by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 7, 2006
MAYBE, JUST SAY YES?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The war on drugs is back in the news. Where to start?
How about with the millions incarcerated in our country, about half for drug-related offenses? Or the billions wasted? Or the 88-year-old Atlanta woman who was recently shot in her home by police during a drug raid gone bad? Or the fact that America's two most deadly drugs, nicotine and alcohol, remain legal?
Last week in Vermont, when Windsor County State's Attorney Robert
Sand said that it's time for Vermont to rethink its illegal drug policy, he
opened a can of worms that people have been opening - and then quickly
shutting - for a very long time.
Sand wants to decriminalize drugs. "Prohibition doesn't work," he told the Rutland Herald. "We should have learned that with alcohol."
Well, "Just say no" didn't work, either.
Most of the violence associated with drugs seems to come from their criminalization. Dealer turf wars, strung-out addicts, armed seven-year-olds, hip-hop stars with bullet wounds in their chests and diamonds in their teeth, right-wing radio talk show hosts, people who break into cars and drugstores - the list of drug users and abusers appears to be endless.
It also seems to be true that if addicts have a reasonably steady access to their drug of choice, they can have productive lives. In the time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, cocaine use was legal, if frowned upon. When Sir Arthur created Sherlock Holmes, he gave him the habit to sharpen his thinking.
Humankind seems to have a strong need for alternative realities, or, at the very least, for a good high and a loosening of the inhibitions every now and then.
Look at the arts. You couldn't have Greek literature without Bacchus and his wine. You couldn't have the Impressionists without chartreuse and absinthe. Berlioz and Keats? Opium. Psychotropic plants? Burroughs and Ginsberg. Heroin? Parker, Davis, Basquiat. Marijuana? Willie Nelson, Bob Marley and almost every other musician I've ever heard of. LSD? The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead. The list goes on and on.
True, many of these people lived tormented lives. Many died way too young. But even severe drug laws couldn't protect them from themselves.
Every time people come up with a new way to get high, other people come up with a new law against it. As Ward pointed out, Prohibition didn't stop people from drinking. It just created a new class of criminals: bootleggers (including the patriarch of the Kennedy family). It also produced some dangerous moonshine that made people go blind.
Once alcohol was legalized - and controlled - the quality improved, most moonshiners went out of business, people could see again, and the government started collecting taxes.
It's a truism about human nature that some people have a need to stop other people from hurting themselves. Sometimes that's a good thing - seat belts in cars, for example. Or, in the beginning, the campaign against driving while intoxicated. But even good impulses can quickly sink into sanctimony and go too far - two glasses of wine are not, inherently, a bad thing, and the laws against drunk driving have failed to prevent far too many tragedies on the road.
People can get addicted to anything and everything - drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, gambling, chocolate, overeating and, come to think of it, starving. Even love. You get a splitting headache if you give up coffee for a few days, for heaven's sake. The law can't stop addiction.
Also, our society has a wink-wink -nudge-nudge relationship with drugs that is completely unfair. On one hand, some poor kid makes a mistake, sells a gram of pot to a DEA agent and winds up losing the better part of his life. On the other hand, there's Paul McCartney and Snoop Doggy Dog. "I've never had a problem with drugs," multi-millionaire Rolling Stone Keith Richards once said. "I've had problems with the police."
When it comes to criminalizing drugs, it's interesting to see who profits. If "buy cheap and sell dear" is the national anthem, then you couldn't have a better product. Drug lords are so wealthy that, like weapons manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, they probably hire their own lobbyists to ensure that American drug laws remain Draconian.
Drug criminalization is also profitable for the privatized prison industry, one of the few growth industries still left in America. Religions, the government, schools and political parties have a stake in this, too. An expanded mind questions everything, including authority. And who has ever heard of an authority that wants to be questioned?
It's a reality that there are alternative universes as well as alternative ways of being in the world. Much of our modern pharmacology, for example, is based on the insights of shamans who used psychotropics as a way of understanding the universe.
Doctors, attorneys- even right-wing newspapers - are now offering us good reasons to legalize and manage drugs: it will eliminate pushers, reduce crime, half-empty our prisons, save tons of money in law enforcement, add tax dollars to the treasury, and end this nation-wide hypocrisy. People point to Holland's success at decriminalizing "soft" drugs. They admit that describing drugs as "poison" is a hoax.
But what about the kids? Don't we have to protect them against drugs (when we're not spending billions of dollars trying to protect them from sex)?
Yes, of course. We must protect young people with the truth. Drugs feel great when you start. Then, when you're not looking, they can take over your life. Then they can destroy your life. Then you can die.
Some young people will always go too far. Their lives may end in tragedy. A majority will experiment and then pull back.
But like lying about weapons of mass destruction or helping old ladies across the street, we should be allowed to make an informed choice.< Joyce Marcel's book of columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is on sale for the holidays. Buy one and get another at half price through joycemarcel.com.