The Poet’s Eye is about to witness an event that I never thought I would live to see. When the people of California pass Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana, they will be curing one of the diseases suffered by our body politic for generations and one which I viewed as both congenital and chronic. I accepted that this example of institutional stupidity was so woven into our social fabric that it was unlikely to change during my lifetime. Having it legal, even in another state, will be an almost bittersweet experience, like getting out of prison or having a birthmark removed, one of those events that make us glad but we don’t entirely trust, and we also feel a sad tinge of nostalgia and loss for the good old bad old days. Will it still be fun when it’s legal?
It shouldn’t really make a difference to me whether or not pot is legal. When I consciously chose to include the herb in my fuel mixture, I also chose to commit civil disobedience. I rejected the legitimacy of drug laws and regularly and deliberately violated them. For me these laws represented a wrongful exercise of governmental power. It is not the proper province of government to determine what foods, beverages or condiments I can put into my body. This moral posture has caused considerable practical havoc in my life but Thoreau was very thorough and I was well warned that civil disobedience sometimes includes accepting the punitive consequences of our actions.
The fact that pot is illegal has been as significant to my life as prohibition was to the life of Al Capone. No, I am not a flashy gangster. At various times in my life I could have been described as a low-level pot dealer. Mostly I kept it on hand for my friends and sold enough to pay for the party. But many years of my life have been wasted fussing with the useless and wasteful drug prohibition industry. I refer to it as an industry because this is what it has become. Thousands of jobs depend on it, not only the drug cartels and and smugglers and local pot dealers, but also cops and lawyers and prosecutors and judges and clerks and bondsmen to prison guards and administrators to offices full of parole and probation supervisors to forced ‘rehabilitation’ facility personnel. You have the people who test urine and the folks who manufacture and sell products to foil the urine tests. What I’m saying is that it’s big business. There is a whole economy organized around the fact that dope is illegal. That’s why I never expected it to change.
But, I had always wondered at what point the public costs of maintaining the apparatus of the prohibition industry would become, well….prohibitive. How many prisons would we have to erect and how many families would we have to demolish before we realizes that we just couldn’t afford to continue the nonsense? The budget for the War on Drugs is in the tens of billions per year. California has hit that tipping point where they have to ask themselves if they want to hire a school teacher or a narc. Economic forces have assumed control of the situation and enough Californians see the good sense in turning a liability to an asset when it comes to the already robust hemp industry in the state. The same people who are bailing out of helicopters and burning pot patches now will soon be weighing it for tax purposes instead. This is a good thing. Still, I’ll miss prohibition like I miss silent movies and The March of Dimes.
I remember afternoons in the Lakewood Yacht Club in the early ’70’s. It was a hangout for local Characters, mainly catering to the vices, pimps, bookies and dealers and of course the entertainment business girls. Once in a while the conversation would turn to the very hypothetical topic of pot legalization in Texas. Consensus among pot dealers was that they were against it, not as a matter of morality or ideology but purely one of economics. They knew that the only reason they were sipping cervesas in a dim bar rather than selling spinach off a cart by the side of the road in the hot sun was because their vegetable was illegal. They were honest merchants for the most part, they took pride in their product and offered a fair deal for a fair price and accepted the risks associated with doing business in any unregulated market. But they also understood that the only reason they could sell a handful of weeds that anybody could grow in their back yard for 400 dollars an ounce was because it was illegal.
It’s not that I think that there is any danger of Texas following California down the road to pot perdition. Hell will have to freeze over and thaw two or three times before Texas gives it up with regard to drug laws. The prohibition mafia is much stronger here and there is still a vestigial core of bible-belt voters who are more informed by their interpretation of the Good Book than the realities of their check books. Texas doesn’t face the same budget bind as California but there is another situation that might cause the State to consider changing its laws. I’m talking about our border with Mexico which is a hotter war-zone than Afghanistan.
If you want to see complete laissez faire, free-market capitalism at work, take a look at the Texas-Mexico border and the commercial wars which are raging there between rival corporations (cartels) seeking to dominate the lucrative illegal pot market. The only reason these guys are slinging Kalishnikov’s on their shoulders rather than selling spinach from a cart by the side of the road is the same reason my friends in the Lakewood Yacht Club could be so proud of their product, because it is illegal. The cartels are virtually ruling the northern Mexican states. They are richer, better equipped and more organized and entrenched than the Taliban. All the cartels lack is an ideology or a leader to be a political force stronger than the PLO. To avoid the embarrassment involved in having to veto the Zeta’s application for membership in the UN, we are going to have to resolve this situation. Short of sending Pershing’s Marines across the Rio Grande, one good way to help control the cartels would be to cut the spigot on their cash by buying pot grown in the lush mountains of California instead of Guerrero, by legalizing marijuana nationally. This would take cash directly out of the pockets of the cartels and put it directly into ours. What’s not to like?
Oh, The Poet’s Eye will surely shed a tear of nostalgia when it’s legal everywhere, for the good old bad old days when we huddled about candles crouched in secret solidarity, afraid of the cops but together in our rebellion, smoking clandestine reefers out back and sharing our insurrection in fond fellowship, passing the handshake with breaths of prayer. I’ll miss that part of it. But what I really want to know is, Will It Still Be Fun When It’s Legal?
Roll another one
Just like the other one
That one’s burned to the end
Come on and be a real friend
Don’t bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me
Don’t bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me
—Fraternity of Man