drugs

 

 

 

We should treat with indulgence every human folly, failing, and vice, bearing in mind that what we have before us are simply our own failings, follies, and vices. For they are just the failings of mankind to which we also belong and accordingly we have all the same failings buried within ourselves. We should not be indignant with others for these vices simply because they do not appear in us at the moment.

— Irvin D. Yalom, The Schopenhauer Cure

 

 

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I have hardly ever used drugs in my lifetime – with the exception of marijuana and hashish in earlier years, that is. I have no desire to. In fact, I am averse to drugs on principle. I don’t like putting foreign substances into my body, even aspirin. There are exceptions; I have complied occasionally when I was prescribed medications.

Nevertheless, I did – like, it seemed, practically every other youth and college student in the 1960’s – use marijuana off and on during that period of my life, specifically during my senior year in college (plus a few times right after graduating).

In other words, occasionally. I wasn’t a pothead. I believe there were a lot of people like me at the time who flirted with marijuana because everyone else was doing it.

I hope it’s okay to confess it, I INHALED. Presumably the statute of limitations will protect me from any consequences.

I remember that the first time I tried it, at the instigation of college roommates, it seemed like nothing was happening. “Don’t worry,” they said, “it’s always that way the first time.”

I remember some enjoyable experiences. Mostly, uncontrollable laughter. Sometimes in the presence of others who weren’t indulging and didn’t know what was going on. I never laughed so hard before or since.

Listening once to The Rolling Stones’ new song “She’s a Rainbow,” being mesmerized, and thinking it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. (It’s not that good.)

Later, I some bad experiences with marijuana and, occasionally, hashish. Just the opposite. Lows instead of highs. Feeling bummed out instead of giddy. On such occasions, I felt profoundly alienated and isolated. Instead of giddiness, an unbearable sadness.

I never was involved in making a purchase. I had no idea where or how my friends made purchases, or how much they cost. It seems they got marijuana and hashish of widely varying quality. Some of it seemed to be laced with something, and very powerful. I saw the Beatles film Yellow Submarine while high. It seemed like I was hallucinating and the colors were flashing on the screen.

I never used marijuana after graduating from college except a couple of times, and that was in the period right after graduation, when I was still living near the campus and associating with some of my college friends — I have not used marijuana for over 45 years. For some reason, in those last few experiences, which were in the late 1960’s, I had extremely depressing “highs” — actually, lows. This led me to believe that one’s experience of being high depends a lot on one’s mood going into it. I was depressed in general at the time.

Another thing I found, from experience, was: don’t mix grass with alcohol. I had at least one experience I recall of getting drunk and high at the same time. It was horrible.

I never did any other drugs: no psychedelics. In hindsight, I am very glad that this was the case. For me, it was a good thing.

 

 

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My college friends progressed, in short order, to doing psychedelic drugs: LSD and mescaline. They wanted to try and experience everything.

I became aware of this during the summer of 1967 when a group of my closest college friends made a cross country trip, unbeknownst to me. I received a postcard from one of them from the West Coast, which was the first I had heard about the trip. I had always had a desire to do a cross country trip by car and probably would have gone with them, had I been asked. But one of them later told me that they had deliberately declined to invite me. The reason was that they thought I was a square when it came to drugs and that it wouldn’t have been fun to have me along because of this. They wanted to take a trip in the conventional sense of the word and also to be able to trip on psychedelic drugs.

I never shared their enthusiasm for drugs, although I did not then and never have tended to be the censorious type.

My friends were speaking with something bordering on rapture about the great trips they were having. But, something held me back, an instinctive caution. I didn’t like the idea of putting chemicals into my bloodstream, and I was afraid of bad trips. It was an intuitive, instinctive thing, a foreboding. I am certain that I would have had very bad experiences had I used psychedelic drugs.

I worked as a psychiatric aide for a couple of years shortly after graduating from college and observed patients whose use of hallucinogens had triggered psychotic episodes. All of them were young. (This was some time after I myself had used or even considered using any kind of drugs, so the fact that I observed this was not relevant to my own behavior. The caution and wariness I had about drug use predated my hospital experience.)

 

 

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Because I myself have practically never used drugs or craved them, I am not outraged or offended by drug users. Drug use seems to me to be a waste of time, energy, and resources, a depressing aspect of life for many. But, I am not horrified at the thought of drug abuse. I feel it is unfortunate, but, in my mind, it does not seem to be criminal.

Does this mean that I am a softhearted type? Perhaps. An ostrich with its head in the sand? No, I don’t think so.

Off and on throughout my life, I have experienced alcoholism second hand by observing it among relatives and friends. I have never had a severe drinking problem, so — somewhat as is the case with drugs — alcoholism never alarmed me. But, it did hit a bit closer to home, and so I was consternated when I observed close friends of mine dealing with a drinking problem. A couple of my friends announced out of the blue to me that they had joined AA. I was a bit alarmed, thinking to myself, initially, I didn’t realize the problem had gotten so bad. But, that was it. I never regarded alcoholism as criminal or whatever pejorative term one might care to use. Merely as a problem for some people. A problem that can have serious consequences for them and their families. But, not one that one should be penalized, ostracized, or shunned for.

Which brings me back to drug addiction. I feel that it is unfortunate, but I do not regard it as criminal. Obviously, treatment would be desirable in most cases. But, why are drug users subjected to draconian sentences? Why are they treated as monsters, as scourges of society?

The penalties are far too harsh. Lock ‘em up? For twenty or thirty years or more? How about saying, we require you to complete a mandatory drug treatment program.

Vague, all encompassing charges (so designed, I would imagine, so that they can “fit” all kinds of offenses, like a one size fits all sock) — such as possession with the intent to distribute — for nonviolent drug offenses result in unbelievably harsh sentences. Such persons get treated like monsters — it seems at least sometimes worse than murderers. They are rent from loved ones and families and incarcerated for 20, 30, 40, or 50 years. For what? For harm done mostly to themselves.

If such people are to be treated as scourges of society and as menaces to the pubic good and wellbeing or safety, why aren’t such harsh penalties inflicted on offenders with other addictions: gambling, say, or drinking? The criminal “justice” system is inherently unjust — is not rational, reasonable, or fair. (Writers such as Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens figured this out a long time ago.)

 

 

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What is it that makes some types of substance abuse and victimless crimes so repugnant, so abominable, so shocking, so horrifying to most people, I wonder. (And, why is alcohol abuse penalized so harshly in Muslim countries while winked at, judicially speaking, here, whereas the situation is somewhat the reverse when it comes to drug abuse?)

It seems that a kind of psychodynamic is going on whereby the authorities, serving, as they see it, as the incarnation of public sentiment, as the standard bearers of virtue, denounce and prosecute activities that perhaps they themselves have been tempted to engage in, a repressed desire. So, that by wiping out the “scourge” — by trying to eradicate it through draconian penalties (which do not stop people from engaging in such behavior) — they are removing vermin from the face of the earth, and at the time removing TEMPTATION from the front view mirror.

I used to wonder, when A. M. Rosenthal was a columnist for The New York Times, what it was that made him so hysterical when writing about the topic of drugs? Or about the time when New York Post columnist Pete Hamill wrote an op piece asserting that we should carpet bomb Turkish poppy fields.

People become enraged over miscreant behavior that doesn’t actually do harm, such as the case of nonviolent drug offenders. They become zealots in the manner of a Robespierre.

Take the example of former New York State governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after it was publicly disclosed that he had been patronizing escorts. As state attorney general, Spitzer was known for going after prostitution rings. A few journalists noticed this and commented on Spritzer’s hypocrisy after his immoral behavior, for which he could have been prosecuted, came to light.

There have been countless examples over the years of public servants and civic officials who were caught engaging in the same type of activities that they had publicly denounced as immoral and criminal.

 

 

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If I may, I would like to conclude with a couple of additional comments based upon my own experience.

I do not myself find addictive behavior to be — a priori – pleasant to witness.

In 1970, I saw the film Trash, which got a lot of notoriety and which, it seemed, appealed to my generation. There was a scene where the actor Joe Dallesandro injects heroin into his veins. I almost fainted. Which I guess is my way of saying that the nuts and bolts of drug abuse are not something I like to contemplate.

At a later time, I saw a documentary film made in Amsterdam the title of which I do not recall. It seemed that the filmmakers intended to be objective, and to portray graphically what it was like to live in a country with lax laws regulating vice. I kind of expected to see that Amsterdam was a liberated, fun place. But, in the film, that did not seem to be the case. Indeed, it seemed depressing. There were interviews with prostitutes, all of them middle aged, who were matter of fact about their business. There was a scene of a sexual encounter between a stripper and a customer in a strip club that was dispiriting to observe. And, there were a lot of scenes shot in cafes where aging hippies were smoking pot. Everything seemed seedy and depressing.

Bottom line. I am not saying, am not advocating: let’s all have a good time and indulge in whatever activities or immoral behavior we feel like. It’s a personal matter, and also one that often has an impact on the quality of life, both on the personal and on the social, public levels, But, when people — out of curiosity, boredom, frustration, or despair; or perhaps because they harbor antisocial tendencies — do engage in behavior that is not pretty but does not directly harm others, I believe that the first thing we should try to do is to understand them and help them to perhaps see that there are alternatives.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    February 2017

 

 

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Addendum

 

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times

“Attorney General Orders Tougher Sentences, Rolling Back Obama Policy,” The New York Times, May 12, 2017

 

 

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against crime suspects, he announced Friday, reversing Obama administration efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug violations. ….

Mr. Sessions’s memo replaced the orders of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who in 2013 took aim at drug sentencing rules. He encouraged prosecutors to consider the individual circumstances of a case and to exercise discretion in charging drug crimes. In cases of nonviolent defendants with insignificant criminal histories and no connections to criminal organizations, Mr. Holder instructed prosecutors to omit details about drug quantities from charging documents so as not to trigger automatically harsh penalties.

This is truly sad.

Dispiriting, depressing.

It is also sad to consider that this story and the attorney general’s cruel (sometimes the plainest word is the right one) directive will probably not get much attention, given that media attention and criticisms of the Trump administration are focused — to the exclusion of practically everything else, it would seem, at times — on President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. director James B. Comey, which has just occurred and has dominated the news all week.

Slightly less than half, 50 percent, of the total of over 200,000 persons incarcerated in federal prisons have been convicted of drug offenses. Of course, the preponderance of them are minorities.

Of the total incarcerated in state prisons, almost a million and a half individuals — about one out of every six — had a drug crime as their most serious offense.

How many of these “criminals” do you think are violent offenders. Want to make a guess?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 13, 2017

 

 

 

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See also:

“Unity Was Emerging on Sentencing. Then Came Jeff Sessions,” The New York Times, May 14, 2017

Note that the article states that “Mr. Sessions, … as a senator from Alabama supported legislation that would have made a second marijuana trafficking conviction a capital crime.”

Unbelievable.

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts a websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin.
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