Months ago, I jumped at the opportunity to buy tickets for The Pogues’ March 10 show at the 930 Club, particularly excited that Shane MacGowan, the Irish band’s troubled lead singer, had re-joined after a decade’s absence and would be performing.
I began listening to The Pogues casually in college and became more familiar with their work only after moving to Wahington. Still, I knew very little of MacGowan’s career after he had been thrown out of the band. His incessant drug use led him to miss a series of shows in the early 1990s, and a great band lost its greatest creative mind.
I had heard that MacGowan was in bad shape from his years of hard living and hard drugs, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of him that night. His appearance called to mind a line he himself wrote in a better day:
I come, old friend, from Hell tonight Across the rotting sea. . .
MacGowan, who was first thrown out of school for drug possession at age 14, was already slurring his words and gurgling in studio recordings at the height of his career in the late 1980s — that is actually part of the charm of the band’s music. But today, the hideous sight of him could scare almost anyone away from using drugs. Shane had the appearance of someone who had somehow “caught” Downs Syndrome. He shuffled around the stage like a 90-year-old man, and saddest of all were his efforts to spit out a few words for the crowd between numbers.
None of this ruined the show (if you know the band you’ll understand), but it left quite an impression to see the man lurch off the stage after every few songs for a break and forget lyrics he had once written himself. Two defining moments came when Spider Stacy had to light a cigarette and put it in a confused Shane’s mouth for him, and then at the end when Shane “chugged” the last half of his bottle of wine, mostly emptying it onto the stage and down the front of his shirt.
Shane MacGowan is in a bad way today, but fortunately he will never cause problems for anyone. He is obviously well loved (and well compensated) for what he did long ago. He has friends and money to take care of him as long as he lives.
But what about those who share his drug problems, but lack his talent and accomplishment — among them the countless homeless on the streets of Washington? Amid the debate over the “war on drugs,” there is an irrational hope surrounding the idea of legalization that often ignores the uglier side of drug use and its consequences not only to the users, but to society as a whole.
On my way to work, I am accosted daily by these self-inflicted drug victims. They hang around outside Union Station, bothering pedestrians with both meek words and violent threats. They loiter about the Irish Times on Capitol Hill, where I once witnessed one bum beating the hell out of another (he survived, but the Metropolitan police did not come when I called). They hang around McDonald’s on 17th Street, outside the Tune Inn and the Potbelly’s on Pennsylvania Avenue, and in countless other spots as well. Those who favor legalization should experience a shuttle-bus ride from Brookland to Capitol Hill with a crazed woman, screaming obscenities at the top of her lungs for ten minutes and not minding at all the looks of her fellow riders.
It is hopelessly naïve to think that the legalization of drugs will not increase their use. Even in a moment of weakness or a spell of hard times, I would guess that most people have absolutely no idea where to go to buy cocaine or heroin, or even weed. But if they were available at CVS — even if they were heavily taxed and regulated — it is wishful thinking to believe that lots of perfectly normal people would not give it a try, just out of sheer curiosity and a desire for a harmless and legal good time.
The legalization of drugs would certainly increase the numbers of wasted lives that begin with drug addiction and end — at best — with hopelessly rotted brains, mental illnesses, and pitying passers-by who can really do nothing to help. Where one homeless man stands today, twenty could stand in the future, and that would victimize every passer-by, not to mention every taxpayer.
And that is only the best-case scenario, because the harm drugs do to society is often much greater than mere idleness and vagrancy. A 1997 survey of prison inmates by the Census Bureau explodes the myth that criminals generally act to fund their habits rather than out of a drug-fueled frenzy. Among state prison inmates (more than 90 percent of the prison population at the time) who had been convicted of “violent” crimes — murder, rape, assault or robbery — 29 percent of those surveyed reported that they were high on drugs at the time of the offenses for which they had been imprisoned. That compares with only 12 percent who said they committed such crimes in order to get money for drugs.
It is, again, naïve to compare, as some do, hard drugs to alcohol, as if the intoxicating effects and addictive qualities are equivalent. This flies in the face of all societal experience, considering the sharp increase in crime during New York’s crack years of the 1980s. Considering that nearly everyone drinks, and such a small percentage of drinkers cause a problem, the benefits of alcohol to society appear far greater than the drawbacks. People certainly do stupid things when drunk, but they usually require hours of drinking before they can begin to approach the irrational, violent state of someone who has spent 90 seconds smoking crack.
Finally, it is naïve to believe that legalization will suddenly end the violence that surrounds the drug trade. It is true that the actors within that terrible world may stop killing each other over drugs, but nor will they suddenly get jobs and become productive members of society. Like all clever entrepreneurs, they will find another means to do what they do best — provide illegal services at a premium — whether it be human trafficking, kidnapping, pimping, weapons sales, hacking and bank fraud, tax-free drugs, or some still unforeseen method of profiting at the expense of society.
The root cause of drug violence is not the lucrative drug market itself, but rather a segment of society that steadfastly refuses and remains entirely unwilling to endure the nine-to-five life the rest of us lead. The indolent we will always have with us. But for now, as long as drugs are illegal, we can at least imprison them when they make their money poisoning our communities and destroying lives through the drug trade. And in addition to the benefit of locking these thugs away, the law at least provides some small deterrent effect for others.
No crime is entirely victimless, at least not when committed on a large scale. The problem is that when considering utopian ideas like drug legalization, many fail to recognize the potential harm to the society until it is too late.
David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire