I was on a long bus ride, sitting next to a gentle, weathered black man, married for 30 years and on his way home from Orlando to Athens. We were rolling through the moonlit, rolling piney hills of central Georgia. The conversation turned to drugs.

“So what about the drugs?” Lawson asks.

“Lookie here, Lawson,” I said as we purred through some nameless bump on a map. “If we could somehow convince the driver to stop for 20 minutes and you gave me 20 bucks to buy drugs, you know what I’d come back with.”

Lawson nodded.

“That’s right, a coke rock. Wouldn’t be no weed; coke. The safest stuff is the hardest to get. Kinda weird, huh?”

“Yes it is. Why is that?”

“Friend of mine saw Chuck Amato sitting in this Corvette, front of a 7-Eleven, yakking on a cell phone, right? My boy leaps out of the pickup truck and runs over to the ‘vette.

“‘Coach, coach,’ he says, ‘I just got one question.’”

Coach takes the phone from his ear. “What’s that?”

“‘How come both of the coaches in the Black Coaches Association Bowl are white?’”

“So he sits there for a second, right? ‘Lemme tell ya, son,’ coach says. ‘Know what it’s all about? It’s all about the money.’”

Lawson laughed. “For real?”

“Cute story. But that’s the reason it is so easy to get coke and not weed. Da money. Volume.”

The Department of Defense threw in the towel last month on the “war on drugs,” recognizing the unwinnablity of the whole mess. So now, the Plan Colombia funds (U.S. largesse to one of the worst countries in the world for human rights violations, cutting people up with chainsaws and such) have now been quietly shifted to fight “evil dewers”–oh yeah, and to lock up Colombia’s oil.

Amid all this war talk, I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that talk of hard drugs (along with the whole continent of South America) seems to have slipped quietly beneath the waves, replaced by really unrealistic, dumb TV ads about so-and-so’s marijuana dealers.

For some perspective on this, once again class, what are the four biggest revenue businesses in the world? (1) Weapons (2) Illegal and diverted drugs (3) Sex (AT&T and General Motors’ broadband businesses are among the world’s biggest purveyors of pornography; why do you think Enron was so hot on broadband?) And (4) Petroleum.

Sounds like a good weekend at Myrtle.

Remember, it was your northern elites, your Russells and such, who got in with the Brits on what led up to the “Opium War,” a conflict fought to secure the blessings of drug profiteering at the expense of the Chinese people by violating the sovereignty of that nation, establishing the franchise against the wishes of the Emperor after shooting their way up river.

And it’s the biggest not-news that it was a dude named Alphonse Capone who pioneered the drive-by shooting over another unwinnable war.

Hey, everybody got in on that deal. It was on board Old Joe’s large, fast powerboats where JFK cut his teeth, ending up on PT 109 (a vessel that would have done stellar service as a whiskey boat–torpedo tubes and all). The modern analog would be George Herbert Walker Bush’s great enthusiasm for a gentleman name of Don Aranow, the capo de capo of the Cigarette boat works., who, some may remember, got whacked in a very professional manner in Miami–something about money laundering and drugs.

More coincidences. GHW Bush, an East-Coast scion of the type normally inclined toward the gentle flutter of sea and sail, somehow ended up with one of those vulgar high-speed offshore “racers,” Fidelity, previously owned by a member of the Meyer Lansky crime organization.

Then there’s the case of a certain Beechcraft King-Air, that “Poppy,” bought for the boys, Dubya, Neil, Jeb and Marvin, that curiously carried the same tail number as the one owned by a Barry Seal, the Iran/Contra era CIA/Coke dude who was able to move his operations to Mena, Ark., continuing to move huge amounts of blow under the nose (so to speak) of then Gov. Bill Clinton.

Boring, boring, boring. This stuff has been gone over so many times, notably by journalist Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News as well as seasoned L.A. homicide and narcotics investigator Michael Ruppert, both of whom had their lives ruined (Ruppert was shot at twice) after uncovering what many African Americans like my friend Lawson on the bus suspected all along–the U.S. government (CIA) peddles crack in ‘da ghetto.

But America’s drug problem is the world’s problem. Profits from the U.S.’s ongoing party has caused incalculable devastation throughout the globe, but nowhere is the damage more pointed than in the Andean region–Colombia, Peru, and now, cross border in Venezuela, where Colombian troops chase profit-driven “narco-terrorists” into another country to escape the Round-up Ultra that drifts over fields and forest, pigs and ponds (and at one point the late Sen. Paul Wellstone), sprayed by the Colombian military and CIA associated companies such as DynCorp, (check them out) a plane of whose was busted in Miami–heroin on board.

But let’s for a second forget these troubling facts and history and estimate real-world how well this war is faring.

For this we turn now to the market report. See, as I used to provide weed to dying people, I know a little about the business.

First, anyone see the signs on 540 from the DEA, “You think it’s dry now (weed), wait until November?” Well, for all their helicopters (been in ’em), night-vision this, informant-that, all those dogs and guns and bullshit, only thing they’ve managed to do is make it harder to get, pushing the price up a tick, about 20 bucks an ounce. Difference is, unlike the white stuff, you have to make a phone call.

For those prices, I have to rely on the word of real, live drug addicts. Coke seems to be holding steady, 70 to 100, depending on quality. The biggest non-surprise is that the market price for a good, clean bag of kill-you-dead downtown straight outta Alston Avenue has dropped from 30 to 10 bucks in less than a year, courtesy of our good friends the Northern Alliance flooding the global market with real quality opium.

The Feds are so losing the war (if that is truly the case, and not just, as I suspect, a cover) that it would be an object of great humor were it not for the tens of thousands of poor, dead brown people and the million or so Americans serving lengthy prison sentences for non-violent drug convictions. Thanks guys. Nice work.

So, despite the billions of dollars wasted and the millions of lives ruined by the law, hard drug consumption is up and prices are down. When are we going to get some brains about this thing and begin to treat drug use as social issue instead of the old puritan ideal that if it feels good, it must be crushed.

Now the reality check–the approximate annual death rate from randomly selected fun-and-games, American style. Cigarettes: 350,000+. Pharmaceuticals: 125,000 (est). Automobiles: 40,000. Firearms: 15,000. Alcohol (hard to estimate, a lot of the deaths from “hey y’all, watch this”): 13,000. Aspirin: 4,000. Cocaine and heroin: each around 3,000.

And ganga?

Zip. Zero. Nada, Nuttin’. None. Not just for last year but for every year, for all time, for the entire history of pharmacopoeia, there has never been one single death ascribed to the use of Cannabis. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Who cares about weed? Not local cops, nor the average citizen. That would be the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the gutless, mewling vote grubbing sycophants who claim to run this country.

You want money? Forget the lottery. If the State of North Carolina were to legalize and levy a modest $10 tax on a quarter ounce of weed (my out-of-thin-air guess for weekly consumption), the take for the estimated 2 million pot smokers in the state (DEA won’t give estimates, these are from other sources) would be around a billion (that’s b as in nine zeros) per year. Imagine what the state could make off all drugs if we boxed ’em, taxed ’em and sold them, reduce the loss of life from drug violence and accidental overdoses. A great start toward a sensible drug policy would be to rescind the absurd prohibition on marijuana. Is anyone listening? EndBlock