For a place that’s been so defined by the War on Drugs, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how deeply the people of Humboldt County have internalized the insanity of the Drug War. It was only a couple years after the helicopters stopped persecuting the pot farmers that all of the growers came to a town meeting in Redway to demand that the County Sheriff send more cops down here to address our heroin and meth problem. They asked the same cops, who they knew were corrupt, and had terrorized their whole community for decades, the same cops who raided their homes and held their children at gunpoint, the same cops who tortured non-violent protesters by swabbing pepper-spray directly into their eyes, to do something about the fact that their own kids now use heroin and meth.

You’d think they’d realize that if the National Guard and 30 years of CAMP couldn’t stop them from growing weed, no amount of cops are ever going to stop their kids from shooting heroin. Besides that, after seeing so many of their neighbors, friends, family members and even themselves, busted, jailed and labeled felons because they grew, used or carried cannabis, you’d think they might not be so quick to demand the same violence against their own children, just because they prefer to use a different substance. You might think so, but you’d be wrong, because the insanity of the War on Drugs lives on in the minds of its victims.

Pot farmers have gotten used to deflecting. They like to say: “I’m just a Mom and Pop grower trying to put a new pair of tires on my old truck. Why don’t you go after the diesel grows, the guerrilla grows on public land or the big mountaintop removal grows, instead of me?” They deflect attention away from what they did, and on to people who do something worse, but even if you have a big diesel mountaintop removal grow on public land, you can still say: “Why don’t you go after heroin and meth, instead of me?” Now that pot is legal, and growers get abatement letters about code violations instead of paramilitary police raids, they still scream: “Why don’t you go after heroin and meth?” Cannabis criminals constantly scapegoat the hard drug industry to make their crimes seem less heinous by comparison.

Alcoholics do the same thing. Half of the people in Humboldt County have an alcohol problem, and too many of them were born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol is, by far, much more of a menace to our community than heroin and meth combined, but you can have a problem with alcohol, and your family and friends will still love you, your boss won’t fire you, and you can still make the mortgage payment, because alcohol is legal, cheap and accepted by society. As long as you keep your shit together, you can kill yourself slowly with alcohol, and call it a normal American life. Still, alcoholics will say: “Sure I drink, and I got a couple of DUIs, but that’s nothing compared to people who shoot heroin and meth. Why don’t you go after heroin and meth instead of harassing people like me?”

I saw this at a Eureka City Council meeting last July. Of three individuals who stood to testify against our local harm-reduction needle exchange program, two of them wore clothing that advertised other drugs, while they testified. One guy wore a long-sleeve t-shirt bearing the logo of a local brewery, with the words “Never Straight” in big letters down both sleeves. That strikes me as either the slogan of a radical queer separatist group, or an alcoholic lifestyle. Since the shirt also proclaimed the name of a local brewery on the front and back, I assume the latter. He also had the bulbous red nose and beer belly to go with it. Wearing that shirt, he testified that syringe exchange programs, have turned us into a bunch of “drug addicted Peter Pans,” and demanded that the City of Eureka close down HACHR, a local charity that works to reduce the harm associated with drug use by providing clean syringes and overdose prevention kits.

Another guy who testified to end this program wore a green hoodie. On the back, a design featured a human skull, surrounded by a wreath of cannabis leaves with the words “Humboldt County” loudly emblazoned on it. Since cannabis has never killed anyone, I can only assume that the skull refers to the dozens of people who met a premature death in the black market marijuana industry here in Humboldt County. Those are the only deaths I know of linked to both cannabis and Humboldt County, and we have plenty of those. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone left two of them in an SUV at the end of my road and set it on fire. I don’t know if the design intended to celebrate this kind of violence or to commemorate it, in the way that other war veterans commemorate the terrible wars they’ve fought in. Either way, the design speaks to the human toll of the War on Drugs. Apparently, he hadn’t looked carefully at it before he put it on to go address the city council.

Everyone, it seems, feels the need to scapegoat someone who does something they think is worse than whatever it is that they do. Then they demand harsh punishment for the scapegoat, and when the problem gets worse they demand even more harsh punishment for the scapegoat. That’s how it goes with prohibition —  the more cops you throw at it, the more money there is to be made from it, and the more of it you see on the streets. It’s a vicious cycle that plays out again and again, and it works with any drug.

Since cops can no longer go after people for weed, they focus on heroin and meth. Now that cops focus on heroin and meth, we see an explosion in heroin and meth use, so we ask the cops to focus even more attention on heroin and meth and the problem gets worse. It’s crazy, and it’s a craziness that destroys our community while it makes cops and drug dealers filthy rich. Those are our kids who use these drugs, and it’s our money that pays for all of this craziness. You’d think we would have learned our lesson by now. You’d think.


John Hardin writes at Like You’ve Got Something Better to Do.