There are a group of talking points that recur in every election which have the dislikable quality of being a complete waste of time. They are the issues that boil down to a personal courage. We can include the ‘War on Drugs’, the Dangers of Socialism, and the Financial Regulation problem on this list, just to name three. In some ways I suppose a case could be made for the entirety of government’s legislation and policies, and every other aspect of a political campaign, being a case of people’s courage (or people’s lack of same).
Nonetheless, my focus at this point is on issues for which a moment’s thought would easily replace hours of speeches, statements, and proposal’s regarding the various sides of the argument. Let us begin with my favorite—more properly, my pet peeve—the criminalization of marijuana and the War on Drugs.
To start, I know that being in favor of marijuana’s legalization marks me as a pot-head—to which charge I plead guilty, if anyone cares—and that anyone agitating in favor of even medical marijuana suffers from the same assumption. By and large it’s most likely true, but my heart bleeds for any poor, straight-arrow person who tries to argue the facts while under such prejudice. Still, this assumption by society has another component, in demonstrating that a huge percentage of everyday Americans are trying to enjoy this weed in spite of its potential criminal consequences. If our society really felt that the law banning pot was a benefit, there would be a lot less successful comics using it as a punch-line—not to mention the birth of a new media genre—the ‘stoner comedy’.
In that sense, what we are really up against is the notion that enjoying the effects of smoking weed is irresponsible behavior. ‘Irresponsible’ has become a dirty word to us lately. The old-fashioned attitude that a person has the right to maunder through life’s experiences, without taking much of it too seriously, has given way to our present attitude—that irresponsibility is a crime against the community, endangering others and showing contempt for one’s own reputation.
I think I can pinpoint the exact moment this shift began—it was an episode of Dragnet which told the story of a young, newlywed couple becoming forgetful about the baby in the bathtub and letting the little angel drown—while they got high with their stoner friends in the very next room. I was horrified (I was also still too young to be personally familiar with the drug sub-culture of the 1960’s). But even children (as I was back then) would draw the real lesson from this episode—don’t forget the baby. This common understanding of life’s priorities has been keeping young parents from overindulging in anything, including sleep, since the beginning of time. They don’t get drunk at baby’s bath-time. They don’t let their baby drown in the tub because they’re in the middle of a real good story. They don’t do anything, because they’re taking care of the baby.
To begin with, one doesn’t give a baby a bath in the grown-ups’ tub—certainly not one filled entirely up. Neither do parents place their baby in any bathtub and walk into the next room! For ‘Joe Friday’ to sum up this case as ‘baby-slaughter by parental high-ness’ is stupid.
In truth, not every person given responsibility for an infant is a parent—some of them are too beset with personal demons, or poverty, or disability, to be good parents. And those poor souls will occasionally allow a baby to come to harm. However, smoking pot is only one of a thousand ways to neglect and endanger a child.
By suggesting that marijuana is the catalyst in such tragedies, we are not only scapegoating human failings by blaming the herb—we are also coloring society as some picture-perfect landscape of caring and selfless people, marred only occasionally by fiends—rude, violent fiends, driven insane by their pharmaceutical excesses and lack of respect for authority. The truth is something more nuanced, in which fear, greed, rage, and jealousy are far more likely to be the triggers for all violence, most felonies, many accidents—and a lot of so-called ‘white collar’ crimes.
Also nuanced is the effect of Cannabis on a person’s behavior—it makes one happy, it makes one dopey, and it makes one more sensitive and less responsible. If being an irresponsible dope is a crime, we must immediately begin building more jails than homes. Neither do I see ‘chemical enhancement’ of one’s mood to be an escapist notion. Many people have hard lives—if they can soften it with a nice buzz, how is that a crime? I see the crime as our society being a place where many people’s lives are made so hard to bear.
I won’t spend a lot of time on the hypocrisy of allowing alcohol and not weed, when smoking weed is a safer, healthier and less debilitating experience than drinking. We all know by now that there are no recorded deaths due to smoking weed—a statistic unmatched by even over-the-counter drugs, like aspirin. We know that Prohibition was a bad idea, and that Prohibition was repealed when the troubles of a ‘no-drinking-allowed’ society were clearly seen as far greater than the drinking troubles Prohibition sought to prevent.
And in the end, Repeal was a good thing. Now, instead of outlawing drinking, we have AA, Al-Anon, Rehab Facilities, enforcement of ‘domestic violence’ laws, child services, and therapy. Instead of preventing something that many people enjoy safely, we have a system that assists people in mental or emotional distress, whether their problems stem from alcoholism or not. Plus, ironically, we have these safeguards for people suffering from drug addiction, as well, in spite of those hard drugs remaining illegal (more on them later). But there are no pot rehabs, are there? No, there aren’t, because pot is safe, mild, and non-addictive. Let me assure you that if anyone you know claims to be a ‘pot addict’ what they’re really saying is that they’re unhappy or maybe lazy, possibly even thoughtless, or careless— but not addicted.
I should know—I’m an addict. I’m addicted to nicotine. If I go for more than an hour without smoking a cigarette, I’ll start climbing the walls—it’s no joke. But if I don’t smoke weed, the only result is my inability to watch TV. Present day television is so clogged with commercials, reality programming, skewed news channels, talk shows, and sit-coms that I can’t stand it—I turn it off. But when I’m high, I really enjoy television. Sometimes being dopey is just the correct choice—something important to remember in a society obsessed with leisure activities.
One of the darkest reasons behind our present laws on pot is the reactionary attitude most grown-ups feel towards having fun. Whether this is part of a fundamentalist religious screed, or simply the after-taste of this country’s long-standing Calvinism, the automatic dismissal of anything fun is a bad habit we’ve developed.
DEA administrator Michele Leonhart alleged: “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. … At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”
Last month, Ms. Leonhart testified before Congress that she believed that heroin and marijuana posed similar threats to the public’s health because, in her opinion, “all illegal drugs are bad.” This seems like a chapter from “Alice In Wonderland”!
”Why is marijuana illegal?” “Because it’s bad for you.” “How is it bad?” “Well, all illegal drugs are bad.”
Moving on… our laws against weed remain unchanged, even though no one has suffered any ill effects from it in the sixty years this debate has ground on. We are afraid to legalize pot—the politicians are understandably loath to address legalization—their role as ‘leaders’ is a fantasy (they seem more like ‘grasper’s to me) that will become impossible to maintain if their opponents can describe them as ‘party animals’. And this is in spite of the fact that there is nothing wrong with an occasional party. Somehow, a party is okay, but wanting to go to a party is the sign of the hedonist.
We are afraid to admit that we want to have fun. We are fearful of being laughed at—or worse yet scorned—for unabashedly enjoying ourselves, even on a Saturday night. We cannot accept the notion of an adult who can work hard and still have a little fun at the end of the week. Weren’t we, as children, told that we weren’t old enough to have a drink, to go dancing in clubs, or to smoke cigarettes? Was that our elders’ way of telling us that growing up meant giving up the whole idea of enjoying oneself?
I believe that a good mix of hard work and fun is a healthy life-style. Most people seem to have a mindset that makes alcohol a threat, not a treat; a mindset that makes going out at night a lapse, not leisure; a mindset that makes ‘recreational’ drug use a mental illness, instead of an innovation in leisure. I believe it is unhealthy, especially for people that have a lot of free time to spend, to focus exclusively on the negatives of most vices.
The trouble with vices is not in their negative effects, it is in the challenge of taking responsibility for ourselves. People who are afraid of their self-control being the only monitor between them and a good time, are people who don’t trust themselves to make their own choices—and this is cowardice of the worst kind. It is a cowardice that declares, “I can’t trust myself to make choices—so let the law state that I’m not, and everyone else isn’t allowed to have those choices!” It’s all very snug and charming, like a baby blanket. Its only drawback is its being the opposite of liberty—something we like to pretend we have.
Another nuance concerning marijuana is its unique-ness. A good part of our criminalization of weed is due to its being classified as a ‘hard drug’, along with Percocet and heroin. But that is just lazy thinking—authorities just selected a category for cannabis from those already extant—when it is quite clear that cannabis is as different from hard drugs as it is from vegetables. Granted, pot does make a person high—and pot is edible and grows in the dirt, but it just isn’t a vegetable or a ‘hard’ drug. People like to forget that the term ‘hard’ drugs was coined just to distinguish drugs with the potential to kill someone outright from drugs that have a more benign character (such as a glass of beer, a cup of coffee, a couple of aspirin, or a joint). The law may confuse pot with heroin, but an ER doctor doesn’t have the luxury of willful blindness to the practical facts.
Heroin can kill you. If you show up in an ER and tell the doctor, “Save me! I just smoked some weed!” the doctor will be furious—and he’ll tell the cops to eject you from the building. That’s what the real world has to say about weed—‘don’t bother me with silly nonsense—we’ve got serious stuff to worry about’. In the meantime, respectable folks risk jail-time whenever they choose to indulge in this victimless felony. Shouldn’t increasing stresses in society be matched with improved ways of relaxing?
Now, before you dismiss me completely as a self-serving psycho, let’s review: Pot has proven safe to use—even for people who aren’t on chemo. Pot is wrongly categorized as a schedule-one controlled substance—more dangerous than codeine—a schedule-three narcotic. Pot is milder and safer than drinking.
And let’s tie up some loose ends—yes, of course driving-while-high is dangerous and should not be treated more lightly than a DWI offense. I’m not suggesting that we ignore Marijuana’s effects, just that it shouldn’t be a felony to smoke it on your couch while doing a crossword puzzle. Likewise, I am not saying that kids should be allowed to smoke—again, like drinking and tobacco, it should be legal only for twenty-one-year-olds and above.
Marijuana should also have the same restraints placed upon it that alcohol has. It should be taxed up the whazoo, as well—just like cigarettes (another drug that is more dangerous and addictive than weed). Licenses for pot stores should be required, just like alcohol. I wouldn’t be in favor of ‘pot bars’ though—as with alcohol, what’s the thinking behind driving to an establishment that serves liquor? Is there some magic power in ‘bar’ alcohol that makes it safe to drive home? I don’t think so—and by the same reasoning, there’s no point in a place one drives to, to smoke pot and drive away again… ridiculous.
You can see that I’m not proposing we turn the USA into a hippie commune—I’m just proposing that we see Marijuana as it is, not as an alternative to Heroin. Why should you care—wouldn’t it be better to just leave it be? After all, you don’t smoke. It’s no skin off your nose. I can’t argue that point, really. However, there are a few possible benefits that could come of legalized marijuana—and they would benefit everyone, not just me and my buddies.
Tax revenue. A lot of tax revenue. New businesses—small start-ups in every town with a traffic light at the crossroads. Increased employment required for the new businesses. One or two people in every town and every city block—it’d add up, and it’d be new jobs everywhere, not just in Detroit or Los Angeles.
How about ending the black market for weed? Legalization would almost instantly bring the black market to an end. That would make it more difficult for minors to purchase marijuana. It would bring quality control and an honest marketplace to those of us who would much rather not be committing a crime every time we acquire our favorite past-time. And we would all enjoy TV shows that much more.
So, legalize it—what else can I say?
Now that we’ve settled that, I’d like to address the War on Drugs. I have no skin in this game, all my drugs are prescribed by doctors. But I do feel that one could just as easily call it the War on Human Nature. Place as many obstacles in their path as you want—if you can’t get people to stop wanting drugs (and I think that’s QED at this point) you can’t win a war on black-market drugs. Drug laws like ours only serve to create a criminal environment. And a significant number of citizens are not rooting for the police—they can’t, because the law puts them on the other side of the line.
I know it’s part of America to scruple at ‘coddling the weak-willed’. And, in a country founded on the strength of each individual’s will, that makes a lot of sense, at least at first glance. But if we look again… is it possible that we are fighting the image of drugs, rather than drugs’ reality? When taking drugs began, it was part of a ‘counter-culture’—it wasn’t just reckless, it was a characteristic of the hippy, peace-protesting, anti-establishment movement that really came close to churning the whole nation into anarchic chaos.
And from that moment on, drug-abuse became an important criticism upon the counter-culture—something bad that these crazies were guilty of, and responsible for. But even if that was true at the time (which is debatable) it is certainly not the reality of present day drug use. Nor is our society as unyielding towards emotional confusion and mental derangement, addiction and compulsion, as it was in the era of ‘free love’ (ha!-that phrase still makes me laugh).
No, we recognize the reality of drug abuse—and we respond to it with rehab centers, half-way houses, counselors and new drugs, such as methadone. And employment policies of most corporations provide for addicted or alcoholic employees—seeking to get them back to work, not to throw them in prison. And throwing people who use drugs in prison, in general, is pretty stupid—we swell the prison population, our taxes go to keeping these helpless victims housed, fed, and abused by their fellow inmates, real sociopaths that belong there.
So drugs are real, abusers come from every demographic of society, drugs have no political agenda, and it costs a sackful of money to maintain the DEA and that percentage of the prison population comprised of unfortunate drug-abusers. Keeping drugs illegal keeps black market gangs and terrorist groups in the money. Keeping drugs illegal keeps addicts, especially minors, from seeking help with their addiction—which keeps many of them from dropping their addiction before it kills them.
Again, I’m not in favor of hard drug use as recreation, or life-style, or habit. I am only in favor of decriminalizing drugs for the exact same reasons we repealed Prohibition eighty years ago. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there were a team of lobbyists fighting to keep drugs illegal—funded by the drug lords who get rich beyond measure on the status quo. But if everyone else thinks that a drug user should be arrested and thrown in jail—because that is the best way of dealing with the issue—then I guess I’m wrong.
These drugs—meth, H, crack, Percocet, LSD, E… are dangerous. They’ll kill you quick—or leave you wishing you’d died. I don’t want to popularize hard drugs. But I think it would make a lot of sense to offer unconditional relief to addicts, to remove the revenue-stream that floods the coffers of organized, international criminals, and to save the revenue we now spend on the DEA’s hopeless, impossible task.
It’s like terrorism, in a way—the USA has fantastic armed forces—in conventional warfare, we kick ass. But terrorists don’t attack on a battle field. More complex and sophisticated responses have to be implemented—sheer force is useless. So now we fight a different way. In like fashion, it was once considered reasonable to try to prevent drug-abuse with the threat of criminal prosecution—all law-abiding citizens would surely stop. Today, we know that is too simplistic. Drug addicts are far more victims than criminals—and it’s time we saw the truth in that.
But, bottom line, the greatest loss here is ‘the bottom line’—all the money wasted, all the potential tax-revenue ignored, all the productive citizens sidelined by their moment’s lapse in judgment or control. We are talking huge amounts of money—and drug use continues to grow, in spite of decades of trying to hold back the tide—it’s a tragedy from several points of view. And our present policies, also, are stupid and ineffectual in more than just one sense.
So I guess my main message is—think about our drug laws, think about them rather than reacting emotionally to the issue. Try to look past “Drugs are Bad” and see that the problem is more one of human nature than of outlawry, and its solutions should focus more on the humans, and less on the outrage. Let’s all choose to face facts. Let’s all choose to have the courage to face the truth, and face the challenges of the human condition. Choose courage.