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Mary Starrett
March 4, 2003

I've been sleeping a lot better these days. Not because the citrus- colored Terror Alert System's gone down a hue in the past week, but because, thanks to a huge federal sting operation carried out from sea to shining sea, people who sell roach clips have been arrested, and will hopefully be put away for a long, long time.

Rest easily with me, my fellow countrymen, the Feds have made this a safer country. Consider the recent nationwide crackdown on… bongs.

Dubbed "Operation Pipe Dreams", federal agents wearing different uniforms marched shoulder to shoulder in cities from California to Pennsylvania rounding up purveyors of water pipes and other "drug paraphernalia". Fifty people were indicted , face up to 3 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000…not to mention having to hand over all their tiny spoons, scales and anything else that could be considered "useful" for those who partake of " illegal" drugs. The arrests included people who ran "head shops" and those who sold pipes over the internet.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was pleased as punch when the raid came down because after all "with the advent of the internet the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has exploded" and Ashcroft reminds us "(this) industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge… and we know that children and young adults are the fastest-growing internet users". There you have it folks, they did it FOR THE CHILDREN.

Just think of it, there are internet sites that have been selling bongs that you could have stumbled upon. Ashcroft is right, our homes needed to be kept safe from this defilement. I, for one, appreciate all the time and money "Operation Pipe Dreams" cost, because now I can feel safer in my home, turning on my computer, knowing water pipes will no-longer be available on the internet. I am also grateful (please, if any federal agents are reading this , the word "grateful" does not in any way imply reference to , or infer relationship with, the now-defunct rock group "The Grateful Dead" which we all know advocated the use of "illegal" drugs)… where was I? Oh, yes, I'm also grateful that in this time of heightened security and concerns over what terrorists might do to us, that our government managed to handle the roach clip threat. Talk about multi-tasking!

Federal law makes it a crime to sell products " mainly intended for the use of illegal drugs". Where DOES this insanity end? Products in the "paraphernalia" category include:

Scales: OK all you Weight-Watchers, do you think for a minute you're fooling anybody by pretending you're doing the portion-control thing?

Miniature spoons: I guess those crystal salt and pepper servers my grandmother left me (from a more genteel time when people set the table, and added small "sellars" for salt and pepper that included teeny-tiny spoons) aren't fooling anybody.

Water pipes: That Lebanese restaurant I frequent can expect to be raided any time now. They've had a decorative water pipe in the window for years. I should have known the Kibbi , Hummous and Fatoush were just fronts for their thriving drug business.

While virtually every political figure in both parties spouts rhetoric about increasing the "war on drugs" in order to get re-elected, the Libertarians see through the purple haze and say this "war" isn't what it's cracked up to be (Sorry, DEA guys, I didn't mean anything by using the word "crack", honest.) Libertarians have long seen the futility of making criminals of drug users. So it's no wonder the party sees "Operation Pipe Dreams" as an extention of that folly. Libertarian Party Communications Director George Getz asks "Who's running the show over at the Justice Department: Cheech and Chong? A government that can't keep drugs out of its own prisons certainly can't keep rolling papers out of the country". Getz called the sting "a stupid and dangerous waste of police resources". I agree.

In fact, I see "Operation Pipe Dreams" as an excuse to control the internet and further erode our liberties. I see the entire drug war as a proxy to seize assets and put otherwise law-abiding citizens behind bars. They're lowering the boom on baggies-buyers as well. One account of DEA agents checking supermarket loyalty club cards for those who bought lots of small, plastic sandwich bags (presumably to package drugs) should point out that even if you're not a criminal you might play one at the grocery store.

According to the DEA's Acting Administrator John Brown, "Operation Pipe Dreams" targeted "People selling drug paraphernalia (who) are in essence no different than drug dealers". Wow. So now we've turned people who sell lilliputian pipes into criminals.

Lest you think the writer is an apologist for drug use, you should know that I don't smoke pot. I don't do drugs (never have). I am a vegetarian who consumes organic produce, limits sugar and caffeine because those substances are mood-altering. I do not believe in using drugs of any kind, including pharmaceuticals. I think long and hard before I take an Advil. I am rabidly anti-drug. But I am just as vehemently pro-liberty. The war on drugs gives government the excuse to stop us at checkpoints, seize our property and put us in jail.

In the year 2000, there were close to 735,000 marijuana arrests, 620,000 of those for possession alone. These "criminals" were using a substance that before 1937 was legal in this country. 83 million Americans admit to having tried Cannabis-one notable one admitted to smoking but not inhaling the stuff.

Those who argue for stricter drug laws forget the lessons of Prohibition. In the 1920's when alcohol was made illegal we saw the same societal ills as we do now only we've substituted drugs. Organized (gang-related) crime skyrocketed, people were killed by "bathtub" gin just as people are dying today because of adulterated drugs. People didn't stop drinking during Prohibition and they certainly haven't stopped using drugs since they were made illegal. So if people don't stop using drugs, crime increases and our jails and prisons have become overloaded, what have we accomplished with the latest round of Prohibition? Don't even get me started on how many bazillions this costs taxpayers each year!

When I tell people I'm for the de-criminalization of drugs they look at me kind of funny. Knowing my rather straight arrow code they can't quite reconcile my stance. But, simply put, the war on drugs is all about a war on freedom. Drug use is a shame, but it shouldn't be a crime.

The times they are a changin' though. While Ashcroft and his fearless cadre' of DEA agents, Federal Marshals and assorted local law enforcement officials are jack booting their way into head shops and smoking out the dangerous criminals who sell "dealer-friendly devices" (whatever that means), New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson's come out saying it's time we end the "drug war" charade.

Doing some research into pot I found some information worth passing on…I wouldn't want to bogart all these facts. For instance, those who say Marijuana leads to violent crime haven't read the National Commission On Marijuana And Drug Abuse study commissioned by President Nixon back in 1972. It concluded that "rather than inducing violent behavior, Marijuana was usually found to inhibit…aggressive impulses". Well, yeah, pot-users get mellow not dangerous.

Once again, don't take this as an argument FOR using drugs of any kind. On the contrary I believe anything that alters or diminishes our natural God-given mental or physical condition is quite frankly a sin. But that's not up to me to judge, nor should it be up to our government. James Madison said when our Republic was birthed that our entire future depended on our capacity to "control ourselves". We should control ourselves, that will bring us to a higher good. But we should not give that decision to control over to a government which started with booze, moved onto pot and now includes alligator clips as contraband.

We want security, should we want it at the expense of freedom? Will every choice we make be controlled by the all-powerful nanny state or will we say to our government "you've stepped over the line". One toke over.

© 2003 - Mary Starrett  All Rights Reserved


Mary Starrett was on televsion for 21 years as a news anchor, morning talk show host and medical reporter. For the last 5 years she hosted a radio program. Telling the truth cost her her broadcasting career so she writes instead of talking these days.  E-Mail