Letters from Berkeley

BY ALLISON MARGOLIN

“Put it in your eye.”

A security guard at a popular SF rave club is pointing to eye drops she has taken from my pocket.

I ask her why.

She says that club-goers try to use eye drop bottles to conceal GHB, a drug whose effect has been characterized as everything from alcohol-like to “a mix between alcohol and Ecstasy but with more control than you have on either.”

So why make the potential GHB possessors administer the drug to themselves, and why through their eyes?

Because, silly, GHB has been known to cause blindness when it comes in contact with the eye.

I asked the security guard how she felt about the prospect of unknowing GHB users following her instructions. She shrugged and said they usually know. Of course I didn’t know and the rave drug websites I checked out didn’t say anything about blindness.

What’s going on here? The club, through its actions, has shown that it is more concerned with keeping a drug off its premises than it is about causing its customers to go blind. And the club’s behavior is not unique; it is representative of a government and culture that enforces laws in the name of protecting people from themselves but in doing so flagrantly disregards their health and happiness.

There can be no clearer or more relevant example of this phenomenon than the federal government’s raids on San Francisco cannabis clubs this week. On February 12, the day the government and nation were on “high terrorist alert,” the Drug Enforcement Administration shut down the Sixth Street Harm Reduction Center in San Francisco, a club which distributed medical marijuana and assisted patients who grew their own marijuana in accordance with California law.

I don’t understand. If the government wants to up the stakes on the drug war, why don’t they bust the headquarters of the alleged international terrorist organizations importing drugs? Why are they wasting their time with California weed, one of the only items of commerce whose production often occurs entirely within one state? Why raid medical marijuana distribution centers, places that support the very type of marijuana user — the physically sick — that solicits the most sympathy from the average American.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think that using marijuana for a non-medical reason should be a crime. I don’t. The truth is that I think the physical benefits to medical marijuana users occur largely through the drug’s interaction with the intellectual and emotional parts of the mind. It’s the mind controlling the body.

But my view is not the reigning one. If one favors marijuana for anything, it is for its medical application.

On a political level, the government’s strategy for attacking marijuana use doesn’t make sense. The only explanation I can imagine is the main reason I am not optimistic about the likelihood of federal marijuana legalization. And my theory, in its most abstract and simplistic form, is this: Someone in the federal government appreciates marijuana’s ability to de-stabilize users’ respect for institutions. And maybe, although I haven’t watched the news for a while so I can’t say for sure, the government is worried that people will become conscious of all the crazy things (email snooping and other eviscerations of the Fourth Amendment, for example) they are trying to pull in the name of fighting terrorism. The government is worried because it is naturally among the most paranoid of all American institutions. In order to be politicians, people have to think the world revolves around them. That’s probably in fact why, when politicians experiment with weed, they can’t appreciate it; it makes them more paranoid. And in their natural hyper-paranoid state, they’re imagining the worst — rebellion, or maybe just the end of all the patriotism, or maybe the end of what my friend Devorah calls the “smoke and mirrors.”

It could be just another Berkeley-style conspiracy theory. Then again, I was just asked to put a potentially blinding substance in my eye to prevent me from taking the substance into a location although the probabilities are that I would administer the drug to myself in a way that would have much less harmful consequences. So, yes, I may be crazy, paranoid, a conspiracy theorist, but then again, the rest of the world seems far crazier than I am.

With Inspiration from Devorah Cohen, Boalt ’02

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