Medical Marijuana as a Force for Individual Responsibility
As the country continues to battle the Great Repression in hopes of reinvigorating the economy, the most enlightening recovery efforts could come in very unexpected forms. And Michigan, the country’s “poster boy” for economic failure and civic chaos, may be more open than some states to experimentation. In November 2008, 63 percent of Michigan citizens voted in favor of allowing the use of medical marijuana by patients who have been approved by a doctor and registered with the state. Eighteen months later, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) has approved more than 17,000 patients and 7,500 caregivers for registration cards.1
There’s still a notable taboo to overcome, but the speed at which medical marijuana is becoming a normal, accepted treatment is thrilling to me, a baby of the War on Drugs (a “war” that has actually been going on for 95 years, since the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914). The sudden overturn of mass opinion is, I think, the most interesting thing about this development. It seems to be the first instance in my lifetime when so many people have decided for themselves, disregarding mandates and overcoming brainwashing long dished out by the federal government.
The notion that the government can and should take care of everything might finally be losing its longtime dominance.
Perhaps we as citizens started to recognize too many parallels between the drug war and the ongoing “War on Terror.” Both are absurd political measures intended more to control a population than to achieve any social goal. These “wars” create far too much collateral damage, make criminals out of innocent people, and compromise the rights we are supposedly guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
What’s even more notable is the indication that people don’t believe the federal government will get us out of this mess. The notion that the government can and should take care of everything might finally be losing its longtime dominance. As the eminent psychologist C.G. Jung explained in his 1957 book The Undiscovered Self, in a culture of mass opinion,
“…individual judgment grows increasingly uncertain of itself and that responsibility is collectivized as much as possible… The State in particular has turned into a quasi-animate personality from whom everything is expected. In reality it is only a camouflage for those individuals who know how to manipulate it. Thus the constitutional State drifts into the situation of a primitive form of society, namely the communism of a primitive tribe where everybody is subject to the autocratic rule of a chief or an oligarchy.” 2
The irony in that statement is that communism has now been made into a dirty word, when in fact the psychological effect of the American executive mandate is little different than what occurred in the failed communist states. What we assume to be a free society, the celebrated home the “free market,” is actually a highly controlled system run by politicians, religious leaders and corporations – with advertisers, marketers and lobbyists playing supporting roles.
In January I attended the first ever Caregiver’s Cup at a hotel and conference center in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The “medicine judging” contest was canceled due to legal concerns, but the two days of seminars were carried out rather successfully. For a mere $25, anyone could hear lectures by lawyers, MDCH representatives, professors and activists; one could sit in on classes with master growers, hydroponics experts and electrical engineers. I was blown away by the willingness of attendees to exercise their right to gather peacefully, educate themselves, contribute to the discussion, and help one another. In fact, it was the exact kind of thing that, a few decades back, would have given nightmares to Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
The fact that we live in a post-ideological world has not yet made itself known to all, but it’s telling that so many people are beginning to use their own power of reflection and choice. Many individuals at the January conference had a fresh clarity in their eyes – as if they had just shed years’ worth of propaganda from their lives, like layers of fur not shaken off after many winters. It reminded me of the documentary Jesus Camp, which follows Christian children on their parent-enforced path of indoctrination. Throughout the process, one can witness a flicker of incredulity in their eyes, an undeniable gut feeling that they’re being fed pure bullshit – that each is being molded into a clockwork orange.
Once again, this follows from phenomena recognized decades ago by Jung (among others in psychology and literature). “The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses.” 3 Of course, if you tell people they should do something, that they must fulfill their personal responsibility, what happens? Well… Rage Against the Machine is what happens.
But with this medical marijuana law, the people of Michigan have a chance to do something because they decided it isn’t wrong, and it could actually be a positive contribution to society and a way to help neighbors and communities. Michigan hasn’t yet seen the opening of dispensaries, and that possibility has created concern among those who hope to work independently as patient caregivers. After all, part of the excitement behind this law is the potential to turn around the state’s dour economy by decreasing unemployment.
The people of Michigan have a chance to do something because they decided it isn’t wrong, and it could actually be a positive contribution to society and a way to help neighbors and communities.
Yet non-profit dispensaries – which would allow patients safe access to medicine and provide tax money to communities – might be a more stable option overall. As prominent Detroit lawyer and medical marijuana specialist Matthew Abel suggested at the Caregiver’s Cup, we have the choice to either follow Los Angeles, which has no system of organization or regulation for its hundreds of dispensaries, or Oakland, which has an established district that contributes to the betterment of the surrounding neighborhood and the city as a whole through taxes.
Furthermore, in November the citizens of California will vote on a ballot that could legalize cannabis possession and cultivation for adults over 21. If that passes, commercial sales could provide the state with tax revenues in the range of $1 billion.4
This movement suggests that much more of what happens in this country should be decided at the local level. Regular people – some with very little education and most of whom previously felt a lack of social efficacy – are realizing how much they can do as individuals. The “cannabis colleges” offer short programs in the ballpark of $500, but most people can get by with advice from a grow supply store and The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible by Jorge Cervantes.
Through this process, many will become fluent in hydroponic growing techniques, a current focus of NASA and others who recognize the terrible inadequacy of our agricultural system. The very same methods for growing medical marijuana in one’s basement will likely be used in the future for growing food crops year-round, instead of just as a backyard summer hobby. Throughout American history, this kind of self-reliance has been celebrated in theory but not often practiced. The cheapest setups require little more than pots, soil and a high-pressure sodium light fixture. And all the detrimental effects of mass-scale agriculture (i.e. animal waste, overuse of fertilizers) and food transportation (i.e. air pollution, costly middlemen) are completely removed. The next step could be an aquaculture system where the plants clean water for fish, which in turn provide nutrients (as bio-waste) for the plants – all happening within your own home.
Additionally, this shift coincides with a growing distrust in the medical institution and pharmaceutical industry. Year after year, these companies pawn off dangerous substances on an unsuspecting public (after testing them out on people in third-world countries) because they have a proprietary monopoly on the socially acceptable drugs. But cannabis is a natural substance that can be grown at home, is often more effective than the pharmaceutical option, and has zero adverse side effects or possibility of overdose. Whereas prescription drugs are implicated in approximately 32,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, marijuana has never been the primary cause of a single mortality.5
Actually the one known side effect is uncontrollable gut laughter, which is appropriate if one considers the implications of this movement. Here we have a way to fight against the invisible power structures in our society – a tactic that many desperately search for day in and day out. Yet it’s not a resort to some worn-out or violent concept of revolution (like jihad, for example); it’s a consummation of our American freedom and the duty of individual responsibility that was always supposed to accompany it. (It makes me laugh, at least.)
And Michigan isn’t alone here; 13 other states have passed some kind of medical marijuana law. As the middle class lifestyle quickly vanishes and no sign of relief appears on the horizon, we will all gain a new sense of what role the individual plays in society. The old conception of top-down Capitalism as the guiding force, the best possible economic system, is irreconcilably dead.
How wonderfully appropriate that one of the first manifestations of this burgeoning New Way is based around an ancient plant – the natural embodiment of growth and productivity – which for so long has represented a rejection of that cold, rotten system, a system which implicitly denies the very ideas of the individual freedom, responsibility and growth.
In short, we asked for medicine. Nature has provided it. We would do well to follow her lead.
1 “Medical Marihuana Program.” Michigan Department of Community Health. Accessed on 6/6/10. http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-27417_51869—,00.html
2 Jung, C.G. The Undiscovered Self. 1957. Signet: New York, 2006. pp. 15-16.
3 Jung, C.G. The Undiscovered Self. p. 12.
4 Gonzales, Richard. “California Voters Could Legalize Pot in November.” NPR. Accessed on 6/6/10. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125184608
5 “Annual Causes of Death in the U.S.” Drug War Facts. Accessed on 6/6/10. http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/node/30
*Click here to see original photo.
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