Reading CLL discussion groups, and reading between the lines in those discussion groups, I am very much aware that some people deal with the stress of leukemia by taking drugs. And by drugs I mean alcohol and prescription antidepressants as well as illegal substances such as marijuana.
What is causing me to write about this is the tempest-in-a-bong over Olympic champion Michael Phelps. The 23-year-old swimmer was photographed smoking pot; from the overreaction of some people, you’d think he had been caught strangling mermaids with one of those ribboned gold medals.
Well, give me, and Michael Phelps, a break.
Somehow the United States managed to come into existence and prosper for its first 150 years without any restrictions on what you could put into your body. Alcohol, pot, laudanum, opium, cocaine, magic mushrooms, you name it -- all were there and ready for the taking as this country built itself into something ever more prosperous and successful.
But American respect for individual liberty has always had a counterbalance: our Puritan heritage, which entered the 20th century in the form of the temperance movement that brought us the Prohibition of alcohol.
Big success that was, of course. Since then we’ve been on a bender Prohibiting just about everything else, and that hasn’t been working, either. Our last three presidents all used illegal drugs in their youth. Our drug laws are a joke, which is hardly funny because of the enormous waste of lives, money, and resources involved.
Within the past 15 years or so, medical marijuana has gained a foothold in some states. It’s obvious that anyone with a flimsy excuse -- I do believe painful bunions were once used -- can get a doctor to prescribe pot in California. At least when it comes to marijuana, the absurdity of Prohibition is starting to break down. Gone are the days, and they were real, when people were sentenced to years in jail for possessing a joint.
* * *
I’m not a druggy personality. I like the occasional glass of red wine, but I find that being fully awake and aware in the here and now is more trippy than living in a haze. I experimented with the usual stuff in high school and college, but it’s been 30 years since I’ve smoked pot.
The only drug that I ever truly liked was LSD, which I took a half-dozen times in college. Sometimes it was revelatory, sometimes merely enjoyable, sometimes a bit of both. I recall laying on my back in the organic garden at UC Santa Cruz, watching as passing clouds smiled at me. Another time I was listening to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which wove itself into something resembling a complex Persian carpet right before my eyes. Never once, despite hysterical media reports that indicated it might be a real danger, was I tempted to jump off a building to see if I could fly.
In life, the Darwin Awards apply, whether you’re on drugs or not. Some people can handle drugs and some can’t.
I think we’ve all seen what happens to friends and family when people can’t cope with them, or when they take undue risks to get high. A family that has always been quite close to ours lost its sensitive and talented middle child to some bad heroin one night in New York City; he was in his 30s. Another kid I knew and worked with many a summer led a life of drugs and dissolution, stealing from his own parents as an adult, until he managed to ruin his body to the point that it killed him.
And I know many more stories involving our legal drug. alcohol; I have seen it bring heartache and pain, emotional and physical, to people who could have and should have had happier and longer lives.
I also know people in their 70s who have smoked pot their entire lives and seem none the worse for wear. Just about everyone I was close to growing up has violated our Prohibition laws on multiple occasions and most of them are quite happy and successful today.
Which leads me back to my point: Our drug laws are dopey. They’re not respected and they don’t work.
People will do what people will do, whether they’re 23-year-old swimmers or 60-year-old cancer patients. Perhaps some day American society will be ready for an adult discussion of drugs -- why they should be legal (or at least managed more sensibly) and why you should make the choice to use them sparingly.
Until then, let’s drop the hypocrisy. Let’s zip the flimsy moral outrage. Drugs are everywhere. They always have been, they always will be, and in a free society Prohibition will always fail.
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