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Many of President Nixon's recent policies apparently have been aimed more at drumming up popular support than at solving the problems that torture America. His offensive on the Mexican drug trade is no exception.
The newest part of the offensive- Operation Intercept- is the largest search and seizure operation ever enacted in peacetime under civil authority.
Operation Intercept will use pursuit planes, torpedo boats, hugely increased forces of border officials, and devices that can detect fields of marijuana and opium poppies from the air.
The drive will cover 2500 miles of border, including 31 land points and 27 airports.
Officials are bombarding marijuana fields with a chemical (benzyideithyl amino benzoate) which poisons the marijuana so that, if individuals smoke it, they will become violently ill.
Federal officers have announced that the operation has a two-fold purpose:
to pressure the Mexican government to help stop the illegal flow of heroin, marijuana, and pep pills into the U. S.;
to make the cost of marijuana prohibitive to American students by reducing the amount of marijuana here.
Operation Intercept also has obtained the cooperation of the State Department to intensify its efforts in "persuading Mexico to place a program of eradication and control of marijuana and other dangerous drugs among the highest of national priorities." One effort to "persuade" is a threat to make Tiajuana off-limits to U. S. military personnel.
Although Nixon's offensive sounds good to anti-drug, anti-crime congressmen, the amount of actual controlling it accomplishes is highly questionable. One Mexican official said, "It's like trying to cure cancer with an aspirin. Drugs are a worldwide problem and stopping up a few borders is not going to stop it."
At an official briefing, spokesmen for Operation Intercept dismissed reporters' speculations that stopping marijuana traffic might lead many young people to take stronger drugs. LSD, methedrine, and other hard drugs can be manufactured as easily in a home lab in San Francisco as they can in Mexico City.
Some people have speculated that the hill in the marijuana trade- felt on the East Coast since the summer- will continue for a few more months until local supplies are grown. Nixon then will have to fly his marijuana-detecting devices over campuses and New England farms rather than over the Mexican hills.
State and local drug enforcement officials were shocked at the Administration's method of putting the drive into operation. Rather than quietly start rounding up the major smugglers crossing the border, they publicized the pro
gram with well-timed leaks and a big announcement.
The large suppliers with any sense will lie low until the heat is off, the customs officials imported from New York go home, and all returns to normal on the Rio Grande.
Since its great increase in popularity, marijuana has been the most vulnerable illegal drug, as well as the least harmful. It is easier to find and bust college kids at a pot party than it is to catch a hardened Mafia member selling heroin to addicts in the ghettoes.
So rather than attack the worst, most destructive aspect of the drug trade, the President has decided to hit the most obvious target. He is aiming at fast results and higher popularity ratings. And he will probably get them.
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