I guess you could say that socially, I was a late bloomer. It didn't help that I grew up in the sticks of New Hampshire, a forty-minute drive to the nearest grocery store or the closest Walmart. We were so isolated that the latest trends and pop culture didn't reach us until about two years after they'd expired everywhere else in the world. My town was too small to have its own high school, so I attended a large regional public school slightly farther away than Walmart. As a student there, I was stuck in that tragic phase of possessing both acne and the social skills of a young adult still watching Nick Jr. I certainly wasn't a loser—most people knew who I was and didn't retch at the sight of me. But my general awkwardness never allowed me to make it anywhere near the top of the social ladder. So for four years, I was basically a dorky rat, scurrying through the halls, trying to avoid situations where I might be forced to interact with members of "the Pit."
The Pit was a coed, off-brand version of the Queen Bees fromMean Girls. Think Regina George but with flannel, less hair product, and the noxious reek of patchouli. So basically the opposite of Regina George—but nonetheless these stoner kids ruled our school.
Our high school had an indoor atrium full of tables where students could hang out, socialize, and (not really) study. It was the place where our status hierarchy was most evident and would have made a great subject for anthropology dissertation.
The table where the cool kids sat was in an area that was sunk about two feet into the floor. The group was known as the Pit, and it was understood that no one else was allowed at their table. Woe unto the miserable worm who crossed into that forbidden territory! When we B-listers walked by the Pit, we usually followed standard protocol: Look down at your feet like they hold the secrets of life everlasting, avoid all eye contact, and pray they don't notice your brown-bagged egg salad lunch, packed by your mommy.
I avoided speaking at length to any members of the Pit for the first few years of high school. Sure, I had an occasional class with some of them, but there was never much interaction. They mostly left me alone, and I knew to stay out of their way. Senior year, though, I got to know one of them—we'll call him Greg—when we were paired as partners for a project in a history class.
I discovered Greg was pretty funny, and we became friends. A few weeks in, we met up to work on the project during a period when students were allowed to leave campus. We worked for thirty minutes or so at his house and then took a break. It was a sunny day, and Greg led me to his deck. He brought this huge, red bong out with us and fired it right up. I had seen people smoking before, and I knew Greg was a stoner, so I wasn't exactly shocked.
After letting loose a cloud the size of a beach ball, he leaned his head toward me and croaked like the big, snack-happy toad from Pan's Labyrinth, "Wanna take a hit from Big Red?"
In that moment I decided that I wanted to be a badass. Maybe it was because I'd been in a fight with my mom that week, and I knew she wouldn't have approved. Maybe it was seeing Greg, sitting on the deck, wearing aviators and clearly taking this bud like a champ. Maybe it was the allure of doing something illegal. Regardless, I decided to go for it.
After I finished coughing, it was time to drive back to school for my physics class (nothing like weed to prime you for some velocity and vector talk). Greg and I parted ways, and as I walked through the hallway I couldn't help but feel smug; I, Kristin Tate, had just smoked weed with a member of the Pit. Did this make me an official Pit girl? Probably not, but at least it was a start.
I had almost made it to physics when I began feeling uneasy. My mind started racing and I couldn't get it to stop. I couldn't go to class—not now—so I dipped into the closest bathroom. That was when the paranoia set in. What if my mom found out? I would be grounded for months. What if my physics teacher smelled the weed and reported me? I'd get suspended or worse—they'd call the cops and haul me off to jail. Why was I freaking out? This couldn't be normal. The weed must have been laced with something. Maybe Greg did it when I wasn't looking. Maybe it was all an elaborate joke because I wasn't cool enough to be in the Pit and now I was about to die from a heart attack in a high school bathroom before I had the chance to grow up, graduate, and marry Johnny Depp (which seemed more feasible than ever in my stoner's haze).
Everything started spinning. I felt like I couldn't even stand up. There was only one thing I could do.
I hobbled to the school nurse and blurted out what I had done: I had smoked weed, and I was really, really sorry. It was a veritable gold medal performance in the Apology Olympics. I begged her to check everything: my blood pressure, my temperature, and anything else she had an instrument for. After she concluded that I was not, in fact, dying, I felt a wave of relief. Nobody would have to come up with an epitaph for my tombstone yet. (Kristin – to exquisite for this world…but couldn't say no to drugs.) But then it hit me that I had just turned myself in. Was she going to call the police?
Long story short: The cops were not called, but my parents were. I was grounded, and the school punished me by not allowing me to leave campus for a few months. I had disappointed everyone: my mom, the nurse, the principal, and even myself, a little. But at least I hadn't died or been arrested.
I haven't smoked weed since. But looking back, I realize that I probably never would have smoked that day if marijuana had been legal. Hell, maybe the Pit kids wouldn't have either! The fact that it was forbidden gave it this elite, hardcore status. You had to rebel in this manner to be a member of the Pit—to be cool.
Weed was so mysterious to me. I didn't know how it was supposed to make me feel, who Greg bought it from, or why it was so bad. I just knew I wasn't allowed to do it, which made rebellious, teenaged me (and so many others) want to do it. I'd entered some august company when it came to succumbing to the allure of the forbidden: Eve with the apple, Abelard and Heloise, Oscar Wilde and the "Love that dare not speak its name," Winnie the Pooh and that tantalizingly out-of-reach honey pot.
Once I got to college, I became friends with lots of people who smoked weed—it wasn't just the Pit kids anymore. It quickly became obvious that marijuana didn't have a drastically negative effect on my college friends the way alcohol did. After a late night at the bar, my roommates would come home sick as hell—they pretty much got their degrees in "pulling trigger" (putting your finger down your throat) when facing a severe hangover, or, the ultimate, actual alcohol poisoning. Suffice it to say, vomiting is no fun, but it is a surefire means of learning your limit.
The nights of college drinking resulted in plenty of awkward situations, but we always made it home safely. Tragically, I knew other people who died in drunk-driving accidents.
But weed was different. I never saw any of my stoner friends have sloppy nights full of regret. More often than not, they'd end up sleepy and hungry, which was awesome for me because I'm almost always sleepy and hungry (and I'll never turn down a friend who wants to eat Fritos and watch Adventure Time).
While marijuana may have been a contributing factor in some deaths, there is no documented death caused solely by overdosing on pot. Weed has triggered underlying heart conditions in a small handful of cases, but the drug itself was not the cause of death. In other incidents, people have done stupid things while under the influence of marijuana; in one case, a man jumped off a balcony and died after eating several pot cookies. So, yes, marijuana—like alcohol—can impair judgment and cause users to do dumb things they normally wouldn't. But there's no proof that "overdosing" on the drug can, by itself, cause death.
A marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount of THC in a joint in order to be at risk. And study after study has shown that marijuana does not lead to lung cancer.
But how harmful—or harmless—weed is should be a moot point. An adult should have every right to do whatever they please in the privacy of their own home, so long as nobody else is affected. Eating too much junk food can make you morbidly obese, which we all know leads to heart disease, diabetes, and often death. But if you want to sit on the couch and stuff deep-fried nachos into your face until your heart seizes up, that's your prerogative! No one is going to stop you, and no one should stop you—it's your body. And since you're allowed to contaminate your body with fatty foods, alcohol, or cigarettes, why not with weed? Why not with cocaine or even heroin?
After all, legalizing drugs would allow them to be regulated and sold out in the open. This would make the entire industry safer; consumers would know exactly what they were putting in their bodies. This would eliminate the risk of injecting cleaning fluid or smoking pencil shavings and hence would save many lives.
For many of us, this issue is more than just theoretical. Almost everyone has heard of families who have lost a loved one to laced drugs. I know more than just one: Over the last couple of years, there have been dozens of accidental overdoses near my hometown caused by batches of tainted heroin. Some of those overdoses even ended in death.
Chardonnay Colonese died of an overdose on October 13, 2014. Everyone in the area called her Nay. I was lounging on my couch, spending another quality evening on Facebook (yes, I have quite the exciting social life), and was up to the usual: stalking old boyfriends and creeping on pictures of my frenemies, when I suddenly noticed a flood of "R.I.P." messages in my newsfeed. I remember thinking, "Oh no, not again." There had already been a string of untimely deaths in my hometown that year, mostly drug related and involving kids still attending my old high school in my younger brother's class. I was scared to see who the latest victim was. This time it was Nay. My heart dropped. She was only eighteen years old. I didn't know Nay well, but lots of my friends did. It was clear that they were completely shattered by her death. One of my friends posted a status that night that read, "Seriously, Nay? I'm so hurt by you right now. The last thing you said to me was, 'If we lose another person, I'm going to wake them up and kill them again.' And here we are, you left me. We had plans and you left before we could do them. I'm so heartbroken right now."
The saddest thing about this story? Nay didn't have to die. It's one thing to kill yourself willingly, but it's another thing entirely to kill yourself accidentally. Nay trusted the drug dealer who sold her heroin—he didn't tell her that it was laced with fentanyl, an opioid used as a painkiller in hospitals. She had no clue that it would end her life.
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As kids, we all make dumb decisions. But we shouldn't die because of them. Think about this for a second: If heroin had been legal, Nay probably wouldn't be dead today. She could have bought clean heroin produced in a sterilized lab instead of turning to the black market. When people want to take drugs, they're going to find a way to take drugs regardless of whether or not they're illegal. We may as well bring the industry out of the shadows and allow it to operate in a safer and regulated manner.
I know, I know, the thought of hard drugs such as heroin being openly sold on the market doesn't sit well with a lot of people. I get it. But if you don't like something, then you can choose not to associate with it. (You'll notice this theme recurring throughout the book.)
Still not with me? OK. Imagine for a moment what would happen if the feds decided to ban Pepsi. People would find other ways to get the soda, and a black market would be born. Pepsi would be produced in filthy basements and then handed off to dealers who would distribute it to thousands of soda addicts looking to get their fix. It would all work pretty well until someone decided to bulk up their Pepsi supply with a bit of, say, cleaning fluid to make a larger profit. Then some unknowing customers would drop dead the following week, just like that, all because they wanted to get a caffeine buzz and a sugar rush. The people who created this toxic batch would most likely get away with mass murder, since their operation would hardly be out in the open.
People who disagree with me say that drug use would hit harder than the latest iPhone if drugs were legalized. I don't buy that argument. Prohibition rarely works. Back in 1920, alcohol was made illegal to reduce crime, solve social issues, and improve citizens' health. Prohibition was dubbed the "noble experiment." However noble the intentions of this experiment may have been, it was an epic flop. Immediately following the ban, alcohol consumption did drop a small amount, given that it was harder to find—at first. But as Lancelot said in The Merchant of Venice, "At length truth will out." Two years later, consumption actually increased sharply and then remained higher than it was prior to the ban.
As a result, the feds funneled immense resources into enforcing Prohibition. Not counting the increased spending of local and state governments, the federal Bureau of Prohibition increased its annual budget from $4.4 million to $13.4 million during the ban. Despite this, people keptguzzling booze. A thriving underground industry was created, with production and distribution carried out by an army of entrepreneurs operating in the black market. And just like those laced drugs, alcohol also became more dangerous to consume.
The Iron Law of Prohibition, coined by activist Richard Cowan, states that illegal substances become increasingly potent as law enforcement increases. Rather than producing lighter alcohols like beer, producers operating in the shadows are incentivized to create more concentrated spirits like whiskey and wines. The reasons are simple: More potent alcoholic beverages take up less space in storage, are lighter to transport, and sell at a higher price. Go big or go home! Nobody would risk jail time for crafting the bootleg equivalent of Bud Light.
But it wasn't just the potency of the alcohol that made it more dangerous to drink. Lots of amateurs started producing moonshine during Prohibition, and some of it contained lethal ingredients. The annual death rate from spiked liquor almost quadrupled between 1920 and 1925.
Crime (and tough guys talking out of the corners of their mouths) also increased during Prohibition. Prisons became overcrowded and filled to capacity with bootleggers. So funds weren't being spent only in an effort to enforce the ban but also to keep thousands of people in prison for violating it. Federal spending on prisons increased almost 1,000 percent during Prohibition!
Put simply: Prohibition was a bigger failure than Britney Spears's marriage to Kevin Federline. It resulted in a bloated government, astronomical spending, and gangsters in fedoras running speakeasies. If you've ever seen an episode of Boardwalk Empire, you know what I'm talking about.
The War on Drugs hasn't been any more successful. Just like the thousands of patrons getting drunk in speakeasies during Prohibition, Americans are getting high in basements, in parked cars, and on the decks of their classmates' homes in this country each and every day—and what's so much worse is that many are sitting in jail for it, their lives sustained by tax dollars that would be better put to use elsewhere.
Every year hundreds of thousands of Americans are arrested for "offenses" related to pot. A guy I knew in high school named Tyler (not a member of the Pit, as it happens) is serving time for a marijuana-related offense. Tyler got an especially long sentence, because he had one prior nonviolent marijuana conviction. I remember sitting next to him in a computer lit class during freshman year; we spent most of the class sneakily photographing the teacher when she wasn't looking, then Photoshopping her butt. (We both became proficient in Adobe's Creative Suite products that semester.) Tyler was a funny kid with a good sense of humor. Sure, he wasn't the "sharpest blunt," but he wouldn't hurt a fly. He doesn't deserve to be sitting in jail right now—and we taxpayers don't deserve to be footing the bill.
Unfortunately, Tyler isn't the only one behind bars for victimless, pot-related offenses. More than 700,000 people were arrested in 2014 alone for marijuana law violations. Eighty-eight percent of those arrests were for possession only. Why the hell are we paying for these people to be sitting in jail? Every year we spend $51 billion on the War on Drugs. Yet in spite of all the spending, 1.5 million people are still arrested every year on nonviolent drug charges. Did our lawmakers fail math? Let the pot smokers out of jail already and reserve that space for actual criminals who have harmed other people instead of just their own brain cells.
Here's an idea: instead of wasting billions on initiatives that simply don't work, why don't we allow people to smoke their doobies out in the open, since they're doing it anyway? We could regulate and tax the sale of weed; if all fifty states legalized marijuana today, more than $3 billionwould be collected in taxes annually. We could actually start making money off the marijuana business and putting it toward the national debt (although knowing the buffoons we have in Washington, they'd probably just blow it on unnecessary crap like overpriced office chairs and monogrammed pens they'll lose faster than our hard-earned dollars).
Don't get me wrong—we still need rules in place when it comes to drugs. Do whatever you want in the privacy of your home. But if you show up at a public playground high on meth then you absolutely deserve to go to jail, because you're putting the safety of others at risk. All drugs, if legalized, could be regulated just like alcohol; driving under the influence and public intoxication would result in swift punishment. In this newfangled, drug-tolerant society, private businesses should also have the right to ban drugs on their premises. The law shouldn't be able to force a restaurant owner to allow smoking in his or her restaurant, just as it can't force a restaurant owner to serve alcohol in their place of business. The business owner should be able to decide on these issues and we, the consumers, can decide whether or not we wish to do business with them on these terms.
A few states have led the charge to end this War on Drugs by decriminalizing marijuana. In Colorado residents can grow up to six cannabis plants and possess one ounce of weed while traveling. Weed is basically treated the same way as alcohol, and Colorado's citizens are basically treated as adults. Colorado Amendment 64, which outlines the state's marijuana policies, was passed in 2012. Three years have passed since then, and here's what hasn't happened: The state hasn't been destroyed and hospitals aren't overflowing with "marijuana overdose" cases. But what has happened? Arrests, crime rates, the unemployment rate, and traffic fatalities have all gone down, while tax revenue has gone up. As of October 2014, less than one year after marijuana was decriminalized, the state had already raked in more than $40 million in marijuana taxes.
As may happen with any decriminalization effort, the state has faced some challenges since Amendment 64 passed. Over the last two years, a small handful of children have been admitted to hospitals after accidentally ingesting marijuana products. Of course this is a major concern. But it's unclear if the decriminalization was directly responsible for these incidents, and thousands of children are treated at hospitals each year for consuming household cleaners and other products. Colorado has also seen a "fourfold increase" in household pets, primarily dogs, accidentally ingesting marijuana-laced brownies since the decriminalization. Again, this is a serious concern, but there are plenty of other foods such as chocolate and raisons that are dangerous (even fatal) for dogs to consume. Owners should be aware of any risks associated with their pets ingesting marijuana, and they are responsible for keeping these substances out of the reach of their furry friends. If a pet owner is unable to follow simple procedures to keep their pet safe, perhaps he or she shouldn't own a pet in the first place.
If Colorado carefully treats and regulates marijuana like it does alcohol, the industry will likely continue to benefit the economy and bring a once-dangerous industry out of the shadows. Sounds like the rest of the nation should start paying attention and follow Colorado's lead.
Excerpted from Government Gone Wild: How D.C. Politicians Are Taking You for a Ride—and What You Can Do About It. (Copyright 2016) Used with permission from Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.