An Assembly of Pieces

James Anderson Merritt's piecemeal thoughts and observations, and the occasional attempt to put some of the pieces together.
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All material except cited quotations Copyright (C) 2004-2008 by James Anderson Merritt. All rights reserved.
Thursday, July 11, 2002

Some recent, highly significant events, related to the War on Drugs, have helped hasten a general realization in American society that it is past time for the Drug Warriors to declare "Peace With Honor" and go home:

Event 1: Activists have once again succeeded in getting a measure to approve medical marijuana onto the ballot in Washington, D.C., despite vigorous opposition from federal Drug Warriors and Drug War hawks in Congress (Bob Barr, et. al.). The last time this kind of measure came to a vote in the nation's capital, Congress passed a law that prevented the counting of the ballots. But eventually, that totalitarian, completely un-American edict was properly rescinded by court order. It turned out that the measure had passed with a resounding supermajority margin. Proponents are confident that the latest measure will also garner the supermajority it needs to pass, and they are hopeful that Congress will take the hint and respect the will of the people.

Event 2: A proposal to legalize marijuana in small amounts has qualified for the November ballot in Nevada. This goes way beyond even the liberal medical marijuana initiatives that Nevada and several other states have already passed. If approved by voters, this measure will place Nevada squarely at odds with the federal government, which steadfastly refuses to back down in its position that marijuana is a heinous, "Schedule I" drug. The Drug Warriors have continued to harass and prosecute medical marijuana purveyors, even in states that declare a medical exception for marijuana cultivation, distribution, and use. It is easy to imagine that they would be just as vigorous in going after those who might seek to take a Nevada decriminalization statute at face value. This will set the stage for a state's rights battle between the state and the federal government, similar to the one now going in Oregon over their assisted suicide laws. Will the Drug Warriors have the good sense to leave Nevada and Nevadans alone, or will they try to bully the state all the way to the Supreme Court? Forget WWE, this Cage Deathmatch will be "must see TV."

Event 3: In a powerful "Statement of Conscience," the Unitarians have come out in favor of ending the Drug War, allegedly the first major US religious denomination to do so. Will they be the last?

Event 4: The United Kingdom has announced a decision not to enforce drug laws against small-time, casual marijuana users, and to reduce the official "heinousness quotient" of marijuana to a level similar to those of steroids and brand-name antidepressants (equivalent to the US bumping pot down from Schedule I to Schedule II or even III). Tony Blair and company reserve the right to go after pot dealers, as well as users and dealers of harder drugs (especially heroin, which is a huge problem in the UK). They have not given up on the morally bankrupt principle that the government has the authority to tell adults what they can and cannot ingest. We can perhaps accept this kind of paternalism from a country that continues to maintain the institution of monarchy, albeit as a figurehead. But when even the UK bows to the pressure of public opinion (not to mention common sense) on this issue, it makes you wonder how the US can keep prosecuting the Drug War, given that its legal foundation -- the Constitution -- does not appear to grant explicit authority for the federal government to control drugs or food (except as necessary to promote their participation in interstate commerce!), and does explicitly forbid the government from getting involved in areas that are not specifically mentioned in the document.

The UK about-face on the issue of marijuana prohibition may cause us, their cousins across the Atlantic, to ask, "why not here"? We citizens of "the land of the free and the home of the brave" should go even futher and dare to inquire about the legal justification for the Drug War in the first place. I challenge anyone to examine the official justification for the Drug War and DEA in the US Code, and say with a straight face that its vague and perfunctory allusions to the Constitution are sufficient to authorize the War, either as it began or in the metastasized form that we see today.

It seems as if all of these events were actually quite long in the making. But their convergence, within a couple of weeks of each other, may serve to raise the visibility of the overall issue onto the American public's radar screen. Until now, news of progress in ending the War on Drugs has been lost in the din caused by the War on Terrorism, the recent steep dip in the Wall Street rollercoaster, and any number of other distractions. Perhaps, however, these nearly simultaneous events will combine in the public consciousness, like the convergence of several planets, into a bright light that will catch our collective attention and draw us upward and forward, into more civic sanity than we have enjoyed in the past thirty years.


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