This Is Your Country on Drugs
Maybe its got to do with television: It goads us, but its too banal to hold us. Maybe its religion, how it failed us, or we failed it. But the numbers dont lie: In this nation, in this culture, one of our favorite ways to break out of the doldrums is to get high. We connect, we tune in (out?), we transcend, we crash. Maybe not today, maybe not anymore, but weve all got our stories.
We share a few of them here, because we want to celebrate, because we want to confess, because its taboo, because were convinced that the complexity of true experience is more illuminating than the black-and-white projections of the mainstream media. We find drugs in the movies, and shot through the history of rock & roll. But its not just fun and games. We write about tragedy and human wreckage, about all the facets of Americas love-hate relationship with any substance that will get us off.
Of course, thats not the only cost of our national fascination with drugs. The guns are muffled by distance and the casualties kept from view, but theres a war going on, declared by President Reagan in 1982 and unabated since. We may be inured, but the war continues. Weve armed our cops and our allies, weve filled our prisons and then built new ones, and still the contraband flows. Prices for cocaine are at an all-time low, suggesting that quantities have reached an all-time high.
What are we to make of this? What are the moral implications of a society that outlaws drug use while indulging in it? What is the imperative to punish inebriation? And why are we so committed to creating a black market where the smugglers flourish?
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We dont claim to have the answers, but we do come at these questions from a unique perspective. While we dont advocate drug use per se, we dont reject it either, as inherently evil, or even wrong. We look at the issues in human terms, in light of what people need and want and do, and we weigh the questions of policy and punishment, of judgment and morality, in that light.
Herewith, some inquiry, and some responses. We take a close look at the hard line of zero tolerance, the all-or-nothing maxim for so much public policy. We tour the battlefront weve opened in Colombia; here in California, we examine the effort to forge a new alternative to criminalization, a project that begins statewide this week.
Nothing here is automatic. There are no easy answers. But we want to examine this crisis in our midst, so easily overlooked, unfolding in slow motion, often behind the scenes. Perhaps this week, as we continue to celebrate our War of Independence, you will join us in taking a moment to reflect on the war America is fighting today.
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