Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Prosecutions Can Be The Real Drug Crimes

Originally published in the Middletown Press, Bristol Press and New Britain Herald, November 30, 2008


The good thing about drug crimes, as opposed to crimes such as (for example) murder, is that if you committed any in your youth, nobody cares when your adult self admits this. Society still frowns on those who say, “Yeah, back in school I used to kill people every weekend,” but admitting an equally frequent history of illegal drug use won’t necessarily stop you from having a successful career or being elected president of the United States.

Barack Obama set a historic precedent: the first American presidential candidate to openly admit “Yes, I did inhale. And drink. And even snort,” and still get elected. But woe unto him if his detractors ever learn the secret of time travel, because they will destroy his entire career before it starts, telling some late-1970s cop “That Barry Obama kid’s using illegal intoxicants. Go get him.”

Somewhere in a parallel universe, the teenage Barack Obama got arrested for one of his numerous drug-law violations. Alterna-Obama spent his young adulthood making license plates and fending off attacks in prison shower rooms. He got out on parole a few years ago, but hasn’t amounted to much. (In that universe, as in ours, most good jobs are off-limits to convicted felons.) Your parallel-universe counterpart never heard of him.

In our reality, Obama’s drug use never attracted police attention, so he turned out fine. He even got elected president, on a platform of “change,” though it’s a safe bet he won’t change our policy of imprisoning people who committed the same crimes, if not lesser ones, that he did.

Intoxicants other than alcohol have been illegal in America for more than four generations now. The rationale is that drugs destroy lives, so the government figures that instead of giving drugs the chance to destroy your life, you should let prison do it for you.

It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop, which can be very stressful, so the law just grabs the shoe and beats you senseless with it right now.

Barack Obama, like this columnist, was lucky: Our youthful selves never got caught violating the various state and federal drug laws we broke. So we both outgrew our habits without a criminal record tarnishing our names, and nowadays, instead of committing crimes of intoxication, we stick to perfectly legal alcohol.

So long as you’re over 21 (Obama wasn’t when he started drinking), you can legally booze up until you throw up and pass out on your bathroom floor. The only exception was in the 1920s, when Prohibition led to the rise of bootlegger gangsters as vicious as the worst Colombian drug lords of today.

Until booze became legal again, at which point respectable businessmen re-entered the market and the whole gangster bootlegging business collapsed.

But Prohibition crimes, like drug crimes, are considered harmless when they’re in the past rather than the present. This is especially noticeable if you watch movies, which portray drug dealers as scary, violent types, whereas bootleggers were charming, handsome businessmen such as John F. Kennedy’s dad or “the Great Gatsby” played by young Robert Redford.

The respectability of bootleggers past is also seen in sports such as NASCAR, which got its start when backwoods moonshiners souped up their autos to escape pursuit by cops and revenue agents, predecessors to today’s Drug Enforcement Administration. Perhaps in 80 years there will be an equally popular sport that got its start when ingenious smugglers devised ever-more-clever airtight compartments in which to hide pungent contraband from drug-sniffing dogs.