Wednesday, 20 April 2011
4 20 - An occasion to ask why the war on drugs isn't over
April 20th is a significant day of the calendar. It was the day in 1883 that an Adolf Hiedler was born in Austria. He grew up to become the most ruthlessly and notoriously efficient man at attempting to eliminate a race he hated. On the same day in 1999, two high school students in Colorado gunned down 14 of their classmates and themselves in one of the most terrible and senseless acts of individual gun violence in the United States.
These heinous and sombre occasions occurred but once. And year after year, this day is used to commemmorate something else - the unenforced prohibition of marijuana in Canada. Today, thousands of Canadians will smoke bongs, pipes, joints and buckets in public places in front of hundreds of cops. The federal parliament, the provincial legislature, and university campuses in the midst of belching out yet another crop of residence-scarred bewildered 18 and 19 year olds into adulthood will all smell of the sinsey today. Yet the irreverent and boisterous experience, with its illusion of fun and freedom, is a reminder of another scourge that causes levels of heartache and carnage that are starting to keep pace with the other evils associated with this day: The war on drugs. Paradoxically, marijuana demonstrations and marchers have become less and less taboo and risqué with each passing year, to the point of being almost fully humdrum today.
Yet when the government swiftly moved to appeal a recent ruling by an Ontario Court judge that the federal government's monopoly on medical marijuana is effectively unconstitutional, what has been evident for a while (from federally funded anti drug advertising) became perfectly clear: the government considers marijuana to be a scourge on society. The thing you have to remember about conservative politicians in North America is that they are extremely libertarian when it comes to creating carbon emissions, developing land, possessing firearms, privatizing health care and education, and making consumption a tax free endeavour, but they werewolf into the overbearing "nanny state" fascists they despise when it comes to womens' right to choose, fags' right to marry, and people's right to get stoned. There is that nanny state Conservative government telling me what to do with my life Strange, that.
Of course, the propoganda the war on drugs has been deploying for forty years and the Canadian conservative party deploys today was sophisticated; it isn't anymore. The same phrases repeated over and over become truth, this we know, but eventually like beaten eggs whites they lose all meaning and morph back into the bullshit they started as. This is rarely mentioned. Let's mow through them: Drugs ruin lives, create dependencies, destroy families, and keep powerful organized crime networks and street gangs going. This is why we need ever-tougher sentencing laws and ever-greater amounts of expensive police, prison, and courts to enforce them.
It is time to move beyond the simple "for" and "against" approach on this issue, and challenge these assumptions (how widely held? too widely, if they are at all), as the evidence is simply staggering at what a failure this approach is. Details are not needed to show how a system set up this way will never do anything but suck up more money. And as one of my favourite bloggers Charles Hugh Smith prompts us to ask when faced with a situation like this - cui bono? To whose benefit? Society's? The drug user? Or the system that uses this manufactured "problem" to employ a bunch of highly paid people to control people's lives? Let's go with answer three, Alex.
That's what it is, isn't it? And it sounds like a phrase straight out of the mouth of an aspiring Ontario Premier, the provincial conservative leader Tim Hudak. "A bunch of highly paid people controlling people's lives."
This is an issue that requires that the entrenched ideas about to be thoroughly discredited, so that it is no longer an "issue".
To do that, we have to first stop thinking about drugs as a problem. And to do rid them of their "problem" status, we need to take away their forbidden and shady nature: to legalize not just marijuana but all drugs. (I am not actually going to address marijuana anymore as there is already overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of Canadians have used it, know it is not harmful in moderation, and don't think it should be a criminal offence to possess, not to mention cops don't bother enforcing existing laws) This will ensure that a "problem" that doesn't affect the vast majority of people will stop affecting them in ways that it shouldn't, such as their tax dollars being used to fund advertising and law enforcement. Primo, the percentage of the population with any experience with hard drugs is less than 1 percent. Secundo, those people being forced to obtain and use clandestinely causes more social stigma and crime then if nobody thought about them or paid them the disproportionate amount of attention they receive now. Do you really feel threatened or scared that somebody, somewhere right now is shooting up or smoking rock? Well, I got news for you, they are anyway in spite of the incredible amounts of money and resources your government has wasted and will continue to waste. Do you think you will have more success with the status quo or is it time to maybe engage them by bringing them out in the open and seeing what effect sudden simultaneous scrutiny and acceptance of what they do has?
Because if you just think for a minute, think that if the government spent a relatively small amount of money procuring and/or manufacturing high grade, high quality, cocaine, heroin, crack, ecstacy, magic mushrooms, LSD, and most importantly, weed, what an enormous financial windfall that would give them. They could tax the shit out of all these drugs. Think of all that revenue they lose out on now, plus all the costs we have to pay for the war on drugs. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. You put all those drugs on government of canada approved websites and on sale at government of canada sanctioned locations, and watch all their boogeymen disappear. Hollywood and the six O'Clock news would go bust overnight. The boring, staid, informative and bureaucratic government is taking over the business from all the scary, evil men who've been the fodder for fear in propaganda for a generation: Asian Triad gangs, Hells Angels, Colombian drug lords, middlemen and street theives, scarface, the Godfather, and every good cop, bad cop, homogenous and racially diverse cop pair ever to do battle with them. Think about it. You take away the drugs, or rather, their illicit and forbidden nature, and you take away the raison d'être of something that has been used to scare and entertain us in an irrational way for decades. Maybe those cultural references make you sentimental. That's fine, but I'm proposing that you allow them to in a historical, museum sort of way. Let's move on from vicarously feeling heroic from combatting the "evil drug trade"
But it will stay on the black market, some argue. People won't want to pay the government taxes or risk trying their products.
Really? Is that what happened with booze? Are there thousands of people trading in moonshine and homebrew because they think the liquor store prices are too high? If there are, I haven't seen them. Probably because there aren't. Again, watch the dark parts of the public consciousness be illuminated with just not giving a f--- what people do with their lives. There won't be anymore "meth labs" or "crack dens" or "grow-ops". There will just be regulated, supervised production, where it is cost effective and efficient to have it, to meet regular organic supply and demand, just like there is for everything else. Imagine that. Bringing an underground economy above ground, to financially benefit above ground citizens, who up until now have been forced to pay for a futile and unproductive fight against it underground.
A responsible society wouldn't condone its own citizens doing that to themselves. Its immoral. Ah yes, how could we adjourn today without addressing the high horse. Your responsible society which has presided over the dumping of toxic wastes and PCBs into rivers and streams, your responsible society which allows people to become alcoholics, nicotine addicts, gambling addicts, and porn addicts, is too morally upright to engage in the type of logical commerce and reasonable public policy I have proposed. Parents can feed their children coke and high calorie, low nutrition fast food every single day of their childhood without the least repercussion. A house in my neighbourhood has a dozen rusty paint cans rotting on the front lawn - what's to stop those from contaminating the water supply? 3,000 people die on Canada's roads every year - are we willing to accept the risk of letting people take risks with altering their minds as we are with them operating vehicles?
Legitimate grievances and laments about the ills of society could go on all night. I hope I've demonstrated that the way in which we've singled out drugs as some kind of beatable and undesirable scourge is irrational and paranoid, inconsistent with our values as a free democratic society, and serving all kinds of undeserving specials interestes while failing to produde the desired and having terrible adverse affects. Most people make the right choice already, so let's let everyone choose, take the stigma and the allure away, and watch a manufactured problem disappear. How many dutch are hardcore potheads in their nation where they're allowed to walk into a store and buy it? Very few. Let's end the war on drugs, legalize them all, and stop trying to control individuals' lives. Happy 4.20