Pubdate: Sun, 02 Mar 2003
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2003 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Dimitri Vassilaros


You can sleep better these days knowing that the feds have made it more 
difficult to buy a bong.

"Operation Pipe Dreams," a national investigation focusing on the sale of 
illegal drug paraphernalia led by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh 
and the Drug Enforcement Administration, resulted in 55 people being 
charged and netted "thousands and thousands of tons" of paraphernalia a few 
days ago.

Just the thought of all that clearance merchandise probably gives you the 
heebie-jeebies. And takes your mind off lesser issues, such as how we are 
doing in the war on terrorism.

Smoking out Osama bin Laden is more difficult than hunting down Americans 
who are out there smoking. If only bin Laden had financed his terrorism by 
selling roach clips.

Why any adult would want to alter his consciousness by using any drug is 
unfathomable, but if he does not hurt other people or property, should 
anyone tell him how to live his life? Didn't we repeal Prohibition? Don't 
Republicans say they oppose the nanny state?

Supposedly some of the companies were bragging that they made millions in 
sales. One claimed sales of $50 million. Shutting down successful companies 
that peaceably fill the demands of consumers during this virtual recession 
might not be the best way to turn around the economy by Election Day.

Tens of millions in company profits is pennies on the dollar when compared 
to the human cost of this futile and never-ending war on people, er, um ... 
drugs. The accused are looking at up to three years in prison and maximum 
fines of $250,000.

Two merchants in Pittsburgh, a husband and wife, were convicted in 2000 of 
selling drug paraphernalia and conspiracy. Akhil Mishra got two years. His 
wife, Rajewhwari, got five months. The feds got their two stores valued at 

"They (the accused merchants) are so far out on the periphery of the drug 
war that any effect that they would have on the drug war would be 
minuscule," says attorney Warner Mariani, who represented the wife.

Some of his clients get caught with little plastic bags, the same you might 
have in your pantry. The police can use that to say there was intent to 
deliver any narcotic using those bags. That "paraphernalia" could ratchet 
up an offense from a misdemeanor, with a maximum of one year in prison, to 
a felony with a 20-year maximum, he says.

Drug use can destroy a life, but so can prison sentences, fines and 
property confiscation. Think of it as a version of village pacification. 
The government must destroy a user's life in order to save it. Or something.

The feds tell us about the street value of the drugs or paraphernalia after 
a bust, but never about the human cost of imprisoning and fining someone, 
as well as taking his property.

Why not create a law authorizing the government to arrest drunks for 
destroying their lives? Then we could throw them in prison, take what's 
left of their money and property and justify it by saying it's to save them 
from themselves.

Prohibition changes the free market into the black market, but it cannot 
repeal the law of supply and demand. How many more lives will the 
government try to "save" by throwing non-violent people in prison before 
realizing that our fellow Americans are not the enemy, but that bin Laden 
still is?
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