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An Innocent Criminal

An Innocent Criminal

“Without changing our patterns of thought we will never be able to solve the problems we created with our current patterns of thought.”

-Albert Einstein

July 12, 2001 – Tampa, Florida

So much has changed since I last wrote that I don’t know where to begin explaining the current circumstances of my life without sounding like a delirious idiot. Well, to be honest, moments of delirium have truly filled my first few days since leaving home, but they have been coupled with somber introspection. I hesitate to say that it makes me balanced, but I’m working on it.  

To truly understand why I’m doing what I’m doing is going to take awhile. Basically, I’m starting at the bottom again. I’m starting from the beginning. I want to learn everything again for the first time.  

After a month of planning to plan, I finally took that first step on Monday. I put my rucksack in the back of my car, donated bags of slightly used clothes and dusty neckties to the Goodwill – assuring them that no receipt was necessary, and left some photos and my dog with my parents as tears of confusion and worry streamed down their faces.

And then I left.

The first leg of my journey brought me to Tampa where I wanted to visit with Kevin and Jen for a few days before abandoning my car at the lot where I had purchased it and apologizing for not being able to continue on with our contract.  

I arrived at their apartment to find a note from Jen on the door. She was visiting a friend and left directions on how to find her, a page full of lefts and rights, u-turns, and counted stoplights that was slightly more intelligible than a corporate tax code. Fortunately, as I walked back to my car, still deciding if that particular trip would be worth the trouble, Kevin arrived home from work, a smile beaming on his five o’clock, Monday face. We yelled at each other across the parking lot, praising each other for perfect timing.

He dropped his briefcase by the door and popped open a couple of cold ones as we settled on the couch. He shook his head at me in wonder, still disbelieving the adventure I was taking.  He asked about my plans and routes, but I could give few answers, not knowing myself where the roads would take me.

Since Kevin and Jen have been married, there have been few occasions where the two of us have been able to take part in those strictly male rituals of bonding, so Kev had made the provisions to make this one memorable. He pulled a Ziploc bag from his refrigerator and removed the Cuban cigars he had been storing in dampened paper towels.

Neither of us ever having had the occasion to smoke such a valued commodity due to our lack of finances and refinement, we stepped out to the porch, lopped off the ends, and fired the mothers up. A beer in one hand, a cigar in the other, we had freedom in the moment.

With Kevin’s limited knowledge of Cuban cigars – though I must admit that it was superior to mine – he told me that while it was legal to possess a Cuban cigar in America, it was illegal to transport them into the country or to actually smoke them. I thought he might have been confusing it with Vincent Vega’s laws of Amsterdam. Then I remembered that I was living in America and that many of our laws rarely make sense at face value.

Nevertheless, we continued on in our crime spree, for I am far too great a friend to allow him to travel this road to criminality alone. We puffed away at the high-priced Swishers- partners in miscreance, toking on contraband – his Sundance to my Cassidy. The smoke wafted through the patio screen and into the Florida sunset, and I had to wonder why there was a law against it, aside from the fact that smoking the rancid sticks of pure Cuban tobacco was not good for our health and made us smell like Schwarzenegger’s index finger.

While Kevin and I smoke cigars about as often as the moon is full, and most of those have come in packs of five, we were able to understand that the cigars we now smoked were popular for a reason. As far as thick rolls of cancer causing agents go, these were pretty good. Unless Cubans put something else in their cigars besides tobacco, neither of us could find much reason why they should be illegal. I think I’d just like to have the freedom to smoke a Cuban cigar, wash the stink off with a nice hot shower, and not have to worry about bending over for the soap.

Kevin and I got halfway through the contraband when Jen called to invite us to her friend Naomi’s place for a swim. With no place to be and nothing better to do, we stubbed out the stogies, threw on our swimming trunks, and headed on.

Naomi and Jen were already soaking in the apartment complex hot tub when we finally got there, a little late since we had to go back for the towels we forgot on the dining room table. We splashed around awhile and busied ourselves with nothing in particular until Naomi’s boyfriend Brad got home from work at eleven, and we all went inside.

Brad seemed to me to be a nice fellow, with short-cropped hair and an eager smile, despite how he spent his last several hours at work. He is a technical support consultant for a computer company. You know, the 1-800 number you get with your computer, the one that you call when you can’t get the “cup holder” to work right? Brad is one of the guys you talk to. He regaled me with stories of the stupidity inherent in most computer owners. I can’t imagine spending eight hours of my day explaining to these people that you have to turn the computer and the monitor on in order for it to work correctly. I have a lot of respect for Brad.

So we talked about computers a little, which didn’t really interest me much, but I always love to hear someone talk about something they’re actually intelligent about. However, Naomi had heard it all before, Jen didn’t want to hear it at all, and Kevin was feeling a bit nauseous from the Cuban. So while I nodded intently at Brad’s computer lingo, Naomi broke out the water pipe, Jen raided the garden, and Kev just sat on the couch the way most forty-hour-a-weekers do on a Monday midnight with an out-of-town guest. But once the bubbles started, Brad stopped talking, Kev leaned forward, and we all got our second wind, as the room filled with blue-gray smoke that amazed us to watch as it wafted toward the ceiling.

For the second time of my first day of freedom, I was involved in criminal activity. And again, as I looked at the smiling faces in the smoke-filled room, I wondered why? Why is it illegal to simply possess marijuana? Regardless of the fact that it chemically induces euphoria, what is the danger? It’s an old, often stated argument, but why outlaw this yet allow the more destructive alcohol and cigarettes? How can the criminalization of marijuana be remotely constitutional? It’s a plant, for heaven’s sake. It’s not even a drug that people make. It’s a natural thing. A seed gets placed in fertile soil, water is added, the sun shines, and a plant grows.

Now, I’m not going to try to rationalize the use of drugs – though I can attest from personal experience that marijuana has several therapeutic, recreational, and creative uses – and I would never want to put marijuana in the same class as any other drugs, like cocaine or heroin. Marijuana is a plant. It is a natural, living organism, designed by God, or Nature, or whatever you believe causes life to happen. You can grow it in your own backyard, provided you want to serve the prison time. It can be used to treat anxiety, depression, pain, and an assortment of other ailments that are affecting our culture in more ways than I could possibly name. Marijuana, cultivated and used with knowledge and responsibility, could help a lot of people for the price of a seed and the patience it takes for it to grow.

I’ll bet the pharmaceutical companies aren’t really pushing for that to happen. If Americans are given back the right to care for themselves, pharmaceutical companies as we know them are going to be out a hell of a lot of money. The people afflicted with those anxiety disorders that they’re currently paying eighty bucks a month to medicate – which only serves to increase the anxiety they are trying to cope with – probably won’t be valued customers anymore.  If Americans are given the right to cultivate their own pharmaceuticals, how will these companies make money? How will the government be able to tax us as we strive to make ourselves better on our own?  

Yet there are still nay-sayers. There are still those who think Reefer Madness was a documentary. I’ve got news for you. Reefer Madness is to marijuana as Friday the 13th is to summer camp.

Along with marijuana, our country has deemed it necessary to outlaw the cultivation of hemp – the part of the plant that isn’t as fun to smoke. In 1640, the Governor of Connecticut declared that every citizen should cultivate his own hemp. There are currently thousands of possible, environmentally friendly uses for hemp, from clothing to fuel. In California, Woody Harrelson’s driving around in a hemp-powered bus. Yet, for the majority of our country, hemp is illegal. Sure would have been nice if the Exxon Valdez spilled hemp instead of oil. I’m sure the fish would have been a lot happier.

In 1937, when the Marijuana Tax Act was made law, the Senate had two hearings on the subject, totaling one hour, at which time the American Medical Association representative, Dr. William C. Woodward, proclaimed that there was no evidence that marijuana was dangerous. The law passed anyway. The House of Representatives had 90 seconds of debate and jumped on the bandwagon as well. President Roosevelt signed it, and on October 1, 1937, America banned one of the most useful resources to ever grace our soil.  

There are people who use this plant in religious ceremonies to achieve spiritual harmony, to pray for peace and love for their community and world. There are people in pain who use this plant as a relief from their suffering. These people have spent far too many nights in jail as bureaucrats and lawyers study the sections of the constitution they have highlighted to best meet their own needs.

The greatest argument I’ve heard against legalizing marijuana is the possibility that people will abuse it. A great statesman once answered this type of argument with the profound statement, “Duh!” Of course, people will abuse it as surely as others will exploit it, just as every one of our natural resources is abused and exploited today. Why has Florida been in a draught for as long as I can remember? Surely, it wasn’t just because I came into this world and showered too often. It’s because we can’t handle what we’ve been given responsibly. I know that I’m not the only one who flushed the toilet for a nose-blown tissue.  

It often seems that we have never managed our resources well from water to fossil fuels to forests. If we can touch it, we can screw it up. But we’re getting better. We’re using low-flow faucets. We’re watering our lawns only in the morning and at dusk. We put milk bottles in our toilets to decrease the water flushed. We’re getting there. We can be responsible with what we’re given if we can overcome our fears that we can’t.

  We’ve made some mistakes. We will make more. We’ve made sacrifices. We’ll have to make more. Americans must have the freedom to make their own decisions, meet their own failures, and learn from them in the pursuit of their own happiness for the happiness of all. Isn’t that why our forefathers wrote the constitution the way that they did, for it to be ever changing as we discover new things and learn how to create a more perfect union?

The government has taken it upon itself to act as our guardian and parent, which in a sense can be appreciated. But eventually, parents have to give their children the ability to make their own decisions, fall on their own faces, and brush themselves off to try again.  

America’s children are asking for more freedom so that we may take a step closer to realizing the American Dream. Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. All noble causes that are veiled through expanding shrouds of money, woven by men who have it and can no longer hear the cries of those who don’t.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

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