Pubdate: Thu, 18 Jun 2009
Source: Pique Newsmagazine (CN BC)
Column: Maxed Out
Page: 90
Copyright: 2009 Pique Publishing Inc.
Author: G. D. Maxwell
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


"It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play."

When the Beatles sang those first words on the eponymous track of 
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, nothing in my life had 
happened twenty years ago. But the driving chords, stabbing guitar 
and words were a hook that lodged in my - and I suspect almost 
everyone else's - head, an association that probably won't end until 
I end or dementia robs me of all but my earliest memories.

It was quite a few years later that I first began a sentence with 
that phrase. "It was twenty years ago..." The sound of those words, 
and the accompanying soundtrack spooling instantaneously through my 
head, froze me in my tracks and I dropped the sentence into the well 
of unfinished thoughts. "OMG, I didn't just say that, did I?" It 
shocked me that I was about to relate a tale of something or other 
that had happened, something I personally remembered experiencing, 
two decades earlier. It was an even greater shock to realize that 
whatever it was seemed so crystal clear and fresh in my memory.

It wasn't any easier the second time the words tumbled out, or the 
third or the fourth. But in time it became less traumatic. The music 
never stopped but the thoughts and stories continued. A pang of deja 
vu tied me in a knot the first time I substituted 30 years for 20 as 
the milepost marking the sentence, but by then I'd grown accustomed 
to, if not comfortable with, the variant of relativity theories that 
makes time seem to accelerate the older we get, compressing ancient 
experiences into fresh memories and stupefying those around us who 
wonder why we're telling them tales older than they are.

The shock washed over me anew last month when I was reminded the 
various governments I've lived under for most of my life have been at 
war with me for, gulp, 40 years! Yes, boys and girls, it was 40 years 
ago - cue music - this July that Richard Nixon, the man we all 
thought had a lock on the Worst President Ever award until George 
Bush the Younger came along, declared war on drugs.

Notwithstanding last month's announcement by the Office of National 
Drug Control Policy that the Obama administration will no longer use 
the term, the war continues to rage.

While I've tried to maintain a status of conscientious objector in 
the war on drugs, at least one side considers me an enemy combatant 
and would, if they could, spirit me away to any one of the many 
Gitmos scattered like so many high-security M&Ms across every 
community in North America. A shocking number of those prisons have 
been built solely to house, at great expense to the state and at even 
greater expense to the individuals, people who would rather unwind 
after a long day in the corporate trenches with a puff rather than 
with a socially-approved, government-taxed drink.

Oh, the governments pitched in the fevered battle never said they 
were squandering the money to incarcerate potheads, but during the 
last three of those four decades, the U.S. prison population serving 
time for drug crimes ballooned from around 41,000 to half a million. 
The stats for the first decade are lost to history because until war 
was declared, no one thought it significant enough to track.

Canadian tokers can feel slightly, but only slightly, safer pursuing 
their pleasure on this side of the border. While most Canuck cops 
don't pursue potheads with the same singlemindedness the assorted 
Sheriff Andys to the south do, Canadian prison populations are still 
swollen with people whose plan to live a perfectly normal, if 
somewhat stoned life, has been forever shattered by one of the 
stormtroopers from the other side of the trenches.

In an ironic way, Nixon's - and his successors' - War on Drugs eerily 
foreshadowed the precipitous decline in the U.S.' overall success 
rate in waging real wars against real(sic) foes. Let's see, since 
declaring war on drugs, the only real fighting war the U.S. has 
managed to "win" has been... Granada? Ah yes, the war to ensure the 
unfettered right of middle-class kids, with less than impressive 
academic records, to attend second-rate medical schools in tropical 
settings. It was a stirring sight, although no really good war songs 
managed to be written about it.

But like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and the War on Terror, the War on 
Drugs has been one long, inextricable quagmire, draining spirit, 
economic resources and vitality that could have been put to much 
better uses had anyone combined half a brain with political will.

Well into the 1960s, stories would emerge occasionally about some 
poor sap, some ancient Japanese soldier being discovered on a remote 
island in the South Pacific who was still fighting World War II.

He'd be dressed in rags, emaciated, terminally perplexed and 
suspended in utter shock and disbelief when tourists in tacky 
Hawaiian shirts would try to explain to him, (a) the war was over 
and, well, had been for several decades, (b) they didn't know why no 
one had told him and, (c) oh yeah, you lost. With failing eyesight, 
compromised health and a shiny, well-oiled rifle, the confused 
samurai would descend into catatonia trying to decided whether these 
gaily-dressed people were in fact enemy soldiers in unusual camo or 
civilians bearing bad news.

North American governments at all levels are not far removed from 
those addled, ancient warriors. They see the evidence, they compile 
the statistics, they witness the social cost but they just can't 
believe the overwhelming message: THE WAR'S OVER - DRUGS WON!

Okay, maybe that message is too blunt. Drugs didn't win the war. 
Drugs never actually engaged in warfare. Drugs just are. And there 
will always be people who want to use them. Some will do so and get 
on with life. Some will meet a bad end. But it takes a certain kind 
of Einstein to ignore Einstein's admonition about fools who keep 
doing the same thing and expecting the outcome to be different.

Governments have been fighting the same war with the same weapons and 
achieving the same results - failure - for four decades now. Isn't it 
about time to try something else? Something that doesn't waste 
enormous amounts of money that could be put to better uses? Something 
that doesn't turn potentially productive people into criminals? 
Something that doesn't make building and staffing prisons a growth industry?

Of course it is. And, of course, they won't. Maybe in another 40 years.

The folly of playing out this endless end game is slowly, glacially, 
becoming more clear to more people. We can't keep drugs out of 
maximum security prisons. How in the world are we going to suppress 
them in open, democratic societies?

But until someone wakes up all the old soldiers, the war continues.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom