dove and stars

Filling our jails with dangerous entrepreneurs

Mr. Newt stood before the Republican national Committee this month and uttered the bravest-sounding, most carefully-positioned statement on the Drug War that I've heard.

"We should either legalize drugs entirely, or we should get serious," said the speaker of the house. Since his listeners want nothing to do with legalizing drugs, they most likely heard only the second half. But at a later date, when the polls inevitably show a majority in favor of legalization (just as they did in 1932), who do you think will re-run that tape and smugly remind us: "See, I proposed legalization back in '95?"

In the same breath, Mr. Gingrich said something even stranger. He said "We must tell anyone who wants to bring drugs into this country to poison our children: We will kill you."

Libertarians would also favor harsh punishment for those who "poison children." But how many drug dealers really tie down young children and inject them with cocaine or heroin against their will? Someone's been watching "Reefer Madness." In real life, why give drugs away when there's plenty to be made selling to well-heeled consenting adults? This crime, statistically, doesn't exist.

But this either/or stuff is far more corrosive than that. Mr. Gingrich is saying that either there is a Constitutional right to put any drugs or medicines we please into our own bodies, or else we should murder people who put drugs and medicines into their own bodies without government permission. Either/or, he doesn't care, just pick one by majority vote and let's go.

Imagine for a moment the Speaker took a similar either/or position on our other freedoms. Either there's a God-given right to practice whatever religion we choose, or else we should murder anyone who practices a religion not approved by the majority. Doesn't matter to him which option we choose, just choose and let's get moving.

This is principled leadership?

In fact, the ever-expanding drug war now reaps more and more victims who have never touched or seen a drug, let alone fed any to innocent children. Take Gary and Joanne Tucker, sentenced to federal penitentiaries in Georgia for selling fluorescent light bulbs.

Hundreds of hours of undercover work failed to produce any tapes of the Tuckers willing to discuss marijuana growing in their lightbulb store in suburban Atlanta. So the feds just busted a customer of the Tuckers who was growing marijuana to ease the pain of her husband's cancer, and threatened her with jail -- leaving no one to care for her dying spouse -- unless she testified that the Tuckers told her how to use their lights to grow dope.

Or take 68-year-old Russian emigre Sam Zhadanov of Brooklyn, N.Y., now serving five years at Allenwood because his little plastics factory in Metuchen, N.J., manufactured plastic bottles which the government claims could be used to store cocaine.

Old Sam even got a written opinion from a local attorney, Martin Spritzer, about the legality of accepting the wholesale order at his little factory. He was told recent court rulings protect him from any claim that plastic bottles can be considered "drug paraphernalia."

So, instead, the government charged Sam Zhadanov with conspiracy to transport two-and-a-half tons of cocaine -- the amount they figured might have ended up in his bottles -- despite the fact he never bought, sold, touched, or had anything to do with cocaine.

The government proceeded to seize Zhadanov's Social Security checks, his $800,000 life savings, and his business -- $1.5 million in all -- on the strength of their having accused him of drug-related dealings.

Sam Zhadanov opted for representation by an attorney who had been, until four months earlier, a federal prosecutor in New York. The lawyer told Zhadanov he was sure he could "work something out" with the prosecutors.

"He worked something out, all right," says Sam's son, Eli. Penniless, and facing the prospect that his 58-year-old wife would be on the streets should he be convicted, the elder Zhadanov accepted a "deal" to plead guilty to all charges in exchange for the return to his wife of half the value of his factory.

But the wife never got a penny.

"It was a trick," son Eli says. "It was a scam from the very beginning. The IRS came in and seized the other half that was supposed to be returned to her. They said 'We're not prosecutors, we're another branch of government, so a deal you made with them doesn't apply to us.' "

(The Tuckers' attorney, Nancy Lord, says the Tuckers lost their Georgia house through a similar subterfuge. She got the court to release its federal seizure order, only to see the house immediately seized by Georgia state tax authorities.)

"So instead of working on his life-saving medical devices," like an intravenous syringe that retracts on removal so a nurse can't stick herself and catch AIDS, says Eli Zhadanov, "my father is in Allenwood. A man who is the most law-abiding man I ever met -- he wouldn't get a traffic ticket.

"You know, my father says he came to this country thinking he was going to escape the gulag, and he ended up in the gulag. You come here and you kind of relax, you say 'Oh, they'll see it's a mistake, it's not the KGB, it's the federal government, I can talk to them. ...' "

These are the kind of "drug dealers" who are being locked away in our names as prosecutors build careers on the "War on Drugs." As real drug wholesalers grow more sophisticated and harder to catch, it's the Gary Tuckers and the Sam Zhadanovs who prove to be the easiest pickings.

Newt Gingrich thinks we should kill them.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may write him at P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, Nev. 89125-0070, or e-mail His column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.
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