…how about President Obama actually pardons a few thousand or more of the millions of Americans who are currently locked up behind bars for non-violent, drug related offenses? Every year going back at least to Truman’s administration — and some historians claim the tradition reaches all the way back to Lincoln’s days in office — the most powerful man in the free world has given a turkey an honorary “pardon” on Thanksgiving. The idea is that the president is saving one turkey from their eventual fate on someone’s dining room table. It’s a fun little tradition and one that normally I’d never give much thought to, much less a negative one.
Then again, not to sound like a stick in a mud, but it is sort of disgusting that the man with the most powerful office in the nation would pardon a turkey and “spare” its life, while there are literally millions of Americans behind bars for drug related offenses. I don’t want to throw cold water on the cute little national tradition or anything — but it’s a fucking turkey. To me the bigger joke is that we have so many people languishing in prisons for committing non-violent drug offenses in a nation that prides itself on so-called “individual freedom.” I’m not referring to drug kingpins or gang members who murder each other and often catch innocent people in the crossfire. Those people deserve to be behind bars as they are truly a menace to society.
I’m referring to the people who become addicted to one drug or another — prescription or street drug variety — who are caught in possession of their vice of choice and subsequently sent into the penal system of their state at the taxpayers’ expense, isolating them from society but without treating either the drug addiction or the underlying, root causes of addiction and drug abuse in the first place. In 2013 no American should be spend a single, solitary day in jail for possessing marijuana. Get caught driving stoned where you can injure or kill someone, and that’s something different. But being pulled over with a few grams of pot in your trunk should be no different than getting popped for a speeding violation and you happen to have a closed case of beer in the trunk.
Maybe instead of a meaningless, bullshit pardon of a bird, our president should find a group of people who are no more a danger to society than they are to themselves and just let them go. Let them leave prison and enter treatment programs. We could think outside the box and have them go into rehab, with a mandatory work release condition of their parole that makes them volunteer at shelters that specialize in housing homeless addicts. Perhaps President Obama could make good on his promise to be more progressive about the War on Drugs and find it in his heart to commute the sentences of a few thousand people whose crime is in the eye of the puritanical beholder. Instead, it’ll just be status quo, and a turkey will get a reprieve, instead of an actual living, breathing human being.
The War on Drugs has swept up far too many people in its net. After decades of it, what do we have to show for the billions and billions of dollars we’ve spent, ostensibly to curb drug use? I’ll tell you what we’ve got. We’ve got a whole lot of members of minority communities locked up for either minor possession violations or for selling drugs to make ends meet because we have failed so hard in our promise to give equality of opportunity to everyone that they literally have no other choice but to sell drugs to get by. Proponents of the drug war love to make it seem as if everyone has a choice in what they do in life. These are usually white suburbanites who have no idea what it’s like to face eviction or starvation and see selling drugs as their only way to get ahead. It’s a lack of empathy and compassion that dictates these people view drug addicts and dealers as subhuman, but then again you’d have to have a stunning lack of empathy to support the draconian War on Drugs in the first place, wouldn’t you?
It’s time for Americans to stop fawning over stupid traditions involving farm animals and start demanding a reality check from our elected officials. On a purely anecdotal level I cannot think of more than a half dozen or so people in my generation who haven’t at least “experimented” with marijuana. This nebulous enemy known as “drugs” is a fallacy from the outset when you turn on any sporting event and get bombarded with boner pill and cholesterol ads for the next three hours. The bottom line is that our domestic policy when it comes to drugs is the biggest black eye we’ve given ourselves since we abolished Jim Crow laws.
The hope is that one day we will elect a truly progressive president — one that will cut through the bullshit rhetoric. Maybe then we’ll have someone in a high enough office to start treating drug addiction and abuse as a disease instead of a crime against humanity. For a so-called Christian nation we sure do lack a lot of those Christian tenets of grace, compassion and forgiveness, don’t we? Obviously we’re not a Christian nation, and we’re not supposed to be. So the question really at the end of it all is, “How can we call ourselves the land of freedom when the only drugs you’re “allowed” to take are the ones that you pay a pharmacist for?”
The answer: We can’t.