Drugs’r bad…m’kay?

This post over at Atheist Revolution got me thinking about Prohibition and what a monumental failure it was. So many dead, huge amounts of money & manpower wasted attempting to apprehend criminals who were, of all things, trading in alcohol. Makes you wonder how many extra criminals Prohibition created out of thin air! Now, we do have quite a few wowsers (aka “buzzkills”) in this wide brown land of of ours Down Here, however – if anyone seriously asked us to stop drinking alcohol they’d be laughed out of town. But then, the Puritans who landed in the US in the 17th century (and then almost starved to death) left a lasting legacy of, well, puritanical behaviour (Exhibit A: hysteria over Janet Jackson’s exposed boob – won’t someone think of the children??!), where we down here were founded either by reformed/escaped criminals (e.g. Victoria, New South Wales) or by free settlers from across Europe (e.g. South Australia). Either way, we retained in our genes a love for the demon drink and a deep suspicion of anyone telling us we’re not allowed to do stuff that we like doing.

Now, Vjack’s post – and the comments thereafter, including some about the US War On Drugs (can’t we go a decade without the US declaring war on poverty, terror or something else they’ll never defeat because they think all they have to do is just shoot at it?) – also got me thinking about drugs. More specifically, how drugs are demonised in this country. Not all drugs and not as much as in the US perhaps, but certainly to a level occasionally approaching hysteria.

What I find interesting is this: in my home town of Adelaide in Australia, the dreaded weed is decriminalised. You get a fine for a small amount or for one plant, i.e. a quantity for personal use (“personal use” used to cover up to ten plants, amazingly enough – trust me, noone can smoke that much before it goes all dry and shitty). You don’t go to jail unless you’re clearly growing or stockpiling for distribution, and even then you have to be in posession of quite a bit. Basically, the law is set up to punish the greedy wannabe kingpins and slap the wrist of the casual grower. Fine with me. It’s not cool to deal with guys who want to make a living out of it – who actually rent an entire house and grow weed in sophisticated hydro setups in every single room! Also, a lot of the time with guys like that it’s not just weed they’re into, and and it’s not just them or their mate that’s involved. I’m just saying, you don’t want to deal with guys who for all you know are into some shit with speed-cooking bikers. You don’t want to be around some dude’s house buying some bush in preparation for a night with the bucket and the PS2 on the same night some amped-up Bandido decides to exact some Scarface-style revenge for something that didn’t go so well. We’ve all seen those movies where a well-meaning but naive doofus gets into some serious shit and ends up dodging more bullets than a Fallujah ambulance driver. Besides, it’s just a lot more friendly to hook up via a mate, or a mate’s mate, who maybe has a plant or two in the laundry. It’s also likely to be cheaper or a more generous deal.

Anyway, bullet-dodging aside, I could grow myself a little friend, get busted and not end up someone’s bitch. However! If I were to grow my own tobacco – a legal, addictive & provably deadly drug) without government permission in the form of a producer license I could be jailed for 2 years! For one plant! OR be fined up to – well, over – $50,000. Source: Excise Act 1901.

Why? Because, as an unregistered tobacco grower, I’d be depriving the government of money. Tobacco taxes here are ridiculous – when I started smoking in 1991 at age 15, a pack of Marlboro 20s was about $4, now it’s over $11 with like half of that being the tax. To put that into perspective, a glass of beer has gone up less than a buck in that time and CDs have remained the same at $30 – in a lot of stores they’ve gone down. I’m really glad I quit 6 years ago when my Peter Stuyvesant 20s were approaching 9 bucks.

So, if I grow one dope plant for personal use, I guess the law figures I’m not hurting anyone or depriving anyone of anything. So I get a small fine, no jail, no criminal record. I grow one tobacco plant – and deprive the government of a small chunk of one of its biggest income streams (along with alcohol and gambling) and I’m instantly a criminal who deserves jail time or to go bankrupt. For growing my own cigarettes! While my neighbour with his weed crop gets comparatively nothing!

Now, to me, this is laughable – we’re expected to take drug policy in this country seriously while the government rakes in cash from the most dangerous & addictive drug this side of heroin (yet allows it to remain legal) and punishes severely anyone who tries to produce it without their approval (and associated piece of the action). This by any other name would be called a racket.

However, there’s a positive, and a model to be examined: because of the government’s racketeering, there’s no real black market for tobacco. No prohibition-style gang wars, like when the righteous banned that most enjoyable of legal drugs – alcohol. No gangland drug deal-related murder sprees like those which rocked my home of Melbourne in recent years (check out the recent TV series “Underbelly” – it rules). No wannabes growing weed in every room of a rented house using off-grid, stolen electricity.

So, now I think about it, maybe I’m backwards on this – maybe the government should apply their tobacco policy to weed & other drugs and get into all of them – they could rake in the cash, clean up the drugs so noone’s shooting drain cleaner up their arm or snorting sherbert powder & punish the hell out of anyone who gets in on their racket. At least that’d be consistent!

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The main reason, in my estimation, that tobacco isn’t trafficked like weed, or just grown in peoples’ backyards, is because the government has had its hands tight around the production & distribution for the last however, century and a bit. They control who grows it, they tax the shit out of it, they legislate where you can smoke it, they punish unregistered producers. They even publicly rail against it, banning cigarette advertising pretty much across the board and requiring tobacco companies to plaster their packages with detailed, visceral images of smoking-related maladies – all the while taking gobs of money from the afflictee and the afflictor. Now, much as they do rail against smoking in all avenues (when they know they’re being recorded) and pay lip service to various reps from the AMA and anti-tobacco lobby, the government can’t ban smoking. Yet. Mostly because there’s not yet a revenue stream that can adequately replace that of tobacco tax. Also, they’re probably aware that the trade will go underground as surely as the liquor trade did during US Prohibition, creating a shipload more criminals where there weren’t before. The effects on the economy through loss of jobs and exports would also be astronomical. At this point, it makes sense for the government to continue to tell everyone that smoking is evil but take a major cut of the profits from the activity. There are probably more reasons, maybe even more compelling ones, but those’ll do for now.

So, the government have plenty of good reasons to continue to support & control tobacco production. The main ones being that they reap taxes and that it would be excessively counterproductive, even harmful, to ban or criminalise it. As a result, anyone over 18 can go into a store and buy, consume and get hopelessly addicted to tobacco, quite probably costing themselves & us (as taxpayers) billions a year through healthcare-related costs and anti-smoking campaigns – billions which, in part, would come from precisely the tax they paid on their cigarettes in the first place.

Now, while I’d like to see weed 100% legalised nationally, attracting no penalties at all for growing or consuming and not being under any governmental oversight – which would remove the criminal element from it entirely and allow anyone to have it growing next to their tomatoes and basil, guilt-free – I understand why the government wouldn’t allow it. They would have no control if granny could pop in a couple of plants next to the petunias to help with her trick knee when the weather gets cold. It perhaps wouldn’t be like people growing their own tobacco, as weed for most people is in no way as addictive (can be strongly habit-forming though, and very hard to stop for heavy users – but so can coffee, trust me on that), so nowhere near as many people would grow it. And, well, some people just don’t like being stoned. Fair enough. Even those who do enjoy being stoned generally don’t smoke a joint three or ten or fifty times a day like cigarette addicts do.

Still, though, if the government added weed to its drink & smoke racketeering, it would corner the market on recreational soft drugs in this country. The “Big Three” would be under the auspices of the government. You’d buy your gram from a store, licensed to sell weed the same way a bar is licensed to sell liquor & the government would get its cut from the distributor. The weed would come from an approved producer who pays his annual license fee, scaled according to the size of his operation. The government wouldn’t make as much money as it does on ciggies because weed doesn’t hook you in like tobacco does, but it’d be a nice little earner and they’d retain that all-important control of the product, all the way from the go stage to the “woah” stage. Not only that, you’d keep jails and courtrooms free of smokers & growers. You’d free up drug cops to chase smack rings and speed cookers.

Of course, in a flash of blinding irony, it would mean anyone caught growing their own weed without permission, but while it was legal, would get into even more trouble than they would if they were caught today while it’s technically illegal. It may also mean that anyone wanting to get into drug distribution as a career move wouldn’t bother with now-legal & tightly-controlled weed as a stepping stone. Here’s the real “gateway” danger, kids – not that smoking weed would lead you to heroin, but that growing weed as a business venture may well lead you to thinking that dealing horse with the Triads or eckies with the Carl Williamses or speed with the outlaw bikers of this world is a quick, easy way to a pimped Hummer and a beach house with nine plasma screens and wall-to-wall hotties. Which, as any movie will have already told you, leads to ruin and maybe even an explodey, kickass death. Remember Scarface? New Jack City? Any druggie movie that ends in a hail of lead? Hell, forget fiction: Pablo Escobar, King of Medellin, the infamous godfather of all Latino smugglers, whose income once rivalled that of many multinationals, ended up with more holes in him than the plots of the Matrix & Minority Report combined.

So, in closing: perhaps it’s better to keep weed technically illegal because the penalty for growing your own without permission under some tobacoo-style, tax-heavy governmental oversight would probably be worse than it is today.

Also in closing: I don’t know what the hell to do about heroin, ice, coke, speed, eckies or any of the other shit I don’t touch with a ten-foot clown pole. Maybe the government should get into everything! Take control of distribution (like the US did with the raw materials for quaaludes), clean it all up, oust the criminal element completely and shut every skanky backyard dealer, cutting up his shit with ground glass and icing sugar, down for good.

Pfft, whatever. If I wasn’t at work I’d go have a smoke right now. My brain’s a little hepped up on caffeine right now and I’m not thinking straight. Could use a chillout.

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