Consider our last three presidents: Bill Clinton, who claimed he “didn’t inhale” the marijuana cigarette(s) he smoked; George W. Bush, who admitted marijuana use and is widely suspected of having taken cocaine; and Barack Obama, who admitted to using both drugs. President Obama even said that inhaling “was the point” of smoking reefer. Whatever your politics, none of them can be seen as not having reached the pinnacle of power and success.
heir drug use was inconsequential—in large part because they all avoided legal consequences from it. If Barack Obama had come up in a time when the drug war was being waged as intensely as it is now, we probably would never have heard of him. A single arrest could have precluded student loans, resulted in jail time, and completely ruined his life, posing a far greater threat to him than the drugs themselves did, including the risk of addiction to marijuana or cocaine. Even among people at the highest risk, like I was, it is still the case that the majority do not become alcoholics or drug addicts.
…I’m…acutely aware that often, hard work isn’t enough, especially when the stupid things that black children do are punished much more severely and with much more lasting negative effects than happens with the equally stupid things that white children do. Of course, I’m not arguing that crimes like robbery and burglary shouldn’t have consequences. They should. I just think that the consequences should both be educational and allow for redemption.
And data shows us that the criminal justice system is not the best way to impose these consequences. Its personnel aren’t trained as educators or counselors; they’re trained to contain damage and dole out punishment. Besides this, prisons are difficult to run in a way that keeps children safe and healthy and they are far more expensive to operate than alternatives that are actually more effective. It’s not just my experience—or that of our last three presidents—that suggests that avoiding the justice system produces better outcomes. This is clear from multiple studies.
This data shows that teens who are either not caught or are given noncustodial sentences for their crimes do much better in terms of employment, education, and reduced recidivism than those who are incarcerated or otherwise removed from the community and grouped with criminals. [Goes on to cite two large, rigorous North American studies on the different outcomes for teens who are incarcerated and those who aren’t, even when they engage in the same behaviors]"
And he’s a prison abolitionist! My infatuation grows. Also, just as Susan Dewey’s Neon Wasteland also functions as a bibliography for sociological and anthropological work on poor women and sex work, High Price, besides being a thoughtful biography of the kind of life history drug war hysteria distorts the shit out of and a neuroscientific manifesto, also functions as a bibliography of the best sociological and neuroscientific studies and theories on drug use. Of course he cites the Rat Park study, but to name just a couple, I’ve really got to read up on Howard Becker and Lawrence Kohlberg.
Plus, the perspective on what it was like to be part of the nascent rap scene in the late 70s is fascinating. He played with Run DMC before they were really even Run DMC (and he mocks their Just Say No PSAs by reminiscing about smoking “reefer” with them.)
The data from the above studies and others clearly shows that segregating troubled teens together in settings where there are no parents and few peers aiming for athletic or academic success tends to make their criminal behavior worse.3 Both being labeled as a “bad kid” and hanging out with peers who feel that their only source of manhood and identity is engaging in criminal behavior significantly increase risk for future crime. Social influences like incarceration during youth predict adult crime far more strongly than anything we’ve been able to identify so far related to biological factors like dopamine in the brain.
Moreover, because black youth are more than twice as likely to be arrested as whites,4 the negative effects of juvenile prison have a disproportionate effect on our community. (For drug offenses, the inequities are even more glaring: drug cases are filed against black youth at a rate almost five times greater than for white youth, even though more white youth, 17 percent, report having sold drugs than blacks do, 13 percent.)5 While these facts are discouraging because they show how big the problem is, they also suggest that a clear solution is minimizing juvenile incarceration rates.
Today Tobias got carded buying nicotine patches. I don’t think I ever got carded buying cigarettes, even when I was 16.
Also, the weird thing about marriage is that I actually care if he quits smoking, because I don’t want to see him die of lung cancer when he’s 60.