One Morning On The Meth Tour

DEA head Asa Hutchinson has been crisscrossing the nation, making presentations in different cities about methamphetamine. In case you haven't heard about meth, it's the illegal stimulant so popularized by prohibition that backroom labs are becoming as common as backroom stills in the 1920s.

Officially referred to as the "Meth In America: Not in Our Town" tour, DEA press releases also call Hutchinson's string of appearances "The National Meth Tour."

I personally associate a catchy phrase followed by the word "tour" with rock concerts, so my immediate thoughts regarding "The National Meth Tour" were: Who's opening? Are groupies expected to follow from gig to gig? Will T-shirts be available? The shirt I envisioned features a graphic of Hutchinson's face stamped over with the words "SOLD OUT!" The reverse side of the shirt shows a SWAT team preparing to ram through a mobile home's front door. Beneath the image, tour dates and tour motto: "Kick Out The Jambs, Motherfuckers!" (My apologies if I've offended anyone, especially The MC5.)

But, back to grim reality. A stop on the tour recently came to my local area, so I decided to put on a tie, pull out my reporter's notebook, and cover it for DrugSense Weekly. Hutchinson was scheduled to talk to a narcotics officers convention about meth, but he also had an engagement at a local drug court.

I made it to the Kane County Judicial Center, near St. Charles, Ill., a little late but close to the appointed time. I learned Hutchinson was observing a drug court and interviewing participants. He would then talk to judges, local officials and prohibition boosters. Reporters eventually learned that two hours after they had been summoned, the press would be treated to a ten-minute presentation by Hutchinson, followed by ten minutes of questions.

Ten minutes of questions? Can you spare it, Asa?

Richard Cowan of often says the best two-word explanation of continued marijuana prohibition is "bad journalism." As I sat around waiting, I could see careful press management didn't hurt the prohibitionist cause either. Because reporters had two hours to kill before the actual press conference started, many interviewed prohibition boosters like representatives from "Educating Voices" , who were there to meet with Hutchinson. Reporters also talked to drug court participants, who were understandably eager to demonstrate their willingness to get with the program.

Protesters representing Americans for Safe Access and other organizations offered an alternate view on Hutchinson's visit, but they were effectively kept out of the event. Protesters were even forced to move from the front steps of the courthouse to the street entrance of the courthouse complex hundreds of yards away. When question time finally came, each of the six reporters present were allowed one question for Hutchinson. Almost all dealt with drug courts and none challenged any of the prevailing hype about them.

After sitting through the other questions, I was called on last. I picked one of three questions I had hoped to ask. I noted that there were protesters outside who said using DEA agents to shut down medical marijuana clubs that were approved locally in California is a waste of resources, especially considering that his tour was all about meth and the damage it causes. How, I asked, did he respond to such criticism?

"First of all, DEA resources should be used to enforce federal law, and whether it's marijuana, cocaine or heroin - possession, trafficking of those substances is a violation of federal law. So, it's certainly appropriate to use DEA resources in that regard," Hutchinson said, following up with the standard claims that there's no scientific evidence to support medical marijuana.

Then it was over.

Of four newspaper accounts I found the next day, two stories briefly mentioned protesters. To her credit, the author of one story included quotes from the protesters, but labeled protestors as "pro-drug." All the other coverage was completely reverent, implicitly expressing hope that the innovative drug court concept, along with the benevolent head of the DEA, will help save society from the scourge of drugs.

There's a lot of questions that should be directed to Hutchinson right now. Has he read the Hawaiian report suggesting marijuana suppression has led to a meth crisis throughout the state? If drug courts are so effective, why does the Government Accounting Office say it doesn't have enough data to evaluate existing drug courts? What exactly does Hutchinson know about drug smuggling in Mena, Ark., when he was U.S. Attorney there in the early 1980s?

From all the accounts of The National Meth Tour I've read, those questions aren't being asked. In fact, it seems some reporters are so willing to buy the word of Hutchinson, he might have some success selling tour T-shirts to the local press too.

Freelance writer Stephen Young is the author of "Maximizing Harm: Losers and Winners in the Drug War," and an editor with DrugSense Weekly.

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