My good friend and the foolish war on drugs | AspenTimes.com

My good friend and the foolish war on drugs

John Colson

I have a good friend who smokes more pot than anyone I’ve ever known, and he does it legally, at least when he’s in his home state of California.Toby [can’t give you his real name, those assholes at Homeland Security might be reading this] is one of those guys who lives to laugh, and whose laugh goes far beyond infectious.When we walk through desert canyons – one of our favorite activities – and Toby starts to laugh, you expect the rocks to chuckle right along, or at least crack a smile. When he’s in a room full of people, forget about it. If he starts in laughing, anyone nearby had better put down their glass or their plate and just give in to the mirth. Saves on carpet cleaning bills that way.But ol’ Toby’s got his serious side. He hates war, despises corporations for their dehumanizing effect on American politics and society, is a tree-hugger and an animal rights activist and proud of it. One of his favorite activities, besides getting stoned and walking in the desert, is going to political rallies and protests and sticking his thumb in the eye of whichever establishment baddie is the subject of the day.He’s a teacher at a metropolitan college, has been for decades, and although I’ve never been in his classroom, I can imagine his students like him almost as much as I do. I’ve known him since high school, and can’t imagine life without him on the planet somewhere, laughing.Oh, did I mention he’s got Hepatitis C?That’s a blood-born disease that can cause liver failure, is mighty tough to cure, and is one of those maladies that nobody likes to talk about. That’s because it can be contracted through the use of intravenous drugs, which may be how Toby caught it in his wild, tempestuous youth, while he was learning to laugh.Anyway, the Hep-C complication is why Toby can smoke pot legally in California (and in Colorado, for that matter), thanks to a voter approved initiative legalizing the medical use of marijuana to manage pain and other symptoms. He buys it at a local dispensary, which is a lot like a pharmacy only the wares are kept in sealed jars, and the place smells like a warren of very active skunks, thanks to all the high-grade pot. He says the marijuana prescription has helped him fend off the disease, stay active in all his pursuits and keep up a relatively cheerful outlook on life, even though he is in constant anxiety about his own mortality.And now to the nut of this tale. This week we were treated to televised images of Drug Enforcement Administration storm troopers busting dispensaries in southern California. The agents were basically spitting in the eyes of all those voters who concluded that someone smoking pot to ease pain and discomfort was not a threat to national security or anyone else’s well-being.The scenes, repeated on TV news shows across the spectrum of cable channels, got me thinking.The voters have passed these laws, presumably while in their right minds without any coercion from wild-eyed, gun-toting pot dealers lurking in the shadows of their voting booths. It’s generally presumed that somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of Americans use pot with some regularity, and that many more have tried it at least once, and they seemed to have generally survived the exposure.But our federal watchdogs have decided we, the voters in several states, don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to deciding which substances we consider beneficial or at least therapeutic, despite a growing body of evidence that we are right.You see, the war on drugs, which has been estimated to cost more than $40 billion in 2003 and which is getting more expensive every year, has become an industry unto itself. And it guarantees its own survival by setting up a never-ending struggle with the drug cartels, who benefit from our insane drug laws because they keep drugs in the “contraband” category, allowing them to continue to make money. It’s a lovely little dance they have going, isn’t it?Meanwhile, people’s lives are made worse by all this foolishness. Toby faces pain and misery if he can’t get the one drug that truly helps him. Neighborhoods face street wars and urban blight because the thugs and the cops are engaged in this endless ballet of bullets and jail cells, all paid for by our taxes.What is wrong with this picture? You tell me.John Colson can be reached at jcolson@aspentimes.com.