'Where'd ya get it?'

Why medical marijuana cards represent the end of an era

When I applied to the state of Michigan for my Michigan Medical Marijuana Patient ID card last year, I didn't designate a particular caregiver, and my card arrived with "NO CAREGIVER" printed across the back.

Then my caregiver and I reached agreement and filed new papers with the state to establish our relationship. Soon a new card showed up in my mail with my caregiver's name and address included with my own.

(There was still no photo, however, just a box with the legend "No Photo Available" — like you were the kid who failed to show up in school on the day the pictures were taken for the yearbook. This is funny because in California, for example, the medical marijuana cards display the patient's photo and state registration number but not his or her name or address. I like that approach much better.)

Smiling to myself while fondling my new card and looking at my caregiver's name on there, it occurred to me that this was truly the end of an era. "Where'd ya get it?" "I got it from the guy whose name and address are on my Patient ID card, dimwit."

Some 45 years earlier, when I first got in trouble with the law for selling a $10 bag of marijuana to an undercover police officer called "Tall Paul" in the fall of 1964, the Detroit narcotics police took me to the 9th floor of police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, locked me in a holding cell and asked me, "Where'd ya get it?"

I can't remember what I told them, but in the end they wanted me to set up my pal Archie Allen of Ann Arbor, who they were on to through some other means, and I had to tell them that I couldn't do that. But, because I was a graduate student at WSU and it was my first offense of any kind, I was allowed to plead guilty to "possession of narcotics" and sentenced to two years probation.

This was still a couple of years before marijuana use spread like wildfire among American youths who were either college students or working people with jobs but suffered persecution by the police as if they were some kind of hardened criminals and dope fiends.

As the war on drugs escalated under the vicious leadership of Richard M. Nixon and his goons, the full force of the law-and-order establishment was brought to bear against the students, working-class youth and lumpenproletariat elements known as hippies who smoked marijuana on a recreational or medicinal basis without harming themselves or others in any way.

The number of such casualties of the war on drugs has grown and grown over the past 40 years and continues to grow well into the 21st century. As Robert Sharpe of Common Sense for Drug Policy put it, "The drug war is largely a war on marijuana smokers. In 2009, there were 858,405 marijuana arrests in the United States, almost 90 percent for simple possession."

Marijuana smokers have presented a perfect target for the drug police. We're not criminals, we don't understand the police culture, and we're easily intimidated by the minions of law and order. We've got lives and jobs and studies to pursue and we've been willing to give up the little pieces of our hearts required by the police in order to continue our productive pursuits.

Compared to real police work, surveilling and busting marijuana smokers is a piece of cake, and the rewards are sweet too: They can confiscate your funds, take your home and your possessions, lock you up or sentence you to long periods of probation, drug treatment programs and other revenue-producing punishments, and blacklist you from government aid programs and the job market in general.

Then there's drug testing on the job, the stops by the police while driving your car, and all the associated forms of terrorism in daily life inflicted on recreational drug users to reinforce the basic message that they don't want you to get high.

With respect to the marijuana laws, to paraphrase my friend the late Jack Herer, the emperor ain't got no clothes on. There is no medical, practical or sensible reason to criminalize marijuana use. It has no ill effects, it's not addictive, it doesn't kill anyone, and there's no social benefit to be found in harassing, arresting and jailing marijuana smokers of any stripe.

Way back in the day, it seemed clear that the only reason we were being persecuted for smoking weed was because it got us high and helped us develop and maintain a vision of life outside the industrial order that might be better for us than buckling down and getting a job and spending our lives chained to the treadmill that had claimed our parents.

After sifting through all the layers of obfuscation and bullshit mythology that've been proposed to explain the need for maintaining the criminality of marijuana, it seems even clearer now that the consumer society uses the drug laws to advance and enforce its relentless campaign to cut the heart out of American life and transform our citizens into perfect consumers, with arrest and possible imprisonment awaiting those who don't go along with the program.

Despite all its high-blown rhetoric, the war on drugs has never been anything more than part of a diabolical scheme to create a social order on the Soviet model, in which people are pressured to turn in their friends for crimes against the state, children spy on their parents, and neighbors rat on neighbors to create an all-pervasive atmosphere of dishonesty, distrust and betrayal.

The war on drugs has completely undermined the traditional American way of life and turned the United States into a nation of snitches and rat bastards who would turn in anyone they know in order to escape a possible jail sentence.

The advent of legal medical marijuana has blasted a huge chink in the armor of the police state. In Michigan, where the medical marijuana model — with its focus on patients and caregivers as opposed to the pharmaceutical-consumer paradigm — incorporates some of the key elements of the humanist worldview, this hole is even bigger and more promising.

We've reached an important plateau in what for me has turned out to be a life-long struggle to end the war on drugs and liberate the recreational drug user from the clutches of the criminal justice system. "Where'd ya get it" has finally become an empty threat — now let's go the rest of the way.

Last word:
In last week's Higher Ground, Larry Gabriel reported that "Gov. Arnold 'Terminator' Schwarzenegger signed a law downgrading the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. That means as of Jan. 1, 2011, petty possession is punishable by a $100 fine and no criminal record."

Larry pointed out that "the Golden State continues to lead the pack in liberalizing marijuana laws," but this approach was actually pioneered in Michigan when the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and East Lansing established the $5 ticket for marijuana offenses in the very early 1970s — oh, almost 40 years ago! —Detroit, Oct. 6, 2010

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