"Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes."
-- Abraham Lincoln
It all began when I was on probation a few years ago, for underage possession of alcohol. For some reason, at the most legally vulnerable time of my life, I began smoking pot regularly. I had enjoyed it many times before, starting with a wild, babbling evening with Ruthie and Matt in the moon shadow of the University of Kentucky water tower during my senior year in high school. But for the first time, in the winter of 1991--mere months after graduating from IU with a 3.96 GPA--I bought my own small baggie of marijuana. And, together with my best friends and roommates, I began consuming the contents of the baggie with daily abandon.
Since then, I have probably smoked less than a pound of the stuff, total. But that's been plenty. My mind has been twisted and dulled, my memory hazed and confused. I blame many of my failed relationships and job changes on my marijuana use.
Seriously! People think that, because I have smoked pot and argued for legalization on television, I'm a great lover of marijuana. I'm not. I enjoy some aspects of the marijuana high--the general sense of euphoria, the wacky trains of thought. But I dislike other aspects: the paranoia, the loss of short-term memory, the inability to functionally communicate with the people around me.
Nonetheless, I still smoke pot with regularity: sometimes once a week, sometimes once a day. I know that I am more spacey, less efficient as a worker--apt to miss meetings and forget assignments and lose important telephone numbers (although I rarely admit these facts on my resumes). And that's when I'm not high. When I'm high, I'm virtually impossible to communicate with, because I talk incessantly and obliquely about the most inane topics. I get confused by the simplest instructions or statements. And I can't write for shit.
I'm a loser, baby. So...what?
What is the best way for society to deal with me?
Well, currently, our government says that I should be arrested, booked, sentenced, and jailed. Arguing that drug abusers pose a threat to peaceable citizens and "the general welfare" of the nation, the United States government (at the federal, state, and local levels) expends most of its policing and incarceration efforts and dollars enforcing a policy of zero tolerance for illegal drugs. Over $40 billion are spent per year to wage the Drug War. The majority of our prison and jail population is made up of drug offenders, many of them non-violent. Thanks largely to the Drug War, the United States incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other developed nation.
Though marijuana is widely acknowledged as the least harmful of the illegal drugs, drug warriors have focused most of their efforts on marijuana users and dealers. In 1990 alone, 390,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana-related charges. Fifty percent of all drug enforcement money is directed at marijuana.
Has all this expense been worth it?--that is, has "the general welfare" of the nation been promoted? Hardly. The Drug War has failed to reduce drug use in America. In fact, marijuana use continues to grow. Study after study shows that regular usage among young people is on the rise; and even the federal government admits that approximately 26 million Americans use marijuana daily.
Of course, some people argue that, if drugs were legalized, those numbers would be even higher. But whether this is true or not matters little. The central reason why drugs should be legalized is that, in the grand scheme of things, our nation as a whole would be better off, economically and socially. In the words of noted economist Milton Friedman (a staunch lover of Ronald Reagan and Adam Smith), "the major effect of drug prohibition is to multiply the number of innocent victims, not to reduce them."
See, the problem with drug prohibition is that it is based in fairly laudable intentions--the desire to increase productivity, preserve public safety, and protect the welfare of innocents--yet the end result of prohibition is the very undermining of these goals. The cost of drug law enforcement is tremendous and burdensome to society. The high rewards of black-market drug dealing encourage young people, especially those from economically disadvantageous backgrounds, to turn to drug dealing instead of 'legitimate' avocations. The lack of police and court protection for users and dealers results in vigilante justice--murder, turf wars, robbery and theft.
And innocent victims (not to mention billions of taxpayer dollars) are swept along into the ensuing mayhem. Milton Friedman estimates that drug prohibition in America results in 10,000 more murders per year than we would have without prohibition. Children whose parents could be rehabilitated through health-based, out-patient therapy are instead orphaned as their parents are sent to jail under mandatory-minimum sentencing rules.
Legalization of drugs would, in all likelihood, increase society's control over their sale and usage. To quote the National Institute of Justice, "the goal of legalizing drugs is to bring them under effective legal control. If it were legal to produce and distribute drugs, legitimate businessmen would enter the business. There would be less need for violence and corruption since the industry would have access to the courts. And, instead of absorbing tax dollars as targets of expensive enforcement efforts, the drug sellers might begin to pay taxes."
At the base-line, drug prohibition costs more to our society in terms of lost productivity, wasted and uncollected tax money, and rates of violence and neglect than drug legalization could ever produce. Americans have spent a total of more than twelve million years in jail, in prison, or on parole for breaking the marijuana laws. Twelve million years wasted, at the taxpayers' expense. Shouldn't those people have spent those twelve million years wasted in the privacy of their own bedrooms, at their own expense?
Legalize marijuana? No way!
The War on Drugs is the best thing that's happened to this country since the British tried to tax our tea. Marijuana prohibition has turned pot-smoking into a revolutionary act.
Don't believe me? Just try it. Go ahead. Smoke some marijuana.
Ah, but it's not so easy. You can't just go down to the corner pharmacy and buy a tin of American Cannabis, like you could in the earlier part of this century.
No, the herb is currently illegal in these United States. And, as was once the case with alcohol, prohibition has driven the cannabis commerce underground.
So if you want to get high, you'll have to do some networking. Ask around. Talk to your friends. It's all about interaction, connections.
But you'd better be wary. You'll be dealing with criminals, after all. You'll be a criminal yourself, by definition. You're begging to be ripped off, or set up. So be careful who you talk to. Make sure they're "cool" first.
Remember that appearances are often deceiving. That woman with the stinky dreads and the hempen poncho might be an undercover DEA agent. Conversely, that cop in the D.A.R.E tee-shirt could be the biggest doper in town.
There's no book you can read to bone up on the subject. You'll have to immerse yourself in the counterculture. Get to know your contacts. Make friends with them. It's always better to buy your weed from friends.
All this requires some subtlety. You have entered a realm of ambiguity and danger, far from the safe and sterile aisles of the surbrban supermarket. Don't let that scare you -- let it free you. You're an outlaw, an anarchist. You're making your own rules.
Don't give up. Keep trying. The stuff is out there. You'll make the connection. You'll get that little plastic baggie of bud. It may be dry and crumbly and full of seeds, you may have to smoke a lot of it to get off, it may make your eyes red, your mouth dry, your brain stupid. But at least it will be yours, at last.
Or perhaps you'll fare better than that. If you're extremely lucky, you'll score buds that are dank and hairy, oozing tiny crystals of THC. The smell alone, redolent of a pine forest, will intoxicate and delight you.
I know. I've smoked that bud. It produces a clear-headed, philosophical high. You'll find youself in a new world, seeing things from a new perspective. Hard to put your finger on it, exactly. Everything's the same, and yet -- somehow -- everything is different
The herb is a sacrament.
Chances are you'll enjoy it.
And in the midst of your euphoria, you'll think to yourself, "Wow. This is great. I can't believe this is illegal."
Then you'll get angry. You'll recall all the anti-drug propaganda disseminated by our government. You'll think of all the peaceful people who have been jailed -- caged like animals -- simply for growing this benevolent plant. And who foots the bill? You, of course. You pay for it with your tax dollars.
And in your stoned epiphany, you will come to realize that the government, the establishment, the authorities
Now let's take stock.
Because marijuana is illegal, you've been forced to:
- make new friends
- participate in the counterculture
- question authority
Furthermore, because of the scarcity of the marijuana, and the risk involved with obtaining it, you're bound to appreciate whatever herb you score. You'll use it frugally. You'll smoke it with reverence and respect. That's as it should be -- the herb is a sacrament, bringing us all closer to the subtler realms of being.
Not bad, huh?
But these good things are not inherent properties of marijuana itself. Ah, no: context is everything. Marijuana is subversive because it's illegal. If it were legitimately available in our modern-day marketplaces, things would be very different:
- people would cease to support their neighborhood drug-dealer
- dopers would be co-opted by mainstream society
- we'd all become hapless pawns of the US gov't
What's more, people would take the herb for granted. It would be ubiquitously marketed through a thousand banal ad campaigns. It would be grown by the same multinational conglomerates that own everything else in America today. No one would save roaches anymore, except the people who already save their cigarette butts.
Stoners like to dream of a world where everyone gets high, and war itself is finally vanquished. The nations of the world lay down their arms at last, and everybody learns to "get along" in a new age of peace, love, anarchy and killer weed.
Sorry, dudes, but it just ain't gonna happen like that. The heads of state are not going to sit down in a circle and pass the waterpipe. But they will do their damnedest to make sure that marijuana loses whatever subversive edge it has. It will become just another opiate of the masses, like organized religion and televised sports.
A nation of complacent dopers. I can't imagine anything more revolting. It's better that we remain angry outlaws, partyin' on the brink.
Yes, marijuana prohibition is unjust. But it's a constant reminder that we live in an unjust society, under the thumb of an oppressive elite.
Legalization should be our last priority. Once everyone has the opportunity to earn a decent living, once racism and prejudice have been vanquished forever, once people finally learn to respect Mother Earth -- then let's fight to make marijuana not only legal, but available for free to every citizen on of the planet.
In the meantime, may the burning in your lungs be exceeded only by the flame of righteous outrage in your heart.