April the 20th is celebrated for three important reasons (in no particular order):
- it is my half-birthday
- it is Snoop Dogg's half-birthday
- it is the international day for smoking marijuana illegally
I'll get back to Mrs. Clawson in future posts about the American public school system. For now, note that Mrs. Clawson was not so much in over her head as a teacher as she was in over her head as my teacher. This would be a theme throughout my pre-college education. I broke teachers.
Instead, it is the other signature on the certificate that interests me on this April the 20th. The document is signed by Officer Raymond A. Sanders who, according to the City of O'Fallon's website, in 1991, became the first D.A.R.E. officer in St. Charles County. Two years before, Officer Sanders processed my father's citizenship paperwork; three years after, he signed my D.A.R.E. certificate. Only, to me, and to my friends, siblings and my friends' siblings, he was never Officer Raymond A. Sanders. Instead, standing at nearly 8 foot 3 inches tall, we knew and know our D.A.R.E. cop as "Officer Tiny."
Officer Tiny is a foot soldier in the United States' epic & expensive War on Drugs, and as is usually the case with the foot soldier in the United States' epic & expensive wars, Officer Tiny puts everything he has into executing his job effectively, honorably. He warned my class, as he would my siblings' classes, of peer pressure, conducting skits in which we make-believe offered each other beer and drugs, and then resisted the make-believe beer and drugs; of our rights versus the rights of law enforcement officials; of the consequences of alcohol, drug, and nictotine addiction; and in the end, had us all sign a pledge card that read something to the effect of, "I (the undersigned) do solemnly swear to navigate this inordinately drab and yet complex Missouri suburb of St. Louis happy and moral because I am drug free."
So effective was Officer Tiny as a D.A.R.E. cop that I signed the pledge card wholly convinced of my signature's sincerity. I don't remember any of my classmates not signing, and I suspect that many (if not most) of them meant it, too.
Since then, I know many of Mrs. Clawson's Class of '95 have at some point broken their pledge and succumbed to some of the most common social and psychological perils of marijuana addiction, perils that include (but are certainly not limited to) laughter, Reno 911, napping, and multiple ice cream sandwiches.
The D.A.R.E. effort is a noble one, and Officer Tiny is an exceptional civil servant. Unfortunately, the trove of reputable research into the evils of marijuana addiction has yet to indicate anything other than that the illegality of the plant is scientifically baseless; that it is instead likely rooted in yesteryear's racist pillage of zoot suit Mexicans' and Jim Crow blacks' civil rights.
But in 2009, the Mexican drug war has arrived in el norte and a black man sits behind the desk in the Oval Office. The black man has smoked marijuana as did his shit-weasel predecessor and his shit-weasel predecessor's predecessor, both white men. And yet Politico reports that "President Obama, like his two predecessors, supports imprisoning people for making the same choices he made."
Thus, despite that so much has Changed and is Changing since Beltway profiteers first implied into law that marijuana is dangerous enough to warrant spending billions of dollars eradicating it through decades of professional efforts like Officer Tiny's, the Great American Drug Laws remain unflushed.
Barack Obama once said, "I think that the war on drugs is a failure, and I think that we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws; but I'm not somebody who believes in the legalization of marijuana." Unfortunately, a big reason why the War on Drugs is such a moral & fiscal failure is that it includes as its most-expensive enemy a comparatively harmless cash-crop, marijuana.
Sooner or later, even the staunchest criminals in Congress will have to accept that the United States has too many mid- and long-term expenses (read: health care entitlements) to continue borrowing money abroad to pay for ideologues' scientifically-baseless marijuana hysteria at home. Marijuana will be decriminalized (if not legalized) by the time my hitherto unconceived offspring take D.A.R.E., if there is a still D.A.R.E. program by then.
But if D.A.R.E. is still around, my hope is that the program remains unchanged, that it condemns all drugs equally as it once did for me, advocating a healthy, drug-, alcohol-, & nicotine-free lifestyle, telling students that despite that mom & dad are allowed to responsibly enjoy a nightly joint with the neighbors, that there are healthier alternatives to smoking pot.
Moreover, I hope that kids then still listen very carefully to America's Officer Tinys, as my classmates and I did over a decade ago...even if, statistically, most will forget or ignore D.A.R.E.'s lessons like kids do now. After all, at least part of the D.A.R.E. program's argument against marijuana is valid (it is, after all, healthier not to smoke pot than to smoke it), even if ultimately the program's mission remains futile.