WELL, GEE WHIZ!

7 10 2006

WELL, GEE WHIZ–I bet Gordon and Constance Gee are getting tired of that joke, among many others, by now. Anyway, nobody is going to be asking for any Gee whiz. Class structure in America has never been more clearly delineated. The wife of the Chancellor of Vanderbilt University can be outed as a pot smoker in the Wall Street Journal, and all anybody does is titter. For the rest of us, it’s a different story.

She smoked“Only for medical use?” Look: Constance Gee graduated from high school in 1971, and spent time in Los Angeles in art school before going to Pratt Institute in New York in the late seventies, when she was in her mid-twenties. Pratt Institute. New York. Art student. Mid-twenties. The late seventies, when the punk scene was exploding and the Talking Heads were a fresh, young, cutting edge band opening for the Ramones. I suspect the lady inhaled, at the very least. Just about everybody else did, y’know? And when I look through her publication titles…. “Spirit, Mind, and Body: Arts Education, the Redeemer”; “The ‘Use and Abuse’ of Arts Advocacy”; “I Can See Clearly Now,” “The Arts—Education for a Life of Wonder”;”Somewhere Over the Rainbow”–I suspect she may have had more than a student fling with, and a recent medical need for, the Wonder Weed.

But, like I said, nobody’s likely to be asking for any Gee whiz. The Gees do not appear to be in any legal peril over this. Although official University policy is that illegal drug use is grounds for expulsion from University housing, the Gees are not being asked to move from the President’s mansion. There are no rumblings that Gordon is going to lose his job if he can’t control his poor, drug-addled wife. According to the Vanderbilt paper, nobody’s concerned about her marijuana use, or likely marijuana use by many students and professors at the school. It’s not an issue. And, really, I think that’s as it should be.

But that’s not how it is for the rest of us, who aren’t associated with ruling-class enclaves like Vanderbilt. Most of us would be fired, if not arrested, if our boss found out that we used marijuana, even “medically,” at work. Anyone in public housing whose marijuana use was outed would be outed into the street, along with everyone else in their family, regardless of whether they knew of or approved of the so-called “offense.”

This is not pot-smoker’s paranoia, folks. Marijuana arrests reached an all-time high—pardon the pun—last year– 786,545 people were arrested for marijuana issues last year. That’s over two thousand people a day. That’s one person every forty seconds. During the course of this broadcast, ninety people will be arrested for marijuana use in this country. And you can bet your roach clip that Constance Gee will not be among them.

“Money changes everything,” Cyndi Lauper sang, and it does change a lot. It was big news that Willie Nelson was arrested in Louisiana for a pound and half of marijuana and almost a half pound of mushrooms in a moving vehicle. Several people were cited for misdemeanors. A friend of mine spent a year in jail and will be on probation for seven years because he had a quarter-ounce of mushrooms in the privacy of his home, which was raided because his new, upper-class neighbors didn’t like having a poor, older hippie living in an old school bus next door to them, and they had some pull with the cops. Another friend is serving two years in a halfway house and being threatened with loss of the homestead he has lived in for over thirty years for growing not much over a pound and a half of marijuana—for his own medical needs and those of his friends. I hear no word that Willie Nelson’s tour bus has been impounded over his so-called “crime.” Equal justice under law? Hello? To add to the injury, my friends are now disenfranchised felons.

I know people who do not technically have legal custody of their children in certain states because the police took a look at them and their kids in their kinda older car, found an excuse to pull them over, and turned that into a body-cavity search. My friends have started driving a newer car. They don’t get stopped much any more, and the troopers don’t seem nearly so inquisitive. Profiling has been forbidden? You’ve got to be kidding!

The government’s latest anti-marijuana commercials are taking an interesting tack. “I smoked pot and I didn’t die. Nothing bad happened. Actually, nothing happened at all. We just sat on my friend’s couch– for eleven hours.” Another one features a “straight-arrow” kid who talks about how he shepherds all his stoner friends around—he’s the one that makes sure they get to the parties on time, he’s the one who talks to all the girls, etc. The stoners just stand there like sheep.

Now, there are some inaccuracies here. The most glaring one is that people who are using marijuana are socially incapacitated. Most people I know who smoke herb are livelier when they’re high. A more subtle inaccuracy is the idea that there’s something wrong with sitting in one place for eleven hours. Whether there was a conversation going or not, it could have been the most profound eleven hours of somebody’s life. Know what I mean? And yeah, it could have been a totally spaced-out waste of time.

But the main inaccuracy here is, even if strong sedation is the main result of marijuana use, why did we arrest over three quarters of a million people for it last year—more than were arrested for violent crimes? Eight million people have been arrested for marijuana use in the last decade, out of an estimated 90-100 million people who have tried it. Hey, I’ve been arrested for marijuana use twice, myself. Once the charges were dropped, and once I had to pay about four hundred dollars and I lost my favorite pipe, which all my friends said was a real nose-burner anyway. I think I’ve been lucky, and I’m grateful for that.

Interestingly enough, the people who get the most militant about locking up marijuana smokers are also among those most driven to lock up all illegal aliens. They are also frequently the people who are against abortion and against making contraceptives widely available. Do you see a pattern here?

Can you say, “Social Control,” boys and girls? Can you say, “pissing into the wind?”

Social Control is not a Green value. We are not Calvinists, who believe that deep in the heart of everyone is a sick, selfish monster who must be controlled by laws and regulations. We believe that the essence of each person is noble and beautiful and deserves to be nurtured like the bloom of a rare flower. Whether that nurturing involves sex, drugs, or austerity is a choice all adults are qualified to make for themselves. Make no mistake about it. Drug prohibition in this country is driven by irrational religious fundamentalism just as surely as the veiling of women in some Muslim countries.

We are at a slippery philosophical slope here. If we are all free to express our values and beliefs as long as we don’t try and force them on others, isn’t that forcing our values on those who value forcing us to observe their beliefs?

This is a koan I have been meditating on for almost forty years, but ultimately it comes down to the facts of the matter. The fact of the matter is that we live in a pluralistic world, and those who demand that it be uniform are functionally neurotic, even though their numbers are significant enough that they have to be taken somewhat seriously. All we can do about our nation’s neurotic drug warriors is keep giving them reality therapy. Professor Barrett Rubin of New York University gets our Truth In Strange Places Award for telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Senators George Voinovich and Richard Lugar, “in effect, by turning drug use into a crime, we are funding organized crime and insurgency around the world. And it may be that we need to look at other methods of regulation and treatment.”

Water drips through stone. Stoners drip through squares. Hang in there, people. They can’t put all 90 million of us behind bars. We all deserve the same kind of attention—or lack of it—that Constance Gee gets. We shouldn’t have to be millionaires to get it.

music: Talking Heads, “And She Was

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