On Thursday, a story regarding Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, broke on Gawker. The story began with the following:
"Rob Ford, Toronto's conservative mayor, is a wild lunatic given to making bizarre racist pronouncements and randomly slapping refrigerator magnets on cars. One reason for this is that he smokes crack cocaine. I know this because I watched him do it, on a videotape. He was f****** hiiiiigh. It's for sale if you've got six figures."
Essentially, Gawker journalist John Cook claimed that he received tips from anonymous Somali drug dealers in Toronto. They alleged that Ford had regularly bought crack-cocaine from them, and that they have video evidence to prove it. Since the story broke, Toronto Star journalists Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan also claimed to have seen the video of Ford smoking crack. A crowd sourcing project on Indiegogo is now attempting to raise $200,000 in order to purchase the video from the drug dealers (as of writing this $88,000 has currently been raised).
Although the allegations regarding the video cannot currently be verified, this developing story verifies some of the long held inconsistencies in the Drug War. Here are a few.
The amount of hype and glee surrounding the potential of acquiring a video of Ford smoking crack is troubling. Of course, Ford is a political figure quite despised by a large portion of Toronto, and the idea that this video may finally be the incident which pushes him out of office is appetizing. Still, drug addiction is something which should be cured, not punished, and it seems a bit inhumane to be so overjoyed with the potential of someone having a serious addiction. This is especially true when many of the ones eagerly waiting for the video to surface are also likely supporters of the rehabilitation method towards drug addiction. Those who typically support a nuanced and intelligent approach to drugs should not abandon these views the second they may apply to one they dislike.
The idea that drug addicts should be stigmatized and punished for their addiction is destructive to society, as it is costly, misguided, and inefficient.
With this said, if the video surfaces, Ford deserves to be prosecuted as anyone else caught smoking crack would be. I also believe that his time as Mayor has to come to an end if this video turns out to be real. While Ford may be an addict, he certainly has a great deal of privilege as the Mayor of Toronto. Ford has a wide variety of resources he can call upon to tackle his potential problem and, if the video turns out to be authentic, he should take this opportunity to leave politics and get healthy.
The Focus on Crack
One trend running among the commentary on the Ford incident which has been entirely ignored is the special attention given to this incident because the drug in question is crack-cocaine. Anyone with a minimal understanding of American and Canadian history should realize why there is such a stigma surrounding crack-cocaine. Sure, crack-cocaine is a pretty serious drug in terms of the short and long term detrimental effects. Yet the way crack has been perceived and treated in society is disproportionate even to the serious health effects it has.
Up until 2010 in America, a disturbing sentencing disparity of 100:1 existed between crack and powder cocaine. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims:
"Most disturbingly, because the majority of people arrested for crack offences are African American, the 100:1 ratio resulted in vast racial disparities in the average length of sentences for comparable offenses. On average, under the 100:1 regime, African Americans served virtually as much time in prison for non-violent drug offences as whites did for violent offences."
While the disparity in Canadian sentencing is nowhere near as high, the propaganda of the Drug War in America has undoubtedly influenced Canadians' perception towards drugs. As such, this history cannot be separated from the current reception to Ford's case.
A great deal of commentary regarding this incident has gone something like, "While he may have done bad things before, this is CRACK!" I can only wonder if the reception would be different if he was photographed with white drug dealers as opposed to the image caught below, or if the drug was powdered cocaine instead of crack. Undoubtedly some of the scandal here is because Ford crossed a line into territory typically far removed from white mainstream society, which illustrates the lingering stereotypes the War on Drugs has created.
Photo given to the Toronto Star by man who showed reporters the video of Ford allegedly smoking crack
Why Were Ford's Actions Wrong?
Assuming the video turns out to be legitimate, the next question must be, "Why were Ford's actions wrong?"
This matter becomes especially complicated if you are in favour of drug legalization, as I am. I do not believe using crack is morally wrong. I have written elsewhere that I believe citizens should be able to buy and privately use drugs; not just marijuana, but all drugs. I also think that it is possible to use most drugs, even crack, without becoming an addict. Opposition to the war on drugs should mean that you don't completely dehumanize Ford for the possibility that he may have used crack.
In this case though, the circumstances are what should do Ford in, if he in fact does have a crack habit. The actions he has been accused of cannot be deemed to be wrong simply because they are illegal. Right and wrong do not always align with legal and illegal, as evidenced by most of history. But if the video turns out to be true, it is not a case of Ford engaging in civil disobedience to change what he deems to be an unjust law. In fact, Ford has routinely defended these laws, and their unjust punishments. So, violating the laws he defended would not only make him criminally responsible (though this isn't ideal, as indicated previously) but also a hypocrite.
Furthermore, if the video proves to be true, it likely means that Ford is legitimately addicted to crack. He has engaged in a series of bizarre incidents, which many suspected were influenced by excessive use of alcohol or drugs. But the most damaging evidence which could arise is a video of him smoking crack with the dealers. If this turns out to be the case, he likely has lost all judgement. He has to be aware of the repercussions of being caught doing drugs, and the danger of meeting and then smoking with drug dealers. As such, his blatant disregard is probably either caused by an addiction which makes the need for crack more important than these considerations, or an entire collapse of logical thought.
Either way, with all of his other scandals in mind, if this video proves to be true, Ford must leave office. But the fact that he should leave office as a man in need of help, and not a morally bankrupt criminal (at least for potentially using crack), remains. Unfortunately, the lingering effects of the Drug War likely will remain as well.