It must have been heartening for every American bunkered down behind
duct-taped doors and windows, nervously awaiting a smallpox outbreak or
mustard-gas attack, to see their federal authorities could still find time
away from the arduous task of combating international terrorism last week to
fight a new bogeyman: the bong.

The War on Drugs needs a little sexing up for the public eye every so often,
something to distract the populace from the fact that it's been a dismal
failure from the perspective of everyone but the thriving U.S. prison
industry.

When the War on Terror threatened to steal what was left of its flagging
thunder, for instance, anti-drug forces responded by linking the two and
warning narcotics consumers that the money they spend on recreational
pharmaceuticals could potentially be trickling back into the hands of
terrorist organizations.

"If you get high, kids, the terrorists win," was the message -- coming,
rather unfairly, at a time when a lot of fearful people are feeling an
uncommonly strong urge to do just that. Drug users were no longer just
immoral human beings and criminals to be pitied and incarcerated en masse.
No, the stoners were bringing the country down from within.

Now, in what can only be seen as a rather wobbly attempt to save face in a
long, losing battle, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is crying "victory" in
a whole new conflict spun off from the War on Drugs, one we'll dub the War
on Drug Paraphernalia.

The DEA made a proud announcement this past week that it had snared 55
individuals in countrywide raids on businesses allegedly manufacturing,
importing and selling bongs, pipes, scales and other varieties of "illegal
drug paraphernalia."

Amidst all the "that's one for the good guys" back-slapping and alarmist
rhetoric emanating from the various law-enforcement agencies involved,
however, there was no mention of anything being done to physically curb the
actual drug trade that enables the paraphernalia business to take in an
estimated $50 million (U.S.) in the States annually.

At the end of the day, "Operation Pipe Dreams," as the crackdown was
creatively named, did nothing more than screw up the lives and livelihoods
of several dozen entrepreneurs and provide the authorities with an elaborate
media stunt to disguise the fact that they're not doing their real job.

Inventing a problem is always a handy political tool for manipulating public
opinion and diverting attention from the numerous things you're not doing.
We've seen the same tactic at work here in Toronto numerous times -- when
former Ontario education minister John Snobelen got caught musing about
"creating a crisis" to ram the Harris government's school reforms through
the provincial Legislature, for example, or when the Toronto police force
made somewhat spurious claims about seizing guns at raves three years ago to
exaggerate the (virtually non-existent) dangers of the after-hours party
scene and hasten a clampdown.

America must be resting a little easier tonight, now that it's dealt with
all those Graffix bongs, tiny coke spoons and crack pipes -- the latter's
not a hot seller, I suspect, since committed crackheads are more likely to
shoplift a pipe or crudely fashion one from a discarded can than they are to
walk into a head shop and say, "Hello, might I have a look at your selection
of crack pipes, please?" What a crippling blow to the drug trade. Surely the
demand for marijuana and blow will dry up now that no one has any means of
ingesting them. This War on Drugs is winnable, after all!

"People selling drug paraphernalia are in essence no different from drug
dealers," was DEA chief John Brown's ludicrous statement to the press. "They
are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal
homicide."

No different from drug dealers, that is, except they don't deal drugs. And,
if we're to be picky about the structure of Brown's second statement,
wouldn't it be more accurate to relate dealers of drug paraphernalia to
those who supply murderers with the "paraphernalia" of criminal homicide --
gun dealers, let's say -- rather than silencers? A silencer is more akin to
a roach clip or a glass bowl for a bong; it's an accessory, a tool of the
trade. But, I suppose, following logic on this matter might imply some
justification for an America-wide crackdown on weapons manufacturers,
distributors and retailers, and that's not coming anytime soon.

As usual, puritanical U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft found a way to
foment middle-class panic by noting that a dozen of the businesses raided
were Internet operations that "in some cases" had been targeting "young
people" with their products (smart business, really, since young people tend
to do the most drugs).

"The illegal drug-paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families
across the country without their knowledge," he cautioned, employing the
same sort of broadly generalized non-reasoning favoured by his colleagues in
the DEA. One would think, after all, that anyone ordering a freebase kit
from an online retailer is well aware that the illegal drug-paraphernalia
industry has "invaded" -- or, rather, been invited into -- his or her home.

The Internet angle is nevertheless a convenient, subtle way of implying a
need for stricter monitoring of cyberspace, which -- if we're to believe the
news -- is already a minefield of perverts, child pornographers and con
artists preying on our "young people." And, as we all know, governments
these days are all hot and bothered about monitoring everything and
everyone. For the greater good, of course.

It's all -- to use a vaguely drug-related idiom -- smoke and mirrors, an
empty triumph of law and order over a symptomatic "evil" that wouldn't exist
had a much larger problem been dealt with sanely and efficiently in the
first place. Create a crisis and proclaim yourself a hero, while changing
nothing.

If I weren't already so tired of talking about the States, I'd say that
sounds awfully familiar.


Pubdate: Sun, 2 Mar 2003
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Contact: lettertoed@thestar.com
Copyright: 2003 The Toronto Star
Website: http://www.thestar.com/