washington arranged a massive attack on this harrowing menace.
“Including federal, state and local officials, our estimate is about 1,200 were involved, just on that day,” Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman Will Glaspy says by phone. Among them, “easily hundreds” of U.S. agents were deployed “about 103 U.S. Marshals alone,” Justice spokesman Drew Wade adds. “It was just exhaustive.” The Feds responsible include prosecutors in eleven U.S. attorneys’ offices from southern California to western Pennsylvania. Rather than guard America’s docks and porous borders from the next Mohamed Atta, Customs and Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel joined the anti-pipe posse.
This federal overreach featured an unhealthy dose of rhetorical overkill. “People selling drug paraphernalia,” said acting DEA chief John Brown, “are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal homicide.” Yes, and wineglass makers cause drunk-driving deaths.
This is futile and foolish.
“There is no evidence that these laws have any impact on reducing drug use whatsoever,” said Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann. Household products, such as empty toilet paper rolls and foil, can serve as crude marijuana pipes. Unless Aschroft eradicates Charmin and Reynolds Wrap, people who choose to smoke marijuana will do so. Also, they simply could visit tobacconists and buy pipes like the one Sherlock Holmes puffed, perhaps inspiring intense laugh attacks.
Drug warriors must recognize that some eleven million American adults enjoy getting high at least annually — to relax and endure these nerve-wracking times. Some brave this endless winter, the drooping Dow, the Columbia disaster, the Rhode Island nightclub inferno, and growing war jitters by sipping martinis. Others play Lotto or visit Vegas. Still more sleep around. In excess, these behaviors can ruin one’s health, fortunes, or both. Yet only smoking grass yields jail time. This is silly, illogical, and wicked.
Adults who use drug paraphernalia while handling automobiles or wrecking balls deserve punishment. Minors should steer clear of the stuff until adulthood. That aside, mood enhancement should be none of government’s business.
While this was true before the late, great Twin Towers collapsed, it is doubly so today. Federal law enforcers should be single-minded if not obsessive about foiling “3/11,” “4/11″ or whatever we may have to dub the next 9/11.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said February 11 that “several hundred” al Qaeda-linked terrorists may be here today. Perhaps they now cherish U.S. liberties, abundance, and amusements. If they indeed embrace the American way, welcome. More likely, though, they strive to turn crop dusters into anthrax dispensers, or water supplies into streams of cyanide — as Italian officials allege a suspected al Qaeda cell planned for Rome last year.
British authorities arrested six Algerians in London who, they believe, possessed ricin, a toxin that kills via respiratory arrest or vascular collapse. It may be here in the hands of people who want us dead.
Neither Americans who smoke grass nor their roach-clip salesmen seek to kill anyone. They would sob if the Sears Tower were awash in flames. Their backpacks likelier contain bluegrass CDs than plastic explosives.
Those who light pot pipes are not our enemies. They are our colleagues, neighbors, friends, and loved ones. In short, they are Americans who should be protected rather than persecuted by federal busybodies who desperately need to focus on first things. John Ashcroft, John Brown, and this country’s other drug warlords should ask themselves what would be worse for America’s citizens: more bong hits or more body parts.
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.