Unlike the other columnists here at No Depression, so far my articles haven’t been restrained to a particular topic. Lee writes about music from around the world, Ted is the bluegrass man, and Raina shares about the stages she has performed on. While I’ve tried hard to stay on the theme of “exploring music without a map,” a better phrase or tag-line might have been one that I’ve used off and on over the years: random thoughts … as if your own were not enough.
Anyhow, it was pretty hard to miss via social media in the past week that Tuesday was 4/20. April 20. Doesn’t register? It’s the day some celebrate getting high on weed. A brand new Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard collaborative song titled “It’s All Going to Pot” was released as a video, got itself posted all over inter-webs, was Tweeted and re-Tweeted, shared on Facebook by lots and lots of folks, including No Depression.
Tapping my feet and listening to the chorus while watching these two old dudes toke up, I realized that while I’m less tolerant of the “beer, whiskey and women” country-stereotype we often hear on the radio, I’m actually inclined to enjoy a good song about smoke.
Unlike a certain former president of the United States, I’ve no problem admitting that I inhaled. Frequently. And for a long, long time.
This July marks twenty years of me choosing to be weed-free. There were basically two reasons I gave it up.
First, I was living close to the San Andreas fault line. Whenever I got a buzz, I was sure the ground would open up, swallow me in, and I’d be in no condition to pull myself out of the abyss. The second reason was that my oldest son was about to celebrate his first birthday. In my all-too-real fantasy world, I just knew I’d take him to the supermarket one day, buy my Cocoa Puffs and Ring Dings, pay the cashier, and leave him strapped in the cart. So I gave it up. Couple of years later, I took the path to sobriety and stopped drinking as well.
It was coincidental that this week, and in fact on April 20, I finished Johann Hari’s latest book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. A London-based journalist, and a drug-user himself, Hari travelled the globe to research and write a pretty compelling story of how the American bureaucrat Harry Anslinger created the world-wide policy on how to deal with drugs. Anslinger’s solution has resulted in a complex set of laws and theories where the bad guys both run the game and profit from it. In the meantime, ordinary people are labeled criminals and law enforcement is relegated to spending a vast amount of money and resources on trying to control what is, frankly, unmanageable.
Hari presents a rather balanced view of the difference between looking at drug users as criminals, versus treating them like human beings who have a need or desire to live in some version of an altered state.
He also spends a great deal of time tracing the life, persecution, and death of Billie Holiday — a sad, sick tale. With a solid presentation of statistics and research, Hari shares the results of new social experiments in places like Vancouver, Portugal, England, Switzerland, and the state of Washington, where social scientists are turning conventional wisdom on its ears. Should you be so inclined, you’ll find info about it here.
Over time, I’ve gone up and down on the subject(s) of the War on Drugs, the ‘just say no’ policy, addiction, recovery, the glorification of intoxicants and legalization. Seems like it should be something we’ve figured out by now. You might recall that old public service announcement with the scary image — this is your brain, this is your brain on dope. But it’s really not like that for most recreational users. Unlike myself, the vast majority of people can pick it up and put it down with ease. So this week’s ramble is probably less an advocation and more of a reality check.
If we keep doing the same things over and over and it doesn’t work, why not change it?
This was originally published by No Depression, as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column.