It's been a long time since anyone called Willamette Week liberal. Still, we were shocked by the mindless law-and-order tone of "Soft on Drugs," the cover story in the once-alternative newsweekly's October 1 issue. The title wasn't ironic. The story, written by staff reporter Maureen O'Hagan and (we assume) approved by editor Mark Zusman complained that there isn't enough jail space to lock up all drug offenders. The theme was set by this unchallenged quote from Senior Deputy Multnomah County District Attorney Mark McDonnell: "If a person doesn't care about having a felony record, we have for all intents and purposes legalized personal quantities of hard drugs."
Let's make our position clear. Mood altering drugs shouldn't be illegal, period. As thoroughly documented by writer Paul Devereux in his new book "The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia," people have been getting high since the dawn of recorded history. Drugs have always been a part of the human experience. Laws have never - never - stopped people from altering their consciousness. They've only criminalized normal human behavior. As Devereux puts it, "our modern culture stands out in the long record of human history because of its difficulty in accepting in an orderly and integrated way the role natural substances, primarily from the plant kingdom, have played in aiding mind expansion." We agree, and oppose every aspect of this nation's current War on Drugs.
That's why we're pleased that Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement has blocked the enactment of the new law that would have criminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The 1997 Oregon Legislature never should have passed such a regressive bill. Governor John Kitzhaber should have vetoed it. At least now Oregon voters will be able to say whether they think state and local law enforcement agencies should spend their limited budgets busting people for a couple of joints. We're confident Oregonians have more sense than that.
We are also disturbed by Willamette Week's cavalier attitude toward being arrested. O'Hagan made it sound like a minor inconvenience - a stance we strongly reject. Falling into the clutches of the criminal justice system is always a crisis, even if you never spend a day in jail. Defense lawyers cost a lot of money. Many people have lost their jobs when their bosses learn they've been charged with a drug crime. Families have broken up over far less. How Willamette Week can think otherwise is beyond us.
If O'Hagan and Zusman think otherwise, we suggest they talk to former Multnomah County Deputy DA Dave Peters. Until recently, Peters was one of the most respected lawyers in the entire DA's office. A hard worker with a winning record in difficult cases, he seemed to be as straight as they come. No one thought he had a drug problem that was interfering with his job. But on the evening of August 31, Peters and his family were held at gunpoint in their car by the Portland police while their house was searched for drugs. After trace amounts of marijuana and cocaine were allegedly found, Peters resigned from his job and the Oregon State Bar has launched a formal inquiry.
Peters isn't accused of anything more than simple possession. Contrary to what we wrote erroneously reported last issue, Peters didn't consent to the search or admit using illegal drugs. Nor has he been a hypocrite by prosecuting drug users. In fact, several sources in the DA's office tell PDXS that Peters refused to prosecute drug users in the past. Although Willamette Week complains that "he won't spend a day in jail," his legal career is probably over. Given all the publicity surrounding his case, we'd be surprised if the Bar Association allowed him to keep his license - especially considering all the anti-drug hysteria manufactured by influential local groups, like the Regional Drug Initiative.
And that's all without being formally charged with a drug crime, let alone convicted of one. If Willamette Week thinks this amounts to no punishment, we have to wonder what the folks in that office are smoking.
We've said it before, we'll say it again - it's not a War on Drugs, it's a War on People. Drugs aren't being arrested and prosecuted, people are. Criminalizing drugs forces people to buy them on the black market, where strength and purity are a problem. The laws also prevent addicts from seeking treatment, for fear that they'll be arrested and prosecuted.
And, as Willamette Week noted in its October 1 story, the war is escalating. Last year, the Portland police arrested 4,700 adults on drug charges - a 20 percent increase in just two years. Even more amazing, a large percentage of those arrests are for marijuana, the most harmless of all illegal drugs. In late September, the police even busted the downtown Alternative Health Center, which was providing marijuana to terminal AIDS and cancer patients. Talk about heartless. Looks like Police Commission Vera Katz is about as liberal as Willamette Week. We'll have more, much more, to say on this next issue. Stay tuned in.
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