Brian O’Dea, author of HIGH: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler (Other Press 2009), responds to comments posted to his “Legalize All Drugs Now!” essay from September 23rd, 2009.
I was interviewed recently by a young reporter who grew up in the midst of the so called “drug war”. As far as she was concerned, it is perfectly alright for our government to wage a war against the weakest of our citizens, even though her entire premise for it being acceptable was built on a foundation of lies, untruths, omissions, and a complete disregarding of the facts. Numbers issued by the DEA have notoriously distorted the facts for years (a simple example is found in their excessive valuation of the drugs they seize), and even only recently, under extreme pressure from LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition –LEAP.CC) have they changed a blatant lie on their home page regarding marijuana.
At any rate, I digress, let’s return to the interview. At the one minute fifty-six second mark, in response to my call for legalization, the interviewer repeats yet another false maxim of those fighting the drug war: “And then you’re dealing with an increase in addiction and drug related crimes…” This is right out of the DEA playbook and the facts tell another story. Does she know this? I hope not, and tend to think she and others are unaware of the lack of veracity in this argument. However, quite the opposite is true, as is proven in Portugal, where all drugs have been legalized – decreased drug addiction since legalization, decreased crime rate related to addiction, increased number of addicts seeking help, the age of youth starting to use drugs has risen by over one full year. I hope this addresses one of the concerns raised by a commenter in response to my original piece on this blog. Amy wonders if legalization will: “… encourage young kids to just try heroin once, and become addicted for life?” It should be pointed out here, too, that legal drugs are much harder to get than illegal ones. Money is the only barrier between me and any illegal drug.
There, in a nutshell, is the hill we have to climb. Mainstream media promotes the lie, and in doing so, creates sensational style journalism (probably the absolute wrong word to use here, because authentic journalism it is not) which pleases advertisers and their phony stance on, well, just about everything.
A great example of the hypocrisy we are dealing with can be seen in society’s acceptance of alcohol, which can be a harmful and dangerous drug for both the user and those in their environment. We drug test all of our athletes, but not for alcohol and tobacco, two of the most damaging drugs in the entire pharmacopeia. Both of these drugs have been aimed at our youth for generations and we hear no hue and cry from the media about that. Students at my son’s school can be seen sporting T-shirts emblazoned with one booze logo or another, and this is for some reason tolerated if not condoned. Sporting events aimed at our youth are also often sponsored by alcohol manufacturing companies of one stripe or another and, yet again, this is considered acceptable.
In the prisons where I have been, I have taken my own version of a straw pole, and have discovered that in every instance over 90% of the individuals in prisons for violent offenses were under the influence of alcohol when they committed their acts of violence. Not heroin. Not cocaine. Not PCP, or mescaline, or meth. Don’t get me wrong. I can speak from experience when I say that being hooked up on these drugs in a nightmare, and not recommended, but with their addiction, problems arise when the supply is withdrawn, when there is no access to supply due to financial constraints primarily, and banks get robbed in an effort to find money for the drugs.
Another responder to my piece, Jess, says “Alcohol… [is] a harmful drug to those who abuse it….” I would go one step further, Jess, and say that with alcohol, violence oftentimes results as symptoms of inebriation. Women, children and motorists are all too often innocent victims of alcohol, yet we cheer its presence among us. I would argue that if we supplied a heroin addict with his fix, we would see quite the opposite effect: the abuser would be subdued and satiated and would not be prone to lashing out at others, which includes robbing a bank. . In fact, federal prisons are filled with junkies who robbed banks for one of two reasons, a) to get money for the drug, or b) to get caught and locked up so they could have a safe place to get off the stuff (this method of quitting doesn’t always work, as all of the federal prisons I have experienced have heroin on the yard).
Another poster, Mikaila, makes a tremendously important point, “Drug illegalization is a great example of this… in terms of race-based eradication efforts.” Federal and state prisons are filled with young black men serving disproportionately higher sentences than their white counterparts. The crack laws were aimed specifically at the black community. For years this disparity has been there, white youth receiving five years for a coke where a black person will get fifty. Concerned citizens have been trying to overturn this bad law for years, but to no avail It is truly a law against the impoverished black community, nothing less.
Getting back to the interview: In this country there are approximately 180 directors of all the major media outlets, directors who cross pollinate onto other corporate boards. These individuals act as the gateway to the information we get to consume (for the most part). All too often, the axe they are grinding is to be used as a weapon assailing the truth before it gets to us. When the media that is consumed by most Americans is perpetrating and perpetuating the lie, is cooperating in it, then it becomes a gargantuan task to properly inform the public.
Those of us who know enough to seek beyond and around any of these fabrications are responsible for speaking out at every opportunity. If we choose not to do so, then we are participating in this horribly damaging exercise targeting the weakest among us. We are part of the problem of vastly overcrowded prisons filled with a great disproportion of minority groups, and poor people. I, for one, cannot bear to live my life with that burden. If we do not speak out, we are treating these struggling individuals as our scapegoats, foisting our own imperfections on their backs and hustling them off to the gulags. Can you live with that?
We must speak out at every opportunity; we must challenge the status quo, we must subvert the dominant paradigm. Thank you to those who have taken the time to listen to me and to share your thoughts.
To these people and everyone else for that matter, I say:
Find your voice, my friends, and then use it.
Brian O’Dea is the author of High: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler (Other Press 2009). He is currently working as a film and television producer and lives with his family in Toronto.