The initial wave of the hippie movement traveled from west to east, so it didn't reach Knoxville until well after the 1967 "Summer of Love." We had more of a "Springtime of Love" in 1968. Toward the end of the school year, rumors reached us that there was marijuana growing wild in the state of Kansas, right in the interstate median.
Just like the Gold Rush of 1849, van-loads of denim-wearing, entrepreneurial hippies raced to the Great Plains and, sure enough, returned with garbage bags filled with something that looked identical to cannabis. It was the remnants of a WWII-era government program that grew the plants for their hemp value. The problem was that the wild plants lacked the psychoactive ingredient that caused the euphoric effect in pot and were pretty much useless for anything other than weaving into handbags or sandals.
I never tried to sell pot, because I lacked the ruthlessness required to profit from your friends, but even I got caught up in this deal. We tried to doctor this cabbage in every way possible, including baking it, but only ended up with brittle leaves of the worst pot anyone had ever tried. It wouldn't even give you a headache. I finally stashed it in a Styrofoam chest filled with dry ice overnight, and by the next day, the gas from the CO2 made you mildly dizzy. We drove it to Nashville, where a new breed of songwriters had settled, and distributed all of it without complaint — and soon afterward, there was a Renaissance in country music. Okay, that last part was a lie, but we did unload all the Kansas weed on Music Row.
Recently, I was reminiscing with an old friend about that escapade, and we couldn't help but agree what a dumbass, reckless college-boy thing that was to do, like trying to smoke the inner skin of a banana peel because we had heard Donovan singing "Mellow Yellow." We also agreed that it would have been a shame to be arrested over such hideous weed during an age when people were going to jail for seeds in an ashtray. The pot was just growing wild, but by picking it and carrying it across state lines, our crime became federal. Kansas ultimately eradicated all the interstate pot because Hefty Bag toting hippies kept popping up on the highways like penal farm work crews. It did occur to me, however, that if this weed could grow wild on a Kansas blacktop, it could pretty much grow anywhere, and, people being who and what they are, it was only a matter of time before the prohibition of pot would be tossed aside just like the prohibition of whiskey. That was eight presidents ago. What has prevented even the discussion of decriminalization until relatively recently has been the same old-boy deal that has always muzzled debate on the issue: political influence. In this case, the alcohol lobby, which is still smarting from having their seductive and subliminal liquor ads removed from television. The pot industry doesn't have any lobbyists. Plenty of advocates, but no lobbyists.
It was reported on the local news last week that a man was arrested in Memphis after a DEA task-force raid found more than 1,200 pounds of baled marijuana in his Orange Mound home. Initially, he was held in city jail under a bond of one penny less than $10 million. A somewhat saner judge reduced the bail to $250,000, but you'd have thought these guys caught Scarface.
Rapists and murderers are given more consideration and less harsh treatment than a pot dealer, and they do less time. Though the bust warranted a scant five paragraphs in The Commercial Appeal, it was eye-popping news to pot aficionados who are experiencing the annual Memphis summer marijuana drought — or so I'm told. The DEA agents testified that after jack-booting the doors, they found large bales of a "green, leafy substance." Can you imagine the number of police and the manpower used to haul away half a ton of leaves? In the end, it will all be burned, which was exactly what was going to happen to it in the first place. The dope had a street value of over a half-million dollars.
The zeal with which the local pot dealers were captured and jailed was exceeded last month by the Las Vegas police, who killed a 21-year-old man while serving a marijuana search warrant. And this was in a state where citizens voted to decriminalize possession. The late outlaw's bride-to-be told local television stations that her intended was "a recreational smoker." The police recovered "an unspecified amount of marijuana and some digital scales." A regular Al Capone, this kid.
In the Memphis bust, there will be a trial or two and long incarcerations, costing the city and state and, ultimately, you and me. And because the profit motive is so high, someone else will take these guys' place and the pot sales will continue. Author Eric Schlosser writes, "There are more people in prison today for violating marijuana laws than at any time in American history." And that population will only grow as long as police forces around the country maintain the marijuana home-invasion mentality. Imagine if the ban on the plant were lifted for adults and regulated and taxed by the government. How many more policemen or teachers would that tax revenue hire? How much gang violence would be diffused by removing the profit from illegal pot sales? How would our problems on the Mexican border be affected if the demand for marijuana smuggling were eliminated?
I'm not naive enough to believe that there won't always be a demand for illegal narcotics, but hard drugs that do emotional and physical damage are another matter entirely, and if we are being honest, we'll admit our major national drug problem is with good old homemade American pharmaceuticals. I'd prefer to be able to take advantage of that "pursuit of happiness" thing. All these people are running around screaming that their freedoms are under siege and they want their country back. Well, so do I. No federal agency forbids you from growing poppies on the veranda. Give me the freedom to determine what grows in my own backyard. I want the government out of my bedroom and the police out of my garden. This is an issue worthy of a Tea Party.
Which leads me to put on my Dr. Phil face and say what has to be said: It's time for Memphis and Shelby County to start seeing other people. We've tried for years to patch things up, to come to some sort of mutual understanding, but we need to admit that we have irreconcilable differences. We don't even know each other any more ...