Outlaws we remain

Despite Prop 19 defeat, we've still come a long way

Nov 10, 2010 at 12:00 am

It was kicks to see my caricature on the cover of last week's Metro Times, and I'd like to thank my editors for the honor as well as the many friends who've called the cover to my attention since the issue appeared.

Seeing the Metro Times pot issue and reading the fervent editorial by my esteemed colleague Curt Guyette sort of took some of the sting out of the extremely disappointing defeat of Proposition 19 in California the night before.

Combined with the even more chilling effect of the right-wing takeover of the House of Representatives and many of our governorships — including the victory of the "Tough Nerd" and his slate in our own state — the rejection of the "Tax and Regulate Cannabis" initiative means that we're in for at least two more years of the invasive police-state assault on marijuana smokers that we'd hoped so fervently would begin to come to an end last week.

There remain many positive signs that the idiocy and viciousness of the War on Drugs with respect to marijuana users may finally be overcome sooner rather than later. A respected poll released last week revealed that nationwide support for legalization of recreational use of weed has reached a new high of 46 percent.

And in California, David Borden reports in AlterNet that the list of mainstream organizations that endorsed Proposition 19 includes California NAACP, Latino Voters League, National Black Police Association, National Latino Officers Association, California Young Democrats, several trade union organizations, and a number of current and former California politicians from the local level up through Congress.

"Win or lose this time," Borden concludes, "a page in history has turned — drug policy reform is an issue whose time has come, and time is on our side."

In the meantime, however, those of us who enjoy a smoke without the benefit of possessing a Medical Marijuana Patient ID card will continue to be ostracized and victimized by the greedy mongers of the War on Drugs and the morality police, suffering the consequences of workplace drug testing and job loss, unreasonable searches and seizures, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, impoundment of homes and vehicles, mandatory subjection to the vast drug treatment industry, and the entire range of humiliating and repressive treatment they have in store for us.

"The simple truth about America's marijuana prohibition," radical historian Harvey Wasserman points out in a recent essay, is that "any law that allows the easy incarceration of any citizen any time those in power want to do it is the ultimate enemy of democracy. With 800,000 annual arrests over an herb used by tens of millions of Americans, it is the cornerstone of a police state."

It's worth following Harvey's argument further as he enumerates the forces prosecuting the War on Drugs, starting with "the drug dealers who profit directly, ... the prison builders and operators, plus the lawyers, judges, guards and street cops who make their livings off the human agony of this endless stream of meaningless arrests.

"Then come the alcohol and tobacco pushers who don't want the competition from a recreational substance that can be raised and controlled locally. Ditto Big Pharma, which fears marijuana as a superior anti-depressant with healing capabilities far beyond a whole multibillion-dollar arsenal of prescription drugs with deadly side effects.

"Ultimately it's the politicians who cling to a prohibition that enhances their power. One after the other, they endorse more arrests and fiscal insanity."

Consider the economics of this pitiless drive to control our lives and curtail our mental activity that has absolutely no chance of succeeding.

In an era when law enforcement has been forced to lay off staff, reduce patrols and even release jail inmates, officers have found that going after marijuana growers and smokers makes them eligible for hefty federal anti-drug grants, Justin Scheck reports in The Wall Street Journal.

"The U.S. Justice Department is spending nearly $3.6 billion this year to augment budgets of state and local law-enforcement agencies," Phillip S. Smith reports in Drug War Chronicle at stopthedrugwar.org. "In addition, the federal government last year set aside close to $4 billion of the economic-stimulus package for law-enforcement grants for state and local agencies.

The White House also is spending about $239 million this year to fund local drug-trafficking task forces, Steve Elliott adds at newsjunkiepost.com, "which in the real world, usually means local cops dressing up like Rambo and tramping through the woods in a wasteful, quixotic and doomed attempt to stop the burgeoning marijuana industry."

The sickest thing about this situation is that you can stack up huge piles of shocking facts about the evil nature and heartless tactics of the War on Drugs, and it doesn't seem to make a whit of difference. These mind-boggling sums are regarded as money well-spent by the people who run our country, and the relentless persecution of recreational drug users will continue as part of the Judeo-Christian proscription against people getting high so long as the current laws remain in effect.

The organizers of the California Marijuana Initiative, led by Richard Lee of Oakland, promise to take up the cudgel again in 2012 in a serious attempt to gain the support of another 5 percent of the voting population to take legalization over the top. The losing side in the 46-54 decision reflects the national poll numbers cited above and reveals just how close we are to achieving our goal.

In a fascinating aside, the California polls before the election showed a 42-47 for-and-against split, but that was when the question was asked by a person. The response to automated polling devices minus the human interrogators was more like 57-43, demonstrating the reluctance so many citizens share about identifying themselves as smokers or even supporters of legalization.

The really ugly part of this whole equation is the pitiful percentage of registered voters who will take themselves to the polls or fill out an absentee ballot when it comes time to participate in a democratic election. In Michigan, the turnout was something like 46 percent, which is hardly an example of "hearing the American people speak" as the right-wing demagogues would have it.

The despised Richard M. Nixon mythologized what he called "the Silent Majority" as the bedrock of reactionary ideology and social practice, but, in truth, the silent majority is overwhelmingly made up of more progressive elements who — like the House and Senate Republicans of the past two years — simply refuse to participate in the democratic political process.

When great numbers of these people do turn out, as in the 2008 presidential election, the results are much more in line with the politics of the otherwise silent majority. When they don't, the right wing rules because their people always vote, in every election. Duh! Even though they're a minority in terms of the electorate as a whole, they can easily field more than half of the 46 percent of the citizens who bother to cast a vote.

Generally speaking, my autumn visit to the United States during the electoral season was like swimming through a toxic waste dump, and I'm glad to be getting the hell out of here for a while. I'll be in London when you read this, then in Amsterdam for the Cannabis Cup, and I'll report next from over there. —Detroit, Nov. 4-5, 2010

Former Detroiter John Sinclair is an author, broadcaster, activist and one-time manager of the MC5. He appears every other week in this space.