Pubdate: Tue, 03 Jul 2001
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2001 Newsday Inc.
Author: Robert Sharpe


Clive Thompson's excellent column on the Supreme Court ruling against
the use of thermal imaging highlights a major flaw in the drug war
["High-Tech Snooping Is Lowering Privacy Threshold," Currents, June
24]. It's not possible to wage a moralistic war against consensual
vices unless privacy is completely eliminated, along with the
Constitution. America can either be a free country or a "drug -free"
country, but not both.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling stemmed from police use of thermal
imaging to detect indoor grow lights used in marijuana cultivation.
The drug war is in large part a war against marijuana, by far the most
popular illicit drug. In 1999 there were 704,812 arrests for
marijuana, 620,541 for possession alone. For a drug that has never
been shown to cause an overdose death, the allocation of resources
used to enforce marijuana laws is outrageous.

Marijuana is demonized as a "gateway" drug that leads to harder drugs,
when in fact marijuana prohibition is best described as a gateway
policy. Illicit marijuana provides the black market contacts that
introduce users to harder drugs such as heroin. And let's not kid
ourselves about protecting children. The thriving black market has no
age controls. Taxing and regulating marijuana is a cost-effective
alternative to spending tens of billions annually on a failed drug
war. It makes no sense to waste scarce resources on failed policies
that finance organized crime, facilitate the use of addictive hard
drugs and threaten to undermine America's Constitution.

Robert Sharpe
The writer is program officer for the
Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation.  Washington D.C.
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