US Marijuana Party

Monday, May 29, 2006

Moonshine, marijuana and prison populations

Palladium-Item, IN

When I was a kid, one of my favorite comic strips was "Snuffy Smith."

The strip started as "Barney Google," but soon after he was introduced, Snuffy took over. Today Barney seldom appears.

Snuffy lived somewhere in the Kentucky hills with his wife Loweezy and the kids, Jughaid and Tater. His vocabulary -- words and expressions like "bodacious," "time's a-wastin,'" and "vittles" -- fascinated me.

I especially enjoyed the episodes featuring the federal agents attempting to shut down Snuffy's moonshine operation. Whenever Snuffy got the word that the "pesky revenoo'ers" were around, he grabbed his blunderbuss and lit out for his still, which was well hidden in the woods. I was pleased when, in the shootouts that resulted, Snuffy routed the government men.

Later I learned I was on the wrong side. As we became a more politically correct society, these violent episodes were toned down and eventually they disappeared from the strip altogether.

I never thought much about the moonshine laws in those days, but some years later I read that the reason these isolated farmers made whiskey was because there were no accessible markets for their surplus corn. They could let it rot or convert it to a non-perishable, easily-marketable commodity -- whiskey. When the authorities declared the process illegal, they canceled a part of the farmer's income.

Thus Snuffy's animosity.

I sometimes wonder how authorities arrive at the conclusion that something should be declared illegal. In the case of Snuffy's corn liquor, I suspect it had to do with controlling the market in order to collect taxes.

And, of course, to protect us against ourselves. (I should say that I tried "white lightning" once in the late '50s. Didn't like it.)

Today, if someone grows a certain weed in his backyard, dries it and smokes it, he has broken three laws; one against growing it, one against possessing it and one against using it. (I should say I tried smoking hemp once in the '60s. Didn't like it. My father told me he tried it in the late '30's. He didn't like it either. I don't know about my kids. Haven't asked them.)

The politicians' routine for handling problems is to form a committee, then pass a law containing the word "mandatory" or "illegal." We have a problem with drugs; pass a law. We have too many people smoking too much; pass a law.

People who discriminate against foreigners, other races, women, gays, minors; pass some laws. Purchasing sexual services, drinking too much, not wearing seat belts -- law, law, law.

Indiana has twice as many people in prison as they had a decade ago; some counties have three times as many. A large percentage of these people have been jailed as a result of the get-tough-on-drugs laws and mandatory sentences.

Of course, one might argue that drugs would be even more prevalent had we not started using stiff mandatory sentences for users and dealers.

Perhaps. On the other hand, it's difficult to see how some of them could be any more available.

When my youngest son was a senior in high school, we had a discussion about the legalization of drugs. I argued against it, using the availability argument. My son's retort was that for kids under 18, marijuana was easier to get than either cigarettes or beer.

Imprisonment isn't working; let's try something else.

Excellent! Thank you Mr. Avery.


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