There is a whole lotta shaking going on in Colorado, Washington, and Uruguay these days. And it’s all about weed. Even a conservative columnist had to chime in about the big bad scary weed, as if he can revive the Reefer Madness and shockin Aww that made a rather benign plant very valuable, and very illegal for almost a century. I’m reminded of a discussion I once had at a parole hearing.
“If we release you on parole, what do you see yourself doing with your life?”
I responded to the chairman of the Board that we are in the middle of a war. Wars can only be resolved when the opposing parties come to the table and negotiate a peace. These terms need to acknowledge past harms and future relations must allow all people to survive and thrive. The chairman was a bit confused until I used the phrase “Drug War,” officially declared as the Vietnam War ended.
My vision for post-prison was to help negotiate the peace. It is not a war on drugs, but a war against people. As we see the “peace” developing through medical-use marijuana, then turning possession into a municipal fine, and now full-scale legalization, I am still yet to see much of the so-called “enemy” in the drug war invited to the negotiating table. Instead, the government will try a unilateral solution. I once went to a legislative hearing, where many people in suits and uniforms declared their positions and statistics about marijuana. It was clear that some legislators really didn’t know much about selling or smoking pot. It was rather funny.
“But why an ounce? Why are we considering ‘an ounce or less’ for decriminalization? Why not less, or more?”
Nobody had an answer for this arbitrary weight, or even why the preexisting laws around the country are based on any particular weights. When I testified, I announced myself as a former weed dealer, from small bags to large ones, in several different states. I sold my first bag in middle school, when I realized that if I bought an ounce for $200, I could sell eight bags to my buddies for $5 cheaper than they were already paying, and I could smoke for free. And then it took off from there. My testimony then, or in similar circumstances, aren’t about my historical credentials or knowledge of current drug industry players. I, too, share legal and statistical analysis- but I provide context for the issue.
I asked the legislator how much milk he buys when he goes to the store. A gallon? Two? A quart? Basically, we get a week’s worth of milk at the store. We buy the size containers available, whether at the corner bodega or the Winn-Dixie. An ounce of weed is about how much a steady smoker will buy until the next time. They may share some with friends, but a real merchant will buy more than an ounce… unless you’re counting twelve year old kids with the equivalent of a lemonade stand as a “dealer.” Having several small bags of marijuana can be the equivalent of having two gallons of milk for the family; there is no “intent to distribute” the other gallon. Yet drug laws have always presumed that one physical bag might be for a single user, and any second bag must be for sale.
This isn’t my “confession,” in case you were wondering (i.e. the title of this post). My confession is that I should never have quit selling marijuana.
I drank the kool-aid and believed that it was wrong. I used my business savvy and people skills to climb to the top of the heap, as a pot dealer. And then I would quit, as my real dream was never to be a drug lord, but to play football at Harvard and study political science. I dreamed of a dorm room and a meal card, and I could just blend in with the rest of the kids- and nobody had to know the dysfunction I was born into, or that I had nowhere to go on holidays. I never worshipped “Scarface,” or any other drug game fantasy. People around me had no idea of my secret ambitions, and were more accustomed to hearing dreams of a night club and a beach house with parties every night.
So I would quit, go to school, play sports, try out for the school play and not steal anything. Unfortunately, on several occasions, when the security of drug money dried up I wasn’t able to absorb any of the typical challenges I would later realize beset many people in poverty, even as adults. So I would return, penniless and at the bottom. After climbing to the top of modest heaps, I would bemoan being on the wrong heap… again. And fall for the rhetoric that being a “drug dealer” is so terrible.
When it came time to go to college (at Boston University rather than Harvard), it was difficult to fill out the financial aid paperwork because it wasn’t about me, but parents who were not in my life. I didn’t even know that one of them was already dead. I didn’t have a list of people to help sort out “normal” life, despite my ability to deftly deal with the underground economy and social structures. Unfortunately, I had no stack of cash either.
“None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.”
― Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
I’ll push back on my fellow playwright and say I haven’t lost my true self forever. However, a series of events can amazingly take an entirely different direction based on what may seem like the simplest choices. And sometimes, that choice may not always appear as the “right” choice.