Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jun 2001
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Section: Part A; Commentary; Editorials; Letters; Pg A11
Copyright: 2001 News World Communications, Inc
Author: Robert Sharpe


The U.S.  Supreme Court ruling against law enforcement's use of thermal 
imaging to fight crime highlights a major flaw in the drug war ("Dimmer 
switch for high-tech eyes," Commentary, June 19). Simply put, it's not 
possible to wage a war against consensual vices unless privacy is 
completely eliminated - along with the Constitution.  The United States can 
be either a free country or a " drug-free" country, but not both.

The court ruling stemmed from police use of thermal imaging to detect 
indoor growing lights used in marijuana cultivation.  The drug war is, in 
large part, a war against marijuana, by far the most popular illicit drug. 
In 1999, there were 704,812 arrests for marijuana, 620,541 for possession 
alone.  For a drug that has not been shown to cause an overdose death, the 
allocation of resources to enforce marijuana laws is outrageous.

Of course, a reform of marijuana laws would derail the entire drug war 
gravy train.  Marijuana is demonized as a "gateway" drug that leads to 
harder drugs when, in fact, marijuana prohibition is best described as a 
gateway policy. Illicit marijuana provides the black-market contacts that 
introduce users to such harder drugs as heroin.  As for protecting children 
from drugs, the thriving black market has no age controls.

Taxing and regulating marijuana is a cost-effective alternative to spending 
tens of billions annually on a failed drug war.  It makes no sense to waste 
scarce resources on failed policies that finance organized crime, 
facilitate the use of addictive hard drugs and threaten to undermine our 
country's Constitution.

Robert Sharpe
Program officer
The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation (
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