Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Musings: Outmoded Attitudes

A light rain kept Koko and me I bed a little later this morning, so the eastern sky was already fiery when we set out walking in what can best be described as a magical wonderland of color and light. The moisture-infused air sparkled, and all the backlit spider webs shone among glistening leaves.

The Giant was draped in a garland of white, Waialeale was mostly buried in a pile of puffy clouds, save for the bits of slope that shone green-yellow, and Makaleha was fully visible and clad in hues of purple and pink. Meanwhile, a smoke-like mist floated up from all the nooks and crannies of the lush green landscape.

I was immersed in those sensory delights, but Koko was fixated on Andy, who was ahead of us, and when we caught up, she gave her usual little whines of delight. We won’t have many more mornings with Andy and Momi, since we’re moving to hard-scrabble Kapahi this weekend. Andy pronounced the news rotten, but gave me a bag of juicy lychee, anyway.

He mentioned he’d been interviewed by a former Garden Island reporter, whose name escapes me, for a film she’s doing on how Kauai has changed. She wanted him to provide her with a historical perspective, and came from the premise that most people seem to think that the missionaries had been a positive influence, an assertion that both Andy and I doubted.

And that got Andy thinking about how attitudes toward the missionaries had changed, from being favorably viewed to less so, during his 37 years of teaching. And that got us talking about how other social attitudes had changed in that time, especially toward women, with Andy recalling how the KCC auto body teacher once said that if any girls wanted to take his class, they had to wear a steel bra. (Or maybe it was cast iron. At any rate, you get the point, not that either makes much sense.)

I mentioned I’d just read a review of a biography of Helen Gurley Brown that recounted some of the sexism she encountered early in her career:

She was, at the time, employed as a typist at a radio station whose male personnel enjoyed a game that they called Scuttle. They chased a female co-worker around the office until they cornered her, then pulled off her panties. Brown was hurt that, for some reason—maybe she was too flat-chested—she was never their scuttlebutt. It was eventually pointed out to her that scuttling constituted a rather egregious instance of sexual harassment.

Yes, many attitudes do change over time. We’ve got an African-American president and a Latina Supreme Court nominee, two milestones that can be celebrated even though it’s discouraging to see how long it took us to get here. And face it, things are still really skewed. I mean, when you consider that of the 112 Supreme Court Justices, 108 have been white men — and conservatives are still squawking over Sonia Sotomayor — we still have a ways to go.

The same is true of the attitude toward drugs. I interviewed an 80-year-old man the other day who remembered the early days of treatment programs in the 1970s, when junkies were still called “dope fiends.” Now we understand that addiction and alcoholism is a disease, and marijuana has been approved for medical uses in Hawaii and other states.

But the old “Reefer Madness” mentality dies hard, especially among the men in blue, our own Chief Perry among them. Blogger Andy Parx took Perry to task for his views on marijuana and Green Harvest, as expressed in the Chief’s weekly Q&A column in The Garden Island.

Some of Perry’s comments rang a bell, and got me thinking about a series of articles Jim Witty and I wrote on Hawaii’s marijuana eradication program— and concerns about the link between the subsequent scarcity of pot and the rise in ice use — when working for the Star-Bulletin.

I was fascinated to read these articles again and see that 13 years later, the issues are still the same. There’s no real accountability about costs, which are hefty. People are still pissed about intrusive helicopter flights and the program's militarization. Ice use has flourished. Asset forfeiture laws have pushed cultivation from private to public lands. And the effort appears no more successful than it was back in 1989, when former Attorney General Warren Price wrote a report that stated:

”The only problem with the eradication effort in Hawaii is that it is costing over $1 million per year and it is not apparently reducing, much less eliminating, the marijuana industry in Hawaii, nor is there any evidence to suggest it is reducing local consumption," the report states.

Some national law enforcement officials have concluded that the “war on drugs” is a failure and Obama’s Administration has said it will discontinue George W. Bush’s policy of going after medical marijuana dispensaries in the states. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has even said it’s time to have a public debate on legalizing and taxing marijuana, which could provide an important new tax revenue for that state.

Yet Chief Perry seems to be clinging to some old, outdated attitudes. As he stated in his column:

We have not lost the war on drugs and it is not a failed policy, but we do need to reassess our long-term strategic plan and lean more toward a holistic approach.

Perry also asserts that “Drugs destroy families, whether it’s marijuana, crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, or alcohol.” Yes, that’s true, although he would have a very hard time making that case against marijuana. But so, too, does arresting people and throwing them in jail repeatedly because there’s no rehab program to help them kick their addiction.

Back when we wrote those articles, we concluded that:

In the end, however, economics - and not social issues - likely will determine the fate of Hawaii's two-decade effort to halt marijuana cultivation. The state has slashed its eradication budget nearly in half for each of the past two years, county officials are taking a hard look at the program, and federal "drug war" funds are declining.

We were obviously wrong. The state and feds are still wasting money on marijuana eradication — KPD spent $27,000 to nab 75 plants in its most recent operation — and the wise words of former Rep. David Tarnas have not yet been heeded:

"The goal of a drug-free Hawaii is not do-able," Tarnas said. "We need to recognize there's a difference between substance use and abuse, and focus on reducing abuse."

Perhaps, in time, his will become the prevailing, rather than pioneering, attitude. As we’ve seen, attitudes do change. Only problem is, a helluva lot of harm can be done to people’s lives in the meantime.


Anonymous said...

"attitudes toward the missionaries "

-- yes very interesting subject

"scuttling constituted a rather egregious instance of sexual harassment."

-- sexual assault

"we understand that addiction and alcoholism is a disease"

-- debatable, esp as to addiction

"subsequent scarcity of pot"

-- i defer to long time residents...but wow, are you saying that pot used to flow in multiples of what it does today? and there is no correlation with the general increase in meth production and use on the mainland (ie, it went up all over the US in the 90s..including HI?)

"KPD spent $27,000"

-- pennies

six figures are spent all the time by kauai gov on lawsuits created b/ it was easier to settle a case than spend the political capital to fire a person, change a law, hire a qualified person, etc


Anonymous said...

Our polititians love to remind us of what "free" country we are. "They hate us for our freedom." But we imprison a larger percentage of our population than any nation on earth - thanks to the war on drugs. Until that ends, we're not really that free - by definition.

Jails are filled with non-violent folks who just wanted to get high. Instead they could be out working and paying into the tax coffers. But we're now paying to house and feed them, and paying the salaries and pensions of those that guard them. And their families are more likely to be on public assistance - when a breadwinner gets jailed.

This war also forces police to enforce unpopular laws, diminishing the respect the officers get. I think the latest survey is 60-70 percent of population has tried pot. When something is illegal (even jail-able in Hawaii) and half the people use in anyway, it makes it easy for the government to persecute political enemies. Anti pot laws were frequently used to jail loud voices in the early civil rights movement.

Like most wars, this war on drugs also includes an "educational" component, in which public schools fill our kids with anti drug propaganda - lying to them about how pot is a gateway drug, and the disasters that will follow if they try it. Of course, the kids try it, and no disaster ensues - so the result is just more mistrust of the government and antipathy for cops.

Tax revenue from legal pot alone could knock some 10 percent off of the deficit. And in Holland, the violent crime rate is far, far less than here. Coffee shops, like pubs line the streets, without scandal or problem.

And most of us know the history behind the prohibition - the protection of industry (Hearst newspaper) profits.

I cant support legalizing meth, for example, but with pot- the case seems clear: increased freedom, less tax money spent on jails, more tax revenue, more respect for police, less crowded courts, safer drug supply (due to regulation), less profit for criminal element, and probably even more tourism.

When is some brave pol going to take on the alcohol lobby make the case? Arnold should be applauded for bringing this debate to the mainstream.

Joan Conrow said...

.but wow, are you saying that pot used to flow in multiples of what it does today?

Yes, locally grown mj was much more abundant before GH. Now much of what is available is imported.

and there is no correlation with the general increase in meth production and use on the mainland (ie, it went up all over the US in the 90s..including HI?)

I'm sure there is a correlation with the general increase in use of meth nationally. However, some do argue that locally, the rising cost of pot, and the difficulty in growing one's own supply, made the relatively cheaper and longer lasting high of meth more appealing.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the response