Refer Madness Redux History Repeats Itself

Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Little more than a decade after Eric Schlosser’s ground breaking book exposing the dubious history not only of drug paranoia but marijuana, pot hysteria specifically, along with the seedy industries pornography, illegal immigration respectively within the U.S., and nearly 80 years after the original war on drugs began, we are once again facing an epidemic of refer madness in the modern era. No not the 1930’s propaganda film purported as fact to warn young people of the harmful effects of doing drugs, but the adult, morality police, panicked Chicken Little ism surrounding changes in public attitude regarding weed; except it is society is falling, society is falling vs. the sky is falling the sky is falling. As Washington State becomes the latest to both legalize and open legitimate marijuana establishments selling various variations of the product for recreational use, D.C. scheduled to vote on it later this year, more and more debates are being had across the country about where we are headed in terms of the core fabric of our nation, integrity, morals, what this means for keeping our young people drug free and on a positive path in life, what the social implications are, the complicated headaches of enforcement regarding driving under the influence now that pot, the dreaded “gateway drug,” is legal. Others challenging our perceptions on marijuana distinguishing it from its illicit counterparts in many ways, highlighting huge discrepancies in drug laws discriminating against a substance absent multitudes of adverse effects either legal, or illegal, drugs have on the populous. Fervor beginning a resurgence in earnest when Colorado was first to legalize ganga in every form imaginable from items you smoke, to items you eat, to lesser known oils and teas used in a host of applications. Much of the renewed shock and fear pertaining to what comes next, what “people who just want to get high, just want an excuse not to go to jail for engaging in something irreprehensible involving selling or using banned substances,” will do to our society comes from not understanding anything about pot or the people who use it, today or historically throughout the ages. The religious set especially possess largely inaccurate preconceived notions people want recreational access to it for the sole gain of being continuously stoned, to not incur consequences such as arrest, jail time, loss of job, social stigma being labeled a degenerate vs. cultural ritual, a relaxing, enjoyable, calming experience that is inexpensive and has therapeutic benefits maybe just maybe you shouldn’t need a prescription to get hold of, maybe just maybe we would all be the better for.

Outside the documented medical uses for the much demonized “drug” when smoked or put in elixir form helping cancer patients combat nausea and hold their weight during lengthy chemo therapy treatments, outside aiding in reduction, management, elimination of phantom limb pain after amputation, even suspending seizures for one toddler with a life threatening type of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, transforming her from a child who would have hours long seizures weekly, who couldn’t walk, talk or eat to a normal, healthy, active now 6 year old are the people who anecdotally tell us it helps ease symptoms from anxiety to bipolar disorder. Still there are those who object to the legalization of medical marijuana despite plants like Charlotte’s web, named for that cured 6 year old, richly laced in helpful plant properties and low in THC, the compound known to produce its trademark euphoric “high” we are so familiar with. Perhaps when we stop making no less than a dozen drugs for erectile dysfunction brought on by a guy who needs to lay off the cheese burgers and go for a walk once and a while or realize he’s 80 and the 25 year old hot, young thing is way out of his league, that he shouldn’t have a libido, or that big of one anyway, a dozen ADHD medications given to kids who largely require basic discipline or, here’s a thought, teachers that don’t sound akin to totally uninteresting robotic drones not to mention recess. When we halt the dozen each of cholesterol and heartburn meds for people who need to try a salad over the fried chicken, eat a little less move a little more, lay off the spices, try a Tums instead, a dozen antidepressants handed out like candy to people who are having a bad day, are nothing shy of a little sad, have a reason to be depressed going through the grieving process post a death in the family, passing of a beloved pet, loss of a job, coming to terms with a traumatic event, not to be confused with being used in concert with group therapy, individual counseling to stave off suicide after any one of the aforementioned circumstances. While at the same time, it takes 40 years for a new drug to counteract virulent TB, we have shortages of critical, lifesaving cancer and other treatment drugs, we’re being inundated by superbugs yet have no new antibiotics to save people from the jaws of death because all of the above are profitless for big pharmaceutical, when we fix these problems then we can tell people what they are and are not allowed to take for their medical problem, not one day, not one hour before. We could make the proper medical advancements to help them, better drugs than the decades old Lithium, Depakote exc. known to leave psychiatric patients with the shakes, compulsive muttering and other bodily tics from necessitated lifetime consumption to  have even the thinnest handle on major psychological illnesses causing widespread violence; we could delve deeper into the findings of institutions such as the Lawlis Peavey neurological center linking neuroscience to negative, dangerous, previously thought incurable, incorrigible, outside prison time, behaviors and their shockingly simplistic cures for those identical negative behaviors housing a neurological basis. When we remove the stigma associated with mental health ailments, when we cast out the shame related to seeking treatment, seeing a mental health professional, when we can offer better, more viable, effective treatments for bipolar and similar disorders, then we can tell them to go only the legal route. Plus, contrary to known propaganda induced beliefs, pot has in its favor for legalization over other drugs, the fact that unlike meth, crack, ecstasy, Salvia, huffing, bath salts, molly composed of drain cleaner and cold pills, comprised of windshield cleaner, things that sound like those you put in your car engine, and probably came from there, it is a naturally growing weed that can be found in the wild virtually worldwide. It carries no measurable cancer risk when smoked, actually less than chemically laced, legal cigarettes; carries a lower risk of addiction than same, dependence only really seen in heavy users. Also, unlike mushrooms, or “shrooms,” the naturally occurring but highly hallucinogenic kind, as opposed to the ones adorning your vegetable soup, pot carries none of the risk of hallucination, panic, paranoia linked to the latter, stronger categories of drugs. Hmm not exactly what Sean Hannity and the society’s going to hell crowd want you to hear, is it?

Let’s face it, we are all a nation of “drug addicts;” the 1950’s nostalgia set needs to get out of their self-imposed time warp thinking, with the exception of illicit drugs, we are mostly substance, chemical free. That isn’t even true of our food sidestepping all the dyes, food colorings, antibiotics and other supposed aids meant to meet our “need” for jumbo chicken breasts, mass produced red meats, pesticides used to keep insects and bugs off what has long been the world’s food supply, those preservatives do hold a purpose, pasteurizing milk helps keep out deadly bacteria, we iodized salt to prevent life threatening, debilitating mineral deficiency, something we are seeing a reoccurrence of in the United Stated thanks to the push to go natural, using alternatives like sea salt; however, not the crux of the issue at hand. What is, everywhere you turn someone is taking a pill for something; our kids take everything A-Z allergy pills, asthma treatments to the aforementioned behavior management drugs for ADD, ODD and the adjacent alphabet soup known in child, adolescent and yes adult psychology today. Mentioned above the medication for heartburn, cholesterol, palliative drugs for high blood pressure, diabetes and related lifestyle illnesses all in grown up medicine cabinets. Nor can we expect doctors to suddenly stop prescribing medicines more than to people who literally come demanding they be given prescription X, but providing access to drugs, medications that have a chance to decrease the risk of death from heart attack, stroke, diabetic complications while patients implement diet and exercise changes needed. Why should our children, ourselves be miserable from allergies when there is an effective management tool, elderly patients become literal walking pharmacies in their later years, yet not to be discounted is the years they usually add to a person’s life, the quality added to those years to see great grandchildren, to be a more active grandparent, to start that third career after standard retirement, hobby turned profit, fulfillment. Neither can we forget people who have a genuinely legitimate diagnosis medical, behavioral, psychological; Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation poignantly taught us that showing her struggle with childhood clinical depression, chronicling evolving uses of the popular antidepressant Prozac and in 1994, the year it was released, marveling we were now giving it to our pets, cats and dogs to reduce separation anxiety, stop compulsive grooming, excessive chewing and household destruction. A patter continuing 20 years later less due to the wussification of America, the drive to peddle happy pills and answering a growing need among both people and animals demonstrated by the Aurora movie theater shooter, the navy yard shooter, the most recent showdown at a Philadelphia hospital where a psychologist possessing a conceal and carry permit plus firearm on his person successfully took down a disturbed individual bent on rampage. Jackson Galaxy, animal behaviorist most known for his Animal Planet show My Cat from Hell, increasingly advising owners to take their animal to the vet for medication to address potential psychological issues, because he can’t begin to confront concerning behaviors, dynamics until he’s interacting with an animal that resembles a cat vs. a hodgepodge of idiosyncrasies he can’t read. Further there is no correlation between pot and violence; here remains a long held myth perpetuated by the members of the morality and decency police, pot being a depressant on the nervous system results in a calming, mellowing effect likely to curb violent tendencies and impulsive behaviors. That being said, shouldn’t we be focusing our resources on the drugs illicit, abuse of prescription forms causing problems for police, disrupting public order, destroying families, eliciting actual addiction; shouldn’t we be focused on the import and sale in the United States of heroin, crack, the import from Russia of a devastating drug known as Krocodile, when used results in literal flesh eating disease costing people limbs in the process? Bath salts were responsible for the homeless man who had the majority of his face chewed off by another man; molly, the newest form of ecstasy, just caused a huge health hazard at DJ concert resulting in hyped, hallucinating people who had to be restrained, it’s getting so bad they can hardy find cops, security to work such venues. Sounds like something far more worthy of our attention than the largely and continually manufactured panic over pot.                     

So, if marijuana is less potent than cigarettes, less socially devastating than alcohol; we know how many deaths are attributed to it yearly, we hear more about people on the sleeping pill Ambien causing wrecks than toking on weed, how did pot become schedule 1 narcotic in the first place? Looking into the history of pot, the prohibition thereof, its listing as a controlled substance, its villainization as a gateway drug, you find some interesting things; chiefly the war on drugs, namely the war on marijuana, was never about the harm drugs could do, sidestepped the moral arguments waged by churches, religious doctrines all and went straight for another common vice, money. You see those responsible for the enforcement of prohibition in the 20‘s and 30’s needed something to keep them on the vastly corrupt police force and the organized crime syndicates needed new product to sell as prohibition was increasingly unpopular and on the verge of a repeal; enter the Hearst, DuPont,Anslinger conspiracy. Hearst the organized crime kingpin not wanting their heyday to end and possessing the biggest newspaper conglomerate of the decade was only too happy to publish the anti-hemp (marijuana derivative) propaganda supported by Mr. DuPont holding several patents on compounds used in paper and related products, understandably against the import of much cheaper hemp which could be the base for identical market competition, in turn threatening his vast empire, finally leading to Mr. Anslinger, government bureaucrat grown fat off the prohibition years wanting to keep himself and the hugely expanded police and other agencies forces employed used this perfect storm of factors to pass what would later be called the Anslinger Act imposing giant taxes on hemp cultivation and importation. Added to what was already transpiring it criminalized growth, sale, most importantly, use of marijuana; mid 1950’s saw a president take up the fight in Dwight D. Eisenhower, under his administration the  federal Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics was created to combat drugs, mandatory minimum sentences adopted a year before he took office were increased. Paving the way for Nixon to call drugs public enemy number one even though sane government officials had already seen fit to regulate, i.e. ban for recreational use, so called harder, obviously harmful drugs opioids, barbiturates, Quaaludes, peyote; though many were just shunted into pills, called medicine and doled out in limited amounts via prescription. Opioids your modern day pain killers Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, barbiturates equal Xanax, Ativan, Valium; LSD (better known as acid), conveniently forgotten, was a military experiment under the project code name MK Ultra testing its effects on a broad range of dubiously informed citizens. Schlosser’s research laid out in his book Refer Madness, playing off the title of the 30’s film brilliantly explains how we went from seeing drugs as an underlying social disease rooted in poverty, economic opportunities, education, side effects of war, conflicts like Vietnam, lack of the positives listed, abundance of the negative, best handled with treatment, to labeling all drug sellers, users dangerous, degenerate wastrels deserving of punishment; only showing how insane those views are instead of emphatically supporting them.  Following Nixon, Regan sweeping all drug users into jail and committing more national resources to stop drug trade, production overseas eventually makes its way to US soil; their mistake apart, from the unethical experiments, was ever including pot in the legitimately dangerous narcotics banned. That marijuana was a drug centered in Mexico served people like Nixon’s agenda perfectly allowing them to justifiably bash unpopular immigrant sections of society even back then, craft totally unjust, discriminatory legal drug policy leading to life in jail for one joint, what today, prior to relaxation of minor possession drug law, would have remained simple possession. A trend repeated with crack cocaine prominent in back ghettos circa the 80’s and 90’s and powder cocaine descending through the ranks of white, affluent suburbia youth, senators kids; same drug, same potency in either state, still sentencing for backs predominately using crack cocaine mandated years in prison, their Caucasian counterparts, usually found in possession of powder cocaine, often getting a diversionary program, treatment and/or a slap on the wrist.

 The 1970’s mindset trickling down through the coming years, decades helped along, helped to reach fever pitch by the same people who demanded prohibition in the early, early 20th century, the religious set of course, good Christian folk, bible believers who wanted eradicate the social evils of alcohol; note two things, there solution was elimination vs. moderation overlaid with education, never mind the bible, via the apostle Paul, doesn’t forbid drinking rather admonishing people to avoid getting drunk on wine, instead to get drunk, immerse themselves in the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, and not surprisingly, they attempted to take the same tact with drugs, targeting almost singularly marijuana, only absent the social evidence to back it up; hints the religious centered scrambling to find a way to rally their congregation, imbue in them sense of urgency, shocked and reeling post their 1950’s victories to encounter the 1960’s counter culture based on free love sexual immorality, wanton use of mind altering substances, long hair, unkempt clothes,  revived the 1930’s propaganda film Refer Madness desperate to pull youth and their possibly duped parents away from “drugs” and into pews. A long standing practice still undertaken today in religious circles, but pot was never proven to be a “gateway,” stepping stone to more dangerous, more addictive, more destructive drugs; regardless, playing devil’s advocate assuming there was the slightest shred of truth to that statement, Whoopi Goldberg discussing the current uproar over marijuana said it best, there will always be another gateway drug. Elaborating she accurately stated people who don’t like the effect gotten from light beer will move to regular, who aren’t getting what they want from pot will try crack, crank; this is a symptom of persons with addictive personalities compounded by high drug tolerances precipitated by heave use. There is likewise a drastic difference between a recreational drug user and someone using drugs to escape problems, people physically addicted to a substance as well as psychologically; further, people who want to get high will habitually find a way. To that end we see Robotripping, downing bottles of cough syrup to get high, we see pharming parties where young people pilfer their parents and grandparents medicine cabinets park them all in a bowl and swallow by the handful, huffing was popular in the 90’s until message got out this too can kill you. Bringing us to tearing down another long held stereotype, there was never any viable correlation between pot and the later graduated use of heroine; an epidemic fueled today by easy, cheap access causing once prescription drug abuses of Oxy, Vicodin category dugs either looking for a better high or a better price to try the extremely addictive heroine, not knowing once you start it is virtually impossible to stop. To say nothing of the heroin addicts who are no longer using to get high, no longer can afford enough drug to achieve sought after bliss, but who shoot up just enough to function, to avoid DDT and alcohol like withdraw symptoms, to stave off potential death sans inpatient rehab monitoring while trying to get off the drug. The single most sweeping failure of the current war on drugs 1970-1980 to present is drug educators, leaders of prevention programs treating all drugs the same, all instantly addictive, physically devastating, rotting teeth, aging skin, resulting in brain damage, wrecking families, rendering people unemployed, imprisoned and uncaring about the entire process. Assuming all drug users are the same, when users, young or old either from personal experience, peer experience or rudimentary observation know that’s a lie; many casual, recreational drug uses look and function normally for years and not everyone who uses drugs is physically or mentally addicted. But it’s easier to say they are, to pretend that is so rather than present a more nuanced message leaving the door open for people who will view the scientific evidence and might use pot disregarding the religious implications. Forget if god was going to be your argument against ganga use, then it was always going to be your argument legal or illegal, parallel to arguments barring premarital sex, also legal but against religious teaching. Problem, long before Dan Brown’s series of fiction books taken as fact rocking faith in an already seen as hypocritical Christian church, any denomination, long before the sexual abuse scandal ridden catholic church had to redeem itself people were tired of being told dancing, wearing pants, makeup and celebrating your own birthday were wrong under “god” making it harder to convert the masses over legally controlling the masses.

One of the things utterly lost on the making marijuana legal means untold multitudes running around stoned, ingesting, consuming, in one way or another, god knows what and now there’s going to be nothing we can do about it crowd is, wait that’s completely wrong, false, like so much else we have been led to believe about pot. Legalization means regulation, legalization means knowing what’s in the product you buy, legalization means licensing for growers, disclosure regarding how their product is made, anything mixed with the plants used to make distinct blends, prohibiting marijuana mixtures that include carcinogenic chemicals, that include lacings with other still controlled substances, creating a far safer experience than the unknown crap bought off the street in the underground, back alley, hiding in plain sight in suburbia drug trade. Complications arising around edible and lesser known forms of pot infused anything and everything accidentally eaten by children, pets, overdoses severe enough to cause death comes from a completely juxtaposed paradox involving government state or federal striving so hard against marijuana, who fought against it becoming a ballot initiative eligible for citizen vote yea or nay, very stupidly turning around and assuming either makers of food based pot consumables, cookies, candy, exc. were going to label products extensively or that people purchasing the products were immediately going to understand what they we buying. And while under its inhibition lowering influence, thusly keep it away from vulnerable little hands, little paws; which group happens to be stoned in the just described scenario? Still states are seeing the issue and acting accordingly, mimicking regulation throughout history tragedy, near misses often a precursor to government intervention; it being wholly unfair to suddenly point to pot in a frenzy expecting something different. Current legalization parameters include age restrictions; you must be 18 to purchase marijuana legally in areas repealing previous law. Time will probably see limits boosted to 21 as it is with alcohol owing to the seriousness of use, the maturity associated with making such a choice; though as with young alcohol drinkers before 21, you see teens who have a better handle on moderation, their limits related to booze than 40, 50 year olds who dag on ought to know better. If legalization is what it takes to stop the pot mania, the pot misinformation, if legalization is what it takes to stop derailing disproportionately young lives, serving long jail sentences for possession, because as many states have revamped their policies on pot alone, there are the ones who haven’t, if legalization is what it takes to stop hampering medical advancement, more power to it; the sooner the better. Subsequently legalization means the novelty will wear off as time goes on; pot usage will be no more novel than a glass of wine with dinner, a relaxing occasional choice at the end of a hard, long day no more consequential than a single beer. Some will even try it because they’re 18 and they can and not like it; oh the horror not like the way it effects them, makes them feel, coming down the equivalent of a hangover and never try it again.                     

Lastly, there will always be social reasons to remain clean and sober, recreationally drug free; independent of legality, there are bosses who won’t want to hire a recreational drug user, sectors of employment that won’t tolerate it less on principle and more on safety grounds; whether that’s fellow employee safety, public safety or a PR matter of company reputation. No one wants to have to worry about their doctor, their pilot having gotten high the night before surgery, a flight, operators of heavy machinery, individuals working with dangerous chemicals need all their faculties and reflexes intact and unimpeded. Contrary to popular fear mongering, social fabric is not suddenly due to disintegrate owing to pot being legal, partly because all other laws haven’t thus become null and void; meaning, though alcohol is legal it is still illegal to drink, be drunk and drive. Standing to reason then you can’t be obviously high, unable to pass a field sobriety test and drive; though you can drink and get drunk, without obligatory jail time, if you are drunk and disorderly, showing signs of public intoxication you will be arrested. Why do we assume it will be any different with legalized pot; if you are causing public disorder, making a scene due to your toking and smoking you will, at minimum, find yourself spending the night in the local police department’s drunk tank. Parents and mentors still have the greatest influence over their children’s, their charge’s choices in imparting family values, strong morals, a sense of right and wrong early on, not just when they get to the age you have to be concerned about drugs; mirroring stances on alcohol, seeing as many religious minded people, not limited to the Christian faith, don’t drink on those grounds, you can still say yes it is legal but here’s why your mother/father and I don’t and we don’t want you to either, here’s why sports, profession X and drugs like pot, like booze don’t mix. Drug abuse prevention educators still have the leverage with high school students to remind them it is illegal to buy, use pot under 18, instill the notion pot isn’t for everyone, like alcohol it might be a good idea to abstain because though it isn’t a given you might be one of those people who the first drink you take, the first joint you smoke, your addicted, how easily it can go from a fun thing, a simple push to relax to needing it all the time to cope with stress, to handle your problems and that there are better, substance free ways to do that. But should you choose to take on the responsibility of trying marijuana, be aware of, yes it is legal high and disorderly is not, being a public nuisance and displaying you are under the influence in public is not. However any such talk is scandalous to those who think the message on alcohol is preferably just say no and it certainly should be with drugs, any drug including the mainly innocuous marijuana.





About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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