Pubdate: Wed, 31 Jul 2002
Source: Charlotte Creative Loafing (NC)
Copyright: 2002 Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inc.
Author: Tara Servatius


Why Did Sgt. Futrell Have to Die in the Futile War on Pot?

At his funeral, they called Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Sergeant Anthony 
Scott Futrell a hero.

But Futrell, who died in a plane crash two weeks ago while scouting 
marijuana plants in the fields of Chowan County, was more than a hero: he 
was also the latest victim of this country's increasingly absurd war on 
illegal drugs.

That this gifted, multi-talented individual who served on the SWAT team, 
was an EMT, a pilot and a member of ALERT (a terrorist attack emergency 
response team), should perish the way he did seems even more tragic.

Had Futrell died diffusing a hostage situation, saving a drowning woman, or 
combating a terrorist attack, his death might have served a nobler purpose, 
something more in line with his level of dedication.

But the reality of the situation is that Futrell lost his life in a futile 
attempt to stop some aging yuppies from lighting up after a hard week at 
the office, and what that accomplished, I don't know.

Futrell and the two other officers who died in that terrible crash were 
soldiers on the losing side of the most senseless facet of the drug war: 
the battle against marijuana.

It's a battle that, among other flaws, has jammed our prisons so tightly, 
states are releasing hardened criminals to make room for pot dealers who 
get mandatory long sentences.

The same week we buried Futrell, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors 
voted to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow the city to 
grow pot on city-owned land and distribute it to seriously ill patients who 
have permission from their doctors to use it for medical purposes. City 
leaders want the program to double as agriculture job training for the 
unemployed. San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno told the media he drafted 
the proposal because the Drug Enforcement Administration remains determined 
to close down "clubs" that distribute medical marijuana in San Francisco 
and across California, the first of eight states to approve the use of 
medical marijuana with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996.

In Nevada last week, where a constitutional amendment to legalize the 
possession of three ounces or less of the drug will be on the November 
ballot, a poll was released that showed voters evenly divided on the issue, 
with 44 percent of them backing the initiative and 46 percent opposed to it.

While Futrell scanned the fields from his plane, riders on New York subways 
were reading National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) 
ads featuring a quotation from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who, 
when asked whether he had ever smoked marijuana replied, "You bet I did. 
And I enjoyed it."

So why are politicians like Bloomberg still fighting the war on drugs? And 
why is so much of that war focused on marijuana rather than on the harder, 
actually harmful drugs?

Most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that according to FBI 
statistics, in 2000, nearly half of the 1.57 million drug arrests in this 
country -- 734,497 --were for marijuana. Of those, 646,042 people were 
arrested for possession.

And these aren't hardened street thugs who are, shall we say, in 
possession. In a recent survey by Partnership for a Drug Free America, 15 
percent of couples with children admitted to smoking marijuana in the last 
year. Their children are smoking, too, and in greater numbers than they 
are. According to a recently released Monitoring the Future study conducted 
for the government by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social 
Research, a survey of 44,300 high school students revealed that 49 percent 
of 12th graders had used marijuana at some time.

This isn't to suggest that smoking marijuana is a good idea, or that anyone 
should try it. But it's pretty obvious that, try as we might to stop its 
cultivation, distribution and use, the drug is here to stay. And with 
Canadian officials poised to decriminalize possession and loosen their drug 
laws, Asa Hutchinson, the director of the US Drug Enforcement 
Administration, predicted that more Canadian-grown pot would end up south 
of the border in the coming years, which is not to say that it isn't 
popular here already. According to media reports, a spokesman for the Drug 
Enforcement Administration last week singled out the potent Canadian bud as 
particularly prevalent in the United States.

British officials who recently relaxed their country's marijuana laws have 
finally figured out that pursuing marijuana arrests is a waste of the 
valuable time of talented law enforcement officers and prosecutors who are 
already stretched thin. I'd rather their time be spent on rapists, 
burglars, pedophiles, terrorists and other miscreants whose crimes truly 
damage the innocent people they prey upon.

A sane reaction to Officer Futrell's tragic death would be for us to take a 
hard look at the prices being paid for this completely futile battle. This 
latest death, one more death in our supposed war against drugs, is finally 
one too many. 
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