Read the news ... oh, boy

Still shrill: Opponents of pot as histrionic as ever.

I said goodbye to Amsterdam after a long and productive winter spent living and working in the bosom of my extended family at Radio Free Amsterdam, serving as poet in residence at the 420 Café and daily enjoying the freedom to smoke marijuana at will whether one is sick or not.

Arriving at the London St. Pancras train station, I caught the Piccadilly tube to my modest quarters at the Headpress bunker in Wood Green and picked up a copy of the Evening Standard on the way, only to find a full-blown revival of the Reefer Madness approach on the front page of the Health & Beauty section from a writer named Sophie Goodchild: "OUT OF THEIR MINDS: THE TRUTH ABOUT TEENS, CANNABIS AND PSYCHOSIS."

"The award-winning foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn describes how his son Henry turned from talented artist to disheveled wreck," Sophie reports.

"'He stopped shaving or washing his hair and went barefoot, so his feet became septic. He also soiled his jeans more than once.'

"Author Julie Myerson also knows how excessive cannabis use can threaten to wreck families," Sophie goes on. "Her son Jake became hooked on the potent 'skunk' form of cannabis and Myerson was forced to throw him out of the family home in south London."

Harry Anslinger must be dancing in his grave to hear this drivel. A sidebar titled "CANNABIS: THE LOWS" proclaims "You may have a problem if you answer 'yes' to any of the following:

1) Do you ever get high alone?" Every day, lady, every day!

5) "When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more?" Every time, lady, every time — unless I'm in Amsterdam, where they always have exactly what you want at the hash counter, any time you want it. No anxiety there! And in Michigan now, only when one's caregiver hasn't arrived by the appointed hour or it's after closing at the compassionate care center.

Me, I'm addicted to newspapers, and I follow the global cannabis news pretty closely, but it's been quite a while since this particular tack has been taken. Generally marijuana seems to be considered basically harmless and is grudgingly conceded even to have positive medicinal properties, but it gets you high and there's supposedly something fundamentally wrong with that.

Bang! The woodwork squeaks and out come all the freaks of law enforcement to terrorize and abuse the smoking population for several generations, in ways and with means way too vast to enumerate here. Plus which, as they say, there's the "preaching to the choir" factor where the speaker keeps saying the same things over and over again and everyone says "amen" and outside the church the sinners and the greedheads and the money-changers just keep on stepping.

My problem is that the more I think about it the madder I get. Despite the reams of righteous information and reasonable argument against the idiotic War on Drugs and the insufferable ignorance and brutality with which it is waged, hundreds of thousands of marijuana smokers continue to be victimized and persecuted by its relentless minions, dragged through the courts and jails and "treatment programs," imprisoned, stripped of their rights, and treated like vicious criminals.

But in the end it's all about getting high — and what's wrong with that? They get high and we don't put them in prison. You can't even read the Metro Times online without a bunch of vodka all up in your face, but you have to worry about getting searched and arrested every time you leave the pad because you've got a couple of joints in your pocket? Or be getting high and listening to some records and the storm troopers come busting into your house like you had John Dillinger in there with you?

Like Richard Pryor said, "How long? How long must this bullshit go on?" And I guess the answer is, as long as we let them get away with it. It's a big job to end the War on Drugs, because even though it's been well-established that the emperor is completely bereft of clothing, he still has his Army and Navy and Marine Corps and their local equivalents, his legions of prison guards and employees, his endless ranks of lawyers and court personnel to churn the reeking cauldron of "justice" — or to cite the late brother Pryor again, "just us."

If you want a perfect example of what this mess is really about, look no further than to the immediate north of Detroit, where the law enforcement establishment of Oakland County and several of its communities continue to punish marijuana smokers — even state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients and their licensed suppliers ("caregivers") — as if the state's marijuana laws had not actually been severely altered by the action of a majority of its voters.

But the nature of the law doesn't really bother the forces of enforcement as long as they can get away with their devilishment and keep raking in the proceeds from the state Legislature and the county commissioners and the searches and seizures and confiscations that are their rewards for trying to keep us from getting high or simply taking our medicine.

I read in AlterNet of a pair of books that bear on our subject, however tangentially. This first is by a guy I knew back in the day, when he was attending the University of Michigan, Daniel Okrent, who's gone on to wide journalistic acclaim. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner) deals with the period "when booze was banned but pot was not" and is instructive for its study of an illegal substance and the culture that grew out of it, and also for pointing out that alcohol prohibition lasted only 12 years while ours has been going on eight or nine times longer than even the War in Afghanistan.

James Cockcroft's Mexico's Revolution: Then and Now (Monthly Review Press) raises the question: "What are the U.S.'s Real motives for launching a drug war in Mexico?" and, in the words of the AlterNet reviewer, "exposes the thinking behind U.S. narcotrafficking policy and the militarization of Mexico and further south."

My heart goes out to my old friend and comrade Dana Beal, who's just suffered his third bust in three years for driving loads of marijuana and/or money across the United States, something he's done for about 40 years now. Beal claims in one case to have been delivering a vanload of medical marijuana to patients in Michigan, in another to have just collected a sizable cash donation towards the establishment of an ibogaine clinic just outside the U.S. borders. Beal runs Cures Not Wars, and organizes the Global Marijuana March each May.

Beal's in his 60s and still being persecuted. Two other close friends of mine from the same generation are currently serving federal time for large-scale marijuana violations, and just in case they let these guys read the newspapers, let's send a big Detroit shout-out to brother Eddy Lepp in California and Gorgeous George Kucewicz in New Jersey.

Finally, maybe you noticed the snide references to marijuana use in connection with the creep in Arizona who shot up all those people. "I was trying to tell him, you know, you need to get your life on the right track," a friend of his testified to The Washington Post, adding that he believed Loughner was using marijuana, saying, "I was telling him about God and all that. And he broke down crying, and he gave me a big ol' hug, and said, 'Thank you, you're one of the only ones that ever listened to me.'"

I hate to take a cheap shot, but maybe he should've stuck with marijuana.

—London, January 27-28, 2011

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