Let me start off by saying that as a parent of three, no parent, myself included, wants to see their child using drugs, especially using a lot of drugs or using the more dangerous "hard" drugs. With this interest in mind, I am writing with the goal of an overall reduction in the damage done by drugs, especially to our children. But to best serve our children, we must first speak as adults. I believe that those who tend to agree with me and those who would strongly disagree with me can benefit from what I have to say. Read on to educate yourself to be better prepared to discuss drugs with your teenager (parents of younger children should probably be familiar with "Growing Up Drug-Free, A Parent's Guide to Prevention"), or read on to build a better case against the information I would bring to the table. We can do a better job with our drug problem, but no more "end around" strategies. We must look this beast in the eye to move forward.
Secondly, I would like to bring up an issue which has heretofore failed to surface. Where do I get my strength? Was it the power of marijuana that allowed me to face six months in jail? I think not. My strength comes from a strong spiritual base. Raised Christian, I was influenced by Hindu and Zen Buddhist teachings in my 20s. "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me" is perhaps the best way to describe my feelings. Yet I am also haunted by a quote from one of my childhood heroes, namely Davy Crockett (as portrayed by Walt Disney.) "Be sure you're right, then go ahead," said Davy. I have some doubt because, although I was sure I was right 10 years ago and am even more sure today, I'm not so sure that being right and being nonviolent have offered the slightest reward with regards to the law (local, state or national), law enforcement or the courts. The marijuana issue and its part in overall drug law reform is merely a "cause", not a religion (a sacrament at most), but one which I hope to demonstrate is worth going to the mat for.
People sometimes ask me why I don't work on an important issue or cause instead of wasting my time on the (relatively unimportant) marijuana issue. I would have to answer, "There you go." There are many issues which are more important than whether or not an individual has a small bag a marijuana in their pocket. But at least to some extent, the way we are now dealing with the marijuana issue has had secondary effects across many sectors of the American fabric. For example, I would concede that racial profiling is a more serious issue then dead head profiling -- both exist. My American dream is one without prejudice, period. But the drug war has been devastating to the African-American community, and the nation's marijuana laws bare directly on the costly yet largely ineffectual effort to stop drug use in the U.S. An effort which has put an inordinate number of black males behind bars. My intention is to systematically discuss the cannabis hemp plant, and in particular to take a look at two aspects of marijuana prohibition that are usually ignored: the downside of marijuana prohibition, and the upside of not having marijuana prohibition.
I know a lot about hemp -- more, in fact, than one is supposed to know. I know a lot from having studied marijuana, hemp and drugs for the past twelve years. But I also had nearly 20 years of "street" experience prior to that. I was introduced to smoking marijuana in 1967 and the first thing I did was to research the dangers (MARIJUANA: MEDICAL PAPERS, edited by TOD H. MIKURIYA, M.D.) I discovered that marijuana was not as dangerous as the government was having us believe. I found this to be true in the research and true in the field. I was arrested in 1971 for possession of marijuana in Vern Miller's big raid, and I was given the chance to speak out against the drug war and predict its failure on national TV. I certified my right to call myself a user and an advocate by smoking a marijuana joint in the Lawrence Police Station in 1989 protesting President Bush's doubling of the money spent on the drug war. My belief at that the time was that my actions and my information could help turn the tide on the so-called drug problem. I had been waiting 20 years for marijuana law reform only to be rewarded with more of the same old, so I decided to set a benchmark by going on public record. But the mood in 1989, as it was in 1971, was to get tough on drugs, not try to understand them. [I do find it ironic that we were smart enough to go to the moon thirty years ago, but we are still not sure whether marijuana has medicinal value.]
And so in 1989 it was written. Again. The government stood by its guns. The war effort doubled. Push came to shove. Embarrassingly, one would think, five years later in 1994, drug use among teens had just about doubled. But the rhetoric stayed the same. Now in 2001, twelve years later, the population of people incarcerated for drug offenses has doubled from what it was the 1989. The strongest claim that the anti-drug forces can make is that the problem is no longer continuing to get worse, though many would even argue with that.
I am not soft on crime. I believe in responsible use and accountability. If a young person is showing up for class high on marijuana, that student has a problem which calls out for intervention. "100 percent accountability" would be the positive way of saying "zero tolerance" for drugs. Police chiefs and politicians like to sound tough, but, despite a burgeoning prison population, their program is mostly bluff (violence and the threat of violence.) 95 percent of those involved with drugs are never arrested, while the other five percent along with their families are traumatized. Rehabilitation of those who are arrested is less than adequate. Draconian punishment is supposed to send a message. Politicians are so concerned with "sending the right message" and what "sends the wrong message," but what is the message actually being received? What actually works? What is the problem?
After some years of studying the issue from a seat within anti-drug forces, I see a couple of ways to begin discussion. I have some questions to ask and some ideas to share regarding a pamphlet distributed by the state of Kansas called "Communities That Care: A Risk and Protective Factor Approach to Presenting Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, Juvenile Delinquency, Violence, Teen Pregnancy and School Dropout." (Communities That Care. 1993. Hopkins and Catalano and the Search Institute. 1993.) These topics for discussion would be " a consistent message " and "community-wide bonding."
A CONSISTENT MESSAGE
"The people that young people are bonded to need to have clear, positive standards for behavior. The content of the standards is what protects young people. When parents, teachers and communities set clear standards for children's behavior, when they are widely and consistently supported, and when the consequences for not following the standards are consistent, young people are more likely to follow the standards."
An unrelenting "tough on drugs" thirty year war is consistent on one level, but let me raise some questions from a different perspective.
1. The war on drugs
If we are shocked by growing teen violence, then why are we using "war" as a role model for dealing with the teen drug problem? The war analogy needs to be renounced and a "non-violent" role model must be sculpted and enacted.
2. Racism in the war on drugs
Accusations of racism in the war on drugs need to be addressed.
3. The truth
Some conservative law makers have wanted to post the Ten Commandments in public schools. These same folks have no problem bearing false witness when it comes to marijuana.
(to be continued)