Thousands of years ago — in times we are fond of calling ‘primitive’ (since this renders us ‘modern’ without having to exert ourselves further to earn this qualification) — religion and medicine were united in an undifferentiated enterprise; and both were closely allied with government and politics — all being concerned with maintaining the integrity of the community and of the individuals who were its members. How did ancient societies and their priest-physicians protect people from plagues and famines, from the perils of impending military encounters, and from all the other calamities that threaten persons and peoples? They did so, in general, by performing certain religious ceremonies.”
Thomas Szasz, “The Scapegoat as Drug and the Drug as Scapegoat," in Milton Friedman and Thomas Szasz, On Liberty and Drugs: Essays on the Free Market and Prohibition
I can only enjoy but cannot add much to the hoopla in the marijuana community about this date, a secular holiday, a date and time of day with meaning only to the stoner in-group. For reasons that are still hazy, 4:20 is the tokers’ tea-time. Perhaps that’s as much of one day of modern life as you can take without your weed.
And on the date 4/20, the legalization movement, after 70+ years of pointless prohibition based on lies (among the early ones: pot supposedly made “Negroes” want to rape white women), re-energizes itself once again, with all kinds of optimism about decriminalization, though the Feds continue to fight on.
Medical marijuana and decriminalization for adults are the next wave of civil rights. It'll be a while yet, despite promising signs. Most politicians are on the wrong side of history, as usual, including, to my intense shame, my "live free or die" state (hah!), New Hampshire, where the House just voted down a liberalization measure. "Liberty" here means the 2nd Amendment and not much else..
I cannot add much because I am only a connoisseur wannabe. I look at the centerfold in High Times with the same longing that used to accompany the Playboy centerfold. In my dreams, I am a judge in the Cannabis Cup, sniffing this variety and that like a wine aficionado…or a tag-along in that scene from Weeds where Doug and Andy attend an apparently real cannabis expo, sampling and trying to decide what strain Nancy will grow (“This is the one.” “No, this is the one.” “No, this is SO the one.”)
I can only point out what my continuing animosity towards the drug war has to do with being a Jewish atheist and secular humanist.
Religion and drugs
First, the religious part. It is perhaps an accident of history that the religions that came to predominate in the world were anti-intoxicant. All over the world, the religious and the drug-induced hallucinatory experience had been firmly linked for millennia – but not in the abstemious Abrahamic faiths. Muslims can't drink at all. Christians may get hammered, but it’s not in pursuit of a mystical experience.
The Torah’s drug policy is very liberal. In Deuteronomy, Ch. 14, God tells the Israelites that they may enjoy wine or other intoxicating substances. I would presume that this includes all psychotropic substances.
But there’s no way modern Jews are going to read the Bible that way. Like Muslims and Christians, they separate the drug-induced state from the religious one. Not surprising: a drug-induced religious hysteria/psychosis is less manageable, less predictable than one induced by religious/rhetorical hypnosis alone (“Can I have an amen?”).
Stoned without drugs
So, through sophisticated behavior manipulation techniques, religions can induce a subjectively mystical state of suggestibility in which bizarre, impossible events are true. To their credit, they did it without drugs. They can even reduce people to the hapless babbling of glossolalia (”speaking in tongues”).
To they extent that they maintain drug prohibition, religions control people, once again, as with sex, through their basic urges. To a humanist, it’s obvious that people beyond a certain age must, if they wish, be allowed to alter their consciousness and perceptions, as they are wont to do, as we do from childhood, getting dizzy from twirling around.
Most governments, especially ours, cannot accept this simple proposition. Out of misplaced nannyism and residual Puritanism, they launch drug wars and sustain them for decades. They waste billions, fostering crime and causing tens of thousands of deaths a year.
Surely it must be one of the basic principles of humanism that we own our own bodies. Is drug use not the indisputable example of one’s ownership of oneself? If you don’t own your body, who does? The state?
Yet governments take it upon themselves to decide what drugs –- and what drug users and traffickers — are to be scapegoated. In On Liberty and Drugs, which I heartily recommend, Thomas Szasz points out the historical relationship between the two meanings of pharmak-, ‘scapegoat’ and ‘remedy.’ After all, scapegoating was the way to rid the tribe of all its evils.
Too bad that politicians can’t evolve beyond this primitive state of mind. The fact is that each mind-altering substance has its purpose for those who use it. For those who self-medicate with the "wrong" ones,, the illegality of their substance (notably heroin) makes their habit far more dangerous..
The futility of drug wars is shown by the flood of new designer drugs and things to burn and inhale. The drug warriors can't keep track of them! Which is to say, you cannot protect people from their own stupidity. They will find new ways to outwit you.
People will try anything new to get high. A couple of years ago, they discovered K2, a new, legal, pot-like high; unlike cannabis, you don’t know what’s in it. As with salvia divinorum, another old/new intoxicant on the scene, politicians hasten to ban it.
Synthetic pot is now such a problem that it rates a TIME cover story. Hell, the real thing is less harmful (not that I advocate it for growing brains).
And what if marijuana use does go up (see below)? What business is that of government? Just this: Government-approved drugs help shape the society government wants. Legal caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol ensure that people are peppy, productive, and aggressive.
Different drugs, better world
I am one of those people who believe that if marijuana, oxytocin, MDMA (think of the ads for legal Ecstasy!) and other substances that soothe the murderous ego were readily and widely available, we would have a very different – and very likely more peaceful — world.
An intriguing Harper's Index (May 2014) stat: if pot were legal almost everywhere, Americans would spend 30 BILLION additional hours stoned. Now, why would they do that? Lots of reasons, from chronic pain, to anxiety, to "just had it with him/her/this." I tried to track down the source of the stat but could verify only that the person quoted, Johnathan F. Caulkins, is the real thing - a drug scholar/policy expert.
Thirty billion? How did he arrive at that? And would that be a bad thing, especially if it helps people tolerate their relatives? Really, pot promotes family values!
But for now: cannabis has shown promise in a growing variety of medical applications (see NORML’s “Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids…2000-2006″‘). We humans have a 10,000-year relationship with it — and cannabis receptors in our brains. It is no more harmful than beer and a lot less harmful than prescription drugs. It fosters sociability and artistic creativity (the secular equivalent of the mystical experience). Re-legalize it already!