Stoned on Righteousness

It's not just about us. If Californians legalize marijuana on Nov. 2, maybe Mexico will end its horrific drug war.

It's not just about us. If Californians legalize marijuana on Nov. 2, maybe Mexico will end its horrific drug war.

"war on drugs," like the war on terror, is a simplistic and brutally
stupid solution imposed on a complex, multifaceted human problem, born
out of the notion that you can take evil out of context and eradicate it
with the firepower of righteousness. Science and the arts have long ago
moved on to new realms of awareness, but we're still playing politics
the way we did in the 19th century -- or the 12th or 1st -- with the
primary difference being that we have the capacity to do far more harm
these days.

righteousness, indeed, all too often becomes a far greater cause of
harm than the original problem; in tandem, problem and solution may
combine to turn chronic trouble into unfathomable disaster, especially
for innocent bystanders.

drug war, for instance, which began in late 2006, has so far resulted
in the deaths of 28,000 people and consumed billions of dollars in
military expenditures. Meanwhile, government human rights violations are
rampant, crime in general is on the rise -- and most Mexicans think the
drug cartels are winning.

Writing earlier this month in the Washington Post,
Hector Aguilar Camin and Jorge G. Castaneda ask: "If California
legalizes marijuana, will it be viable for our country to continue
hunting down drug lords in Tijuana? Will Wild West-style shootouts to
stop Mexican cannabis from crossing the border make any sense when, just
over that border, the local 7-Eleven sells pot?"

Californians pass Proposition 19 and make marijuana fully legal, Mexico
may choose to legalize it as well, they suggest. The two countries are
inextricably linked via drugs; what Mexico produces, the U.S. consumes.
Thus: "If the initiative passes, it won't just be momentous for
California; it may, at long last, offer Mexico the promise of an exit
from our costly war on drugs."

of which puts Prop 19 and the entire issue of legalizing pot in the
United States in a context larger than the one we generally acknowledge.
Our country's anti-pot bureaucracy is wreaking harm and punishing the
innocent beyond our borders as well as within them -- all the while
turning a plant with extraordinary medicinal and other highly useful
properties into our arbitrary enemy, "devil weed," to no serious end
except to waste law-enforcement resources and keep our prisons full to

Indeed, in 2009, police busted 858,408 people for pot violations, according to the FBI's recently released Uniform Crime Report.
This is the second highest total ever, and just shy of the record set
in 2007. What gives? Even as the country inches its way toward marijuana
sanity -- medical marijuana is now legal in 14 states and two more
(Arizona and South Dakota) have the issue on the November ballot -- a
"stoned righteousness," you might say, seems to be fighting back and
punishing people when and where it can.

friend Bernie Ellis, who was arrested eight years ago for growing
medical marijuana on his farm near Nashville, Tenn., calls it "the
farces of evil" -- which have not stopped harassing him even though he
has served 18 months in a halfway house run by the Federal Bureau of
Prisons. Last month, the final hideous ritual of false justice was
enacted, as the feds auctioned off the 25-acre piece of his farm they
had confiscated in a plea-bargain arrangement that allowed him to keep
the other 147 acres. Originally they were going to take the whole thing.

of this, as Ellis wrote recently, was "for the crime of growing seven
pounds of pot and giving it away to four terminally ill neighbors, a
crime that I never denied I committed from the moment that two
helicopters and ten four-wheelers descended on my farm."

And in
the three weeks before the auctioning of his land, he wrote, his farm
was buzzed three times by pot-seeking government aircraft, "low enough to rattle my windows and blow down my late summer sweet corn." What it sounds like is governmental stalking.

so much righteous, punitive energy on marijuana users and growers is
doubly ironic. The plant's abuse potential is miniscule compared to its
value. Harvey Wasserman, writing irreverently in the December issue of
Hustler, points out that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other
Founding Fathers not only grew but in all likelihood smoked hemp; and
that the plant's national value was extolled in a 1942 video produced by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture called "Hemp for Victory" (five years after marijuana was declared illegal).

even if marijuana was a clear social problem, on the order of cocaine,
declaring war on it and proceeding ruthlessly, consequences be damned,
to eradicate it, not only doesn't work, but causes incalculable and
pointless harm. Mexico's nation-wrecking drug war is one example. The
spraying of highly toxic herbicides across the landscape of Third World
countries is another.

19, which no mainstream California politician has the nerve to support,
could do more than legalize adult possession of an ounce of marijuana
in the nation's largest state. It could legitimize sanity and put a lid on the forces of simple-minded righteousness in politics and government.

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