War’s latest fronts

The ongoing quagmire that is the War on Drugs would be pretty damned funny if people weren’t actually being hurt by it. What began with hilarious tag lines like “just say no” and “this is your brain on drugs” (accompanied by the egg frying in a skillet … a cult classic) have devolved to the point where we’ve equated homegrown pot smokers with international terrorists.

But before Bites takes aim at the federal government’s latest propaganda campaign—which began during Sunday’s Super Bowl—let’s talk about something a little closer to home: the mindless moralism that prevents Sacramento County from addressing the leading cause of new HIV infections.

Public health officials of all political stripes universally advocate programs that allow intravenous drug users to get clean needles. Considering how easy it is for someone who shares a needle to later develop AIDS, this issue is a no-brainer for anyone with either a quarter-ounce of compassion for addicts or a desire to stem the spread of a deadly disease.

Unfortunately, this issue is also a no-brainer for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, where a majority of anti-drug ideologues have kept needle exchange programs criminal, allowing for the prosecution of activists such as Lynell Clancy of the underground Sacramento Area Needle Exchange (SANE) program (see “Politicizing Junkies,” SN&R, July 12, 2001).

Sacramento County is one of the few urban counties in California that haven’t taken advantage of a state law that allows county boards of supervisors to declare HIV a public health emergency that justifies needle exchanges.

Assemblywoman Dion Aroner tried to help Sacramentans—as well as IV drug users statewide, for whom possession of a needle is still criminal—by carrying Assembly Bill 1292, which would have legalized needle sales and which was sponsored by the California Medical Association and other mainstream groups.

But the bill last week died unceremoniously in the Assembly Health Committee, where the combination of law enforcement opposition and politicians fearful of not seeming tough enough on drugs prevented it from even coming up for a vote.

Apparently, that whole “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” thing doesn’t apply to those who want to alter their consciousness with anything not on the menu developed by the alcohol or pharmaceutical industries.

Bomb the joint: Americans can justify the harshest of tactics and punishments against enemies of the state. And that’s just how the federal government is now attempting to cast drug users under a new $10 million advertising campaign that began during the Super Bowl.

Employing the shock value of having a fresh-faced teenager declare into the camera “I helped kill a judge,” the ads link terrorism to drug money. It’s a brazen attempt to turn people’s post-September 11 anger toward their neighbors who use drugs, and one that is as dangerous as it is disingenuous.

Sure, it has to be admitted that the black market nature of the drug trade can make it a source of funding for all kinds of illegal operations, including terrorism. But if you really want to find an American consumer to blame for funding the World Trade Center attacks, point the finger at oil-consuming drivers who put money in terrorists’ pockets, rather than pointing at even the most prodigious consumer of Afghan heroin, let alone some kid who smokes a Humboldt County joint.

No, what’s really going on here is an effort to link America’s two big wars, opening a new front on the old war and an old front on the new war, and bringing our president’s “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mantra a little closer to home.

Perhaps even more frightening than a six-week media blitz that tries to draw druggies into the “axis of evil” is the school-based curriculum that will accompany it. So, “just say no” has become “just say treason.”

Staying alive: Just to update last week’s item on Darrell Steinberg‘s Sacramento area regionalism bill, it barely cleared the Assembly by the January 31 deadline and now has many months to meander its way through the Senate.

Stay tuned.