Hollywood Truth About Drugs

  Hollywood Truth About Drugs

Posted by FoM on January 12, 2001 at 19:42:50 PT
By Christopher Hitchens 
Source: London Evening Standard 

Two years ago, Washington DC went to the polls for the mid-term elections. There wasn't much excitement, since we aren't allowed a seat in Congress and the city council has little real power, but it's possible to place "initiatives" on the ballot, and one of these called for the legalising of medical marijuana. I was interested to see how the vote would go. 
I was even more interested to see that the vote was an official secret. The following day, while reporting the result of the local and ward elections, a tiny inside-page newspaper item announced that the ballots for the marijuana initiative had been counted but then impounded. How had the city voted? We are not telling you! A law professor friend of mine had to sue in order to have the ballots released, which took ages. It turned out that the capital city of the free world had voted by a majority of about 60 per cent to decriminalise marijuana for medical purposes. (I had actually guessed that, from the fact that the voters were denied knowledge of how their votes had "counted", as we now say.) This surreal episode crystallised both the hysteria of the "war on drugs" and the astounding level of denial that is imposed on any discussion of it. Tens of thousands of Americans are in prison for merely possessing or growing a weed that is at worst harmless, and at best a specific medicine for glaucoma and for the violent nausea that accompanies chemotherapy. Hundreds of thousands more are in jail for taking part in the "traffic" that supplies this and other harder narcotics to an insatiable market of consumers. The "war" on this practice, which began under President Nixon in one of his law-and-order phases, has shown no sign of abating in three decades and American troops are now being sent as far south as Colombia in an effort to eradicate the product at the supply end, as well. Maybe I choose my friends with insufficient care, but I have never even met anyone who has ever met anyone who thinks that this "war" makes a particle of sense. Very few of my acquaintances use narcotics, but not one of them would experience the least difficulty in getting hold of them. And this is the very discovery that comes - too late - to the Michael Douglas character in the new movie Traffic, which may do to the "drug war" what certain Roaring Twenties films did for Prohibition - in other words, expose it as a corrupting and dangerous racket. Douglas plays a tough but stupid Mid-Western judge who is appointed to be America's "Drug Tsar" (and what a wealth of meaning is contained in that silly but sinister job description). As he moves towards the centre of ostensible power in Washington, a series of grainy and sepia sequences show the rest of the country as it gaily buys and sells drugs. Much of the action is set on the Mexican frontier and it becomes clear that, rather than American policy inhibiting the south-of-the-border drug cartels, the constant attrition is leading to the Mexicanisation of the United States. A sorry subplot involves Douglas's daughter becoming "involved" with drugs and then with sex; two phenomena which the leading man confronts (rather woodenly) as if he's never heard of them before. His off-screen bride, the then heavily pregnant Catherine Zeta Jones, plays the ruthless wife of a narcotics tycoon. The slightly creaky plot does not obscure the main point, which is that official anti-drug policy is futile at best, and corrupt at worst, resulting in contempt for unenforceable laws and in the manipulation of policemen by incredibly rich criminals. In a crucial scene on his official plane, surrounded by representatives of every possible US government agency, the mighty "Tsar" asks people to speak their minds off the record - and is greeted with silence. This dumb silence has lasted through six real-life presidencies, but now shows every sign of being broken. A rebellion against the stupidity of the "war on drugs" is the next big thing in American politics and society. Every time the first step - the decriminalisation of marijuana - has been put to a vote it has been carried with large majorities, even in states as conservative as New Mexico. In each case the Government has intervened to nullify the local vote, but in many more cases respected politicians and opinion-form-ers have sprung up to express dissent. Interestingly, the most prominent to date have been Republicans, as senior as former Secretary of State George Shultz and as conservative as William Buckley. The military operation in Colombia was widely criticised in Congress and the Press. One has the sense of a long-standing taboo beginning to lose its power. Two things above all have become noticeable in the day to day "war". Its effect falls disproportionately on the poor and the black, whose cheap "crack" cocaine draws heavier sentences than the more costly powdered version. And, because transactions between buyer and seller are voluntary and mutually agreed, police departments must rely very heavily on informers, and even provocateurs, to secure convictions. This last point, very strongly emphasised in Traffic, means that minor players are subjected to blackmail and reprisal as part of "plea bargains", in which the big fish swim free. In his last round of presidential pardons, Clinton released two women from life sentences handed out for committing, in effect, no crime except knowledge of their boyfriends' dope-selling activities. He also gave an interview to Rolling Stone, in which he said that non-violent drug-users ought not to be crowding America's groaning prison system. Straws in the wind, perhaps, But the political class has been lagging behind public opinion for years on this issue, and it might be that Hollywood has now provided the catalyst where the tide of the argument will slowly begin to turn. Source: London Evening Standard (UK) Author: Christopher HitchensPublished: January 11, 2001Copyright: 2001 Associated Newspapers Ltd. Contact: letters Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Traffic Official Web Site Another Misguided War The War To End No Wars

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