LESSONS LEARNED #37: “The Decriminalization of Drugs. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 28th, 2010

Drugs are Killing Some of our Kids’ Cool Celebrity Role Models…and Some of Our Kids

Kids going through adolescence look up to role models.  Celebrity role models who look cool.  So they can aspire to that level of cool.  To have more friends.  Be popular.  To be popular with kids of the opposite sex.  And nothing does that like behaving like a celebrity.  Dressing like them.  Smoking like them (Joe Camel didn’t make kids smoke; movie stars and musicians did).  Having sex like them (in public like Alanis Morissette sings about in You Oughta Know).  And getting high like them.

Black Sabbath fired their front man Ozzy Osborne for his excessive drug use.  Steven Adler was fired from Guns n’ Roses for his excessive drug use.  Adler used the same drug cocktail that killed John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name a few.  One of Adler’s speedballs, though, gave him a stroke and left him with a speech impediment.  Osborne?  It’s hard to see or hear him and not think ‘drugs’.  Keith Richards, too.  (Some claim that it’s a miracle that either has lived so long.)  Amy Winehouse’ irregular heart beat resulted from a long use of cocaine.  John Entwistle died from a cocaine-induced heart attack.  Ol’ Dirty Bastard died from a cocaine & prescription drug induced heart attack.  Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of a prescription drug cocktail (oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine).  Bradley Nowell died from a heroin overdose just before Sublime’s major label album debut (which included three hits).  Danella Westbrooke lost the cartilage in her nose (and her profile) due to the massive amounts of cocaine she sniffed.  And there are a host of other celebrities whose past drug use is catching up to them in their old age.  Such as David Crosby’s liver disease.  His liver transplant resulted from his many years of drug abuse.

These are some expensive black market drugs.  But this isn’t a problem if you have a lot of money.  If these drugs were decriminalized, they would be cheaper.  And much more plentiful.  Meaning that they wouldn’t be limited to the rich and famous.  If they were less expensive, kids starting their drug exploration wouldn’t have to limit their exploration to the less expensive stuff (stealing from their parents’ medicine cabinet, sniffing butane, smoking marijuana, etc.).  They could broaden their horizon.  And why not?  They’re going to do it anyway.  And not everyone becomes an addict.  Or dies.

The British East Indian Company Used Indian Opium to Fix Their Balance of Trade with China

In the 19th century, mercantilism ruled.  It was all about balance of trade.  Nations wanted to export their goods.  And import gold and silver that paid for those goods.  Both Great Britain and China pursued these policies.  This became a problem for Great Britain whose people grew very fond of Chinese silk and porcelain and other Chinese exotic goods.  But the Chinese weren’t buying anything British.  Great Britain was importing more than she was exporting to China.  This meant there was a net silver flow from Great Britain to China.  And this wasn’t good mercantilism.  For the British.  It was very good mercantilism for the Chinese.  The British needed something to sell to the Chinese.  Something that only they could sell so the Chinese would have no choice but to buy from Great Britain.  And the British East India Company had just the thing.  Indian opium.

And it worked.  It reversed the balance of trade.  Silver was leaving China at an alarming rate.  But it was also turning the majority of Chinese males near the coastal cities into junkies.  Business suffered.  The civil service suffered.  With less available to buy the standard of living fell.  A dysfunctional civil service compounded that problem.  Rampant opium use was undermining Confucian values.  The Chinese begged the British to destroy the Indian poppy fields.  The British replied that, with the huge Chinese demand for opium, if they didn’t sell it, someone else would.  It would only cost the British their lucrative trade.  It wouldn’t solve the Chinese opium addiction problem.

Well, that led to war.  Two of them.  The Opium Wars.  Neither of which ended well for the Chinese.  They lost a lot.  Chinese coastal cities became virtually British.  Hong Kong became British.  Trade favored the British and other foreign nationals.  It led to much bitterness and resentment.  And to the Boxer Rebellion in 1898 to throw the imperialists out of China.  Which didn’t work all that well either.  But the British did help the Chinese to break their opium addiction.  If the Chinese worked from within to reduce consumption, the British would cut back on their opium importations.  Opium use declined in China.  As did opium imports.  With the decline in consumption, no new sources of opium rushed to fill an unmet demand.

The Americans and the Russians to Collaborate over Afghanistan’s Poppy Fields, The Netherlands Making their Legalized Marijuana less Legal

Well, there are still poppy fields in Southwest Asia.  And a high demand for heroin not too far away.  In Russia.  And it’s killing them.  Literally.   Some tens of thousands die each year from overdoses.  The collateral damage (broken families, lost jobs, the spread of AIDS from shared needles, neglected children, etc.) from drug addiction probably touches 10 times that number.  And the drug trade crime kills who knows how many more.  From the poppy fields in Afghanistan through the Central Asian states into Russia herself, there is an explosion of violence for this lucrative drug trade.  How bad is it?  Russia may return to Afghanistan to help the Americans in eradicating these poppy fields and shutting down the drug laboratories.  (For those who do not know, the Russian/Soviet war in Afghanistan was Russia’s Vietnam War.  And, let us not forget that both of these wars became proxy wars between America and the former Soviet Union.  So America and Russia working together in Afghanistan is a big thing).

Russia is even advising America against the ballot initiative in California to legalize marijuana.  Viktor Ivanov, Russia’s top drug official, went to Los Angeles to campaign against the ballot proposal.  He warned that legalizing marijuana will start a downward spiral into drug addiction.  We can understand heroin.  But marijuana?  A soft drug?  The Netherlands have long had legalized marijuana there.  It works there.  Why not in California?

Well, Netherland has had its problems with its marijuana coffee shops and cafes.  There’s been trouble in their border areas.  Tourists coming in just to get high.  And a lot of people have been going there.  Business is booming.  High demand.  Which have brought in crime as people vie to supply that demand.  There have been problems with school kids so they’ve banned these coffee shops/cafes within certain distances of schools.  And they’ve been selling a more potent cannabis, which is knocking the casual user on their ass.  Or impairing their motor skills.  And, with the rising amount of trouble from the drug tourists, they’re restricting sale to Dutch citizens only.  One other note.  Drug enforcement has been stepped up at Schiphol airport.  Why?  To counter a rising cocaine traffic coming in from the Caribbean. 

Drugs, Drug Wars and the War on Drugs Take their Toll as they Kill and Destroy

Kids are experimenting with drugs.  They’ll start with the softer stuff.  Like in the Netherlands.  But they’ll probably move on to something more potent.  Like in the Netherlands.  There appears to be a progression.  From less dangerous drugs to more dangerous drugs.  You can bet that John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix and Jean-Michel Basquiat, et al, started their drug use with something less dangerous than cocaine-heroin speedballs.  And look at them now.  Of course you can’t because their dead and buried.  But you get the point.

Epidemic use in China destroyed a millennium-old culture.  Ended a dynasty.  Caused multiple wars.  They finally kicked the habit.  With the help of the British (who helped give them the problem in the first place).  But the poppy fields just found new users.  In Russia.  And elsewhere.  It’s so bad that former enemies are joining forces on a former battleground to fight a new common enemy.  And the Russians are warning Californians not to legalize marijuana.  We’ve certainly come a long way from the days of the Cold War where the Soviets would have helped that initiative pass to help bring down their one-time enemy.

Drugs are a problem.  A big problem.  They kill and destroy.  Drug wars kill and destroy.  As does the war on drugs.  Damned if you do.  Damned if you don’t.  So what to do?  Well, imagine two worlds.  One where drugs are plentiful and cheap.  And one where no one uses drugs.  Which world you’d rather live in?  Which world do you want your children to live in?  I thought so.  And there’s your answer.

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LESSONS LEARNED #29: “The problem with doing what is best for the common good is that few can agree on what the common good is.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 2nd, 2010

COYOTE UGLY

We’ve all heard the joke.  What’s coyote ugly?  That’s when you wake up with an extremely ugly person in bed lying on your arm.  After a night of heavy drinking.  You’re fairly certain you had sex.  You’re not 100% sure because you can’t remember anything.  But here the two of you are.  Naked.  The circumstantial evidence is pretty damning.  You want to get out.  Fast.  Instead of waking your lover, you chew your arm off so you can slip away quietly.  Like a coyote will do if caught in a steel-jaw trap.

The lesson here is, of course, to drink in moderation.  For when we drink to excess, we sometimes do things we wouldn’t normally do sober.  But we do.  Drink to excess.  And get drunk.  And, boy, when we do, some of us really do.  Make a real mess of their lives, too.  You see, drunken husbands do not make happy wives.  Or good fathers.  Especially when drunken husbands beat up their wives, spend their paychecks at the corner saloon, have sex with prostitutes and catch syphilis (which they then pass on to their wives and soon to be born children). 

For these reasons, wives have been behind various temperance movements throughout history.  And they have had modest success.  If you ever found yourself in a dry county thirsting for an adult beverage, you can thank these ladies.  But Prohibition?  That’s a different story.  That took Big Government.  The Progressives.  Who thought they knew best what was for the common good.

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO

Wives have suffered unfairly from the affects of alcohol.  But during the 19th century, their power was limited.  They had to rely on grass-roots movements.  And their churches.  Which had moral authority as we were much more religious back then.  Most drunken husbands knew they were behaving poorly.  When sober.  But things changed in the 20th century.  The powers of the government grew.  This power and new sciences (like eugenics) made some believe they could make a better society by passing enlightened laws.  (And make better people in the case of eugenics).

We call it social engineering.  Using the power of the state to change human behavior.  Well, change it for those who are not apparatchiks of the state.  The elite Progressives, including the ladies of high society, still drank.  For it wasn’t illegal to drink adult beverages.  Only to manufacture, sell, or transport them.  So it was the poorer elements of society who felt the impact of Prohibition.  And the immigrants.  Who the social elites blamed for all the drinking woes.  For people in their strata of society didn’t have drinking problems.  So there was no reason to punish them.  The elites.  They weren’t the problem.  It was the poor.  And the immigrants.  They’re the ones government needed to keep from drinking themselves to ruin.

So while the elites still enjoyed their intoxicating beverages in the safety of their mansions and clubs, Al Capone and other bootleggers fought for turf.  For control of the illegal liquor trade.  Shooting each other with Thompson Machine Guns in our public streets.  That’s a .45 caliber round.  It makes big holes.  And shatters bone.  A lot of these rounds were flying through our public streets.  And they hit more than just gangsters.

Prohibition modified some behavior.  But at great cost.  Congress repealed it in 1933.  In part to stem the liquor violence.  And part because the Great Depression was too depressing sober.

JUST SAY NO

I once worked at a small office in a bad part of town.  One day a woman knocked on the door.  She asked if that ‘short guy’ that opens the gates in the morning was around.  I said no.  Then she asked me if I wanted to have a little fun.  I said, “Thank you, but no.”  My secretary had come to the door while I was talking to her.  After I closed the door, she told me that woman just lost a lot of weight.  And that she probably had AIDS.

Women like her were common in the neighborhood.  They sold sex for drug money.  When they weren’t with a John they were getting high.  Men, too.  One time, this 6-foot-plus behemoth in a skirt was walking in the street shouting something incoherent.  Our driver discovered he was a guy.  When he lunged through his open window while turning at the corner.  I don’t know what scared him more.  The assault.  Or the fact that she was a he. 

By the way, that short guy that opens the gates?  He was married.  And had a couple of daughters.  God only knows what he gave his wife.

Drug addiction is not good.  No one’s life ever got better by being addicted to drugs.  None of these people ever planned on drug addiction.  It just happened.  Somehow.  One day you’re just partying with some friends.  Then the next thing you know you’re turning tricks or stealing to support your habit.  If you have money it’s a different story.  Then you can party until you kill yourself.  John Belushi overdosed from a heroin/cocaine cocktail called a speedball.  Chris Farley, too.  It’s unlikely that the speedball was their first high.  They probably started out with something less potent.  Like marijuana.  The entry drug of choice.  Only when that drug loses its charm do people step up to something a little more potent. 

Of course, if you don’t start, chances are you won’t move up to something more potent.  This was the idea behind Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug program.  Stop the kids from starting.  To resist peer pressure.  To just say no.  Her program did modify some behavior.  Kids did use fewer drugs.  But she was Ronald Reagan’s wife.  The Left didn’t like him.  Or her.  So they ridiculed her program as being simplistic.  Discontinued it.  And drug use by kids increased.

GANGSTA’S PARADISE

Like Capone and his fellow bootleggers, the illegal drug trade is controlled by gangs.  And they, too, fight over turf.  But those involved at the street level of the drug trade today are a lot younger.  During the days of Prohibition, kids played with toy guns.  Today, they’re playing with real guns.  Not so much playing but killing each other.  And innocent bystanders.  In drive-by shootings.  Why?  Because drugs get you money.  And money gets you power.  Put all that together and it’s very seductive to kids from broken homes in the hood.  Who have nothing.  And have nothing to lose.  It’s almost romantic.  Fighting.  And dying.  A regular gangster.  Living in a gangster paradise.

Once in, though, it’s hard to get out.  The song Gangsta’s Paradise (by Coolio featuring L.V. from the 1995 Movie Dangerous Minds) laments about that paradise.  “Tell me why are we so blind to see.  That the ones we hurt are you and me.”

You get higher up in the echelon and the violence gets worse.  You can see that on America’s southern border.  And further south.  Kidnappings.  Beheadings.  And other unspeakable things.  Because of the big money in illegal drugs.  Like there was in bootlegging.  Make something illegal that people still want and will buy, and that something becomes a very profitable commodity indeed.

DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON’T

So what’s the answer?  What is the best course of action for the common good?  We can keep drugs illegal.  And continue to fight the war on drugs.  And watch the violence escalate as people fight to control this illicit trade.  Or we can decriminalize drugs.  Make them easily accessible.  And cheap.  The drug gangs would go the way of the bootlegger gangs.  And the crack/meth whore in the street won’t have to perform as many sexual acts to support her habit.

Alcohol is legal today.  And there are a lot of social costs because of that.  But the majority of people who do drink are not driving under the influence or beating their wives.  Or getting syphilis from a prostitute hanging out at the corner saloon.  Wouldn’t it be the same for drugs?

Kids drink.  Even though they can’t legally buy alcohol.  But the worse thing they can do is kill someone while driving a car.  Or get killed in a car driven by another drunken kid.  Or kill themselves from binge drinking.  Or get pregnant because they got drunk at a party.  Or get infected with a venereal disease because they got drunk at a party and had sex.  These are very bad things.  But they’re not an addiction.  Sure, you can become an alcoholic, but a lot of kids don’t like the taste of the adult beverages they’re consuming.  They’re just doing it for the party buzz.  And vomiting after.  It takes awhile, for some, to get over that hump where those awful tasting beverages don’t taste so awful anymore.  But drugs?  They’re tasteless.  There isn’t a delivery system ‘hump’ to get over.  Which makes the addiction process that much easier.  And where there is only one kind of drunk, there are all sorts of highs.  New and different drugs to explore.  When you get bored with the drug du jour.  So, no.  It probably wouldn’t be the same with alcohol.  It would probably be worse.

THE LESSER OF EVILS

Often the choice comes down to a lesser of evils.  So, to do what is best for the common good, we just need to determine which is the lesser evil.  So which is worse?  The violence from trying to keep something illegal?  Or the social costs of decriminalizing something that is already causing a lot of harm while being illegal?  It comes down to what you, as an individual, think.  And that is, must be, a subjective decision.  And therein lays the problem of choosing what is best for the common good.  It’s an opinion.  Choices aren’t right or wrong.  There’re just different opinions.

And that’s why so few can agree on what is best for the common good.  Different people think different things are better.  And different things are worse.  And, at best, they can agree to disagree.

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