There’s a great scene in “Breaking Bad” where Walt White and Hank, his DEA brother-in-law, discuss the thin line between what’s legal and what’s not. And that even good people can topple over sometimes onto the wrong side of the line for the simplest of things.
Much has been made of Robin Williams’ on and off drug problems and struggle with alcohol, but I would suggest when he decided to end it all he was straight.
On October 28, 1919 – a date that will live in infamy if not the annals of stupidity – the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act over President Wilson’s veto and prohibited the sale of alcohol to the public. And what was the effect of that? It made gangsters like Al Capone very wealthy men. By 1925, in New York alone, there were, estimated, between 30,000 and 100,000 speakeasy clubs. The moral of the story? If people want something bad enough they’ll get it. Making it illegal just insures that you have to pay inflated prices for it and deal with criminals and underworld characters that brings with it its own dangers.
When Hollywood previewed the Brian DePalma remake of “The Untouchables” they found they had a major problem with it. The audience were rooting for Al Capone over the do-good law enforcement Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness. And why not? The latter was hell-bent on denying the public booze. So the studio had to shoot an extra scene early in the movie that showed Capone’s men placing a bomb in a store that wouldn’t pay protection money and a little kid was killed, thus turning the audience’s sympathy from Capone to Eliot Ness.
So, in those dim dark ages, if you knocked three times on a speakeasy door and gave the right password, you were let in to have a scotch or a gin or whatever alcoholic beverage you were seeking. Oh, and you were considered a criminal.
Alcohol was banned to stop people over-indulging. That’s like banning food because some people over-eat. I think it’s always a very dark and sinister act when the government attempts to control what should be, in a free society, one’s personal choice and responsibility.
I would argue that cigarettes have killed more people than alcohol. Why don’t we ban those? And how ineffective would that be? Again, we’d just give a lot of criminals a new business opportunity and make them a fortune. And we’d end up paying $100 for a pack of cigarettes.
In 1922, during the alcohol prohibition years, cocaine was also banned and thus another substance, that had been legal and freely available, was given over to the underworld to boost their pockets.
The celebrated Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, himself a cocaine user, prescribed the substance to his patients believing it was a cure for depression and sexual impotence. In 1884 he published an article “Uber Coca” which promoted the “benefits” of cocaine, calling it a “magical” substance.
In 1886 it got a further boost when John Pemberton included coca leaves as an ingredient in his new soft drink, Coca-Cola. This new drink was also considered to be, ironically, a cure for a hangover caused by an over-indulgence in alcohol.
During the early 1900s, cocaine and opium-laced elixirs (magical or medicinal potions), tonics and wines were broadly used by people of all social standings. Notable figures who promoted the “miraculous” effects of cocaine included inventor Thomas Edison and actress Sarah Bernhardt.
By 1905 it became popular to snort it. By 1912 The United States government reported 5000 related deaths in one year due to an over-use of cocaine. By 1922 it was officially banned, which, when news reached Sherlock Holmes of this it probably resulted in his suicide by throwing himself off the Reichenbach Falls.
So, like alcohol, it was not the substance itself that was lethal but rather some people’s over-use of it.
Did you know if you drink too much water you can die from it? All we need is 5000 of us to do that in any one year and perhaps they’ll ban that too.
What I’m getting at is where does one’s own personal responsibility come into it? And where’s the line where the government intervenes into our lives and criminalizes something because some people are over-indulging?
I used to listen to a talkback radio guy in L.A who was a Libertarian. Their political philosophy upholds liberty as the principal objective. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association and the primacy of human judgment.
A woman’s debate about the right to abortion is that “it is my body and the government does not own it and anything I wish to do with it should be my choice and not theirs.”
Well then, it you want to take that debate further, and not that much further, isn’t it also correct that if I own my own body then I should be allowed to do whatever I want with it? Is it not my own personal choice if I want to drink a gallon of scotch, or shoot up heroin, or snort cocaine, smoke a carton of cigarettes, or my smelly socks for that matter? And if I’ve had enough of this life isn’t it also my right to end it? Surely it only becomes a matter for law enforcement is we are intoxicated, or high or suicidal and get behind the wheel of a car? Because by doing that we are putting other people’s lives at stake. People who have chosen to want to live. Then, of course, it becomes a concern for society at large.
John Lennon once had a hit with a song that said, “Whatever gets you through the night is alright…”
I try to get through this life attempting to be as non-judgmental of others as possible. Unless of course they steal from me or attempt to harm me. If someone is struggling and needs prescription drugs to get through, or need to self-medicate themselves with something that makes them feel better, what business is it of ours? My sympathy is with them that they need it, and also my prayers. But to judge Robin Williams or Jim Morrison or Heath Ledger or Elvis or any of the millions of people out there is an act of arrogance and shows a severe lack of empathy for the pain they may be carrying. Perhaps those people who sit in judgment in their ivory towers need to come down and fuck themselves.
How do you end the drugs wars and get rid of the criminal element in one swift and effective move? You legalize it. At least then there would be some monitor on exactly what people are taking and what amount. And perhaps if it is noticed that some are in such pain they are over-indulging then maybe some counseling could be recommended. But again, it would be one’s personal choice as to whether they accepted that or not.
In California now and in some other U.S. states “pot” is legal with a medical prescription. Have people gone mad with it? Of course not. They buy what they need to get them through the week and go home. Like buying a 6 pack of beer.
Believe it or not Richard Nixon was the first President that believed drug addicts should not be treated as criminals but instead needed counseling. It would certainly free up law enforcement officers to focus on more important crimes, like people murdering each other. Or the next terrorist attack.
And besides, I would’ve thought the Government would prefer us all to be medicated anyway, so that our anger would be numbed to what idiots they are.
Anyway, just thinkin’ out loud.
(c) Frank Howson 2014