Recent news stories about 420 events (groups openly indulging in the use of marijuana) used the terms protest, counterculture, and anti-establishment, calling to mind two things for me: life as a teenager in the 1960s, and the 40-year-old so-called “War on Drugs.” Just as invasive searches of elderly and very young airline passengers is a massive waste of money and resources today, the war on drugs has squandered untold billions of dollars battling the use of marijuana, a drug far less costly to the nation than alcohol. (And no, I’m not anti-booze.) Hard drugs deserve the attention of the law (their use leads to so many other crimes), and as a former employee of a major pharmaceutical firm, I’d suggest that many common, legal drugs should be used sparingly at best. But I digress. » Continue Reading.
Posts Tagged ‘War on Drugs’
During Prohibition my grandfather’s brother Denis Warren, a veteran of some of the bloodiest American battles of World War One, was left for dead on the side of Route 9N south of Port Henry. He was in the second of two cars of friends returning from Montreal with a small supply of beer. Going through Port Henry local customs agents gave chase and the car he was in hit a rock cut and he was badly injured in the accident. Figuring his was dead, or nearly so, and worried he would go to prison, one of Denis’s best friends rolled him under the guardrail, climbed into the other car, and sped off.
Joe Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy, had a rather different experience with Prohibition – he got rich. Never really enthusiastic about World War One, he spent the war as an assistant general-manager of Bethlehem Steel and used the opportunity to buddy up to Franklin D. Roosevelt who was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. During Prohibition Kennedy went to England and with the help of FDR’s eldest son James Roosevelt secured the exclusive American rights for Gordon’s Dry Gin and Dewar’s Scotch. Contrary to rumors, Kennedy wasn’t a bootlegger, he imported his British booze legally under a permit to distribute medical alcohol.
The story of these two Irish-Americans serves as a kind of microcosm of the story of Prohibition, when all of America seemed upside down. “In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure,” Daniel Okrent writes in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. “It deprived the government of revenue, stripped the gears of the political system, and imposed profound limitations on individual rights. It fostered a culture of bribery, blackmail, and official corruption. It also maimed and murdered, its excesses apparent in deaths by poison, by the brutality of ill-trained, improperly supervised enforcement officers, and by unfortunate proximity to mob gun battles.”
The medical exemption to Prohibition, along with the sacramental wine exemption, and the fruit exemption for homemade wine and cider, meant that Prohibition was fairly doomed from the start according to Okrent. In fact it’s a wonder that Prohibition even got started. In the late nineteenth century drinking was at an all time high, a central part of American life. But immigration was also at an all time high, along with the Protestant Christian reformers, xenophobia, and racism. An unlikely alliance emerged to battle “Demon Rum” that included racists (including the Klan), progressives, suffragists, and populists.
Okrent lays out the story of this coalition in a readable way, avoiding much of the political minutiae, while still illuminating the personalities – people like Mother Thompson, Frances Willard, axe-wielding Carry Nation, bible-thumping Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan (who helped bring the Democratic party on board), Wayne Wheeler (the long-forgotten man considered the father of Prohibition), and Mabel Willebrandt (the Assistant US Attorney General despised by the nation’s drinkers).
The usual suspects are all here: the rise of organized crime from scattered minor street gangs, the rum runners contributions to boat design, the rise of Sam Bronfman’s Seagrams empire. The most interesting parts of the book however, detail how leading suffragists sought the vote after being denied leadership positions in the temperance movement and then used that vote to secure first the income tax (considered crucial to weaning the government off the alcohol excise tax teet) and finally Prohibition. Okrent also clearly presents the brewers’ failure to band together with the distillers, and their lack of action against the Prohibitionist until it was too late. Mostly German-Americans, World War One sealed their fates.
Also illuminating is Okrent’s telling of how the Eighteenth Amendment, which along with the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery is the only constitutional amendment to deal with personal property and the only one to have been repealed, came to be reversed. Last Call chalks it up to a few primary factors. The ease of access to booze which was no longer regulated, and so could be found everywhere, not just at bars (the old joke went “Remember before Prohibition? When you couldn’t get a drink on Sunday?”). The presidential campaign of solidly wet New York Governor Al Smith (defeated by mostly dry anti-Catholics) that changed the political mood of the country’s immigrants [video]. The Great Depression, and the need for the billions in excise tax (which helped fund the New Deal) that gave Repeal a push. But the biggest factor was perhaps the right-wing wealthy anti-tax (and future anti-Roosevelt) Pierre S. DuPont who believed so profoundly that Repeal would mean an elimination of the income tax that he bankrolled the fight himself. Fundamentally though, it was the Democratic title-wave that swept FDR into office [music] that changed the make-up of the Congress that allowed the crucial Repeal vote.
Okrent avoids the obvious comparisons to today’s Drug War, but even the causal reader, can’t miss them. The seemingly limitless supply, the institutionalized hypocrisy of legal tobacco and alcohol while pot smokers go to overcrowded prisons. The overzealous and expensive enforcement on the one hand (particularly in the inner cities), alongside marijuana buyers clubs and lax enforcement that amounts to a defacto local option.
It took about 10 years to understand that Prohibition only increased lawlessness, corruption, greed, and violence. Last Call leaves the astute reader wondering how long it will take us to come to the same conclusion about the War on Drugs.
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The arrival of widespread frost marks the end of the harvest season for most local crops, and the close of cat-and-mouse season for North Country police and marijuana growers. Police made their biggest bust this fall in Jay, where from a helicopter they spotted about 800 plants scattered around the town and charged two men with growing about 300 of them.
Adirondack Life has just posted its recent article on the dynamics of local marijuana farming as well as this region’s separate role as a gateway for Quebec-grown hydroponic. It was reported by Adirondack Life associate editor Niki Kourofsky and Almanack contributor Mary Thill. Well worth a read.
The photo is an aerial taken by State Police of some of the 1,900 plants police discovered growing in a boggy area north of Irishtown, in the Essex County town of Minerva, in 2008. Police say the cannabis is the shrubby emerald green growth on the open bog. In September the tropical plants remain vibrant while native vegetation begins to fade.
It’s been two and a half months since a Border Patrol checkpoint was last staffed on the Adirondack Northway, but the federal agency says the North Hudson post is still in operation, though more sporadically than after it was established in 2002.
The checkpoint is temporarily down because the New York State Department of Transportation is doing roadwork in the section of I-87 southbound between Exits 30 and 29, says David Matzel, public information officer for the United States Border Patrol sector in Swanton, Vermont, which covers five northern New York counties.
The post was last manned on May 11, Matzel says. Its infrequent use of late has nothing to do with budgeting, he says. Authorities decide to staff it “based on intelligence,” he explains. The intelligence pertains “only to immigration and terrorist activity. . . . Anything else we get past immigration is just a factor of someone trying to run drugs through there at the wrong time.”
The checkpoint has netted a lot of marijuana and ecstasy in its lifetime. The questioning stop was instituted in reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Four motorists were killed when a tractor trailer rammed into a line of cars there in 2004. Since then, officials have added rumble strips and other safety measures designed to better warn motorists to stop.
A billion dollars worth of this weed funnels through Clinton, Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties annually, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. A look at the map is all it takes to see that much of it travels through the Adirondack Park on its way to Albany, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and as far south as Florida.
Adirondackers are mostly oblivious to this traffic, with its high stakes and organized crime, including the Russian mob, Irish mob and Hell’s Angels. But the lure of big money has attracted some North Country residents to sideline in the business, including a store owner/construction contractor from St. Regis Falls, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Every other week for at least the past two years, a hundred or so pounds of marijuana valued at around $500,000 per shipment would leave northern New York and be transported by car to Cleveland, Ohio, authorities say. At first, police in the Cleveland area identified Daniel Simonds, a 31-year-old resident of Stockholm, in St. Lawrence County, as the deliveryman. But then Simonds was shot and killed in his home a year ago.
Investigators continued to watch Cleveland drug-ring suspects believed to have connections with the Russian mob. They got in touch with North Country law enforcement, confirming that shipments were still coming from this region, specifically from Franklin County. Police would not give details on their surveillance methods, but they say that suppliers from Cleveland would rent a car every other weekend and drive to their pick-up spot, a rustic camp on the St. Regis River in St. Regis Falls belonging to Harold Fraser, a 43-year-old St. Regis Falls resident who also owns the Hill Top Stop market and construction business in that Adirondack hamlet and whose arrest on drug possession charges was announced Wednesday.
The Cleveland drivers would wait at Fraser’s camp for a shipment of Quebec marijuana, which would cross the Canadian border via several entry points, but usually through the Akwesasne Reservation, according to David Leu, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s resident agent in charge for Northern New York. Jurisdictional ambiguities inside Mohawk nation land, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border on the St. Lawrence River, have fostered a smuggling economy. After a few hours at the St. Regis Falls camp, the drivers would receive the hydroponic, hand over the cash (hidden inside a computer hard-drive shell in at least one instance) and be on their way back to Cleveland, sometimes supplying other areas in New York State and the Northeast, Champagne says.
“In this case, in a one-year period, in excess of 18 loads were confirmed between Franklin County and Ohio with the average load having a street value in excess of $500,000. The organization has been operating in excess of 2-3 years allowing for an approximate street value of 18 to 27 million dollars during the known period of operation,” a press release states.
Eight operators described as “mid-level” have been arrested, five in Northern New York and three in Ohio so far. Leu says, “There are definitely going to be other arrests.” St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole Duve says the drug network is linked to the killing of Daniel Simonds but she would not elaborate because an investigation is ongoing. She says seven defendants are under indictment in the homicide case, two of them in Canada, and one remains at large.
The arrests resulted from search warrants executed June 15 in Cleveland and at three North Country residences and at the Hill Top Stop. Police would not comment on the convenience store’s role in the case. The warrants netted $1.3 million in cash as well as a pound of cocaine and another $700,000 in assets, including 14 vehicles, two utility trailers, three ATVs, a snowmobile and a boat. Leu says any day police take $1.3 million in cash out of the illegal-drug loop is a good day, and he expects the money to support further North Country drug interdiction efforts.
Champagne says marijuana-importing networks on this scale are not unusual in the North Country anymore. “Unfortunately we know a dozen groups that move that kind of volume,” he says.
Photo: The St. Regis Falls camp where marijuana transfers allegedly took place – the photo was supplied by law enforcement officials. To see more of their photos click here.
One of the best new blogs is The Rural Blog, started last year by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. According to their masthead, The Rural Blog is “a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism in rural America.” They often report on issues in our area as they did when the Glens Falls Post Star started collecting information on local gun owners or in this piece about broadband access in Corinth.
Here are 20 things we’ve learned from the The Rural Blog that affect our Adirondack region:
Self-employment is on the rise in rural areas, but the average income of the rural self-employed is falling
While enlistments for Iraq have been dropping in urban areas, rural enlistments have remained stable
The decline in small-market broadcast news is hitting rural areas the hardest
Doctor and surgeon shortages are worst in rural areas