I became interested in the problem of the drug war after being disaffected with life, incapable of studying, reading, or being interested in society for about 10 years. Then I saw Judge James P. Gray on a talk show. Instantly my imagination and not incapable brain caught fire with an idea, the idea that the war on drugs was morally wrong. Then I read Gray’s book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs, (you can get the older edition on Amazon.com for a penny + shipping).
“Judge Gray’s thorough and scholarly work, based as it is on his personal experience, should help considerably to improve our impossible drug laws. [His] book drives a stake through the heart of the failed War on Drugs and gives us options to hope for in the battles to come” – Walter Cronkite
Then I knew part of the reason why America was failing as a country, why it was not exceptional, or the new kingdom of God, or fair, just, righteous and deserving a pass for international and local peccadillos. At its core it justified the control and eradication of individuals that didn’t fit its stereotypes, the stereotypes of the American dream. It believed that its version of purity was what God wanted and approved. It believed that its status quo was the high moral ground. So racism, sexism, and prejudice of every variety continued to be lauded and written into law, and the subjects of America’s ire were rendered, sent to jail, quietly allowed to be killed, and in the extraordinary circumstance killed them. All the while, America claimed to be exceptional, and shrugged off criticism without a second thought.
It took me about five years to study, analyze, and understand the drug war, its proponents and detractors, the science, the law, the practice. Then I started the Marijuana Memo, this site. In it, I attempted to vent my outrage and give reasons why the drug war was not only a bad idea, but it was immoral, unjust, and prejudicial. It was all these things without reason, justification, or science. All the drug war had going for it was socio-moral disgust whipped up into a frenzy of politicking, funding, and law writing, denigration of the Bill of Rights, militarization of the police force, and an entirely irrational “cure by incarceration.”
See this video on YouTube. This is a start. “The first step to solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”
After you’ve taken the video break, let me resume with a few recommendations that persist after 10 years of my initial assessments in 2005 and 2006.
- Restore the Bill of Rights to its rightful place as a preventative of overweening federal power over our private lives.
- Hold the authorities accountable for their deception, lying, outright abuse of power.
- We need to let the non-violent prisoners out of jail, those who were wrestled up into the failed drug war, many of them spending more time in jail than their raping, murdering, and otherwise violent cohorts.
- Allow any adult over 21 who wishes to use marijuana, to do so under a fair regime of laws and taxes that will not foster the continuation of the black or even gray market.
- Allow doctors in every state to prescribe marijuana in its variety of forms for whatever reason they wish, without any more legal hocus pocus than that which is required for non-opioid pain relievers.
- Do modern science, and take away from the profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies the exclusive ownership of drugs derived from marijuana. Marijuana is a publicly available plant that grows in a wide variety of climates.
- Allow anyone to grow marijuana for medical or non-medical use, with the stipulation that none of it be distributed to those below the legal age.
- Allow all the academic and corporate studies of the drug, whose sole purpose was not to justify the ludicrous federal policy, to be available publicly, and make them the basis of any rubric of drug laws. Many of the studies were publicly funded, and so the public should be able to have access to them as a ground of law.
- Restore the redacted parts of the US pharmacopeia that dealt with marijuana and use it as the beginning of a better one.
- Keep in place all the regulations that bring sanctions against people for violence, or reckless endangerment. That is, there are laws against violence of a variety of kinds. Don’t make the arrest about the drugs, even as the arrest for vehicular manslaughter is not (or should not be) about the alcohol.
There are dozens of more recommendations I could make to move the US toward a more just, consistent, a kinder society. Something of our violence has to do with our insecurity. Nietzsche said it (with some complexity, but the point is sharp.)
But most of all the attempt, ever more determined, to fix a price for every offense, and thus to dissociate, up to a certain point, the offender from his offense—these are the traits which characterize with increasing clarity the development of penal law. Whenever a community gains in power and pride, its penal code becomes more lenient, while the moment it is weakened or endangered the harsher methods of the past are revived.1
On these grounds America has become increasingly weak over the past 50 years. It has become a badge of pride or the gorilla beating his chest for the US to come down on drug users. It is politically expedient, and good for political fundraising to participate in the War on Drugs.
The harsher methods, ones that many of us are familiar with, the dramatic rise in incarceration, the persistent violence of the death penalty even in the face of fair and strong criticism of its lack of usefulness and persistent injustice, the contemporary militarization of the police with its attendant “shoot and coverup” mentality, show how true Nietzsche’s criticism was. The tendency, of course, is to cover up Nietzsche’s criticism instead of addressing the inherent insecurity that has ensued from fair mistrust of governmental authority. In the contemporary movie, Suffragettes the protagonist says to the policeman who is interrogating her, “Give us laws that are respectful and we will respect the laws.” Admitting you are wrong amounts to losing your job in the vicious business and political climate, becoming the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, all in the interest of maintaining the high moral appearance of authorities.
This all looks so grubby and medieval. But, “shouldn’t the local lord be able to kill whoever he thinks needs it to secure his power and maintain his hegemony?” Of course he shouldn’t be able to do that any more than a husband has some supposed right to beat or kill his wife if she displeases him.
To leave this on a much lighter note, I quote from Mitch Earleywine’s Understanding Marijuana, “Individuals are no more aggressive [than they were] after smoking marijuana.”2
1Fredrich Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, ch 2 section X.
2Mitch Earleywine, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002), 272.