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Will Drug Use at Occupy Wall Street Become the Pretext for Eviction?

In Zuccotti Park, occupiers do their best to handle drug use on their own terms, but it may stretch beyond their resources and give police an excuse to intervene.

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Thirty-eight days since the Occupy Wall Street movement first took over Lower Manhattan's Liberty Plaza, the movement has spread to more than 100 cities around the globe. Close to 60% of Americans approve of the protests. And while the protests exact demands remain hazy, the frustrations that spawned them have clearly struck a chord with Americans whose wages have remained stagnant over decades as more and more wealth has been transferred to the nation's richest 1%—who now own 40% of the nation's total net worth. Occupy Wall Street has succeeded, for the moment, in moving the populist issue of corporate greed and economic inequality to the forefront of the political debate. But its position there has been repeatedly attacked by opponents' attempts to paint the protests as a druggy, radical carnival.

When the movement began, most of the media treated it as an object of mockery, if they covered it all. Even The New York Times  was slow to cover the movement that was born in it's own backyard. Several days into the protest, the paper finally ran a condescending  article summing up the encampment as "street theater" and the protesters as rebels without a cause, focusing on a Joni Mitchell look-alike  dancing at the edge of Liberty Park in her cotton underwear "[with the apparent] wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968." The subtext was obvious: If these kids aren't high, they're sure acting like it!

But as Occupy Wall Street enters its second month without any signs of abating, respect is finally being paid by the media, the Democratic Party, President Obama and even some Republicans. Recent polls claim that 73% of New Yorkers support the grass-roots action. Zuccotti Park has been visited by a disparate array of advocate, celebrities and politicians. Caught off-guard by the growing popularity of the movement, right-wing outlets media like  Rupert Murdoch's  New York Post and the Fox News Network have worked hard to demonize the movement by alternately portraying protestors as violent anarchists or coddled, work-averse college grads. Drugs have been a reliable lightning rod for such attacks. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are criminals “lured by drugs and free food,” the Post recently reported. In fact, the paper managed to locate only a single criminal among among the several hundreds of protestors massed at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan—their reporter must have worked hard to spot him. Undaunted, Fox's  Bill O’Reilly went further, denouncing the protesters as “a bunch of crackhead drug dealers.” His guest, conservative author Margaret Hoover, then irritated him by correcting him. "They’re not crackheads, Bill,” she said. “There’s soft drugs—marijuana, stuff that you inhale. I personally haven’t smelled it. My husband has.” She then added, “It’s a counter-culture collective.”

The truth is, that while the Occupy Wall Street movement is largely sober and self-enforcing, such criticisms have clearly impacted its organizers, who are awaiting the inevitable showdown with the city's cranky mayor, Mike Bloomberg, over the right of the unprecedented encampment to continue. After the October 13 threat of eviction—the urgency to clean the park was the pretext—by the billionaire mayor, the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly unanimously adopted a “ Good Neighbor" policy that included the statement, “OWS has zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol anywhere on Liberty Plaza.” Unlike many issues, the policy was not debated by the General Assembly. Instead it was presented as a fait accompli. OWS press representative Jeff Smith told  The Fix, “The language of the 'Good Neighbor' policy was not decided by the General Assembly. The language was imposed on us from outside.”