Like many of you, I have an issue with the Drug Enforcement Agency. I’m no jaded, conspiracy-perpetuating stoner with an ax to grind, nor am I crazy about white powder — unless it’s being stirred into my morning coffee. But I’ve always been an appreciator of irony, especially when it centers around a government agency pledging to both protect and prosecute the people it arrests.
Nothing solidifies that opinion more than what happened to UC San Diego student Daniel Chong, who was arrested during a DEA bust on April 20 — a holiday marijuana smokers often celebrate with a copy of “Dazed and Confused” and carloads of Taco Bell chalupas. Chong, who had been celebrating the day with friends, was arrested and thrown into a cell no larger than your average bathroom.
Five days later, someone finally remembered to check on him.
By then, Chong was in a wretched state. He had lived without food or water for five days, having to resort to cycling through his own urine to survive. He had no access to a bathroom and no lights to see through the darkness. He hallucinated and tore at the walls for water, all with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Fearing death, he allegedly broke his glasses and attempted to carve “sorry mom” into his own skin. Chong was nearly dead when the cell door was opened, his kidneys failing from dehydration.
So, justice served, right?
I’ll admit, there’s no way this was intentional. As PR moves go, this ranks up there with Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell’s naked frolicking in the streets of Pacific Beach. In all likelihood, Chong was a victim of the forgetfulness of a few agents; agents who are now, I’m sure, busily perusing Craigslist for employment opportunities.
It’s events like these that further solidify the need for a system that treats drug users, not imprisons them. The DEA is on a fool’s errand, spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars hunting stoners with apple bongs and wayward bath salt companies, of which products can be laboriously synthesized into artificial marijuana. But let’s get real here: Imprisonment is not prevention. It is not treatment. If Chong was guilty of smoking marijuana, requiring therapy or mandated trash pickup on the side of Interstate 8 would have been far more effective.
Had I survived the same kind of hellish circumstances as Chong, I can tell you I would not take pity on the DEA. I’d like to see the DEA sued for every penny it’s worth. I’d like to see dramatic, extended courtroom battles with sharp-tongued lawyers in sharp suits. And most of all, I’d like to see the entirety of it represented in a Lifetime movie.
The DEA’s treatment of Chong may have been unintentional, but it doesn’t change the fact that the DEA’s carelessness is a symptom of a much larger problem. If one believes smokers to be criminals, one will treat them as such. And though the DEA has launched an internal investigation into its abuse of Chong, I’d be staggered if DEA agents shed a tear for the lives it’s ruined simply for being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”
To put it simply, smoking marijuana is a victimless crime; the DEA’s handling of Chong was not. Chong, sue the DEA for everything it’s worth. I’ll be sitting ready with my remote.