El Coyote, 1986. Graphite on drawing paper, 12 x 18 in. Collection of Phyllis Aycock and Michael Schreiber.
Lately I have been promoting an idea whose time has possibly come. Drug use was a central feature of adolescence when I grew up in Los Angeles County. Pot, acid, bennies, and other sundry pursuits, besides Coors beer and Spanada wine, were the means to enhanced recreation for my peers. There was an incredible innocence to all of this. My friend Cindy never considered that the glue she sprayed into brown paper bags and huffed would corrode her brain. She had a big heart, but she wasn’t the smartest girl on the block. Bruce was the most obvious example of drugs gone wrong; he often talked about god and the word was that he once saw Jesus on acid.
I hope for enlightened attitudes about marijuana and peyote. Nature provided them and man has had a sacred, and sometimes profane, relationship with both for centuries. The fact that marijuana is illegal, and prescribed medicines that lead to addiction are not, is a certain sign of how ludicrous the laws are governing controlled substances. The Obama administration continues to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in the State of California even though the use and distribution of medical marijuana was legalized by the citizens of this state. Beyond that, we could really use hemp in this country from our own manufacturing base, rather than importing its products from Canada and countries of the European Union. Hemp is extremely versatile: paper, rope, textiles, food products. As for peyote, the above drawing was created the morning after an evening of peyote. How can one fault the blessings of such a natural substance?
My feelings, though, regarding drug use overall have changed. The innocence of my youth did not contemplate substances like methamphetamine. By the time crack was devastating communities during the 1980s, I knew the era of innocence was dead. When I found out later that the C.I.A. supported Nicaraguan Contra funneling of these drugs into these communities, drug trafficking and consumption took on the darkest overtones I could imagine. The level of violent crime directly connected to drug trafficking and use today is frightening. Over 55,000 Mexican nationals have been killed because we use drugs, including marijuana, that come over the border to satisfy our desires.
The proposal is simple: create housing for individuals who use a substance to the point where they begin to harm society. The housing would be equipped to provide all daily needs. The drug of choice would be available in this housing 24/7 in unlimited amount. The individual would, though, be cut off from society, no longer able to mingle with others. Monitoring would include surveillance of the premises, but no intervention would be used. If the drug user were to consume their drug of choice to the point of death, nothing would be done to prevent a terminal outcome.
Although I am not serious about this proposal, for various reasons, including the moral and ethical dimensions regarding compassionate intervention, I have mused on the notion purely for its novelty. As I have talked to others about the proposal, many interesting suggestions have been made that would augment the original. For instance, one friend suggested allowing people to watch a residence via the surveillance equipment, providing another mode of reality entertainment. Another friend suggested creating communities on Treasure Island, relegating individuals to communities based on a common drug. Some suggestions have been truly bizarre. I discussed the possibility, with a friend, of local government manufacturing the drug so as to weaken the hold that manufacturers of illegal drugs have on society. My friend proposed the arrest of dealers, which would lead to the arrest of manufacturers. The manufacturers would then be held in custody and forced to continue producing the drug for the housed users. And, as a ghoulish nod to Soylent Green, once the drug user expires, the body would be converted into food for surviving users, with the enhancement of drug traces in the recycled body product augmenting the supply of drug already circulating within the housing system.
As farfetched as the idea appears, popular culture has provided the model for decades now. In W. Somerset Maugham’s 1939 novel Christmas Holiday, the character Simon Fenimore gives voice to the belief that as long as people believe they are receiving what they want, they will be easily controlled: “…I should give the people the illusion of liberty by allowing them as much personal freedom as is compatible with the safety of the state…” The most frightening moment of George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984 occurs at the Chestnut Tree Cafe as Winston Smith settles down to a glass of gin, “…his life, his death, and his resurrection,” perhaps the same Victory Gin we see him administering in his home at the beginning of the story, a potion that after an initial shock to the body begins to make the world look more cheerful. His vain attempt to wrest himself from the power of the State already brutally eclipsed, his re-education through torture and other devices in the Ministry of Love complete, Smith is ready to accept prescribed reality once again.