Monday, June 18, 2007

The Catch-22 of Drug Law Reform

Those who are working for reform of our nation's drug laws are out-moneyed, out-gunned, and out-numbered by those waging it. Clearly, the citizens have no prayer of ever out-gunning the government, and the vast majority of drug reformers are actually un-paid volunteers. Interest in putting an end to the drug war is nowhere near as widespread as it needs to be, thus the money that is available is quite limited, and in no case will ever be likely to number in the tens of billions of dollars spent annually by our government to continue waging the war itself. If enough people cared, then certainly more money could be available. Clearly, then, we need to get more people to care about the drug war and then become pissed off enough to help do something about it.

The time honored way to do that, of course, is to get a poster child or two from the group on whose behalf assistance is sought, and to get those very people to work en masse on their own behalf. Since the drug war is being waged primarily against marijuana users, you'd think that marijuana users would be fully engaged in seeking their own emancipation. Sadly, you'd be wrong. This cause is one that just doesn't get much attention or sympathy from the general public, and those who do step forward risk losing everything they have in life as their reward for doing so at the moment. Of course, by not stepping forward and allowing the situation to deteriorate at an ever accelerating rate, it is increasingly likely that every marijuana user will one day be caught and cast aside as a societal reject. Damned if you do -- fucked if you don't. Catch-22.

People can't stand up because it's too dangerous, but not standing up is allowing it to get even worse even faster. So, we slowly die, hoping somebody will figure out what to do. We have to make it "safe" to say out loud that you have used marijuana and/or still do. The absolute most effective way to counter the stereotypes and claims of "damages" due to using marijuana is for those who do use it to stand up and say two simple things: "Yep, I do (did) it, so what?" and "When is all that bad stuff supposed to happen to me?" There is no one in a better position to counter claims about every angle used by the prohibitionists than the millions upon millions of pot-using Americans silently letting their liberty bleed into history.

So, given that it is so dangerous to stand up, yet also so dangerous to not do so, what is the answer? There are two large drug reform organizations alleged to be working toward making America safer for marijuana users: the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). What are they doing to make America safer for marijuana users? MPP spends a lot of time throwing parties at the Playboy mansion, including a past one celebrating their 10th anniversary. In every one of those 10 years (and counting), another new record number of marijuana arrests was achieved. Meanwhile these folks are crowing about trying to pass medical marijuana laws in states where the entire population is lower than the number of annual marijuana arrests. Nice work, folks!

And why does MPP even exist? NORML was set up to specifically address making marijuana legal -- back in the early 1970's! Sad to say that in NORML's 30+ years of existence there is a 30+ year history of yet another new record number of marijuana arrests. To paraphrase Hudson in the movie "Aliens" just after first contact: maybe you haven't been paying attention for the past three decades, but we keep getting our asses kicked!

More arrests, more lives ruined. More drug testing, more lives ruined. More student drug testing, more dangerous drugs used instead. Marijuana users remain pariahs and will continue to be seen that way until a core of "average pot smokers" can rise to challenge the stereotypes. Theoretically, that's what NORML was founded to do -- and at the state and local levels they're doing a pretty decent job here and there. However, at the federal level, NORML is essentially ineffective and meaningless. In terms of making life easier and "safer" for America's pot smokers, we have to face the facts: you're failing.

You'd think that when some celebrity gets caught with marijuana that it would help open the door to "normalizing" the behavior -- and indeed, NORML does make an occasional attempt to get that sort of person to help. There are a few problems with that though: first, the people who get caught tend to value their careers more than they have the desire to be a spokesperson for marijuana use (what with "the children" out there and all); and second, most of the ones who get caught really don't make very good spokespersons in the first place. So where do we turn? How do we get the marijuana user to be looked on as a "normal" person if there are no normal people rising up and saying that they use marijuana?

As luck would have it, Americans tend to take things into their own hands when they aren't seeing progress, and there are literally hundreds of organizations and individuals that have started making their own attempts at getting attention drawn to the plight of marijuana users. Some of them started because they got caught, while others simply got fed-up enough for whatever reasons that they decided to try to make a difference personally. Why did these people strike out on their own if there are already two organizations supposedly working on their behalf? [Three, actually, but I'm going to do a separate piece on the Drug Policy "Alliance."] I suggest it is a vote of "no confidence" -- a vote with which I must agree, and one of the reasons why I started doing the work I've done.

Neither MPP nor NORML is accomplishing anything truly useful for the plight of the marijuana user. The witch hunt continues with increasing ferocity year after year, in large part because there are no examples on the national level with which to counter the allegations of the drug czar and his war machine with regard to marijuana, its effects and its users. There is only the same sickeningly stupid merry-go-round of claim and counter-claim. Oops, and another new record number of marijuana arrests every year.

If we're going to get anywhere, we need credible people to rise to the challenge and directly counter all of the mythology and bullshit. Fortunately, a small number of people have come forward to act as examples of "normal" people who just happen to use marijuana, and two great places to find them are Dr Lester Grinspoon's "Marijuana Uses" -- featuring commentaries about marijuana use from those who have actually used it; and Mikki Norris's "Cannabis Consumers Campaign" -- where a growing number of people have "outed" themselves as good, honest, hard-working people who just happen to enjoy using marijuana. But what is still missing is an effective way to gain positive attention from the media -- especially on a large scale.

The only consistent attention that traditional media have paid to the marijuana users occurs in the form of derisive smirking, and the usual "stupid stoner" jokes. If you really believe that running for election under the banner of the "Marijuana Party" is ever going to be looked at as anything other than a joke, I really don't know what to tell you. There is very little good to be achieved by such acts.

We need positive media attention, and we need millions of people to get involved. The "leaders" are currently failing at both. Something tells me that doing the same crap over and over is a bad idea -- it is. I suggest that rather than literally pissing away what little resources are available on "some day we'll get there" bullshit -- like crowing about five more votes on the Hinchey-Rohrbacher bill, or the latest "medical marijuana" initiative in another sparsely populated state -- it's time to get seriously proactive. There is no reason in the world that we should be fucking with people who inhale plant smoke -- or do anything else to themselves, for that matter. Period. It really is that simple. If the plant smokers would pull together, they'd win this game easily. But they can't -- because it's too dangerous, and the "leaders" aren't doing anything to inspire courageous acts among them.

Will we continue to twist in the wind, setting record arrest numbers while the parties rage on at the Playboy Mansion? Will the current director of NORML retire 30 years from now, as did the first one -- meaning the war still raged on? Will the "leaders" rise to the occasion and start exhibiting the courage that is required of "leaders?" Can they give the pot smokers something to believe in -- so that they actually would rise to the challenge before us?

More drug testing. More drug arrests. More lives ruined. More families destroyed. More drug laws. More children turning in their parents. On and on for decade after goddam decade. Gentlemen, enough is enough! You need to up your game (at least I hope you aren't actually showing us your A-game right now). Get your acts together and seize the moment: that's what "leaders" do.