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Feds send a message--use apples and screens 

There's this place I buy drugs--nicotine, specifically. Last Thursday I breezed through the door as always--and plowed right into Copzilla. "They're closed."

Then I see U.S. insignias, a couple of GSA shitboxes sportin' D.C. tags, and two U.S. marshalls hustling around the head shop like movie stars, rolling their eyes.

The leading edge of the long expected federal clampdown. The Big Bong Bust.

Say it. The Big Bong Bust--and you'll get an idea of the mood the following Monday at the big downtown premiere of the latest spasm in the drug war--Operation Pipe Cleaner. In a conference room buried deep in the federal building, I sensed a fair percentage of attendees who didn't seem to be giving the conference the gravity it warranted--including a few scarcely suppressed grins behind the official masks of those charged with enforcing Attorney General John Ashcroft and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director John Walters' latest hare-brained scheme.

Check out Walter's bio (www.whitehouse.gov/government/walters-bio.html) and a cool map of his New Citizen Project (www.namebase.org/cgi-bin/nb06?_NEW_CITIZENSHIP_PROJECT).

Accompanied by a sad little display like something from the old N.C. State Fair, local law enforcement heavies and the federal suits braved a withering fusillade of puzzled, smirky questions. Despite the pounding, U.S. Attorneys Frank Whitney and Paul Newby stuck to script. "Marihuana" (as the feds spell it) is gateway drug, and these items are the keys. We're taking away the keys." Shaking of heads. The peanut gallery didn't buy the "deterrence" bit for a Dallas second.

Whitney and company forged on bravely. Questions, questions. "Why don't you nail convenience stores?" "Resource allocation." "What about the really bad stuff--like meth?" "We give equal weight to all violations." "What about all those apples and spigot screens?" A demure smile. Finally Whitney pulls out the "Sending a Message." Finally, some clarity. So everyone is, like, um, clued in that the Feds think weed is weally, weally naughty, Ashcroft is crashing local authority and maybe locking up North Carolinians over inert glass, though no one was immediately charged.

I've learned a lot of things since I watched that U-Haul full o' pure-t evil pull off. Like possession of certain pieces of glass is a federal felony--leading one to ask: Since when (or why) did the Feds get so excited about silly little crimes like this? They have such an abysmal record of dealing with moral issues (Prohibition, Waco) I hate to think about the insane extension of this troubling development. But more importantly, if they literally make a Federal Case out of something so--well, goofy--what's the next shoe that's gonna drop?

If ever there were a problem that can be dealt with by local governments, this is one. The now-defendants quietly plied their trade, paid their taxes and no one cared--not N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, not Raleigh Police Chief Jane Perlov, and certainly not the beat cops I've spotted in the joint (ouch) buying smokes. They sure do now, thanks to the Wizards in D.C.

A gaze at history shows that the pursuit of criminal cases is something best left to the states. But post 9/1l, we've seen a big kick to local jurisdictions from an increasingly muscular Federal umbrella--uniform training, uniform mission. We are in the embryonic stage of a de-facto national police now. "I've got job security." said U.S. Marshall Charles Reavis.

More by Peter Eichenberger

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