Pubdate: Tue, 20 Mar 2001
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2001 The Miami Herald
Contact:  One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132-1693
Fax: (305) 376-8950
Author: Fred Grimm


Sherrie Maresco died after snorting heroin in some lousy Davie house 
trailer. She was barely 13. A seventh-grader. An honors student.

We don't need a Hollywood scriptwriter to suggest a funereal futility.

Nineteen years after Ronald Reagan announced a ``war on drugs'' that would 
``do what is necessary to end the drug menace,'' every community in America 
has plenty of corpses that can testify to the war's futility. No need of 
dramatic cinematography.

After Sherrie's death Feb. 19, a Miramar cop noted, ``There are young 
people that die of overdoses every day, but as far as our community goes, 
this is the youngest one we have ever seen.''

``The youngest one we have ever seen.'' That shocked the community.

``There are young people that die of overdoses every day.'' That didn't.

The drug war has about a million Americans, mostly young, rotting in prison 
- -- to no effect on the drug trade and the drug tragedies. But it's Traffic 
that has our leaders suddenly buzzing about futility. A mere movie, graphic 
and well-made though, with occasional descents into Hollywood melodrama, 
has managed to define the dire reality of a long, lost battle.


Reagan modeled his war on drugs after the Miami Task Force on Crime and 
Drugs, which was put together after South Florida's bloody cocaine gang 
wars littered the area with machine-gunned bodies.

But the death toll still mounts, if not as blatantly as in 1981. Last week, 
in Miami-Dade County, police discovered the bodies of three murdered 
prostitutes, all of whom, police said, were in the trade for drugs or drug 

And getting the drugs remains the easy part of the equation. After 19 years 
of doing ``what is necessary to end the drug menace,'' drugs are cheap, 
plentiful and as easy to purchase as a quick drive to a ruined neighborhood.

The war consumes an estimated $70 billion a year in local and federal 
money, keeps a million prisoners behind bars, many serving the long 
mandatory sentences enacted as part of the great crackdown. Yet the supply 
remains unabated, the price unaffected. Drug addicts still account for a 
huge percentage of our property crime. Drug profits still corrupt and 
cripple the governments of Mexico and Colombia. Inner-city American kids 
still get sucked into the street trade. And kids like Sherrie Maresco snort 


The obvious futility hasn't just been mouthed by a bunch of acid-fried 
lefties. Conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley Jr. and Milton 
Friedman have written about the madness of this money-sucking, 
prison-filling war on human nature.

But Buckley and Friedman don't come with the glitter necessary to jolt a 
celebrity culture. They ain't Hollywood. It took a fictional character 
portrayed by movie star Michael Douglas to turn the heads of our 
politicians. ``It had a very powerful effect,'' Sen. John McCain told an 
interviewer. ``It caused me to rethink our policies and priorities.''

Nightline, the late-night ABC news magazine, has embarked on five-program 
series examining the drug war. Interviews with judges and cops and drug 
enforcement officials begin with the single question that has become more 
important than a million prisoners or murdered junkies or Sherrie Maresco 
dead on the floor in her blue jeans and red pullover: ``Have you seen the 
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