Happy 4/20!

“Thousands of years ago — in times we are fond of calling ‘primitive’ (since this renders us ‘modern’ without having to exert ourselves further to earn this qualification) — religion and medicine were united in an undifferentiated enterprise; and both were closely allied with government and politics — all being concerned with maintaining the integrity of the community and of the individuals who were its members. How did ancient societies and their priest-physicians protect people from plagues and famines, from the perils of impending military encounters, and from all the other calamities that threaten persons and peoples? They did so, in general by performing certain religious ceremonies.”

Thomas Szasz, “The Scapegoat as Drug and the Drug as Scapegoat, in Milton Friedman and Thomas Szasz, On Liberty and Drugs: Essays on the Free Market and Prohibition

I can only enjoy but cannot add much to the hoopla in the marijuana community about this date, a secular holiday, a date and time of day with meaning only to the stoner in-group. For reasons that are still hazy, 4:20 is the tokers’ tea-time. Perhaps that’s as much of one day of modern life as you can take without your weed. And on the date 4/20, the legalization movement, after 70+ years of pointless prohibition based on lies (among the early ones: pot supposedly made “Negroes” want to rape white women), re-energizes itself once again, with all kinds of optimism about decriminalization, though the Feds continue to fight on.

Connoisseur wannabe

I cannot add much because I am only a connoisseur wannabe. I look at the centerfold in High Times with the same longing that used to accompany the Playboy centerfold. In my dreams, I am a judge in the Cannabis Cup, sniffing this variety and that like a wine aficionado…or a tagalong in that scene from Weeds where Doug and Andy attend an apparently real cannabis expo, sampling and trying to decide what strain Nancy will grow (“This is the one.” “No, this is the one.” “No, this is SO the one.”)

I can only point out what my continuing animosity towards the drug war has to do with being a Jewish atheist and secular humanist.

Religion and drugs

First, the religious part. It is perhaps an accident of history that the religions that came to predominate in the world were anti-intoxicant. All over the world, the religious and the drug-induced hallucinatory experience had been firmly linked for millennia – but not in the abstemious Abrahamic faiths. Christians may get hammered, but it’s not in pursuit of a mystical experience.

The Torah’s drug policy is very liberal. In Deuteronomy, Ch. 14, God tells the Israelites that they may enjoy wine or other intoxicating substances. I would presume that this includes all psychotropic substances.

But there’s no way modern Jews are going to read the Bible that way. Like Muslims and Christians, they separate the drug-induced state from the religious one. Not surprising: a drug-induced religious hysteria/psychosis is less manageable, less predictable than one induced by religious/rhetorical hypnosis alone (“Can I have an amen?”).

Stoned without drugs

So, through sophisticated behavior manipulation techniques, religions can induce a “mystical” state of suggestibility in which bizarre, impossible events are true. To their credit, they did it without drugs. They can even reduce people to the hapless babbling of glossolalia (”speaking in tongues”).

To they extent that they maintain drug prohibition, religions control people, once again, as with sex, through their basic urges. To a humanist, it’s obvious that people beyond a certain age must, if they wish, be allowed to alter their consciousness and perceptions, as they are wont to do, as we do from childhood, getting dizzy from twirling around.

Most governments, espcecially ours, cannot accept this simple proposition. Out of misplaced nannyism and residual Puritanism, they launch drug wars and sustain them for decades. They waste billions, fostering crime and causing tens of thousands of deaths a year.


Surely it must be one of the basic principles of humanism that we own our own bodies. Is drug use not the indisputable example of one’s ownership of oneself? If you don’t own your body, who does? The state?

Yet governments take it upon themselves to decide what drugs –- and what drug users and traffickers — are to be scapegoated. In On Liberty and Drugs, which I heartily recommend, Thomas Szasz points out the historical relationship between the two meanings of pharmak-, ‘scapegoat’ and ‘remedy.’ After all, scapegoating was the way to rid the tribe of all its evils.

Too bad that politicians can’t evolve beyond this primitive state of mind. The fact is that each mind-altering substance has its purpose for those who use it. Medical professionals should be allowed to advise people on self-medication. Drugs should be available in pure, known quantities (and yes, they can be taxed).

Drug use won’t go up much, as is evident from the countries that have liberalized, especially cannabis. And people will still be addicted to tanning beds – why not ban them? People will try anything new to get high, including K2, a new, legal pot-like high; unlike cannabis, you don’t know what’s in it. As with salvia divinorum, another old/new intoxicant on the scene, politicians hasten to ban it.

And what if drug use does go up? What business is that of government? Just this: Government-approved drugs help shape the society government wants. Legal caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol ensure that people are peppy, productive, and aggressive.

Different drugs, better world

I am one of those people who believe that if marijuana, oxytocin, MDMA (think of the ads for legal Ecstasy!) and other substances that soothe the murderous ego were readily available, we would have a very different – and very likely more peaceful — world.

But for now: cannabis has shown promise in a growing variety of medical applications (see NORML’s “Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids…2000-2006″‘). We humans have a 10,000-year relationship with it — and cannabis receptors in our brains. It is no more harmful than beer and a lot less harmful than prescription drugs. It fosters sociability and artistic creativity (the secular equivalent of the mystical experience). Re-legalize it already!

9 Responses to “Happy 4/20!”

  1. on 21 Apr 2010 at 2:15 pmRich

    Principal Skinner: “We’ve already given Bart Prozac, Librium, and Ritalin. Pretty soon, he might start using drugs.”

    19 April. Birth of our Great Republic. Battles of Lexington and Concord.

  2. on 21 Apr 2010 at 7:25 pmAlan

    Oh, don’t get me started on the medicalization of child behaviors so as to mold them early on into compliant conformists.

    I’ve been reading about it for years, and for every case where it helps, there are 10 like Bart - he winds up wrapping himself in an aluminum suit to ward off attempts by Major League Baseball to read his mind.

    Cartoon shows parents, bratty kid in doctor’s office: “OK, he doesn’t have ADD. Can we drug him anyway?”

  3. on 22 Apr 2010 at 12:42 amRick

    I saw an old ER episode last night in which the mother of a teenager suspected that he was using drugs and brought him to County General to be tested.

    She was relieved to find out that he was “clean”, i.e. he was only drinking alcohol and that wasn’t using coke “or other drugs”(!). It turns out that the kid was in fact an alcoholic–just like her.

    How’s that for a twisted “anti-drug” message?

  4. on 22 Apr 2010 at 4:47 pmAlan

    Twisted, hypocritical, self-contradictory, arbitrary — these are the irrational elements necessary to maintain the imaginary line betwen approved and unapproved drugs.

    Sounds like religion, doesn’t it?

  5. on 22 Apr 2011 at 5:00 amCheech McChong

    Say, did you know by an odd coincidence, 4/20 is also Hitler’s Birthday!
    In addition, did you know he was paranoid due to daily injections of amphetamines, eventually loosing it and turning his hatered for Jews into the “final solution”… An act of paranoid schizophrenia excerbated, if not wholy fuelled by this substance. (No it’s not proof,but a preponderence if evidence.)
    Good luck with your 4:20…20:4=5 and 4+5=9, 20-9=11, thus 4:20 is a harbinger of 9:11 (Assasin is derived from Hashish!)
    Hey, it’s like I am a Nostradamus or what, lol

  6. on 22 Apr 2011 at 4:41 pmAlan

    Yes, I knew about his birthday and meth habit. At the end, he was clinically psychotic, attacking with armies that didn’t exist.

    And just WHY did they target 9/11? That’s the number we dial in an emergency. Was bin Laden giving us a clue?

  7. on 23 Apr 2011 at 5:29 amCheech McChong

    11 is a numerological equivalent for power of Satan (representing horns of evil /power).
    9 is how many months needed for pregnancy- months of gestation.
    9/11 symbolizes the birth of the Antichrist, son of Satan.
    Also, 11 is symbolic of the towers, and there were 20 highjackers (1 didn’t make it).
    9+11=20, for the 20 centuries past, and for the sum total if all digits.
    4:20, backwards is 20:4=5, symbolic for the pentagram of Satan.
    Finally, 11 is the number for the secret herbs and spices in KFC fried chicken, considered devilishly good by both the pope and osama, thus having the distinction of getting banned by the Vatican and a subject of a fatwah.

  8. on 23 Apr 2011 at 3:34 pmAlan


    I don’t know what you’re smoking in order to come up with these profound numerological connections…just tell me where I can get some.

  9. on 22 Apr 2014 at 2:27 amAnonymous

    Pensees. “Illegal” drugs are a $350B-plus annual business. HSBC was recently caught laundering $800M of it. Crickets.

    It’s Wrath of God money. It’s tearing Mexico apart. It’s ruining much of Mid & West US.I’m sure my US example has distinguished siblings.

    In a Miami Vice episode, Crockett confronts the CEO of a major bank, awash in drug money. Old as death, papery skin, the geezer croaked a parable about Water. Damn, I can’t remember it.

    For a few years after the war, speed was legal in Japan. It became an epidemic, adversely affecting social stability and health. It was banned.

    Speed is insidious. The active molecule precisely fits the brain’s pleasure receptors. They eventually cease functioning.

    From the dawn of Civ, leaders have sought to control “their” people. As now, the rules didn’t apply to them.

    But hokey smokes, the drugging of boys for being boys continues apace. HS & college students gobble new types of speed like Adderal.

    I’ve seen growing evidence of the quest for more Control. For years now in Civ Svc, a single word can destroy your life. Thoughtcrimes. Zero Tolerance is growing in many areas.

    I fear we had one brief shining moment. BTW, JFK got similar injections. In the fanny, from a man they called “Dr. Feelgood”.

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