Wake Me When the Drug Wars Over
Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter5:45 a.m. Kill alarm clock. Remember I'm supposed to be in Newport Beach to hear Judge James P. Gray speak and hawk his book Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A judicial indictment of the War on Drugs to the Young Executives of America. Smoke.
7:06 Find Pacific Club. Drink coffee. Feel self-conscious about being the only white male in a room of white males with neither a bluish-gray suit and tie nor a receding hairline (hereafter referred to as WMINBGSWRH). Realize I am surrounded by Republicans.
7:15 See two guys in jeans who turn out to be my friends Sean and Julian. They work for a nearby political-consulting firm. Am relieved to find they also have hair.
7:30 Served rubbery bacon, runny eggs, fruit and surprisingly good potatoes. No one else is eating, so I don't either. Much. Group rises to recite Pledge of Allegiance. Am paralyzed by junior high homeroom flashbacks.
7:36 Gray speaks. Says drugs are "the most significant problem facing the United States since the end of the Cold War." Try to decide whether fruit is merely a garnish or actually edible.
7:40 Wake up. Gray describes how contemporary drug laws are rooted in racism and imperialism, going all the way back to the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which was designed "to protect white women from falling into depravity." Sean goes for the fruit, so I follow suit.
7:45 Gray qualifies his opposition to current drug laws by stating that he dislikes drugs. "I haven't used them," he says. "I hope you haven't." No one else looks as self-conscious as I feel.
7:53 Gray explains that only 10 percent of illegal drugs in a community are seized by authorities. "If you were a grocer and lost only 10 percent of your goods to spoilage or theft, you'd think that was a pretty good week, wouldn't you?" Failure of drug laws or triumph of capitalism? Despite my silent but emphatic protests, waitstaff yank my plate before I can finish my orange.
8:11 Gray goes into elaborate and nuanced discussion of how prison guards sell cigarettes to inmates for $80 per pack and how water buffalo in Vietnam reacted to the stress of B-52 bombing raids by chewing opium. Lucky, lucky water buffalo. Leads discussion of changing social mores by recounting his Navy days of getting blotto on cheap liquor in Guam.
8:23 WMINBGSWRH launches into tirade, including references to breakdown of family values. Gray defuses argument by indicating that war on drugs speeds that breakdown.
8:25 Gray discusses 19th-century America's inadvertent addictions to patent medicines and the later problem of Coca-Cola, then spiced up with real cocaine.
8:29 A woman identifying herself as a libertarian launches into a speech about the virtues of self-governance. She rambles. Gray defuses tension in room by gently reminding her we're living in the real world.
8:30 Gray segues into discussion of medicalization and decriminalization as alternatives to complete legalization or "zero tolerance." Points to Holland and Sweden as examples.
8:33 Another WMINBGSWRH notes he was frequently offered hash in Amsterdam. Says that never happens in the U.S. Has obviously never been to New York, San Francisco or Hollywood. Gray notes that one-third of drug users in Holland are foreigners.
8:38 Recall my last trip to Amsterdam, where I sat in a coffee shop and talked to a very stoned man who claimed to work for Marlboro, saying he was there to research packaging and selling marijuana if it ever became legal in the States. Have no idea if he was lying. While I am still in that coffee shop, speech ends. Outside, I smoke.
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