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March 12, 2008 -- San Francisco Chronicle (CA)

Column: Damn, There Goes My Meth Supply

Thank God For Big Local Drug Raids, Because Now You Can't Get Coke Or Pot Or Ecstasy Anymore. Oh Wait

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Do you have any sympathy for the police? Or the Feds? I mean, just a little? I do.

I figure you gotta muster at least a little compassion for how rough and dispiriting it must be knowing you've done your job well and worked your ass off and maybe even risked your life, spending every single day for two years straight following leads and compiling evidence and coordinating a large drug investigation across multiple enforcement agencies, all of which finally culminated in a successful bust of some very large local meth operations.

And maybe you even made headlines by nailing a notorious drug-making family who was capable of cranking out upwards of 20 pounds of meth a month, and you were maybe lauded by the media and applauded by your boss and glad-handed by the mayor and perhaps even for a moment felt like something truly good has been accomplished.

And then, well, then you turn around and realize it's all pretty much a big, nasty joke. Pointless, senseless, quite nearly useless -- that what you've done really makes no difference whatsoever. And what's more, it never really has.

Is it not brutally true? Is this not pretty much the norm now, the common wisdom, going on nearly 40 years of the modern and abysmal "War on Drugs" and hundreds of billions of dollars spent and countless thousands of lives lost and prisons overflowing, and yet we're a nation that's more illegally drug-happy than ever?

Sometimes you just have to ask. Because truly, this grand and insidious "war" must be one of our greatest national embarrassments, an enormous, unspoken failure, far worse in its way than the lost and disgusting war in Iraq, given how it's caused more misery and more pain and more destruction across multiple decades and nations and governments and continues to cost countless billions of dollars and yet has, as all stats and studies reveal, almost zero effect on the overall drug culture of the nation.

This was the example just recently, a little news story that blipped across the wires saying how investigators had finally busted a big meth ring from San Francisco to Gilroy, and though there wasn't much detail, it was still enough to make you say, wait a minute: Two years of investigating? Hundreds of officers involved in the raids? One family alone capable of producing 20 pounds of meth a month? That's amazing. Yay team. Yay justice.

And it leads to the obvious question: Did it make any sort of difference? Is a baggie of meth any more difficult to obtain right now than it was a month ago? Has there been the slightest change? Or is it all merely the equivalent of trying to stop a raging river with a fork? You already know the answer.

Sometimes you gotta re-state the obvious, so you don't lose sight. The truth is, big drug busts do almost nothing to stem the flow of drugs or change the complexion of the culture, save for making a handful of rather uninformed citizens and angry parents feel better for about 10 minutes, and causing the street price of your narcotic du jour to jump 20 percent for a week.

Which, I suppose, is a big part of the reason it happens at all, to give the appearance of justice and enforcement and overall safety, to prevent everyone from freaking out and whining to the mayor.

But maybe what's most confounding is the ridiculous illogic of it all, how study after study proves that the threat of arrest and punishment, no matter how severe or even lethal, has never been the slightest deterrent to drug production, dealing, or usage -- save, of course, for your average easily petrified assistant manager who won't go near the pot pipe at the office Christmas party because oh my gosh that stuff's illegal and what if the cops come and take away my cat?

It's all amusing as it is tragic and pathetic. How much we hate those swarthy terrorists! How much we decry corrupt dictators and cruel governments! Yet the U.S. government conspires and funds and works with brutal warlords and terrorists and enormously corrupt governments all over the world every single day "fighting" the flow of illegal drugs (even as we're often complicit in that flow), the vast majority of which are less dangerous and violence-inducing than good ol' all-American alcohol. Hypocrisy, thou art snortable.

Let me be clear. I am no wild-eyed pro-drug legalize-everything advocate (well, not completely). I enjoy my illicit substances on intelligent and moderate occasion but I'm also nicely aware of why they call meth the devil's drug, the most insidious and destructive of all soul-killers, given its lethal combo of chemical toxins and addictiveness and trashy bargain-basement affordability. I have zero reason to doubt it.

Nor do I doubt that drug-dealer culture, as a direct result of the "war," gets incredibly violent and dangerous and makes for some mean streets indeed. Hell, I live mere blocks from notoriously drug-dealeriffic housing projects, where crime and gunfire and death are considered pretty much weekly occurrences.

But something is deeply wrong with our overall equation. Something rotten and rather pitiable about how we still think about drug culture and consider punishment and imprisonment the supreme solutions, and it's evidenced by every stupid comment I read from otherwise well-meaning adults who respond to drug-bust stories by sneering "Yes! Lock them up for life! Kill all drug dealers! They are ruining neighborhoods! Destroying families! Scum must die!" all in typical low-grade George W. Bush eye-for-an-eye pseudo-cowboy mentality, with not the slightest wisp of a thought as to why drugs are so appealing, what forces are at play in the human heart and mind, how all those billions of dollars would go so much better for prevention and treatment -- and oh yes, without thinking that those very dealers are the ones supplying their friends and neighbors with coke for the next backyard barbecue.

It is, you can say with a heavy sigh and a heavy heart and a madly tangled mind, just one of those things. One of those enormously uncomfortable and disheartening situations in American society that keeps churning on and eating at our national soul, simply because no one, particularly not the politicians we hire to speak up and put a stop to such idiotic hypocrisy, has the nerve to speak up and put a stop to such idiotic hypocrisy.

It is like farm subsidies. Like oil monopolies. Like waterboarding. Like Homeland Security and big tobacco and Dick Cheney. Everyone with the slightest intelligence knows it's a massive failure. Everyone knows it's a scam, a brutal lie, that it destroys far more than it allegedly helps. And yet, on it goes. It's all so insidious and unfair and depressing it can make you want to tear out your hair and wail at the moon. Or, you know, start doing drugs.

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