Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Drug War Follies Column That's Not Going to Run

Well, I got my Drug War Follies in late to Skunk Magazine in February and so it didn't run. Darn it. But I am not going to have wasted all my time, so here it is for you. Enjoy.

Drug War Follies

U.S. Customs, drug dogs and the High Court; the DEA pats itself on the back despite remarkably uneven sentencing and the GEO Group flashes its cash and arrogance. Ah, ain’t life in the drug war a bitch?

By Peter Gorman

So it’s Springtime. You got your gardens in yet? Well, what are you waiting for, me to come up there with a plow? Get them in now so that I’ve got good smoke the next time I come back from Peru in July, okay? That’s right. Think of Peter Gorman and his need of good smoke and get yer asses out there and plant those outdoor babies cause I don’t like that indoor tea. Not one bit. I mean, think about a nice outdoor Blueberry or Purple Haze sitting there in the sunlight in your back yard. Or an old fashioned California Orange, smells so good you think you can squeeze orange juice out of the leaves. Now you’re thinking.
    Speaking of just coming back from Peru, well, I just came back. Took a nice small group out into the deep jungle where I had them walking in swamps, eating shrooms on an overnight riverboat ride on the Amazon, teaching them about jungle medicines, serving them ayahuasca and having some indigenous Matses friends of mine provide them with the Matses’ medicines sapo and nu-nu. Then up to the mountains and more shrooms and finally to Machu Picchu where they all drank the magic elixir San Pedro—a cousin of the Southwestern peyote.
   It was a great trip, at least till I got back to the U.S. Customs station in Miami. Normally I get there and I’ve got my luggage packed with my medical supplies, a few clothes and lots of food: Things my ex-wife and my kids, all born and partially raised in Peru, love to have, and things you can’t get here. There are certain types of peppers we don’t have in the northern hemisphere, and the limes are very different, and there are dried yucca bits called farina and spices and herbs and salt fish and all sorts of things I have to bring back or my family wouldn’t let me come home.
    Typically I spend an hour at Customs arguing over the legality of what I’ve brought back, whether it’s magic shrooms or regular shrooms, hand rolled cigarettes, whatever. “What’s this?” I’m asked, and then I tell the agent and they go look in their book to see if it’s legal and either let me have it or throw it away. Last July they got me good: A newbie who was probably on his first month on the job and he was tossing every thing I had, from jungle medicines, to dried fish to cigarettes—all legal, but you can’t really argue the case with a federal agent. When they’re done, you go.
    Things were different this time out. I filled out my form—How much money you bringing? Where have you been? And so forth, and I circled the item asking if I was bringing in any food. So I’m on line waiting to get my passport stamped so I could go get my things and get ripped off by Customs when this little beagle comes and sits down next to me. “You have food, Mr. Gorman?”
    “Yes, I wrote that I did. I also have jellybeans in my shoulder bag. I guess that’s what the beagle is smelling.”
    “Follow me.”
    “Where and why?”
    “Shut up and follow me.”
     He had the gun, I followed. I wasn’t brought to my luggage like I thought would happen. No. Instead I was brought through two heavy doors to a room filled with maybe 60 people—some of whom I recognized from my flight—and told to sit down and be quiet. I asked what was going on and was told to be quiet and wait. So I waited maybe two hours, missed a connecting flight home and still no one called my name. All the agents there, including a female who had tossed a lot of my stuff a few years ago, looked like they played middle linebacker for their high school football teams. All buff, no fluff, loaded pistols at their sides. No one would talk to anyone. All of us, or most of us, had just come in from Peru or Bolivia and we’d all been traveling nearly 24 hours, so this was an uncomfortable wait.
    Finally someone at the back of the room called my name. I went out into a hall where two agents, one behind a desk at a computer, the other near the exit door in case I decided to bolt, stared at me.
   The one behind the desk says: “You brought food again? You’ve been busted before. Several times.”
   “I know. But that’s because you keep changing the rules. One year I can bring in limes, the next year I’m fined for bringing in Limes. This time I checked. I put the lime juice in bottles with the hot peppers—the pepper seeds are killed by the lime juice, my ex gets her hot pepper sauce, I’m legal. What’s the problem?”
   “You brought food again?”
   “Yes. I wrote it on the Customs’ form.”
   “What food?”
   “The hot pepper sauce. Kitchen spices. Something called farina that’s made from yucca…”
    “What’s yucca?”
    “It’s like a Peruvian potato. It’s a tuber.”
    “So why don’t you say potatoes?”
    “They’re not potatoes. If I tell you potatoes and the farina doesn’t taste like potatoes you’re gonna say I was lying.”
    “What else?”
     I went down the list.
    Absolutely certain I was lying, we went to get my bags and they had me put them through the X-Ray machine. Then they had me open them. All four of them, including my shoulder bag with the jellybeans. Guy puts on rubber gloves and sticks his finger into the open jellybeans to see if they’re really jellybeans. “Well that’s ruined,” I note to myself.
    One by one he goes through everything. “Those are mushrooms?”
    “Yes. My wife likes to cook with them.”
    “We don’t have mushrooms here?”
    “Not like these we don’t,” I said, and smiled when he dropped them back into the kitchen spice bag.
    Half-an-hour we play back and forth with my shit until the agent declares it all legal and lets me pack up.
    “Will we be doing this same dance next time I come through or can you write a note on the computer that I was clean?”
    “Have a nice day, Peter.”
    I walked out thinking that if a person notes that they’re bringing food into the country on their Customs form there ought to be a better way to handle it. I mean, you can assume they’re being honest and do it the old way: Just check the luggage. Damn, we make it easy to dislike the U.S. government, I thought, just as Neil Young’s line from Rockin’ in the Free World came to mind: “We got a kinder gentler machine gun hand”.
    Okay, okay. There was a point to that story. It started with a beagle, right? So here’s the segue: On February 19, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 2011 Florida Supreme Court decision that ruled that law enforcement agents had to do more than claim a drug sniffing dog had been properly trained before that dog’s hit on a vehicle would permit a full search.
    The Florida Supreme Court ruling held that simply training a dog in a controlled environment did not prove that the dog would be capable of sniffing drugs in a vehicle in the field. Which is reasonable: Lots of ball players look great in practice but can’t hit for dink during the games. But the Supremes, in all their wisdom, saw it differently, condemning all of us who travel anywhere in the U.S. to be subject to a search of everything we have in our vehicles at the whim of a dog, who might just be excited about a ham sandwich he’s sniffed.
   Damn, we make it easy to dislike the intrusive U.S. government, don’t we? “We got a kinder gentler machine gun hand.”
Over on the DEA’s official website, justice.gov/dea, they always tout their latest and biggest busts. Over there this morning, among other things, was the story of a Canadian smuggler convicted in a California court who was sentenced to 81 months in a federal lockup. He’d been busted with 66-pounds of methamphetamine and more than $125,000 in cash while in the process of buying six kilos of cocaine. He was also convicted of conspiracy to move Ecstasy, working with drug trafficking organizations and so forth. And he got 81 months.
    But then the very next story on the DEA site dealt with several people indicted for growing pot in seven  homes in Elk Grove and Sacramento, CA. Yeah, they had nearly 3,000 plants and 100 pounds of clean pot but they are each facing possible life in prison.
   Now, I don’t want anybody going to prison for non-violent drug offences, even if it involves meth. But given the state of the world, wouldn’t you think someone would notice that something is wrong when 66 pounds of meth, six kilos of coke and involvement with cross-border smuggling over a long period of time is gonna get you under seven years and fucking pot growing is gonna get several people possible life? Goddamn I am so sick of this bullshit where pot growers are getting hit harder than other drug dealers. And then I think of Dana Beal and all the time he lost sitting in a cell for a little pot, and Mark Emery paying his pound of flesh and all the rest of us who have suffered and suffer so freaking pointlessly just so the man can keep the prisons full and the GEO Group investors happy. The GEO Group—the private prison giant—which just recently bought the rights—for $6 million—to have the Florida Atlantic University football stadium named after the company.
    You get that? A private prison company specializing in detaining non-violent illegal immigrants and non-violent drug dealers gets the Federal and state governments to pay them billions to incarcerate people, then uses $6 million its got hanging around to have a football stadium named after itself.
Only in the good old USA, boys and girls. Only in the USA.
It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.


Michael said...

Thanks Peter for sharing the story. I share your frustration and outrage. A kinder gentler machine gun indeed.

Michael said...

Great story. Very informative. It is hard to see the cannabis community hit so hard by government agencies. Good luck in Peru.