I was watching Fox News when I came across that commercial for the drug war.   You know it.   It’s the one that says “If you buy drugs, even pot, your money may go to fund terrorists.”

Now this was really an eye opener for me. I grew up in America’s public schools, with all the traditional propaganda about Cannabis.   You know what I’m talking about – all those horror stories about the evil things pot will do to your brain? I can’t recall any of it right now, but you get the idea.

They always told us “Pot makes you violent. And lazy.”    Which never scared any kids I knew.   Violent people being lazy is actually a brilliant anti-crime strategy.     Just imagine a thug who threatens, “I’m gonna kill you, man, right after this burrito.”

This is why so many kids have a hard time taking the drug war seriously.  We’re always changing the reasons, but the message stays the same. We keep telling them “drugs are bad! Drugs are bad! Drugs are bad!” and that, my friends, is not the problem.

The problem is not that drugs are bad. The problem is that drugs are great. That’s the problem.

Addiction is bad. Overdosing is bad. Making stupid choices when you’re high is bad, and all you potheads who accidentally paid to see “Avatar” in 2-D know what I’m talking about.

But it wasn’t until the Bush Administration that the Government began saying that if you buy pot, your money will go to terrorists. Clearly, the message George Bush was sending? Grow your own.

I  actually thought it was hilarious when the government began  linking the war on drugs to the current war on terror. You see, the Drug War as we know it began in that bastion of morality, San Francisco, back in 1873.

Back then, Chinese immigrants were the group everybody was allowed to hate.    Caucasian people really didn’t like the thought of good Christian folks going to smoke in the opium dens of “the heathen Chinee.” . White people took opium too, but they usually ate it, or shot it up. You know, the wholesome way.

So they passed a law taxing imported smokable opium.  This is noteworthy, since besides the obvious racism, it was the first time the government used taxes not to raise money (as the founders intended), but to punish and control private behavior.

The well regulated, law abiding opium houses shut down, the Chinese underworld grew stronger: violence erupted; lives disrupted; police and politicians corrupted; America interrupted.

So it’s highly ironic that they’d link the drug war to the terror war.  Because now that the Taliban is out of power, people can finally get decent opium again.

The Drug war’s been around so long it seems like it’s part of our heritage. But cannabis hemp was a major American crop from the earliest colonial days. The US census of 1850 counted 8000 hemp plantations.

I’m going to repeat that, because I think it’s worth noting. The 1850 US Census counted 8000 cannabis hemp plantations. Growing cannabis was as American as apple pie. And everyone knew that if you smoked the flowery top of the plant, you’d want to eat a lot of apple pies. But it was never a concern.  Then, as now, the biggest drug problem in the US was our old friend alcohol.

When the government made cannabis illegal in 1937, the American Medical Association officially protested – because for hundreds of years, its medicinal and industrial uses were well documented.

Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello, and actually helped smuggle rare hemp seeds out of China. Nowadays, they’d go to jail for it. That is, if we ever started locking up the rich white guys

Benjamin Franklin started a colonial paper mill that made paper from hemp fiber. I’m not suggesting Ben ever smoked any – I’m sure lots of perfectly sober guys fly kites during thunderstorms.

And it’s worth mentioning that from the 1600s to the 1800s, cannabis hemp was used as a currency – legal tender. In fact for over 200 years you could pay your taxes in cannabis hemp. This was not, however, the origin of the term “joint return.”

The point is, Cannabis has been in America for thousands of years – even longer than white people. But it’s only been illegal for the past 70. So technically, decriminalizing it is the true Conservative point of view.

And it’s the issue of medical marijuana that makes this a moral battle. I grew up in a Catholic family. An extremely Catholic family. We used to have open casket reunions. Now I’m not anti-Christian at all. My Mother is an ex-nun and my Father an ex-Franciscan brother. I just view Jesus the way I view Elvis. I love the guy, but some of the fan clubs scare me.

Because what I learned from the bible as a child was that Jesus was a radical nonviolent revolutionary; a man who hung around with lepers, hookers and crooks; who never spoke English and wasn’t an American citizen; was anti-death penalty, anti-capitalist, anti public prayer (Matthew 6:5, please remind them) but Never anti gay; and was a long haired, brown skinned (yes, it’s in there), homeless, middle eastern Jew. And all he wants us to do is love people – especially the people we don’t like.

So I have a hard time believing that JC would advocate locking up sick people.

In 1996 the voters of California approved a medical marijuana proposal. The Clinton White House promptly put the kibosh on it. George W. Bush and Barack Obama are also opposed to medical marijuana.   Now all three of these presidents have been highly selective at best about their drug histories – but they’ve had no problem locking up others for the same behaviors. Which I take as a sign that none of them truly believes in the drug war.

Because if they really felt at their core that illegal drug use was evil, they’d confess their crimes and ask forgiveness. Remember – if they thought it was a sin, they’d turn themselves in. Imagine Johnnie Cochran saying it – it’ll sound better.

I’m not saying that these  presidents are evil men. It’s just part of why the drug war makes no sense. It’s a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don’t fit – and it’s never going to look like what they promised you on the box..

The drug war violates civil liberties, privacy rights, rights against search and seizure. It’s led to out of control crime, corrupted law enforcement & business officials, and shown that the wealthy can get away with what the poor cannot – in short, it makes a mockery of any claim to be a free country.

The war on drugs is a war on Americans. It’s not even about race anymore , but class – and the only color that matters is lack of green.

But we can’t stop? You know why? We as a nation, a people, a tribe, are hooked.

Like Caffeine, Oxycontin, fructose or Vicodin – we are addicted to the drug war.

We know it doesn’t work – we can’t stop.

We know it’s too expensive and we can’t afford it – we can’t stop.

We know there are a million people in prison and every year we pay 40 grand apiece to keep them in jail; when they could be out working, paying taxes and contributing to the economy – but we cannot stop.

There are two types of people who keep repeating the same behaviors over and over, always expecting different outcome. Addicts, and crazy people.

So we’d better hope we’re addicts. Because I don’t’ want to believe the country I love is this insane. And the good news is this : if we are addicted, we can get treatment.

35 Comments

  1. Pamela Twining
    March 15, 2010

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    Great article, John! So very informative! I’ve been an advocate of doing away with the War on Drugs for years, and for some of the same reasons. But I learned some new things from your piece, like the part about paying taxes w/cannabis. The whole concept of Drugs is Insane in this country. We persecute and jail people for using the Unsanctioned drugs and sell all kinds of legal poison (drugs) on TV, telling people to demand these pills from their physicians. I work in the health ins industry and we used to routinely reject requests for Vioxx, because it hadn’t been approved at the time. People Freaked Out, appealed, got their Vioxx, and then…. oops, folks are dying from this stuff… SUE!

  2. Joe Martinelli
    March 15, 2010

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    Hi John, You made a lot of points, and raised many issues.
    If all the laws we have to abide by were enforced uniformly, and fairly we would be have a more perfect union.
    They can not bust everyone that has a bit of pot in his or her pocket.
    Everyone that smokes a little pot does not get hooked on heroin.
    Unfortunately some do, and it’s very real.
    I think it’s wrong to take advantage and to prey and profit on addiction, and weakness.
    Ultimately people just want to change the way they feel, and they rely on what ever substance that they’re introduced to, hopefully they will discover ways to cope with life without using drugs.

  3. Jessica Flores
    March 16, 2010

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    This is very well written, John. I agree with almost all of it. The only thing I may have exception to is that coming from a family who is from Colombia, I’m familiar with how groups like FARC use the money they make from cultivating cocaine to fund their countless murders, bombings and kidnappings. But that is quite a complicated problem that is very difficult to solve – no quick one-swipe plan will take care of it.

    I do agree with your stance on marijuana. Although I’m not a pot-smoker, I really don’t see anything wrong with it. I believe alcohol, tobacco and the pharmaceutical companies have done more damage than a little cannabis ever will. And keeping it from people who are sick and could really use it is morally reprehensible.

  4. bman
    March 31, 2010

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    Like the blog, and I’m now following you on Twitter, and will come back to read more.

  5. Rob Britt
    March 31, 2010

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    Great article and very valid points. (some of which were new to me, and I’m sure to others as well) The war on drugs has done nothing but strengthen the allure of drugs -who doesn’t like to trifle with the unknown and dangerous? – and funding for crimnal organizations.
    Thanks for posting this. good stuff!

  6. Kevin Lemon
    April 1, 2010

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    Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful and righteously honest blog. I will share this with everyone I know.

  7. Matt Midwest
    April 3, 2010

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    Great article! I wanted to correct you about the year 1937, but when I looked it up, you’re essentially right. The details are interesting though:
    Hemp was actually “regulated” in 1937, by the “‘Marihuana Tax Act” of 1937, but it wasn’t made illegal until 1951, by the “Boggs Act.”
    But, looking a little deeper, it turns out that the taxation act made the penalty for untaxed marijuana sales or undocumented marijuana (free) distribution five years imprisonment and/or a $2,000 fine (1937 money). And the maze of bureaucracy repelled even physicians from prescribing it, so it was as good as illegal while it was being “regulated.” Interesting.
    One more detail raises a point of interest, in my humble opinion: further legislation made selling even one joint to a minor a possible life sentence!
    I think there’s actually a bit of wisdom (although taken way too far) that I haven’t heard in the few times I’ve heard hemp talked about on radio or web: kids shouldn’t smoke weed.
    I saw a BBC documentary including, among other things, adolescent mice that smoked weed and got their brains fried… but I already knew. We already know what the scientists will prove more clearly. Weed inhibits adolescent brain development. The a**holes who smoked in high school went from dumb to super-dumb (although the a**hole part mellowed out in an oddly sad way, at least in my suburban youth).
    But, this just reinforces our argument. By demonizing hemp, we’re shutting down the much needed conversation that this mild hallucinogen might have negative effects on the forming adolescent mind.

    One correction, I don’t think you meant the question mark after “But we can’t stop?” (seventh paragraph from the end. Maybe this website is too rigid to let you fix it easily. Maybe I’m nerdily too rigid.
    Anyway… time to e-schmooze…
    Great article! Olé to “The only color that matters is a lack of green.”
    Great first impression of your site here and I love fridays on the Steph Miller show. I am a comedy and an education junkie and that makes you a good “connect” as the kids used to say. You’ve got my ear.
    Keep on rockin’ in the …free world?

  8. Paul
    April 4, 2010

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    Great article, thanks John.

  9. Paul
    April 4, 2010

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    Great Article. Thanks John..

  10. Michael
    April 13, 2010

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    Brilliant, funny and informative.

    Thanks for that!

  11. Adrien
    April 17, 2010

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    Great article; a lot of information and arguments, and some jokes to push them along. It’s true that the war on drugs is an assault on our civil liberties, is an assault on our communities, an assault on our economy and federal and state budgets, is a serious health matter, and is an international matter. It’s really a big deal. And the good news is that it seems many young people understand the bullshit behind the war on drugs, and they know that a drug like weed is much safer than alcohol. I believe that cannabis will soon become legal medicinally or recreationally in the majority of states within the next 10 or 15 years. I will put in some effort if I can to see it happen.

  12. Dolby
    April 27, 2010

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    Love Love Love your style…Thanks for being you! Nothing greater then wit and wisdom. Namaste Dolby

  13. Word_Bandit
    May 1, 2010

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    Addicted to a multitude of illusions, many based in misplaced notions of morality, right, wrong, and the most self-defeating of unexamined habits.

    Interesting read. Enjoyed the smattering of history. If you make this longer for publication, would be great to have more of this historical information developed.

    Here was my take on this issue, though much less engaged than yours, written a little over a year ago:

    http://wordbandit.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/and-the-problem-is/

    Enjoy your contributions. All best.

  14. Zark
    May 8, 2010

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    i enjoyed your post. so truthful. i grew up in farmland america, a few fields away from an abandoned hemp farm. pot grew wild everywhere. of course, as kids, we tried smoking this ‘ditch weed’. didn’t do much. i know live in Tucson and i drove my truck to back to the Midwest recently and was stopped by police as i crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. why? because, 1. i had Arizona plates; 2. i was driving a maroon truck with a camper shell; 3. i was alone with my dog in the cab. after dumping everything i owned the officers snickered and admitted i had been profiled based on my truck, license plate, and lone male driver. i asked if i had been profiled. both officers snickered and said, ‘of course’. i asked for what (as if i didn’t know). they said pot and/or illegals. they found nothing and i drove on after almost 1.5 hours of searching. i found it appalling. think of the cost these two officers, both cars, and to snicker about being profiled. as adrien said above it is most certainly an attack on our civil liberties. and for what? for what? what a waste of resources, good officers, and money. ps….the ditch weed still ain’t no good! yihaaaaaw!

  15. Teresa Lopez
    May 14, 2010

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    I decided to research matthew 6:5 and spoke with 2 co-workers who are completely involved in the church and discovered something interesting: Both agreed that the INTENTIONS of the individual going to pray in public are what matters i.e. are they looking for approval or ‘gold star props’ from people who are seeing them pray for the good of others outside in the open.// uh what? isn’t that the same thing? isn’t that why you’re going to pray in public in the first place so later you can be seen on the television or by other people who are there who could say the same thing about you? ‘oh i saw so-and-so at the public day of prayer.’ I say they legalize pot, make it a business that you need a license for and save the goddamn country from financial ruin by the same hypocrites that can turn something obvious like matthew 6:5 into nonsense!

  16. eddieeddie.com
    May 14, 2010

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    you are right on john. i have behaved quite honarably smoking the herb & have behaved very dishonerably drinking the alcohol.

  17. Jennifer
    June 3, 2010

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    http://millercenter.org/scripps/archive/forum/detail/3917

    This is an ex-cop discussing the dire issue of the drug war. It isn’t just futile, it’s harmful. It’s a lengthy watch, but full of information.

    Thanks for this blog! Smart and funny!

  18. Angela
    June 6, 2010

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    Excellent article John. I found this to be very interesting and very informative. I’m going to follow you on Twitter and will keep coming back to read more. Thanx for writing.

  19. Paul
    July 8, 2010

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    John,
    I’m afraid we ARE insane.
    btw, you ARE a genius.

  20. bob petersen
    December 24, 2010

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    LOOK OUT!!! Pat Robertson, aging televangelist, has come out in favor of de-criminalizing POT!!! It must be some kind of scheme.

  21. Jetpacks
    January 28, 2011

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    Excellent – but what have you done for us lately? More posts. Now.

  22. Roy
    February 15, 2011

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    I couldn’t agree with you more. The “Hemp For Victory” during WWII was one of the ways that helped us win that war. Why we do not remember how that plant saved so many lives by being the material of choice for parachute lines, I just do not understand. And how the original Ford automobile was a hemp car running on hemp oil.
    Here is a quote from http://www.hempcar.org/ford.shtml: “Ford recognized the utility of the hemp plant. He constructed a car of resin stiffened hemp fiber, and even ran the car on ethanol made from hemp. Ford knew that hemp could produce vast economic resources if widely cultivated.” Why is that fact not taught in our schools? Why do our Governors not pass legislation that would make hemp legal in our United States that is facing massive debt from the use of outdated ways of making energy? To say nothing of the Gulf disaster.
    What is it going to take to drive people into a reaction to our governments upside down ways of thinking? I applaud the people of Egypt!!!!!!

  23. Mark
    March 29, 2011

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    Most excellent, dude…

  24. wolfshades
    April 8, 2011

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    Wait. Jesus never spoke English? That’s a terribly unAmerican thing to say.

    I need to sit back, smoke a J and think about this a bit.

  25. John
    April 20, 2011

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    Nice article and as one who smokes occasionally and yes has a legitimate good job, I’ve noticed over the years that the strains they make now are completely different than what used to be smoked by say benji or Jefferson. The potency of pot now is pretty wild, and while I’m a staunch advocate of legalization, sometimes just schwag will do just fine. I remember getting high off a whole joint but now one hit will take you to a different planet.

  26. Margaret
    April 21, 2011

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    …. interesting and humorous no doubt. But, as an addict who has heard MANY other addicts (this would include those addicted to alcohol) share their stories, I can tell you we must do all we can to fight the illegal use of mind altering substances. Those folks in jail for doing drugs are not harmless members of society who would be out being productive if they only hadn’t gotten caught. They are folks in the gripes of a terrifying and fatal disease who will not stop their behavior without an external consequence. Sometimes that consequence is jail, and that’s the best place for them. People die by the multitude because of their drug addiction. I don’t know if our current “war on drugs” is the answer. But I am positive doing nothing as a culture to deter one from drugs is as insane as the drug use itself. It costs our society billions in dollars, and untold pain and horror for the families of those affected by a loved one’s use of drugs and alcohol. Let’s not laugh away the reality here.

    • bob petersen
      May 22, 2011

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      just because we quit throwing our citizens in prison for doing drugs does not mean we are “doing nothing.” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. We have tried the current approach for over 80 years w/same result(fail). I’d say it’s time to treat the patient rather than just incarcerate. But then I’ve been smoking pot and using various mind altering substances for over 50 years-I must be a total vegetable, right, Margaret?

    • Soap
      November 15, 2011

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      Not all those in prison for drug crimes are addicts; in fact very few are. Mandatory sentencing for drug crime means that there are a great many non-addict, young, previously of good character, potentially useful members of society serving mandatory minimum sentences of 5/8/10 years for minimal crimes. This is a big part of the craziness.

      For those who are addicts? Treat, don’t punish.

    • Sko
      April 20, 2012

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      Margaret, what about the legal use of mind altering drugs like alcohol and prescription drugs? Alcohol has killed millions of people (my mother and sister among them, both dying from alcoholism), yet there isn’t one documented case of someone dying from an overdose of marijuana. Look at the people addicted to pain killers like oxycontin and vicodin. Those are the drugs that should be illegal, not pot.
      And there are hundreds of thousands of people sitting in jail that are not addicts, and were productive members of society until they got caught with a joint or a few plants in their basement.
      Don’t fall for the propaganda.

  27. Kutarere
    April 21, 2011

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    “Because I don’t’ want to believe the country I love is this insane. ” So how insane do you actually want it to be?

  28. Ralegh Studd
    April 22, 2011

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    In my heart I don’t really agree with prison systems at all, but a moderative reform of the prison system would surely involve locking up mass murderers like John Reid and Tony Blair and freeing non-criminals like cannabis growers and LSD manufacturers.

  29. Joyce
    August 19, 2011

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    I only wish we could as much effort into addiction treatment as we do for the war on drugs. The new pot isn’t the stuff grown by our forefathers. Our children using it suffer with apathy and the earlier they start the more likely they are to cross over to worse drugs. It is time to find a way to benefit from pot’s medicinal benefits without the buzz.

    • Sko
      April 20, 2012

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      The way to do that Joyce, is to legalize it. Do you know that for most teenagers, pot is easier to buy than alcohol? The dealer down the street doesn’t care if the kid is 14 or 21, but if we sold it the way we do alcohol, as a regulated business, we could keep it away from schools and prevent most kids from getting it.

  30. James Moore
    April 20, 2012

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    The war on drugs is over. Drugs won.

  31. Sko
    April 20, 2012

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    Happy 420, John!
    Great article. I was at home recovering from back surgery a couple of months ago, and started watching all these documentaries about hemp and marijuana. It really opened my eyes.
    The problem is that police forces get lots and lots of funding for “fighting the drug war”, the prison industry gets lots and lots of people to keep them all employed, and the substance abuse counselors and the rehabs get no money at all.
    We have it totally backwards in this country.
    Also, I wanted to correct “Matt Midwest”, who posted this in his comment up there:
    “I saw a BBC documentary including, among other things, adolescent mice that smoked weed and got their brains fried… but I already knew.”

    Actually, those mice died from lack of oxygen to their brains- they were subjected to marijuana smoke all day every day in a closed in cage, and eventually died. Very old study, and very much debunked.

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