So, I pay the image conscious no mind and I try to speak at the Fourth of July Hemp Festival put on every year by John Pylka and a lot of other good people, across from the White House in Lafayette Park. Besides, where else can I get around 3,000 people to listen to what I have to say at one time? In 1996 I talked Harry Browne into speaking there and I will always be grateful to him for making me look so look good. Another year I watched the late and much missed Ron Crickenberger auction off Slick Willie’s Weed Sack. Some of the best Libertarian outreach I ever saw occurred there and I also heard many great bands. My favorite year was 1997 when I took a page from the movie Network and got the crowd to yell at the President's house"we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore." In the overall scheme of things that act had very little effect but man it sure felt good. The following is part of my speech for today. Unfortunately, a downpour of rain kept me from giving it.
My friend Jeffery Stonehill does a performance where he talks about America’s drug of war. I think he is right, we are now engaged in a plethora of wars both real and metaphorical. We have a war on poverty, a war on drugs, a war on indecency, a war on terrorism, a war in Afghanistan, and a war in Iraq to name but a few. Now the latter two are real wars with people dying and being maimed on a daily basis, however, they are also metaphors. These terms are metaphorical because there is no such thing as Iraq or Afghanistan. There are only people living in these geographic designations and our wars are with them.
Just as it is people who die in Iraq, it is people whom all too often die in the war on drugs. War on drugs is a misleading figure of speech; in reality it is a war on people who use certain kinds of drugs. Now, the American people must have a powerful need for these wars if they know that these conflicts will result in the loss of life or liberty for many people yet they still continue countenance them. The question is are the American people naturally warlike or is their need and acquiesce created by the entity that benefits most from war? Is it the people who seek the drug of war or does the State crave it?
I do not believe that the American people have natural desire for the horrible things that are being done in their names while the government prosecutes these wars. The government, time and time again, has manipulated them into accepting atrocities both large and small. The people have been maneuvered by the State into tolerating policies of war that are directly against their own self-interest because as Robert Higgs so ably argues in Crisis and Leviathan a time of war is also a time of growth for the State.
The history of two of these wars, the war in Iraq and the war against people who use Cannabis Hemp, illustrates the above point quite well. The parallels between the ways in which these two confrontations came to be part of our daily lives, accepted by large numbers of people, are quite strong. In both cases the State used its most powerful motivator fear.
In her 1928 book, Dope the Story of the Living Dead, author Hearst writer Winifred Black wrote “And the man under the influence of hasheesh catches up his knife and runs through streets hacking and killing everyone he meets.” On the same page, forty-two, she asserted “You can grow enough marijuana in a window box to drive the whole population of the United States stark, staring, raving mad.” The people living in America during the 1920s and 1930s allowed smoking marijuana to become a criminal offense because they believed the State and its handmaiden the press who told them that using Cannabis made individuals insane, violent, and dangerous. The government lied to the people to make them afraid. The months before America’s recent invasion of Iraq featured a constant stream of government officials talking about the danger posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell told the world that Hussein sought yellowcake uranium in Africa. These assertions went largely unquestioned by the media. Once again facts that were not true caused fear and acceptance.
When the LaGuardia Commission proved conclusively that using marijuana does not cause violence or insanity and when the occupation of Iraq failed to produce any WMDs the State instantly changed the rationale for its actions. The government began to argue that marijuana must be prohibited because its use led to heroin addiction. They did this despite the fact that their own expert on narcotics, Harry Anslinger, explicitly testified before a Congressional Committee in 1937 that the “stepping stone theory” held no validity. It did not matter to the government, when it told the American people that marijuana use and heroin use had a cause and effect relationship, that it did not have any mechanistic explanation or data to back up this contention. Just as it did not matter to the Bush Administration that secularist Hussein and religious fanatic Bin Laden were mortal enemies who could never trust each other or work together when they argued for an Iraqi 9-11 connection.
This second set of justifications fared no better than the first and it became necessary for the State to come up with a third. Now the reason individuals must still be imprisoned if they use marijuana is because it will make them lazy and apathetic. This reason is the exact opposite of the first reason, although it is just as untrue. Never mind that millions of people use marijuana and lead successful energetic lives. And, now the explanation for us being in Iraq is the building of a free and democratic nation. The exact opposite of the no nation building policy George Bush promised when he was campaigning in 2000. Never mind that sovereignty for Iraq means fourteen American military bases and a large stack of American non-negotionable edicts the new government must obey.
We are told by the State neither of these two wars can end. If we legalize marijuana the country will be awash with drugs. Yet, you cannot watch television for more than ten minutes anymore without seeing an advertisement for some powerful legal pharmaceutical anti-depressant or stimulant such as Prozac, Paxil, or Ritalin. Most of these drugs are infinitely more problematic than Cannabis. We are told that we cannot just leave Iraq because if we do that land will descend into chaos. Yet everyday brings a new explosion or beheading and the mass of people there live in increasing poverty without basic services. When our helicopters shoot up an innocent wedding party do we really believe we can escape retribution for such actions?
From these two examples, it becomes clear that the always changing reasons for and horrific consequences of war are not important to the State. What is important for the State is that wars continue to exist and that it continues to grow. It is like someone who is enthralled with a drug and does not care why they started using or how they will end up if they persist. The American people must intervene, soon before it is no longer possible, and take the State, which they ultimately control, off the drug of war.