Sunday, October 17, 2010

No Toke, No Joke, System's Broke: Poke "Yes" on Prop 19

...research funded by the U.S. government clearly demonstrates that even as federal funding for anti-drug efforts has increased by more than an inflation-adjusted 600% over the last several decades, marijuana's potency has increased by 145% since 1990, and its price has declined 58%.
Evan Wood, a physician and professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia

The War on Drugs fails—-and is doomed to perpetual failure—-because it is directed not against the root causes of drug addiction or of the international black market in drugs, but only against some drug producers, traffickers, and users. More fundamentally, the war is doomed because neither the methods of war nor the war metaphor itself is appropriate to a complex social problem that calls for compassion, self-searching insight, and factually researched scientific understanding.
Gabor Mate, In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts (2009)

By freeing its citizens from the fear of prosecution
and imprisonment for drug usage,
Portugal has dramatically improved its ability
to encourage drug addicts to avail themselves of
treatment. The resources that were previously
devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug
addicts are now available to provide treatment
programs to addicts.

Glenn Greenwald

This post is risky for the precious EasyYolk reputation because our stance on California's Prop 19 will some readers inevitably labeling us as a Doritos-eating "potheads." However, although I enjoy an occasional dark beer (or two), I have never smoked marijuana (let alone inhale it). I can honestly say I've never even had the need nor desire to do anything other than pass on grass (as my wife and my Sunday-night Open Hearts couples group will attest, I'm much more prone to people-pleasing, overfunctioning and caretaking to deal with my chronic anxiety). On November 2, I will vote "yes" on Proposition 19 to de-criminalize small amounts of pot, allowing local governments in our state to regulate and tax it. In what follows, we highlight a few key reasons for our endorsement.

First of all, the "war" on drugs is different from most military wars because it lacks an exit strategy and continues on forever and ever no matter how effective the mission is (although Glenn Greenwald reveals many disturbing similiarities between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror). The War on Drugs is not working no matter how loud and/or long we talk about it. During the past 30 years, the United States has spent $10 billion annually on pushing back the tidal wave of addiction and abuse, but 80-90% of high school seniors (the group of Americans I work closest with) polled say that weed is "very easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain.

Second, in light of this losing strategy, "potheads" (er, marijuana users) are socially shunned by teetotalers, wine tasters, beer bongers, cigarette breakers and porn voyeurs. Alcohol is well-known as a tremendously dangerous remedy for stress, contributing significantly to driving fatalities and domestic abuse, yet our weekend sports addictions are lavished with beer commercials that tell us how much we desperately need their products. In addition, we all know now the opposite of what cigarette companies had been propagandizing for decades: cigarette smoke kills smokers and proximate loved ones who breathe in their fumes. Yet, cigarettes remain successfully legal, taxed and regulated. And lastly, while porn continues to be fully legal and accessible on print, video and the internet, leading many into false intimacy and addiction, efforts to tax & regulate it (let alone produce laws banning it) are halted by those who (mis)quote the 1st Amendment and fear loss of tax revenue if--hold your breath--the porn industry leaves our state! "Potheads" or ,as Bill O'Reilly calls them, "stone slackers" function as our convenient societal scapegoats, the chosen poison for the laziest among us. Criminalizing marijuana, but not these other soul killers, is tremendously inconsistent and hypocritical. But, of course, maybe we should enforce prohibition of all these substances?

Third, our society should travel down the road of regulating and taxing, instead of criminalizing, these societal poisons because users and abusers are not "criminals" in need of punishment, but "broken" human beings in desperate need of healing. As the 12-step movement continues to compel me, our lives are uncontrollable and our souls long for healing and accountability. When a drug like marijuana is criminalized it inevitably leads to shameful hiding, just as drinking and porn (and R-rated movies!) does for many children and adults from fundamentalist religious contexts. When it's all about right or wrong, our universe is split into "good guys" and "bad guys," the saved and damned. The United States separates the sheep from the goats by locking them up, leading the world in punishing criminals (and it's not even close). It's time for a paradigm shift: salvation and freedom are nurtured through transparency, openness and empathy.

Fourth, we can learn from the experience of other nations who have dared to de-criminalize pot, especially Portugal and, more famously, The Netherlands. The Dutch have sold pot in licensed "coffee shops" since the 1970s and only 20% of its population has ever tried the drug, compared to 42% of those in the United States where is has always been declared "illegal." Here's what Glenn Greenwald concluded with his 2008 study of the effects of Portugal's unique drug decriminalization policy since 2001 (when it was enacted):

None of the fears promulgated by opponents
of Portuguese decriminalization has
come to fruition, whereas many of the benefits
predicted by drug policymakers from institut-
ing a decriminalization regime have been realized.
While drug addiction, usage, and associated
pathologies continue to skyrocket in many
EU states, those problems—in virtually every relevant
category—have been either contained or
measurably improved within Portugal since
2001. In certain key demographic segments,
drug usage has decreased in absolute terms in the
decriminalization framework, even as usage across
the EU continues to increase, including in those
states that continue to take the hardest line in
criminalizing drug possession and usage.

It is important to note that in Portugal (like the current debate in CA), the impetus towards decriminalizing drug use was not "giving in to relativism," but instead, a sturdy conviction that decriminalization would actually be more effective than throwing money and resources to prohibit drug use. By "legalizing it," the Portugese government did not and does not condone drug use, but places itself in a position to create a more drug-free society. None of the fearmongering worst-case-scenarios from drug war proponents turned out to be true (like turning Lisbon into a drug vacation paradise!). Those of us voting "yes" on California's Proposition 19, like the Portugese, are not "pro-drugs," but quite the opposite. We recognize the destructive nature of drug addiction and are not compelled nor content to continue supporting wrongheaded (albeit sincere) policies. In regards to this issue, advocating for the status quo is the riskiest thing we could possibly do.

For those of us committed to pledging allegiance to the Reign of God, we are reminded that Jesus was known as "a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34), or in today's jargon, "a friend of potheads and porn addicts." Jesus opened his kingdom of God banquet to everyone, and his friendship led to solidarity, love, acceptance and a path towards healing (repentance). Jesus did not shame, scold or shun those caught in addictive cycles (see John 8), but instead, like a new Moses, proposed a way out of slavery into humanizing participation in a way-of-life that was beautifully contagious. Because our current drug policy leads to the imprisonment (both literally and metaphorically) of far too many addicts, we are called to forge a new pathway to freedom and healing. Proposition 19 is a (very) small step in the right direction.

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