Pubdate: Wed, 22 Oct 2003
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Author: Lionel Van Deerlin
Note: Lionel Van Deerlin represented a San Diego County district in Congress for 18


Think two or three hundred years into the future. May Americans then
view our 21st century drug laws in the same way this generation looks
back on horrors of the Salem witch trials or the Spanish

But why wait? Shouldn't it already be clear that America's war on
drugs is a cruel, costly failure?

Most immediately on our minds is the unenviable corner into which Rush
Limbaugh painted himself. A persuasive molder of public opinion, this
man has long supported punitive drug laws. His characterstic vitriol
left no option toward violators but to "lock 'em up."

Limbaugh's credibility on drugs is clouded by discovery that the host
to 20 million radio listeners is himself fighting an addiction. He has
been popping as many as 100 pain pills a day, obtained at black market
prices in admitted violation of the law.

So do we lock up Rush Limbaugh? Beyond the intense satisfaction this
might afford certain of his detractors, it would achieve nothing. The
man poses no threat. His only predictable violence is to public
discourse. He's undergoing a rehabilitation program that few
dittoheads could afford. No serious advocate of reform can wish for
Limbaugh's prosecution or punishment.

On the other hand, it would seem outrageous if Limbaugh were to go
scot-free while the law cracks down on his ex-housekeeper and
principal provider. Wilma Cline's illegal purchases enabled a wealthy
addict to feed the habit. Only her cooperation with prosecutors may
enable this woman to remain free - such is the cat and mouse game
passing for public policy.

Any semblance of evenhandedness in the government's drug war went by
the boards earlier this year in the West Texas town of Tulia. The Drug
Enforcement Administration has not explained the targeting of a rural
Panhandle outpost halfway between Lubbock and Amarillo. Nor has anyone
at DEA sought to defend an inept, almost clownish undercover officer,
one Tom Coleman, who faked evidence against dozens of Tulia's mainly
black residents. His false charges led to prison sentences of two to
six, and in one instance 90 years.

A judge last May found almost all the Tulia cases without merit. He
commuted the sentences of 35 prisoners - but not before their corrupt
accuser had accepted an award as "Texas Lawman of the Year."

Our tax dollars at work, we may assume.

On such ragtag doings rests the most sizable segment of U.S. law
enforcement. At least in part, it explains why the year 2003 will have
witnessed the sharpest increase ever in our federal prison population
- - which officials expect will rise by nearly one-third over the next
three years.

Their figures, I fear, are not loosely drawn. Ponder the

The Bureau of Prisons estimates it will be holding 198,000 inmates by
the year 2006 - a 3l.8 percent rise from the most recently tabulated
prison population, 150,152.

An average 26,000 Americans each year are being sentenced to federal
confinement on drug charges alone. Druggies now account for 58 percent
of the total number behind bars.

The Bush administration has asked Congress to appropriate $4.66
billion for the Bureau of Prisons in the next fiscal year. That's up
by 8.3 percent from current spending and about what it would cost to
house all offenders in 3-star hotels.

Our war on drugs is proving as worrisome as the war in Iraq. The DEA
has gone through four chief administrators in a little more than a
year. Its newest leader, the careerist Karen Tandy, issued an unusual
call for loyalty in addressing the National Narcotics Officer
Coalition last Aug. 25.

"We are a small agency," she began. "We are spread pretty

Small? Thinly spread? The thin blue line of Administrator Tandy's
bureaucracy numbers more than 10,000 - including 4,800 agents in 72
offices across the United States and 58 foreign countries. In at least
one of those faraway places, Colombia, a separate $2 billion budget
underwrites a government army in combat against an equally well
organized guerrilla force that keeps the drug contraband flowing to us

Tandy recognizes the lively U.S. market sustaining this trade. It
consists of "6 million people who need treatment," she acknowledged in
that August pep talk, adding:

"But three out of four of these don't think they need it. ... They're
drugged and working in our marketplace."

Their leader having suggested no alternative, those DEA functionaries
know their duty - lock 'em up.

But the Tandy troopers were left with an anatomically confusing

"We have the national security of this country on our backs, on our
shoulders and in the palm of our hands," she concluded.

Even Abbott & Costello wouldn't touch that one.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin