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Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by weedboss, May 14, 2003.

  1. Books: Reefer madness and other tales of the American underground by Eric Schlosser ( Allen Lane, #10.99 )

    WHILE stoners are often accused of trying to escape reality, the world anti-marijuana crusaders live in is truly surreal. As Eric Schlosser makes clear in his brilliant new book, it's a contradictory place where the light of logic rarely shines.

    At the dawn of the 20th century, marijuana was said to induce homicidal rages although all that's at risk from potheads are packets of nachos. Seventy years on the party line changed. The soporific smoke was accused of being a motivation drainer. Similarly, early anti-drugs evangelists warned that young men and women became orgiastic at the drop of a joint. President Reagan's first 'drugs czar' Carlton Turner, however, believed that smoking dope turned young men gay. Dope smokers have also variously been accused of being Commies, Satanists and, sadly too often true, wearing tie-dye.

    In spite of the title, Reefer Madness isn't solely about marijuana. Schlosser's intent is to reveal the ways in which the underground economy is linked to the mainstream.

    'The things a country hides,' he writes, 'are often more revealing than those it proudly displays.' Marijuana is an obvious example of what America 'publicly abhors and privately adores', as is cheap labour and pornography, the other two strands to Schlosser's investigation of the American black market.

    While there is disagreement over how to measure the shadow economy, there is consensus on two points: it's huge, and its growth happened in the past 30 years.

    In 1998, the Internal Revenue Service ( IRS ) informed Congress that Americans had failed to pay approximately $200 billion in federal taxes, meaning American taxpayers hadn't reported $1.5 trillion in personal income made on the black market. ( Bear in mind how the famously nervy stock market's prices see-saw with minute changes in inflation and unemployment rates. ) Schlosser asks: 'What do these statistics really mean if 20%, 10%, or even 5% of a nation's economy cannot be accounted for?'

    According to expert testimony, marijuana might now be America's most profitable crop. Given its legal standing, official estimates are understandably hard to come by. What is certain is that Americans smoke the most pot in the world. One-third of the US population over the age of 12 has smoked marijuana at least once, a number which includes a sax-blowing former president. America also imprisons more marijuana users than any other country.

    Schlosser cites the case of a paraplegic immobilised from the waist down who used marijuana to relieve muscle spasms in Oklahoma. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 16 years for being found in possession of two ounces of dope. By comparison, the average national sentence in America for murder is 11 years and four months, and that's with parole.

    The origins of dope's demonisation can be traced back to the Mexicans who arrived in the Deep South looking for work a century ago. Marijuana, popular with Mexicans but little known outside that community, was misrepresented as 'the Devil's harvest', a toxic weed whose use would spread to and corrupt whites unless the immigrants were brutally suppressed. Mexicans continue to this day to be misrepresented. In the second section on cheap, illegal labour, Schlosser reveals how crucial and yet how undervalued and underpaid the Mexican contribution to California's largest industry, agriculture, is.

    'Fruit and vegetable growers now rely on a thriving black market in labour - -- and without it, even more farms would disappear. Illegal immigrants, widely reviled and often depicted as welfare cheats, are in effect subsidising the most important sector of the Californian economy.'

    The pornographic industry provides an interesting road map for how marijuana might graduate from the underground to the mainstream.

    Unlike the section on pot, Schlosser is not interested in rehearsing the rights and wrongs of pornography once more. Instead, he traces the history of porn as a commodity through the story of one man, Reuben Sturman. Described as 'the Walt Disney of porn', in its pre-legal days he controlled most of America's pornography. Sturman, like the marijuana cultivators, should have been natural supporters of Reaganomics' rejection of the constraints placed upon entrepreneurs. Instead they were persecuted for presuming to fulfil the sine qua non of capitalism: supply and demand.

    Summing up America's confused business ethics, Schlosser writes: 'Certain things cannot be sold because they are immoral, while other things -- such as the exploitation of illegal immigrants, their poverty and poor health -- hardly raise a moral qualm.'

    Schlosser's vigorous follow-up to his demolition of the burger kings, Fast Food Nation, serves notice that Liberal America still has a voice, and one worth listening to. Readers will experience much rolling of the eyes as they read, and may finally put the book down thanking the Lord that it's Britain that they live in

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