Sunday, December 21, 2008
1999 Guest Column for High Times Magazine
Pot, Protest and Passion:
A Challenge to do Better
BY NORM KENT
The following guest editorial column appeared in High Times Magazine, its 25th anniversary edition on June 1, 1999.
Today I call upon the readers of High Times to do more than just get high.
Forgive me. I am one of those freeze-dried, 1960's activists whose body has aged, but whose blood still breathes civil disobedience, righteous dissent, and spiritual protest. After a half century on this planet, I have come to treasure the students of the Age of Aquarius, not only for the deeds we accomplished as young Americans, but because of who we were and what we believed. You, today's young readers of High Times, are not us. You do not measure up to us. Not even close.
Three decades ago, thousands of young people, students on college campuses across this country banded together to form a spiritual army that no police force could wrest asunder. It is not just that we fought for the decriminalization of marijuana with smoke-ins on college campuses, and not just that our protests helped end a war. Our collective spirit immobilized the repressive power structure. Our aggressive assertion of equal rights for our own stalled the proliferation of power solely for the mighty.
As we approach the New Millennium, a frightful era of repression infects our being. Our hearts should be revolutionary. Our souls should be boiling. Today's students, however, are not motivated, socially conscious, or visionary. You are the quiet puppets of social ringleaders who abuse your rights daily.
On campus after campus, zero tolerance policies for even minimal amounts of marijuana are causing students to face disciplinary sanctions that include expulsion for first, personal, private use. In secondary schools, your rights are even further diminished. School officials are allowed random searches of your properties and person without even a shred of probable cause. But if they find a loose joint, your academic career may forever be scathed. Instead of defiance and insurrection, only silent acquiescence invades the corridors of learning. You are not being taught. You are being led
In legislature after legislature, students who are found guilty of marijuana law violations are discovering that they are now ineligible for student aid, scholarships, and loans. Light up today and be a janitor tomorrow. Get caught with pot in your car and your driver's license is suspended for two years in Florida. Get caught driving drunk and you only get a six month suspension that can be immediately waived with a work permit. The high ball and the martini crowd still rules.
In city after city, private employers and government agencies are proudly adopting attitudes and policies for a 'drug free work place.' That means take all the abusive prescription drugs you want, from percodan to prozac, and you are okay. Smoke a joint and you are history. You are measured not by the quality of your work but by the quantity of THC in your urine. Office Depots across America have banners that read: "We drug test all our employees ! "
Maybe we ought to make them drug test all their customers before they take our money: "Sorry, Mr. Kent, we would love to sell you this new three thousand dollar desk, but you just tested positive for pot...." Don't hold your breath. Exhale. A hypocritical president could not. You should.
Speaking of the President who has pricked our consciousness, on no greater policy than marijuana law reform has the Oxford-educated Mr. Clinton been a social hypocrite. For eight years now, he has maintained a ban on even medicinal use of marijuana for critically ill patients, even those who were once fortunate enough to legally acquire pot through a federally sponsored compassionate use program. He is also signing federal prohibition bills that prove he is screwing students and interns in more than just the Oval Office.
Using driver's license revocations as weapons against teenagers, law enforcement officials are now making informants out of scared teenagers. Parents are getting turned in by their own kids. If after executing a warrant the authorities find pot in a home, parents are finding themselves charged with reckless endangerment. Their children are being removed from the home and turned over to colossally misguided and mismanaged social service agencies. Welcome to the New Millenium, maybe without your mother, father, or children.
Sure, most parents do not want their kids to smoke dope. But they don't want their kids to go to jail for doing so either. They want the law out of their living rooms. They don't want their kids going to jail for lighting a joint. And they certainly don't want to lose a custody battle because they light up. The policy of denying parents' custody of their children because they toke is the Millenium's new version of Reefer Madness. And you thought Harry Anslinger was dead.
Get pulled over for a traffic ticket, and you find canine units sniffing your car. If the dog alerts, not only can your car be seized, but any cash you have on you as well. Forfeiture was last socially popular in the Dark Ages in feudal times, when the King seized a serf's land and threw him out of the castle. Today, our government not only has the right to arrest you, but your money and property too. Then you have to prove it was lawfully yours. To do that you now have to spend money you no longer have to hire a lawyer you may not be able to afford. Innocent until proven guilty? It makes good copy for a textbook, but it is not real life any longer.
The bottom line is that more people are smoking and growing their own pot than ever before. Call it American ingenuity, but we were not going to grow it in open fields only to let our government spray paraquat on it. So the pot movement has gone indoors, and everyone tends to their little closet garden. So the powers that be now do garbage pulls, infrared searches, thermal imaging, and electronic surveillance to detect whether or not the devil weed is blossoming in your home. They subpoena High Times advertisers for their credit card records. They tap your phones, search your utility records, and inspect your trash. And what are we doing about it? Watching John Glenn land in a Space Shuttle ?
The truth is we have become all too apathetic. Comfortable that pot is socially acceptable, we have forgotten all too often that it is still legally unacceptable. Quietly, we look the other way as a half million Americans still get arrested every year. Silently, we roll our joints on the way home from work, but we don't do smoke-ins, protests, or politics. We have become the new silent majority, tolerating a social injustice that we see being played out across America daily. In ballot boxes, we have let government know enough is enough, and medical marijuana initiatives have passed in eight states in eight tries. But government won't listen. We are like the vegetarian citizens of H.G. Well's 'Time Machine', looking the other way as our colleagues drown.
The movement needs you. We need you in corporate boardrooms, university senates, legislative bodies, and city commissions. We need you to say that the laws against pot are wrong and you will not stand for them. We need you to put your body and soul on the line to make a difference. Thirty years ago, thousands of us did. We made the world a better place to be. But the cause and movement is a continuing battle.
Tolerate the silence of today and you create the repression that foils you. Students across America need to unite again; need to mobilize into a social force that will make us care more about all of us. We need to stand up, light up and be counted. Everywhere I go, I am greeted by people, young and old, who say how cool the gold pot leaf necklace I wear around my neck is. But it is not enough to wear hemp clothes or a pot leaf. We have got to carry the message of what that symbolizes.
To the students of America, I say this: 'Don't come up to me anymore, as I tour college campuses, lecturing about social injustice, and ask me what it was like to live in the sixties. Make your own sixties happen. There are battles to be won, causes worth fighting for, and shattered lives yearning to be saved. Remember, the drug war is a war against people. You could be the next casualty. Defend yourself as a free person today, so you will not be calling your mother to bond you out of jail tomorrow.
Get angry. Get high. Make a difference......