Sunday, June 22, 2008

Report From the Front Line

Here’s where I stand on recreational drugs: Don’t use ‘em, never have, don’t think they should be illegal, wouldn’t use them if they were legal. I don’t wish to be around people while they’re using and in fact I’d prefer not to know about their using, but it’s not a condition of friendship.

I mention this because this past Friday I saw firsthand a minor skirmish in the seemingly interminable “war on drugs,” which I suspect was declared years ago by someone with a cocktail in his hand. I was driving east on I-80, going around the Quad Cities on my way home to Indiana, when I noticed two diamond-shaped orange signs announcing “Be prepared to stop.”

A half-mile or so later, two more signs: “Random drug search ahead.”

And a little ways after that: “All cars subject to search.”

That’s the third time I’ve seen these warning signs on I-80, and each time I’ve been struck by what the subsequent car stops and drug searches had in common: They didn’t exist.

After you get past the final pair of signs, there’s nothing. No police checkpoints, no DEA agents, no drug-sniffing dogs.

Because there’s no such thing as a random drug search on the interstate. George Bush’s America isn’t quite a police state yet.

So what’s the point of the signs?

I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I do know there’s a little thing called just cause. (This doesn’t mean the police can stop you “just cause” they feel like it.) If you give the police a reason to search you for drugs—if they can see it or smell it or if you’re watching “The Wizard of Oz” while listening to “Dark Side of the Moon”—they can and will.

And if you see those orange signs and freak out and do a U-turn on the interstate, there’s a man in a police helicopter who’s going to radio the words “Just cause” to a man in a police car.

Now, if you’re a drug dealer working the Iowa-Illinois territory (and really, what are the odds that one of the half-dozen Runes readers is?), I suggest getting a real job. And if you’re just some doofus going to Moline to share your stash with your old lady, take note: Don’t get spooked by the orange signs. There’s no search. They’re counting on the fact that you spent more time in high school getting baked than learning about your Constitutional rights.

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