I haven't blogged in a while because I've been busy but, recently an event that happened which perturbed me enough to pick up my sententious and pugilistic pen. The 20 year old son of a friend was recently arrested with drugs. Drugs are scary. Just as a drunk driver can hurt or kill themselves or others, drugs can hurt and kill. Well, most drug users use them in the privacy of their own home and are less likely to harm others but, they do run the risk of damaging their own bodies and creating issues in their normal day to day living. If someone has a drug problem, arresting them does nothing to assuage their addiction. It will be far from mollifying but intensifying any problem they may have. Punishment takes away his life. Only treatment and support from family, friends and the community will help unencumber him from the appetite of chemical dependency. People with support, mercy, compassion and purpose are more amenable to discipline and healing.
Take the scary and often moniker-ed "gateway drug" marijuana. Most everyone I know uses it or has used it and I bet that most everyone you know falls into the same category - or they're lying. So why isn't most of our population drug addicts? Because they don't have that addiction gene? I have alcohol in my house and I rarely consume it. I do drink but I don't have to. I have no need or strong desire to imbibe in it. I'm not a drinker but I enjoy the product on occasion with friends.
I have several fiends who admit to doing cocaine, heroin or ecstasy in their pasts (I work in the church. I run across these people a lot. What is the church for if not for sinners?). Once they got the fad of drug experimentation out of their systems, they went on to lead productive and professional lives, raising families and leaving drugs behind them. Would they like to indulge again once in a while? I'm sure but, they "grew up" and recognized that it affects their productivity and living a real life.
Many of our politicians and technological geniuses have indulged in temporary drug use: Clinton, Bush, Obama, Steve Jobs. If any of those men were ever caught and thrown into prison, none of them would be the men they are today for they would be convicted felons and not eligible to work in the professions they have chosen. Can you imagine what our world would be like if Steve Jobs was given a forty year prison sentence instead of freely practicing his craft in pursuit of genius and perfection?
Assemblyman Steve Katz (R) who is an outspoken state assemblyman who serves on the chamber's Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee — and had the effrontery to vote against medical marijuana — was recently busted for possessing pot. He was pulled over on the state Thruway for going 80 miles an hour in a 65 mph zone when a trooper detected a palpable odor redolent of pot wafting from his car. Katz was on his way to Albany to vote on legislation while under the influence, BTW. All charges were dropped against him. Hmmph. Membership has its privileges.
Even our best athletes in the world have smoked weed. "Disgraced U.S. Olympian Nick Delpopolo " is what the headlines read last summer after he failed a drug test. Why is he disgraced when so many other people use the drug with impunity? The Bureau of Statistics doesn't even research marijuana deaths each year because the number is so insignificant. Our government has lied and frightened the public for decades about this safe, natural medicine. Nobody beats their wife or kids, loses their job, gets in accidents, rapes or murders, or blows their paycheck on pot. Alcohol? That's a different story. Nick's life, career and dream of greatness in service to our country through sports is now ruined by societal prejudice due to the unjust prohibition laws of cannabis.
Here are just a few of the many highly motivated athletes who have used drugs:
* Usain Bolt, the 2008 World Record holder of the 100 and 200 meter sprint.
* Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer ever with 14 Olympic gold medals.
* Tim Lincecum, the National League baseball’s Cy Young Award winner for 2009.
* Santonio Holmes, the Super Bowl XLII’s MVP.
* Mark Stepnoski, two-time Super Bowl champion. "I'd rather smoke than take painkillers."
* Randy Moss, NFL single season touchdown reception record (23, set in 2007), and the NFL single-season touchdown reception record for a rookie (17, in 1998). Moss has founded, and financed many charitable endeavors including the the Links for Learning foundation, formed in 2008.
* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leader in points scored (38,387), games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goal attempts, blocked shots and defensive rebounds. During his career with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers from 1969 to 1989, Abdul-Jabbar won six NBA championships and a record six regular season MVP Awards. He has a prescription to smoke marijuana in California, which he says he uses to control nausea and migraine headaches. He has been arrested twice for marijuana possession.
* "Most of the players in the league use marijuana and I have and do partake in smoking weed in the off season" - Josh Howard, forward for the Dallas Mavericks. Howard admitted to smoking marijuana on Michel Irvin's ESPN show.
* "You got guys out there playing high every night. You got 60% of your league on marijuana. What can you do?" - Charles Oakley (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets)
* "I personally know boxers, body builders, cyclists, runners and athletes from all walks of life that train and compete with the assistance of marijuana," —WWE wrestler Rob Van Dam
* Some of the best cricket players of all time, like Phil Tufnell and Sir Ian Botham, have admitted to regularly using marijuana to deal with stress and muscle aches. In 2001, half of South Africa's cricket team was caught smoking marijuana with the team physiotherapist. They were celebrating a championship victory in the Caribbean.
Where would any of those un-convicted criminals be today had they been caught and arrested before they achieved greatness? Yes, drugs are bad and I would not encourage anyone to take or abuse them. However, are they as bad as we have been led to beleive or are we just not able to make money off of them as well as say, alcohol which kills tens of thousands of people each year? Are those deaths acceptable to our predominately Christic society?
My biggest complaint here is not drugs. It is the arrest of this twenty year old. Millions of people before him, right now and in the future will do drugs and not get caught. They will then go on to lead normal and productive lives without incident. They either lead a life so boring that they are easily enchanted or they lead a life so full of stimulus that are are easily bored so, drugs were a temporary experiment. This twenty year old will most likely become a convicted felon, do prison time, have the stigma of a conviction on his record, have difficulty procuring housing because of background checks and drug registries, endure numerous desultory attempts at finding a job, he'll have zero credit and he will most likely live off the largess of the social services and the taxpayer's dime. He will be judged differently from normal, phantasmagorical good people with a prepossessing Christian artifice. He will be labeled with the delineating modifier of "criminal" and his productivity to society will be a patent waste. His life will be larded with more problems than an algebra textbook. Most likely he is no different than anyone else. He just got caught.
Nobody is the worse thing that they've ever done. A conviction and doing prison time will not help this kid if he has a problem. It will certainly not help him when he gets out and tries to put his life back in order. If he has a drug problem, then he should be treated for it, not punished. Our entire justice system is designed for punishment and profit. Prisons should be for people who are a threat to others and not a warehouse for politicians, judges, DA's and law enforcement people to win elections and win grant money.
A story I often like to tell is about a friend who as a teen would ensconce himself on a bridge and throw pumpkins onto a highway below. Fortunately he never hit a car and he was never caught. Had he been caught or had he hurt anyone, he would have done many years in prison. He wasn't caught, he went on to college, got married, became very active in his church, had kids and now works for corporate America as a manager of a nationally recognized chain. Should he have been punished? I don't know. Had he been caught, his life would be drastically different today. With a felony conviction on his record, he wouldn't have gone to college, probably not be married and his kids wouldn't exist. He does more good for society today than society would have gotten out of him by punishing him.
Winston Churchill once said that “One of the most unfailing tests of a civilization is how a country treats its criminals.” Most criminals return to the streets in a worse state than when they were arrested. Prison turns good people bad and bad people worse. A better solution for crime would be a restorative justice approach.
In The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, Jack Kornfield describes an African forgiveness ritual: "In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe."
Too bad for those of us who profess to be Christians, that Jesus didn't show us another way. Maybe those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear, know that way. But, not to act is to act.
Do you know anyone who uses pot? Has been arrested for pot? Tried it once? Do you know anyone who suffers from depression, addiction, chronic pain, cancer or fibromyalgia? Well, it looks like NY is going to join the pantheon of states to legalize medical marijuana. Many of our politicians freely admit to once using the herb such as Obama and Clinton. Recently Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz was arrested and charged with possession as he was commuting to Albany to vote on legislation. It is not clear if he has ever been high while on the floor passing laws but it seems now that these laws are affecting our lawmakers and they're going to do something about it.
I know what you're thinking. Marijuana is a drug. It slows motor skills. It causes cancer in the long term. It kills brain cells. Well, again, the operative word here is "medical" marijuana.
If you could improve the quality of life for someone who is either elderly or suffering from debilitating injuries or disease, would you or, would you rather they suffer? We know the side effects of marijuana so let's look at a few of the side effects from many common doctor prescribed medications:
Diarrhea, vomiting, suicide, death, nausea, amnesia, heart failure, stroke, water weight gain, muscle pain, blood clots, rash, dizziness, thinning bones, weakness, internal bleeding, dehydration, headaches, blurred vision, grogginess, difficulty breathing, no appetite, loss of balance, weight loss, weight gain, ringing in ears.
Marijuana doesn't do any of those. If your 80 year old grandmother suffered from painful and debilitating arthritis, would you rather she suffer any of those aforementioned medicated side effects and sleep away her day or sit around watching TV, being snack obsessed and laughing at the paint on the wall? Would you be concerned about her pot habit becoming a gateway drug?
What are some of the conditions medical marijuana is known for amelioration? Alzheimer's, arthritis, glaucoma, ALS, MS, fibromyalgia, migraines, pain relief, cancer, HIV/AIDS, breast and brain cancer, addiction, opioid addiction, depression, chronic pain, nausea, no appetite, suicide.
When I was answering the suicide hotline, I had a caller who once had breast cancer a few years prior and she became addicted to pain killers. She was taking eight pills a day despite being prescribed only four per day. They have no effect on her anymore and the pain is unbearable to the point that she is suicidal. She admitted that she had smoked pot with her daughter and that pot was the only thing that took away the pain. She was afraid of being arrested or getting her daughter arrested who was only trying to help her long suffering mother. If this was your mother, which treatment would you prefer she imbibe in? Endless and pointless suffering or giddy induced four hour lunches?
I have a friend in his forties who was a construction worker. He fell from a roof and is now permanently disabled. When he wakes up in the morning he is in excruciating pain. He takes medication which then knocks him out for four more hours. When he wakes in the afternoon, he forces himself to get up and take more medication which makes him nauseous, unable to eat and it still it doesn't take away his pain. He has absolutely no life with his current medical treatment. Enter marijuana. When he smokes pot, he is able to eat and function for the whole day and it helps him to sleep at night. Last year we went to the state fair and he was able to walk the entire park with no complaint. So he had two fried doughs, a turkey leg, a cotton candy, two Slurpees, a beer and then we went to lunch. He was able to function and have a quality day. Please note that I did not share in his treatment and waited outside his car while he took his morning dosage.
I'm not talking about making pot legal like alcohol is - which unlike pot, kills over 5,000 children each year in DWI accidents. Make pot available to people who can't find relief from modern medicine - or who do not wish to suffer the side effects of modern medicine - or who do not have insurance and can't afford the cost of modern medicine - or who sacrifice their quality of life because of the side effects of modern medicine.
We would like for our elderly (old tokes) and disabled loved ones to have a certain quality of life. If youth is through, do you think they are worried about long term damage from consuming or smoking an herb? Not if it allows them to enjoy the few years they have left.
A relative of mine was dying from cancer and she was prescribed morphine. She refused to take it because she wanted to be awake for every precious moment she had left in this world. Marijuana gave her a few pain free final weeks with her children which she would not have had otherwise.
A funny aside, I recently had lunch with one of my former youth choir members who is now in his twenties. He told me that when he was eight, his neighbor friend found his mother's stash of pot and they both snuck down into his basement to smoke it. He said that it didn't have any effect on them and they really didn't remember much. His friend emerged from the basement with shaved eyebrows and they plugged the toilet with something causing it to overflow and flood the basement.
It seems when a senator's son comes out of the closet, they change their view on gay rights and attendant laws. When a senator gets arrested for possession, we change our marijuana laws. Once we do change the law, what are we going to do about the thousands of people in jail or prison who were arrested for possession and are serving lengthy sentences? What about the people with prior felony convictions who are unemployable? Congress, please fix the problems you created.
We need to arrest more senators.