Mom, Drugs, and Apple Pie

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I wish someone would explain to me the War On Drugs, or at least why we think there is one. I grant that I’m just a country boy, and intellectually barefoot, and can’t understand things that don’t make sense. For that you have to go to Yale. Help me.

As the newspapers tell it, drugs are somebody else’s fault. Mexico’s, for example, which grows and ships drugs. Yep, our drug problem comes from them. Colombia makes us take drugs too. In Washington you often see Colombians with machetes to peoples’ throats, making them use drugs. Sometimes they actually block traffic. The Afghans grow drugs for the American market, but it’s not their fault, because they are our allies and love us and fight terrorism.

Does this make sense? Maybe it’s because I’m slow, but looks to me as if America has a drug problem because Americans want drugs. It isn’t Colombia. You might as well blame Toyotas on Japan as blame cocaine on Colombia. If we didn’t want Toyotas, we wouldn’t buy them. Drugs, too.

Drugs are as American as barbecue sauce. Everybody here wants drugs. Kids want drugs. Country boys in pickups want drugs. Fancy consultants want drugs. All God’s chillun want drugs. Throw in people who don’t think they want their minds altered, but gobble Prozac like anteaters on a bug pile. They’re drugged-up to the gills, but don’t know it.

The War On Drugs has gone on for a good thirty-five years since the Sixties. It’s as real as professional wrestling. Well, almost. What do we have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing. You can get any drug you have heard of, and some you haven’t, from your daughter in high school. I don’t mean that she uses them. I mean she knows where to get them, or could find out in fifteen minutes. Crystal, shrooms, ecstasy, acid, whatcha want?

Downtown, crack is common as corruption. Open-air drug markets are like Seven-Eleven — there’s one every few blocks. Eight black guys hanging on a corner in the city? Good bet. The customers usually are blue-collar whites from the suburbs. The upper class does white powder. Kids do odd stuff. Nitrous, for example. Just Say N2O.

The schools actually promote drugs. When my daughter was in the third grade, she had never thought about narcotics. Then a nice cop with DARE came. He showed them what the drugs looked like and explained what they did. The kids were intrigued: Acid? You see things? Neat….

Who are we kidding? A lot of their parents do drugs. Yes, the Volvo People, shiny and prosperous. When the kids aren’t around, the little bag comes out of the bottom drawer. (The kids toke when the parents aren’t around.)

No, not everyone uses, or ever did. Not everyone drinks. But enough do it that it’s acceptable, on the order of discrete adultery.

Drugs are a vital part of the national economy, like Boeing. The difference is that drugs have a future. We might as well try to outlaw gravity. Anyone caught stuck to the earth instead of floating in the air will be arrested….

People with too much time on their hands talk about legalization. Thing is, drugs are legal. It’s a curious, tacit, off-the-books legality, a legality in bits and pieces, undeclared, but it’s there, and has to be, because of the demographics. You can’t arrest the middle class, the upper class, the lower class, the high schools and the universities.

You sure aren’t going to bust half the Gifted And Talented program at Central High, give them a narcotics record, and ruin their lives. So teachers just somehow…don’t notice. Crime largely ignored is crime largely legalized.

When was the last time you heard of high-school or middle-school (don’t kid yourself) students being busted at school on dope charges? Blacks only get arrested because they’re visible, because drugs in the ghetto produce dead bodies, and because they are going to vote Democratic anyway.

The other part of de facto legalization is to that penalties for the first arrest are meaningless — say, an appearance in court and some sort of stupid community service. For kids, it’s a joke, an adventure, a badge of honor. Adults in the middle-class almost never get caught. They’re discreet, and the cops don’t really care. Besides, jailing the tax base doesn’t fly.

For the middle class and up (and where is the power in the country?) drugs are illegal enough that no politician has to take heat for being in favor, but legal enough that people can use them.

Why is this? Ah. Because too many folk fondly remember getting twisted in the dorm room years back, remember succumbing to the munchies and eating a whole loaf of stale bread or a ream of typing paper while Dylan honked and blew about the vandals got the handle.

Gimme a break. For too many of us, doing drugs in college was fun, a rite of passage, like going to a speakeasy in the Twenties. It provided a sense of adventure, of shared disdain for laws seen as witless and meddlesome. We were chemical libertarians. And in any age the bright and adventurous are more likely to do drugs than are solemn drones.

This doesn’t make drugs a good idea. It does make them unlikely to go away.

What do parents from the Sixties say when the budding tad asks, “Daddy, did you and mommy do drugs back then?” Heh, ah…urgh. Do you lie? “Oh nooo-oo, we never did that.” Budding tads tend to know when they’re being lied to. Or do you prevaricate greasily: “Well, I experimented, but it wasn’t a good idea and I didn’t inhale”?

I heard the story, perhaps apocryphal, of the father who told his daughter of eight years, “If you put your tooth under the pillow, the Tooth Fairy will give you a dime.” “A dime of what?”

If the laws don’t much quash the use of drugs, what affect do they have?

They keep prices up for the drug cartels. Dealers enjoy a huge, federally guaranteed margin of profit.

Two groups most oppose legalization. First, the morality lobby consisting of hard-line conservatives, serious Christians, latent Puritans, and people who fear social devastation wrought by drugs. Second, the drug industry, which would expire yesterday if legalized. This includes folk with a few plants growing in a closet, Kentucky farm boys with a dozen rows hidden amongst the corn, judges and cops battening on bribes, the peddlers in the ghetto, and the cartels. All God’s chillun.

When crime and morality are in league — precisely what war on drugs are we talking about?

Fred Reed [send him mail] is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.

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