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Out of the Box Thinking 

Inside Track

Last year the big battle under Montpeculiar’s golden dome was about sex. This year it’s drugs. It as if Vermont’s leaders just woke up to the fact that heroin is no stranger in the Green Mountains, and the War on Drugs has been lost.

But as the politicians posture and primp, criticize and propose, one thing is perfectly clear — the people in charge at the state level have no better clue to handling Vermont’s drug culture than do our leaders in Washington, D.C.

Governor Howard Dean set the ball rolling in his inaugural address last month with the rhetorical boast he would “drive heroin out of Vermont.” More cops was the Dean solution.

But even the cops tell us law enforcement alone can never win the War on Drugs. And education, such as that provided by the DARE program, has proven useless.

DARE — for Drug Abuse Resistance Education — started back in 1983 in the Los Angeles Police Department, championing Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” approach to illegal drug use. The program is taught in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts. It puts uniformed police officers in elementary schools to teach fifth graders to say no to drugs.

In the last two months, both the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Surgeon General have issued reports declaring DARE ineffective. This comes in the wake of several university studies that found similar results, including one in Illinois that detected increased illegal drug use by high-schoolers who had been through the DARE program.

In Burlington, one of police chief Alana Ennis’ first acts as top cop in Burlap two years ago was to pull the plug on DARE. She took a lot of heat for it at the time. Last week, DARE officials finally woke up and conceded it’s time to rethink their anti-drug program.

On the silver screen, the fictional “drug czar,” played by Michael Douglas in the hit movie Traffic, suggests it’s time for “out-of-the-box thinking” on the drug issue. But out-of-the-box thinking is in very short supply these days, especially when it comes to facing the reality of the sea of drugs we humans swim in. The War on Drugs has been a bigger disaster than the Vietnam War, but political leaders are united in their fear of uttering the “legalization” word. Elected officials continue the pretense that “just say no” is the only way to go. Meantime, our jails are full of non-violent offenders and our children consider us hypocrites.

It’s wake-up time in America. From caffeine to cocaine, cannabis to chardonnay, we humans love drugs. Let’s just admit it. We love a little pick-up, a little buzz or, as the drug czar inTraffic says about his scotch whiskies before dinner, we love “to take the edge off.” (Meanwhile, in the flick the drug czar’s darling daughter is happily drinking beer, smoking pot and free-basing cocaine with her well-off, well-educated and very bored peers.)

Current drug policy sets the high-water mark for double standards. Booze is legal and heavily advertised as good clean fun, despite its role as society’s most abused, dangerous and destructive drug.

Cannabis, however, is illegal. It’s considered by the government to be as dangerous as heroin and other opiates. Pot smoking has made law-breakers out of tens of millions of citizens. In a year’s time, more Americans are arrested for marijuana possession than there are people in Vermont. As is often said at the Statehouse, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” This one, folks, is broke bad. Real bad.

Unfortunately, there is no sign of any out-of-the-box thinking coming from Gov. Howard Dean on this one. Dr. Dean has staunchly opposed sanctioning marijuana for medicinal purposes as eight other states have done. The Guv has also slammed his door shut on allowing Vermont farmers to grow industrial hemp like our Canadian neighbors. For Ho-Ho, “just say no” is the only way to go. Indeed, Dr. Dean leads by personal example, shunning alcohol, nicotine and even caffeine as a full-grown adult. In doing so, the Guv also proves the point that drug legalization doesn’t guarantee utilization. People, after all, are capable of making choices.

Perhaps the place to start is to accept the fact that drugs have been with us throughout history and will continue to be with us, whether we label them “legal” or “illegal.” If Howard Dean is right when he says drug addiction is a “disease,” then maybe it’s time to stop arresting and incarcerating the patients? And maybe it’s time to stop telling our children to do as we say, not as we do?

This Bud’s For You! — For the past nine years, Hub Vogelmann of Jericho has made it an annual practice to collect and count discarded empties along a mile-long stretch of Schillhammer Road. Mr. Vogelmann serves as a member of the Governor’s Council of Environmental Advisors (bet you didn’t know Ho-Ho even had “environmental advisors,” eh?). Last year, Hub chronicled his collecting over a three-month period, between August 10 and November 27. The envelope, please!

Vogelmann picked up 336 empties discarded by passing motorists who consider Vermont’s roadsides unofficial garbage cans. Of the 336 empties, 226 were cans and 110 were bottles. And, once again, Anheuser Busch, the nation’s largest legal drug dealer, ran away with first-place honors. Vogelmann picked up 189 Bud cans and 40 Bud bottles. In second place was Michelob, the upscale Bud brand, which accounted for six cans and 28 bottles. That adds up to 78 percent for Anheuser Busch. Impressive.

Finishing a distant third was Labatt, a Canadian import beer, which accounted for five cans and 14 bottles. Coca-Cola came in fifth followed by Coors and V-8. Hub also collected one Five O’Clock vodka bottle.

On Monday, yours truly contacted the Statehouse business lobbyist whose dance card includes Anheuser Busch. At first, Jerry Morris tried to steer us to the local Budweiser distributor for comment, noting proudly that Bud dominates the Vermont and national beer market. Pressed about the Vogelmann survey, Morris said that at Anheuser Busch, “We are very proud of our track record on encouraging proper disposal and recycling of our products.”

Really?

These days, Morris the Cat is going all out under the golden dome battling a proposed penny-a-can beer tax to help pay for drug treatment. Mr. Morris, whom we’ve never seen sip on anything but the King of Beers, called the proposal “the most regressive tax there is in terms of adult consumers of alcoholic beverages. The demographics show,” said Morris, “beer is the preferred beverage, the nectar of adult working men and women.”

The “nectar?”

Morris also suggests there’s a bit of a double standard at play. Beer is currently getting a bad rap in popular culture. He points to the annual 4-20 public pot-smoking celebration that occurs at college campuses across the country, including the University of Vermont. True enough, each April 20 of late, UVM students have gathered en masse outside the Bailey-Howe library to play music and toke up on marijuana. So far, local law enforcement has turned a blind eye on the event, permitting the public law-breaking to go on without disruption.

Budweiser’s man under the golden dome is absolutely right when he suggests that if the students added a couple beer kegs to the festivities, they’d be busted quicker than you could say, “This Bud’s for you.”

Campaigning House to House — In Big Bad Burlap the race for mayor is being waged room-to-room. Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle recently kicked off his reelection campaign by inviting the local press into his kitchen. His Republican challenger countered this week by inviting the press into his dining room. Can the bedrooms be far off?

Republican city councilor Kevin Curley, however, didn’t get a big media turnout for his Monday press conference at his West Road hacienda in the city’s New North End. Just Ch. 3 and yours truly. Nice house.

Kevin, who appeared to be home alone, sat at the dining room table as he unleashed a barrage of criticism at the incumbent. It would have helped if we’d checked our sense of reality at the door. Squirrely Curley, as usual, threw everything but the kitchen sink into his effort. Among many hits, Mr. Curley maintained a straight face as he blamed the Progressive mayor for not doing enough to support affordable housing.

Interesting. Councilor Curley had just voted against the 40-unit affordable housing project earmarked for the bottom of Depot Street near the lakefront. And Curley did not mention the 1200 new housing units added during Clavelle’s reign as mayor.

Mr. Curley also said that, if elected, he will ask UVM and the Mary Fanny to “help finance affordable home-ownership for their long-term, moderate and lower-paid employees.”

Sounds like communism, doesn’t it?

And Curley told the press he’d definitely put more cops on the downtown beat to prevent muggings. He didn’t mention a specific mugging, but said there’s a perception that downtown Burlington is not safe.

“One mugging in a parking garage,” said Squirrely, and it’s like a black eye on the city. People are afraid to come park in the garages. “You talk to people out-of-town,” he said, “and they say, ‘I don’t want to shop in Burlington.’ They’re only hurting themselves,” added Curley, nodding towards his living room. “I’ve got some furniture in there we bought at Filene’s. You can buy furniture there cheaper than anywhere else!”

Nice plug.

Let’s see, now. Quiz time. Who’s the guy who brought Filene’s to town after years and years of trying? Who’s the guy who made it possible for Kevin Curley to get such a deal on his living room furniture?

Peter Clavelle, that’s who.

As we mentioned earlier, it appeared Candidate Curley was home alone at his West Road residence Monday afternoon. But on the way out, the Sherlock Holmes in us noticed two empty dog dishes on the kitchen floor.

“Where’s the dog?” we asked.

“In the basement,” he replied.

“What about your wife?” we inquired.

“She’s in the basement, too.”

Cool. At last, a clear difference between the candidates. Mayor Moonie, the Progressive, had his wife sitting by his side when he had his recent kitchen press conference. And his little Cairns terrier, Alfred, was hopping around taking in the scene like a good little doggie.

But Candidate Squirrely, a Republican, put his wife and dog out of media sight, hiding them in the basement. What does that say?

Perhaps Mr. Curley might consider holding his next press conference in the basement?

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Curley was scheduled to be in Montpeculiar with his hand out. Republican Big Dogs were sponsoring a fundraiser for Burling-ton’s longshot GOP mayoral candidate at the Captiol Plaza Hotel starting at 4:30. House Speaker Walter Freed and Sen. John Bloomer, the Senate minority leader, were the hosts. Certainly the Dorset Speaker and the Rutland senator have Burling-ton’s best interests at heart. A $25 check made out to “Curley for Mayor” is the admission ticket. Wonder if Kevin brought the wife and dog?

Asked about the Curley fundraiser Tuesday, Mayor Moonie recalled hosting Freed on a tour of the city last week. “It was a worthwhile visit,” said Clavelle. “He’s not as far to the right as I perceived him to be.”

As for Speaker Walt hosting a political fundraiser for his opponent, Mayor Moonie didn’t take it personally. “He has party dues to pay,” said Clavelle. “I understand that.”

As for Curley hiding his wife and dog down in the basement Monday, Clavelle was of no help. The mayor told Seven Days Mr. and Mrs. Curley attended his recent Christmas party. “She’s attractive,” said Clavelle of Curley’s spouse. He had nothing to offer on Curley’s dog.

Stay tuned.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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