My most formative years of childhood occurred during the 80’s, a time when the so called “crack epidemic” was making headlines around the country and the “War on Drugs” was kicked into high gear. That war failed miserably in it’s attempt to remove recreational drugs (and users) from our society. The end result was that a lot of people went to prison for a very long time due to mandatory minimums, and often came out as hardened criminals with few job prospects. As a consequence, one did not exactly advertise their marijuana usage publicly. It was, and still is to a much smaller degree, something to hide from the authority figures in our lives, like parents, teachers, bosses, but most especially the police. Given that upbringing, it’s with some trepidation that I’ll admit to being a daily smoker more or less for the past 25+ years.
The War on Drugs was started by the Nixon administration, though not out of concern for it’s effects on society, the health of users, saving the children, or any of the half-baked myths concocted to justify the criminalization of marijuana. According to John Ehrlichman, who was Nixon’s former domestic advisor and Watergate co-conspirator, it was started for a wholly different reason. During a 1994 interview published by Harpers, he had this to say:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people, you understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities, We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
Thus began one of the most egregious drug policies to date, as Nixon moved to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic by signing the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, putting it alongside far worse drugs such as heroin and cocaine. He established numerous agencies to tackle what he called “Public enemy number one”, including the DEA, and introduced mandatory sentencing for drug crimes.
In the 80’s, the decade I came of age, the Reagan’s carried Nixon’s torch even further. First Lady Nancy Reagan started the “Just Say No” campaign targeted at children, with the purpose of educating them about the dangers of drugs. Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, which established harsh and lengthy mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.
It was under this environment that I first started experimenting with drugs as a teenager, and it is the source of my current trepidation. For all of my adult life I’ve been forced to live outside of the law to procure marijuana. I’ve lived under the fear of random drug testing, and the fear of being caught up in the criminal justice system for my extra-curricular activities during my off hours. Lately it’s been more of an open secret, but it’s still not an aspect of my life that I will readily divulge to my parents, or my bosses, or random strangers.
Today, on 4-20 no less, Chuck Schumer, D, N.Y, is introducing a bill to decriminalize marijuana federally. For me, this wipes away decades of fear and is a vindication against the Jeff Sessions’ of the world who would gleefully lock me up in a federal prison if given the chance. To Jeff Sessions, I’d like to extend a hearty Fuck You as I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed while this bill wends its way through the legislative process. Happy 4-20 to all my fellow weed smokers, and thanks to Senator Schumer for thinking of us, the least offensive of all drug offenders.