Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Eric Schlosser - Reefer Madness

Recently, I began reading Eric Schlosser's "Reefer Madness". You may recognize Schlosser's name from his book "Fast Food Nation". I have found the book so far to be very intriguing. Although I am less than half way through the book, Schlosser's intent is to investigate how marijuana, pornography and illegal migrant workers are driving forces in our economy. In Schlosser's first chapter on marijuana, he compares how users of different economic and social status are treated by the criminal justice system:

"In 1997, Gary Martin was arrested in Manchester, CT and charged with possession of marijuana. Almost twenty years earlier, he'd been severely beaten in a robbery, resulting in permanent brain damage. After the beating he endured a series of strokes that left his right side paralyzed. He developed circulatory problems, and his left leg was amputated. Martin began to smoke marijuana to relieve the "phantom" pains from his amputated leg. After being arrested for possessing less than four ounces of pot, he was evicted from his apartment at a special (federal) housing complex for elderly and disabled." (Schlosser 2003)

Compare this experience to:

" In 1990 Congressman Dan Burton introduced legislation requiring the death penalty for all drug dealers. 'We must educate our children about drugs', Burton said, 'and impose tough new penalties on dealers.' Four years later, his son was arrested while transporting nearly 8 pounds of marijuana from Texas to Indiana. Burton hired an attorney for his son. While awaiting trial in that case, Danny Burton II was arrested again, only five months later, for growing thirty marijuana plants in his Indianapolis apartment. Police also found a shotgun in the apartment. Under federal law Danny Burton faced a possible mandatory sentence of five years in prison for just the gun, plus three years in prison under state law for the pot. Federal charges were never filed against Burton, who wound up receiving a milder sanction: a term of community service, probation and house arrest." (Schlosser 2003)

As I was reading this, I began to think some more about crime and who it really targets. Schlosser has at least five more examples of high ranking government officials whose children had much more marijuana than Gary Martin, and who were never sentenced to the harsh punishments their own fathers had fought for in Congress. Why is it okay for a poor or working class person to be sentenced to life in prison for possession of a small amount of marijuana, yet a senator's son who is selling pounds of pot to other dealers gets off with community service? This is yet another example of how crimes are written to target the poor, and how those in power are able to manipulate the criminal justice system.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope to have more posts before I finish it. Schlosser also talks about how prostitution, marijuana, and illegal migrant workers are fueling our economy, and how without them, our economy would collapse. He also points out that currently more money is spent on illegal drugs in our country than tobacco, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Food for thought...

31 Comments:

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Interesting post. This book sounds like it has selections that could be used as good teaching tools for poverty and crime (as well as the political, functional, and relative nature of deviance). I think it would likely interest students and provide them with material to cut their critical teeth, or simply chew on. What are your impressions on this Carolyn?

I think the "war on drugs" provides great material for a Foucauldian analysis in that trying to eradicate illicit drugs has contributed to the incessant legal drug commercials (in which much of the time is spent on listing possible side effects). They attempt to convince consumers that something is wrong with them, in which case they need the drugs.

I'm interested in what Anna thinks about this too.

 
At 9:52 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

I've noted the barrage of drug commercials, especially in conjunction with the national news. " Ask your doctor" - LOL - yeh right, ask your doctor, who will refer you to a specialist who then will refer you back to your family doctor after telling you what the TV has suggested is wrong with you. I do fail to note a parallel universe however with illicit drugs. Dealer as Doctor? I don't think so, though both are essentially commercial enterprises and respond to real and perceived needs of the conusmer - hmmm, maybe there are more similiar dynamics than I am willing to concede here - the allure of pot vs the allure of say nexium? talk about fodder for ongoing sociological debate....

 
At 9:52 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

I've noted the barrage of drug commercials, especially in conjunction with the national news. " Ask your doctor" - LOL - yeh right, ask your doctor, who will refer you to a specialist who then will refer you back to your family doctor after telling you what the TV has suggested is wrong with you. I do fail to note a parallel

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

One can look at vehicles of oppression and find similiarities in the analogy of Dealer as Doctor. Back when Narcs were on the prowl, 'freaks' would huddle ( i am dating myself here, folks) in low rent apartments and sleeping rooms and student unions and cafes - they always had a tight look about them, sort of an isolated feeling about them, sort of loners with an air of suspicion and not knowing and fear lingering in their auras. Well, by God, just go to a large metropolitan hospital some time and wander into the various areas for testing and assessment and x-raying, etc and one will note an identical air about those hapless folks, dependent on some doctor for a fix to make them feel better - not knowing what to expect, what will be 'coming down heavy on them' , feeling alone and isolated and fearful. Hey! the waiting rooms ain't filled with laughter and jolly good times, now are they!? Given the high rate of liability settlements the medical profession endures each year, the alarming rate of improper diagnosis' and the administration of wrong medications and wrong doseages, and the number of diseases contracted in the medical community at large, one can safely conclude that indeed, there are serious elements of oppression at play. I'm not even going to allude to the financial oppression visited upon our nation's many health addicts. The poor devils need help, no doubt - we all agree to that. One must querry, how many health addicts are selling blood to sustain their dependence on Doctors? Are some stealing? Has the mortgage payment been shorted to placate those nagging stomach ulcers...hmmm??? Has Junior's college fund be squandered on Specialists? We see the flash and cash doctors have - nobody calls them Common Joe anymore, now do they?? Yeh, they roll by in their Lexus and we know who they are.

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Provocative comments Goesh. I guess you are making a case for comparative ethnographies of hospital waiting room culture and coffee house "freak"(I'm not sure what this is) culture? I had not considered this, or even the roles of doctors as dealers...

I was only looking at how the "war on drugs" is a war to eradicate the use of drugs...as long as they are labeled illicit. While at the same time everywhere you turn there are drug commercials (could we say "pushers"?), recommending the use of particular drugs - followed by a list of warnings, then another commercial advising us as to the horrible effects of illicit drugs.

I'm not well read on this, and I'm sure someone out there has already looked at this debate. So if anyone has any good references or insight... It is an interesting thought excercise at the very least.

 
At 5:15 PM, Blogger Goesh said...

A freak, back then, was one who suscribed to the mores of the drug/counter culture, and who used 'drugs' - alas, they engaged in reefer madness much to the dismay of the silent majority, a popular buzz word used to invoke and reinforce social policy(s). This was a self proclaimed title, perhaps brought on by reefer madness. The term "head" was also used by denizens of the counter culture world, back then.

Another analogy to be considered in the Dealer as Doctor paradox is symptomology. One would 'crash' after indulging in reefer and other assorted madness, much like like having a reaction to the wonder drugs of today. Trading a headache to relieve an upset stomach is no different than 'crashing'. Having a 'bum trip' was another acronym used to describe a side affect or reaction to 'bad drugs'. Word would spread that so-and-so was selling bad dope, just as today wherein the user is alerted to possible bad affects. In holding true to the analogy, recipients and particiapants on both ends of this spectrum are/were having real and perceived needs met by a dispensing agent - improvement in general functioning, enhancement of well being,etc. The allure and power and mystery connected to dealers is of the same vein and strength as associated with modern doctors - both approachable in presribed ways with specific rituals of engagement to be adhered to. This analogy can continue on. Perhaps only in the mechanisms of control are the two separated and distinguised. Just as some drug dealers are taken off the streets, so too does the AMA remove bad practitioners - there is enforcement, and i contend that only in the enforcement do we distinguish between reefer madness and the latest advances in modern medicine. Dealers do not have a need to forewarn their patients, knowing that dependency is a self fullfilling prophecy, but modern medicine must forewarn, and that alone legitimizes the transactions. To not forewarn is then to assume responsibility for the dependency built on modern drugs. People would would begin to question and challenge the validity of the adage that the doctor knows best - that is the real danger of reefer madness.

 
At 6:57 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

From The Newspaper: "Alternative Medicines More Popular in U.S."
Associated press/Daniel Yee
(synopsis)
Our government surveys 31,000 citizens and informs us that 62% of US adults have used some form of alternative medicine, including prayer as form of alternative medicine. A new acronym has been coined too - CAM (constipated and mad?) no, Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. How about using this acronym? NDS - Non Doctor Stuff, but, they didn't ask me.

What surprised me with this survery is that 13% of the repondents said they used alternatives because conventional medicine was too expensive. I would have thought this statistic would have been considerably higher- so much for griping about costly doctor bills. Why all the hoopla and hollering about high costs then? Are consumers getting less bang for the buck, as they say? Is the real rub a willingness to pay but serious dissatisfaction with the end result? To use an autmobile analogy, are we often getting a lemon when we visit the doctor? One could speculate that this is the case, given the data of this survey.

Another interesting statistic was 26% of the respondents reported that alternative medicines had been recommended by conventional medical professionals. Excuse me for being skeptical, but I just don't see the AMA condoning this at all. It is a gleeful statistic. Glee over quantitative analysis? Good grief, am I skewed or what? On the one hand, perhaps this is nothing more than good old yankee ingenuity at play here, self determination, pulling one's self up by the ol' bootstraps - remember all the jingoism and myths that have been pretty much debunked? ...maybe not...
Are doctors viewing alternatives as placebos, thus demonstrating a willingness to advocate their use? You know, old Mr. Smith is confused and slowly fading towards the morgue, and if he really believes some herbs are going to help, what's the harm? Lets humor him a bit and make him happy. the latter and former may be equally at play here. The survey did not address the particulars of its methodolgy, as usual, but rather dumps numbers on us and we are expected to believe and quote as I have just done.

Returning to my statement about the AMA not relishing 26% of their flock straying to the herb camp, I recall a situation that occured up in North Dakota years ago. There was a fellow with a Socialist bent who decided to run for Insurance Commissioner. The main plank of his platform was putting a cap on medical costs. Byron, that was his name, managed to scrape up $36,000 for his campaign. The AMA put out $1,000,000.00 for his opponent! My god! they had Nuns actually singing songs on the radio about how all the doctors would leave North Dakota if Byron were to be elected. Astute observors were quick to point out that the fleeing doctors certainly would not be heading North to socialized medicine in Canada. Needless to say, Byron was not elected, but he did make a darn good showing.

In closing, the survey did not include the use of illicit medication - the street psychotropics and stimulants and depressants. Well! things must be properly categorized, mustn't they? I guess the intrinsic boundaries set by the terms Legal and Recreational would have overly complicated the methodology of the survery.

 
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