Dear Shelby, Jacob, Cody, Teanna, Sierra, Deon, Derrick, Hailey, Gunnar, Christian, Matej, Jonovan, Flora, Natael, and Trey’Shawn,
It’s both wonderful and rare that we’re all together so I’m sending you this letter to let you know I love you. Like all parents and grandparents I want you to live long and healthy lives. Like all people everywhere you have to deal with many challenges in life, including dealing with drugs.
I can’t tell you my perspective about drugs without being honest about my own drug use over the years. The first drug I tried was at age seven when my parents served me wine on a Friday night as part of a Jewish Seder. Drinking a little wine as part of a meal was standard practice in our home. In college I tried marijuana. I didn’t like to smoke, since my parents both smoked cigarettes, so someone made me a marijuana brownie. I got a bit “stoned” and giggled and laughed a lot. I tried LSD a few times after college, which was fun and gave me a mystical experience, but a few times was enough for me.
Some people assume that since we live in the hills of Mendocino County I grow and sell marijuana. I don’t. I still drink wine on occasion with a meal, but that’s the only drug I use these days. As you know I’ve been a counselor for more than 40 years and have treated both kids and adults who have problems with drugs. Drug abuse can be very harmful for some people, even though most people who use drugs, including marijuana, don’t have a problem with it.
Most everything people hear about drugs is about the problems. We rarely hear about the majority of people who don’t have problems. We know that most people drink responsibly, but what we hear most about in the news are problem drinkers and drug abusers. It might surprise you to know that the United Nations Office on Drug Control, the global coordinator of the war on drugs, says that only 10% of drug users ever have a problem with their substance. 90% of people don’t have a problem.
I’d prefer that all of you wait until you are an adult and your brain is fully formed before trying any drugs whether we’re talking about alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, marijuana, LSD, or any other drug. However, I know that some of you have already tried one or more drugs and some of you will experiment before you are twenty-one.
I’ll tell you a quick story about your uncle J (one of our five children). When he was a teenager we had a talk about drugs. I bought him a book, which I felt was the best at the time, by a respected physician Andrew Weil, M.D. It’s called From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs. Unlike most books, Dr. Weil tells the truth about the negative and the positive sides of drug use and more importantly tells people how to be safe with whatever drugs they use in their lives, whether it’s a drug like alcohol or a drug like marijuana. Uncle J shared the book with all his friends and they all learned the truth about drugs and how to stay in right-relationship with any drugs they might choose to use.
Obviously, alcohol is a legal drug and marijuana is an illegal drug. I’ll tell you honestly, I think our current drug laws and our current “wars on drugs” do more harm than good. I’m a lot more worried about how the drug laws will harm you than about how drugs will harm you (though even if only 10% of you have a problem with drugs, it means, on average, one or two of you could develop a drug problem some time in your lives). I’d rather have you get treatment if you develop a problem, than have you end up in jail.
Drug wars have been going on for a long time. It’s really misleading to call them “drug wars.” It would be more accurate to call them “wars on certain people who frighten the people in power.” If you study history like I have, you’ll learn that the first anti-opium laws in the 1870s were directed at Chinese immigrants. The first anti-cocaine laws, in the South in the early 1900s, were directed at African American men. The first anti-marijuana laws, in the Midwest and the Southwest in the 1910s and 1920s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. Today, Latino and especially Black communities are still arrested more often and sentenced more harshly than Caucasian communities.
When we talk about drugs, it’s hard to know who is telling the truth and who you can trust. Matthew Fogg is a former US Marshal and drug enforcement agent. When he asked why so many poorer, African-American communities were being targeted rather more affluent Caucasian communities, this is what his superior told him. It was a rare admission of truth:
“You know, if we go out there and start messing with those folks, they know judges, they know lawyers, they know politicians. You start locking their kids up; somebody’s going to jerk our chain. They’re going to call us on it, and before you know it, they’re going to shut us down, and there goes your overtime.”
After he retired Fogg, joined the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Founded on March 16, 2002, LEAP is a nonprofit organization made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies. You won’t believe their web-address: www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com. Here’s what they have to say:
- We believe that drug prohibition is the true cause of much of the social and personal damage that has historically been attributed to drug use.
- It is prohibition that makes these drugs so valuable–while giving criminals a monopoly over their supply.
- Driven by the huge profits from this monopoly, criminal gangs bribe and kill each other, law enforcers, and children.
- Prohibition costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year, yet 40 years and some 40 million arrests later, drugs are cheaper, more potent and far more widely used than at the beginning of this futile crusade.
- We believe that sending parents to prison for non-violent personal drug use destroys families.
- We believe that in a regulated and controlled environment, drugs will be safer for adult use and less accessible to our children.
- And we believe that by placing drug abuse in the hands of medical professionals instead of the criminal justice system, we will reduce rates of addiction and overdose deaths.
When drugs are legalized we’ll all be better off. It will make it easier to do research and find ways that drugs can improve our health. Even a drug like marijuana has been shown to have important ingredients that can help people with certain health problems. Another great book that you will find super interesting is by a journalist named Johann Hari. It’s called Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
So, thanks for listening to me. I’m sure there is much more to say and you may have questions to ask me. Know that I’ll answer as best I can and will tell you the truth. I love you.