Drugs, Terror, and Evictions

Thanks partly to its association with 1960s
counterculture, marijuana use has long been considered vaguely un-American. Never
mind that millions of Americans have indulged in it. The pot-smoking pinkos of
yesterday are -- according to the Bush administration -- the aiders and abettors of
terrorists today.

A new series of antidrug ads aimed at teenagers, commissioned by the White
House Office of National Drug Control Policy, blames consumers of illicit drugs
for the proliferation of terrorism. "Drug money supports terror," the ads
proclaim. "I helped a bomber get a fake passport," one young actor confesses.
Others own up to helping terrorists blow up buildings, murder police officers,
and teach other kids how to kill. "Where do terrorists get their money?" the ads
ask. "If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you."

You can view a typical "I helped" ad (and other official anti-drug
propaganda) at www.mediacampaign.com. There you'll find details about the
"undeniable link between terror groups and illicit drugs. ... Twelve of the 28
terror organizations identified by the U.S. Department of State in October 2001
traffic in drugs." You'll also find a role for yourself in the fight against
terrorism. In addition to shopping, you can stop using drugs -- illegal drugs, that
is; you may continue smoking tobacco and abusing alcohol or valium. "If you quit
drugs, you join the fight against terrorism in America," the president has
proclaimed, making it clear that using particular drugs is tantamount to treason.
(You are, after all, either with the president or against him.)

I don't mean to deny the link between the drug trade and terror. Traffic in
illegal drugs has greatly contributed to violence at home and abroad. (Before
drug trafficking was blamed for international terrorism, it was financing the
arms race in America's streets.) But I do mean to mock the administration's
limited understanding of cause and effect. Blaming drug consumption -- and not drug
prohibitions -- for the violent trafficking in drugs, the administration reminds
me of a terrier I once had who refused to approach the intersection where a
speeding car had grazed him, although he blithely continued crossing other
streets. He blamed his injury on one particular street, not the perils of running
in front of any particular car.

He was a smart dog and not entirely illogical, but his analysis was deeply
flawed, like the administration's analysis of the link between terror and drugs:
It's not the demand for drugs that creates a highly lucrative, violent, and
apparently ineradicable black market; it's the prohibition of drugs that are
greatly in demand. It's not the demand for drugs that props up repressive
regimes that nurture and harbor terrorists. It's American support for those
regimes that agree to combat the illicit drug trade. When the antidrug ads ask,
"Where do terrorists get their money?" the right answer is, "If you pay taxes,
some of it may come from you." In the spring of 2001, the Bush administration
gave $40 million dollars to the Taliban because it promised to crack down on
opium growers.

Meanwhile, impoverished Americans who rely on government subsidies have been
made the casualties, not the beneficiaries, of the war on drugs. Under a 1988 law
(passed by a Democratic Congress, signed by President Reagan, and strengthened by
President Clinton, who ordered its stepped-up enforcement), public-housing
tenants may be evicted from their apartments if any member of their household or
any guest is caught using illegal drugs "on or near the premises," whether or not
the tenant had any knowledge or control of the drug use. A unanimous Supreme
Court recently upheld this harsh "one-strike" law in a case that dramatized its
abuses. Decided on March 26, HUD v. Rucker allowed the eviction of a
63-year-old great-grandmother whose disabled daughter was caught with cocaine
some three blocks from the projects, as well as the eviction of a 75-year-old
partially paralyzed man whose caregiver was found with cocaine in his apartment.

The war against drugs has long been a war against poor people and
racial minorities, as its opponents stress. (African Americans constitute a small
minority of the nation's drug users but a large majority of people sentenced for
drug offenses.) When the children of affluent people are caught using drugs,
they're apt to end up in treatment programs; the children of poor people are more
likely to end up in jail, while their parents may end up on the streets. You
don't have to be soft on drugs to recognize the inequities. As Dan Abrahamson,
director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (formerly the Lindesmith
Center-Drug Policy Foundation) remarked, "Jeb Bush was not kicked out of his
public housing due to his daughter's drug use."

Indeed, a federal appeals court had enjoined the no-fault eviction of
unelected public-housing tenants, noting that it raised "serious" due-process
questions by allowing "tenants to be deprived of their property interest without
any relationship to individual wrongdoing." But neither the relatively liberal
nor the conservative wing of the Supreme Court perceived any constitutional
restriction on no-fault evictions. All the justices (except Justice Stephen
Breyer, who did not participate in the decision) apparently agreed with Congress
that the scourge of illicit drug use poses a greater threat to poor people living
in subsidized housing than a no-fault eviction policy that may render them
homeless if one of their grandchildren is caught with a joint on a nearby street
corner. What are all these drug warriors smoking?

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