I’m a recovering drug addict. I’ve been in recovery for almost 23 years, and that includes alcohol, of course. A lot of times when I tell people this, they conclude that I must be “against” drugs. But that’s a mistake. One of the things I’ve learned about addiction is that it’s something inside of me—it’s not in the substance. In fact, my addictive nature was manifest before I ever used a drug, and it can manifest itself in behaviors as well, such as sex, eating, spending, or even work. When someone says to me, “So, you don’t like to drink?” I say, “No, I like it too much.” That’s the difference.
I liked getting high too much. It ended up consuming my time, my thoughts, my life. My drug of choice was pot, and that also surprises people. “What, just pot?” For me, it wasn’t “just” pot, it was what I wanted all the time. But the particular drug an addict prefers really isn’t the point. The problem is that the addict can’t moderate, can’t stop, so it becomes an obsession and a compulsion.
I’m explaining all this as a preliminary to my thoughts on
Marijuana is a special case, and a very curious one indeed. In terms of social impact, it causes fewer problems than any recreational drug. Yet the government spends billions of dollars confiscating weed and busting people who sell and use it. About half of all the drug arrests in the
My theory is that marijuana is illegal because of culture. This is why the law seems so irrational—it has nothing to do with a tangible threat to public safety, but only with a perceived threat to a cultural norm. Alcohol is a good drug for war-mongers: it loosens your inhibitions and makes you stupid. A drunk person is more apt to be violent and aggressive, tendencies that are sanctioned and reinforced in the culture. A drug that mellows you out, makes you feel peaceful, and stimulates thought and imagination, represents something alien to the cultural norm. Despite all the hedonistic hoopla, American culture is still anti-pleasure. That is, the ideas about “pleasure” that we are normally presented with are guilt-ridden, materialistic, and stupid.
In addition, the popular identification of cannabis with the 1960s, rebellion, and youth culture, has made it permanently hateful in the eyes of the reactionaries who own and run the country, even though its actual use in the population has gone beyond those stereotypes long ago. So we continue to be told that pot is bad, bad, bad, while we’re inundated with commercial messages telling us to drink, drink, drink.
Legalization of marijuana is a necessity if we’re going to shift from a prison society to a society that values education. Ultimately, some kind of legalization or decriminalization of all drugs will be necessary. The current situation only strengthens organized crime, and always will. The War on Drugs was in fact already a colossal failure twenty-five years ago. So why are they still waging it?
I think it’s obvious that many have a vested interest in keeping this phony drug war going. The Drug Enforcement Administration needs the war so as to keep getting funded and provide more and more jobs to its legions of employees. The more busts they make, the better they look and the more funding they get. If drug arrests were to go down or go away, they’d all be out of a job. The same goes for all the state and local drug police and their operations. Then there’s the prison industry. Since Ronnie Reagan came in and established toughness as our primary political narcotic, incarceration rates have kept climbing year after year. The number of prisons increased tenfold. If the incarceration rates were to drop because the drug war ended, what would happen to all those prison contractors, planners, wardens, guards, and all the other prison employees and their families? The state and federal corrections institutions don’t really want an end to the war, do they? It’s in their interest to have as many drug convictions as possible, year after year, into perpetuity.
The drug war also serves another important function: it helps maintain institutional racism. Every statistical study for the past several decades has confirmed the basic fact that African Americans represent a disproportionate percentage of drug arrests, convictions, and subsequent incarcerations. Poverty makes the use and sale of “harder” drugs more likely, which leads to more arrests, which perpetuates poverty. It’s a perfect little trap. The exploitation has sometimes been quite conscious and deliberate: the
If you told a group of people nowadays that the
So when you consider all this—and I can only skim the surface of this murky swamp in the limited time I have—it becomes clear that the War on Drugs is nothing more than a way to prop up a corrupt establishment. Law enforcement and the prison industry are kept pumped up, a lot of people (including large numbers of blacks and other minorities) get put away and disenfranchised, while the bosses can make huge sums on the drug traffic themselves. It serves them well, but it’s very bad for the rest of us. Our education and health care go down the toilet while our money goes to cops, prisons, weapons, and war. The truth is that ending this war involves ending all the others too, and making a transition to a sane and peaceful society.