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McClellan: What would happen if they started drug testing at your office?

McClellan: What would happen if they started drug testing at your office?

Bill McClellan

Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle,

Drug-testing is the latest rage at the St. Clair County courthouse. Why not? They’ve got a judge in rehab for heroin. Not just a judge, either. The drug court judge. Actually, the former drug court judge. He has offered to resign. They’ve got another judge dead of cocaine intoxication. He was partying with the drug court judge. Furthermore, the man who has admitted supplying the cocaine to the judges works in the probation office.

The judge in rehab — excuse me, the former judge — was arrested outside the home of an alleged heroin dealer who had gotten a nice deal in the judge’s court. They’re friends, said the alleged heroin dealer’s mother.

Except for the families torn asunder, the whole thing is so surreal as to be almost humorous.

But let me pose a serious question. What do you think would happen if drug testing were suddenly mandated at your place of employment? Probably the best answer is, I don’t know.

The DEA estimates that we spend about $65 billion a year on illegal drugs. Some estimates are higher. Some are lower, but not by much. The one thing that everybody agrees on is that the U.S. is the No. 1 market in the world.

There are, of course, different kinds of drug users, just as there are different kinds of drinkers. By the way, we know little about the drinking habits of the guy in the next cubicle. He might go home and get smashed every night. Or he might have a single glass of wine.

It’s the same thing with druggies. Heads, we used to call them. That was opposed to drinkers, who were called Juicers. As a young man, I thought of myself as a Head, but truth is, I had a foot in both camps. As I got older, I evolved into a Juicer.

But I know a few Heads who stayed true to their school. They still smoke pot. They go home and have a couple of tokes instead of a drink. Other than their decision to use an illegal drug instead of a legal one, they are unremarkable. They walk among us. Some of them are quite successful.

There are also people who smoke too much pot. If not addicted, they are dependent. I know a professor at a Big Ten school who has smoked pot every day for many years. I know a lawyer in Arizona who used to get high every morning. “What do your clients think?” I once asked him. “My clients get a good deal,” he said. I don’t know. I’d want my lawyer to have a clear mind.

We spend a lot of money on cocaine, too. It’s not cheap, especially in powder form. The probation officer in St. Clair County said he sold the judges an eight-ball — that is, an eighth of an ounce — for $275. That’s four grams. Two guys could do that in an evening.

That is a lot more expensive than beer. Or even good wine. Who can afford to do coke? Professionals. Management people. They walk among us, too. Recreational cocaine users. Some people can pull that off. Some can’t.

Then there is heroin. If there are recreational users, I don’t know any. As the song says, “Seven minutes in heaven for a lifetime in hell.” Of course, nobody sets out to become a junkie. Still, they walk among us, too. With limited success, though. They eventually give themselves away.

At any rate, I hear about these drug tests for St. Clair County employees, and I wonder. How would everybody else do?

But maybe the most fascinating thing about the case is this: when an assistant U.S. attorney argued against bail for the probation officer, he said that the probation worker had implicated “prominent people,” and the government was fearful that those people might encourage the defendant to flee.

You can’t make an argument like that and not eventually produce these prominent people. After all, this investigation is supposed to restore confidence in the system. So what are these prominent people going to be charged with — possessing cocaine in the past? That’s possible. Simple possession is a misdemeanor, and there is a one-year statute of limitations. But it would be an awfully weak case if it were built around the word of the probation officer.

That’s if the probation officer makes it to court. The feds usually don’t go down the food chain to buyers. They go up the food chain to suppliers. You don’t have to go very far up the food chain in the cocaine business to be dealing with some very serious people. Now that his suppliers know the probation officer is cooperating, I wouldn’t want to sell him life insurance.

It’s good drama, though. Good drama.

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