Scapegoats, Sentencing, and LSD

Isuppose we need a War on Drugs, because we've already got a nation on them. Everyone wishes illegal narcotics and the problems they create would return to the hole where they put the Pet Rock and breakdancing. But given the love for snorting, injecting, and smoking illicit substances into the national body, any abatement in American drug consumption seems unrealistic.

Should we give up? That's the subject of another piece, and certain aspects of our Skirmish with Substances are worthwhile; such as making it a extra-special crime to sell drugs to schoolchildren. Of course, when the schoolchildren try to sell drugs to you, this may be a hint about the state of the war just as leaving the embassy in Saigon was a hint that maybe the war in Vietnam wasn't going so well.

That aside, certain aspects of the drug conflict are crippling our ability to properly punish and incarcerate those who commit violent, aggravated crimes while sober.

Since 1982, when the Dispute with Dope really got cooking, there has been little reduction in the amount of narcotics coursing through the veins of the nation. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) survey of 1990, drug abuse rates were essentially flat, war or no war. Among 18-25 year-olds, marijuana use declined only slightly, from 27% to 22%. Cocaine was up a tad, reaching 8% from its starting point at 7%. And hallucinogens remain at a static 2%.

And while the Justice Department can flail its arms and scream from the top of Capitol Hill that there's less drug use on the fruited plain, junkies still find more and more drugs to take. According to NIDA, emergency room-cases stemming from cocaine abuse increased 29.3%, and heroin, which is now nearing 100% purity levels in most large Eastern cities, was responsible for a 9.7% increase in such emergencies.


The reason the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) can't find these drugs is because they're being consumed (and subsequently regurgitated) too quickly by our citizens. Let's face it--millions of Americans want to get high, and no three letter agency with a bird for a mascot is going to stop them.

Once the large-scale Trans-American Drug War quickly became a massive and deadly lesson of supply and demand, the DEA learned to seek greener public relations pastures. And they found them, in the minute and colorful world of LSD.

Acid, more properly 9-d-Iysergic acid, is dropped by 2.8 million Americans every year. This pales in comparison to the 40 million estimated pot smokers and the 25 million citizens that have used cocaine. LSD has no known adverse effects, except in cases of extremely heavy use--and then the ramifications are usually psychological, not physical. In the 30 years since its introduction to the American drug world, there has never been a reported overdose due to acid.

Since acid can be cooked up by anyone with a good chemistry set and a mind bored by "Chemistry Safari," virtually all production is domestic and on a relatively small scale. It's cheap, about $2 to $5 per dose, so there is essentially no crime involved to obtain the money to trip.

Rare is the report of urban youth blowing each other away over who gets to blow bubbles first or whether to paint the city in fuscia or ver-million.

LSD induces visual and auditory hallucinations, stronger negative and positive emotions and the feeling that things are more profound that they would be otherwise--i.e. that the number of green thingies on your living room rug is the pivotal question of our time. The drug lasts 8-12 hours and leaves the user incapable to do anything but walk around slowly, track their hands, or watch Sesame Street and feel for Big Bird's inability to convince anyone of Snuffy's existence.

Realistically, LSD ranks down near the annual Jerry Lewis Telethon on the national threat list; it is perpetually strange, sometimes frightening, no one is exactly emptying their pockets over it, and almost nobody feels compelled to do it more than a couple times. Those who do end up like, well, like Jerry Lewis.

It seems strange, then, that the DEA's head of LSD operations, Gene Haislip, said at the end of last year about the nation's acid problem, "We've opened up a vein here. We're going to mine it until this whole thing turns around." The problems with this statement run deeper than Haislip's unfortunate drug-addled "vein" analogy. The fact that the DEA has tripled spending and personnel on a drug that doesn't harm anyone physically, doesn't make people harm each other and isn't corrupting national governments in the tropics should make one wonder if in fact the folks on Constitution Ave. haven't been dipping into the stuff they've been sworn to protect us from.

Be that as it may, they have the tools at their disposal to make life very difficult for small time acid dealers.

Arrests are up near 300% and rising. Four years ago there were fewer than 100 people in jail for acid possession. Now there are close to 2,000.

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