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Columns: Supreme Court Vs. Medical Marijuana Users   (Views: 13,103)
Contributed by skip on July 2nd, 2005

By Paul Dougan

By a six-to-three margin, the Supreme Court proclaims sick Americans easing their pain with pot are criminal. So, an 85-year-old grandmother trying to deal with the nausea caused by her chemotherapy, seeking, perhaps, to follow the advice of her physician, is an enemy of the state. Yes, here in America, that noble fountain of decency, democracy, and human rights, that light of the world, Grandma can be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Sounds insane, doesn't it?

I, however, understand the decision perfectly: The Court is a political institution; currently, it's particularly sensitive to the needs of the right-wing of the Republican Party, the so-called neoconservatives. And that conservative Court is functioning in a political environment that sees the War on Drugs as a national crusade, where being against "drugs" in any form is a patriotic duty. Now, the problem with both medicinal marijuana and industrial hemp is that they involve cannabis; as the necocons will warn you, both of those issues are just "stalking horses" for the legalization of all marijuana. To some extent, they're right: the issues are interconnected, and politically, the legalization of either medicinal marijuana or industrial hemp would strengthen the movement to "legalize it." So, the Court's decision wasn't really about the specious connection between Grandma's medicine and the federal government's right to regulate interstate commerce; it was about the larger battle to legalize marijuana in general.

So, why not legalize it--all marijuana? It's never caused a single documented death. The recent sensational drug overdoses of students at various colleges in Colorado were caused by alcohol, not reefer--theirs was the drug of the young George W. Bush, not Jerry Garcia. If our concern is public health, we certainly don't improve it by jailing people. And the "gateway" objection is laughable. A massive cause-effect fallacy, gateway's only basis in fact turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: what little gateway effect pot does pose is due precisely to its illegality. Marijuana prohibition and the Court's decision also fly in the face of the neoconservatives own rhetoric about the horrors of "big government"--too much intrusion into the lives of individuals, too much regulation, too many tax dollars spent. And for decades, the thinking behind that prohibition has violated basic American values: the notion that one man's freedom ends where another's nose begins, that those not crossing that line have the right to be left alone. No, the flimsy, contradictory arguments against legalizing recreational marijuana make no sense either.

But there is method to the madness: to legalize marijuana would be to legalize marijuana users; in particular, to legalize hippies, the counterculture, whatever term you prefer. Now, of course, we tell ourselves hippies no longer exist, that the counterculture is just a faded memory, but at another level, we all know that's nonsense. In most areas of the nation, it's about impossible to go out on any given day and not see overtly hippie people; you watch the World Series, you see hippie baseball players; you pick up a newspaper or listen to talk radio, and there are the commentators clucking about a wicked "counterculture" that's allegedly ruining America.

What we have in hippies is a new (forty-year old) ethnicity--a cultural formation that displays virtually every aspect of ethnicity save for the usual origins (and even those unusual origins pertain to only a portion of hippies: we now see second- and even third-generation counterculturalists who've "inherited" their ethnicity). The reason we've come to believe that hippies no longer exist is because the powers that be are engaged in ethnocide: they don't believe hippies have the right to exist, they don't want hippies around. For as long as there's been a counterculture, that's the message they've been sending, those are the policies they've been enforcing--"Hippies have no rightful place in this nation; America must be drug free." "Zero tolerance" is code for intolerance.

America's powerful, then, are reacting to and treating hippies much like they've traditionally reacted to and treated other ethnic minorities, especially those "just off the boat" and ethnicities of color. Hippies have been stereotyped and turned into a social pariah; the "counterculture" has become a boogey-man in the public mind, the stuff of demagoguery. Just, for example, as anti-Semitic Germans believed their loss in the First World War was due to Jews, many Americans have come to believe our loss in Vietnam was due to hippies. And just as for decades American politicians race-baited rivals, today's politicians regularly hippie-bait opponents; thus, we're supposed to believe the Clintons secretly sport tie-dyes under their business suits, that former anti-war activist John Kerry was and is just another hippie protestor wearing flip-flops, that the Democratic Party is in league with what Rush Limbaugh calls "the Birkenstock crowd."

In addition to the political rewards of scapegoating and hippie-baiting, the neoconservatives have another reason for persecuting hippies: they believe the counterculture is a mortal danger to Western Civilization. No, I'm not exaggerating. A video currently in vogue among neoconservatives is entitled "The Siege of Western Civilization"; its maker, former Reagan aide Herb Meyer, identifies three major threats to Western Civilization. One is "the counterculture." Then again, for centuries the privileged in America had themselves and others convinced that any move towards equality by African-Americans meant the end of Western Civilization, that the "negrification" of society would lead to its downfall.

There's something happening here; what it is is exactly clear: prejudice towards and discrimination against the counterculture have become institutionalized, become a central factor in modern American life in much the way that racism and other forms of ethnic chauvinism have long been an ugly mainspring of American history.

As such, any issues in any way related to the counterculture are seen as part of a life-and-death struggle between light and darkness, between good and evil, between a healthy, vibrant America and a once-great nation broken by the "permissiveness" and "moral relativism" bigots believe to be the hallmarks of hippie culture--Forrest Gump, please come home: the counterculture is up to all kinds of no good, and Mama needs you. And that's the real reason some cancer-ridden grandma--who likely as not isn't hippie--will be forced to make a sick choice: suffer or risk jail.

"Bio": Paul Dougan is a college English teacher writing a book: Happily Hippie: Understanding, Celebrating and Defending Forty Years of Countercultural Ethnicity. He may be reached at pgdougan@netscape.com.

Supreme Court Vs. Medical Marijuana Users
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