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Open Letter

Marijuana is seldom the answer to a military issue. It is not cited as an element of strategy or tactics by luminaries such as Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, or Chuck Norris. Still, don't dismiss marijuana out-of-hand.

Consider this week's interview on All Things Considered with Gretchen Peters, author of Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Peters explained that the Taliban earn money through crime, and in Afghanistan a prime example is heroin. Many Afghan farmers are forced to grow poppies due to a long drought and the destruction of irrigation systems.

Peters said U.S. commanders have told her there's a real concern about troops getting poppy-derived drugs in Afghanistan. Soviet troops in Afghanistan, she noted, had a huge heroin problem. In the U.K and Canada, Peters said Muslim gangs are "getting involved in smuggling heroin that is coming from Afghanistan. And they've actually given interviews to the British press and they're referring to it as a chemical jihad, making addicts of infidels in the West."

How long, then, before the Taliban think to market heroin more aggressively to U.S. soldiers? As Peters notes, keeping heroin away from American soldiers won't be easy in the current surge, "because this effort to send thousands and thousands of American troops into these very remote, very difficult villages in Afghanistan to live in, it's boring, it's hard, you want to find an escape from it all." Like high school, except there's also a good chance of getting killed. Or, come to think of it, just like high school in all too many Chicago neighborhoods.

How to face the threat of Taliban heroin aimed directly at America's men and women in uniform? Luckily, the Taliban are not likely to come up with any hipster packaging or spiffy ad campaigns featuring extinct species of the homo genus. But still.

Approached as a multiple-choice question on a college entrance exam, we can quickly eliminate the obviously wrong answers. And the most obviously wrong answer is abstinence.

Has abstinence not been thoroughly discredited enough for you yet, Pentagon? Just picture Nancy Reagan in a red dress, her unnaturally large head balanced precariously on her tiny shoulders, looking all the world like a ventriloquist's dummy mouthing the punchline to a bad joke: "Just say no." I won't waste anyone's time debunking abstinence programs.

That brings us to nicotine and alcohol. Prior to Vietnam, these were the typical soldier's drugs of choice. Even with the staggering statistics which damn both, booze and cigarettes are still vaguely comforting, like watching a black-and-white classic for the umpteenth time. And in those classics, Rick, Ilsa and even saintly Victor Laszlo smoke and drink. Nick Charles solves mysteries with unparalleled panache after enough dry martinis to knock out a blue whale. Shield your eyes, Pentagon: don't look at the glowing late-night cable showing of The Thin Man. Eliminate these answers too, though tempting because they are legal and so very familiar.

Booze and cigarettes are as addictive as heroin. The 1990-1992 National Comorbidity Survey showed the conversion (read: addiction) rate of cigarettes was 23.5% for people 15-24 years old, compared to 20.1% for heroin. According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control, smoking kills one in five Americans every year - about 443,000 smoke-related deaths - and costs us over $193 billion in health care costs and productivity loss.The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 15.3 million U.S. adults over 18 have an alcohol use disorder, versus 4.2 million with a drug disorder.

In addition, smoking isn't what it used to be. Any official military station would most likely have to impose today's typical indoor smoking restrictions. We'd end up with platoons of soldiers milling about outside on smoking breaks. They wouldn't be irritating obstacles to people entering and exiting office buildings as smokers are here at home, but they would make convenient targets for snipers.

As for booze, the only thing more touchy and dangerous than a drunk is a drunk with a gun. Oh, there is one thing more dangerous: a drunk with a gun who knows how to use it.

Pentagon, you see where I'm going with this. The best choice left is marijuana. Not asking and not telling about blowing a joint can't be any harder for you people than it is regarding gay soldiers. Given prevailing attitudes in the military, I bet it's easier.

Let's be clear - I'm not claiming marijuana isn't a drug. I'm suggesting it is another drug, which seems significantly less destructive than the global scourges of the drugs tobacco and alcohol. According to the Institute of Medicine's 1999 report "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," written as a review of scientific evidence on marijuana at the direction of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, "few marijuana users develop dependence," and of those who do, any withdrawal "is mild and short lived."

The report also notes that "most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana," and marijuana "is rarely the first, 'gateway' to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs."

And we're not talking about peddling drugs to teenagers. The average age of active-duty soldiers in the army is 27.

What about contamination or varying levels of potency? Those issues could be easily addressed if the pot were produced here in the U.S. As drug enforcement agencies know all too well, growing marijuana isn't rocket science. If the military can find contractors for actual rocket science, surely it can find contractors capable of growing some weed. And we'd create jobs in the process! Between helping the troops stay off heroin and helping the economy, it would make sense to call the product "Victory Joints."

Yes, yes, Pentagon. I realize it would be a public relations disaster if word of Victory Joints got out. You'll want to keep it on the down-low. Try to do a better job than with Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions, the CIA's black prison sites and waterboarding. What are you guys, a bunch of stoners?


Cate Plys


Open Letter is open to letters.


See who else Cate has written to - from Lin Brehmer and The Person Who Let Their Dog Defecate Near The Southeast Corner Of 58th And Kimbark to Fellow Parents Planning Birthday Parties and Macy's - in the Open Letter archive.


Posted on December 11, 2009

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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