Category Archives: Opinion

The Opinion section is not only our voice, but yours as well. We encourage all currently enrolled U of L students as well as faculty and staff to use the Cardinal as a soapbox for the issues that are important to you.

Peyton Siva in the game against UK on Dec. 22, 2012.

U of L men’s basketball sees fleeting No. 1 AP ranking

Peyton Siva in the game against UK on Dec. 22, 2012.

By Haley O’Shaugnessey–

So far, it has been quite the year for Louisville basketball. The team started off with a preseason ranking of second in the nation. They have since lived up to, and even now, exceeded said ranking. As of last Monday, the Associated Press knighted Louisville first in the nation, a title that Louisville basketball has never claimed during the regular season. Cards were ranked first after the Big East tournament in 2009, however.

Since the AP news, there has been gloating to UK fans, “First in the nation” tweets galore and even the production of a t-shirt donning the words “We’re Number One.” While celebrating is justifiable, especially after making school history,  the latter is embarrassing overkill. A “We’re Number One” t-shirt will only be acceptable after it is no longer a temporary title, but instead, a national title. We need to remember that this is the regular season, not the post season, and the two are on completely different playing fields…literally.

In regular season, poll voters determine who is first. In regular season, the team is still growing, experiencing new defenses and learning how to break down new offenses. In regular season, being number one sometimes does not even continue into the next week.

That is why the Louisville fan base should not focus on being ranked first currently, but on the current team itself. This is a basketball squad that has shown the toughness, competitive drive and athleticism that we usually see Pitino’s teams break out with in mid February.

We have a while until March, but when we get there, no poll voter will determine who is number one. First in the nation will be decided by the teams solely.  And should the Cardinals make that decision and find success in the big dance – then yes, everyone in “CardNation” should buy a “We’re Number One” t-shirt.

Peyton Siva UofL Vs UK 12-29-12
Photo: Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal

field notes thumb

New Year’s: Where resolutions go to die

By Tyler Mercer–

Every year we all make a list of the things we would like to change about our lives. We look at what we’re doing wrong or what we don’t like about ourselves, or our lives, and we decide to make a change. Personally, I always say I want to excercise more, better manage my time and save more money. However, each year it seems as though many of our resolutions simply don’t stick.

I’ve wondered for a long time why stick with my resolutions for a few weeks until I miss a few days at the gym or slack off on the weekend. Those few skimps ruin my resolutions and I can never seem to get back on track. I’m sure that most of you experience the same frustrations that comes with failing our New Year’s resolutions.

When defeat sets in, we lose motivation to start back up and power through the down times. Most of the time, I can get in routine and make time in my schedule to go to the gym every day. This good routine could go for a couple of weeks before anything messes it up. Then one day, I’ll be too busy to work out and I need to rest that day. I will forget to even go to the gym the following day. Then I start forgetting to make time for it at all. As I get out of routine, other parts of my day-to-day get off track as well. I won’t read an assignment or something along those lines and then everything just falls apart. My routine is out the window and so is almost every bit of motivation. Without that incentive, I begin to doubt myself and feel like I can’t get back in the saddle.

So what can we do to power through our resolutions for 2013? Here’s my plan: Instead of starting out the year saying how I’m going to give up sodas or that I’m going to work out every day, I’m just trying to get used to the new year. I give myself time to get adjust to my new class schedule so that I know how much studying time to commit to each class. After January, I’ll put my resolutions into action.

Hopefully by the time February comes around, I will be full swing into my classes and other responsibilities. As my schedule starts bulking up with extra ways to improve myself, I plan to schedule time for rest. Giving myself one day a week without strenuous activities will allow me to devote time doing things I actually enjoy.

To make that happen, time management is key. You need to get all of the important things done before that day comes around. For me, that means no procrastination. When something is assigned, do it early or break it into smaller, more manageable tasks. The feeling of having earned that day off will be well worth it. Hopefully, that feeling of accomplishment will  motivate you to follow through with your other new year resolutions.

Remember to find ways to keep yourself motivated. When you lose your motivation, you won’t want to even try to pick your resolutions back up. Look back at why you’ve failed resolutions in the past and try not to make the same mistakes.
Photo: Flickr/StevenCummings


Textbooks for a dollar a page

By Genevieve Mills–

It’s that time of year again. A new semester of classes has started and it’s time to do something you probably should’ve done over winter break: buy your textbooks. Hopefully you’ve set aside at least $200 for this, because that’s about how much textbooks could cost you for four or five classes. That’s assuming you’re smart about buying books, going to used bookstores or checking out bargain websites to find textbooks for much cheaper than they’re sold at Gray’s College Bookstore or the SAC bookstore. If for some reason you’re buying brand new books from the stores on campus that, theoretically, should be the easiest, most convenient way to get your books, you might end up paying a lot more than $200.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this utterly ridiculous. And this is coming from an English major who has never had to buy one of those expensive calculus books. But yesterday when I shelled out $50 for a new paperback textbook because I had to have it for homework due the next morning and neither Gray’s nor the SAC bookstore had it used. It felt like my wallet was crying.

The problem is that we simply have to buy these textbooks. It’s buy the textbook or fail the class. There are a few classes you can get away with just paying attention in the lecture to get a good grade, but most of the time homework is assigned from the book and if you’re one of those people who actually do homework you’re going to need a book to do it.

Sometimes the blame lies with the professor who doesn’t even glance at the cost of a book before assigning it. The textbook market has been compared to that of prescription drugs, meaning that the professors who choose the books, or the doctors who prescribe the drugs, aren’t the people who have to pay for them. Professors will assign the new, revised edition of a book without considering that it’s 20 dollars more than the three-year-old book that is almost the same but for the chapter titles.

However, some professors are conscious of the price of books and do try to help their students out. On the last day of my French class last semester, the professor asked us what we thought of the assigned textbooks, if they were helpful, and if she should continue to assign them. She apologized about the price of one of them. “It was one of the cheapest ones I could find for the material I wanted to cover,” she said. So if it’s not the professors’ fault, whose is it?

The wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have jumped 62 percent since 1994, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index. I think I can say the high price of textbooks is due to the publishers. According to the National Association of College Stores, 64.3 percent of the cost of a textbook is due to the publisher.

What’s the solution to this outrageous problem of spending hundreds on books? I wish I knew. Yes, there are e-books, but some professors don’t allow laptops in class, and expect you to use the textbook to help with in-class discussion. You can try buying it used from Amazon, but that means you better plan ahead because shipping can take weeks. If you’re lucky you can buy books from friends. You can try renting them, but that’s often almost as expensive as just buying them.

I don’t know what the solution to the cost of books is, but there has to be one out there. And the only way to find it is through actively searching for it, not just groaning while handing your card to the cashier. Professors and students are going to have to work together to solve this problem, because otherwise textbooks are just going to continue to increase in price while the size of our bank accounts decrease.
Photo: Flickr/rob.wall


Beliebers fall victim to anonymous 4Chan user scam

Smoked out.

By Tyler Mercer–

On a college campus of any size, one could find many people who are familiar with the site or sites very much like it. These sites provide a medium where users can post and comment on topics, photos or events completely anonymously. This ability allows users to speak and perform actions with little to no consequences.

Allegedly, Justin Bieber recently was found to be involved in less than satisfactory behavior with marijuana. As quoted by the NY Daily News, an anonymous user on said:

“Lets start a cut yourself for bieber campaign. Tweet a bunch of pics of people cutting themselves and claim we did it because bieber was smoking weed. See if we can get some little girls to cut themselves.”

While these comments have been removed from the site, it didn’t stop the topic #Cut4Bieber from trending on Twitter. Some may remember #Bald4Bieber trending last October where another user suggested that Justin Bieber had cancer and that fans should support him by cutting their hair off as well.

The damage done by shaving your head can be pretty lasting. It seems so at the time, anyway. The idea that someone would joke about self-harm, or indirectly encourage someone to do it, is pretty disturbing. Justin Bieber fans have frequently been characterized as pre-teen girls. That age is very susceptible to outside influences.

As college students, we understand the pressure to keep up. We always need to know what’s trending. We look to the internet and social media to tell us what everyone is into right now. Not only as college students, but as humans, we have an underlying desire to fit in. But those who are mature enough know where to draw the line.

The young girls following Bieber, both on Twitter and throughout his day-to-day, will do anything to get his attention. They want him to notice them in the same way that they’ve noticed him. If they believe that jumping in on a trending topic on Twitter will help Justin notice them and they will become a part of something viral, they might just do it.

Not only were these anonymous users putting young people in danger of potential self-harm, but they were being especially insensitive to those individuals who have struggled with self-harm in the past. We can never know how someone else views the world and themselves without truly living their life. Those who struggle with self-harm are fighting a daily battle. This is not something to make light of or joke about.

Those involved in this struggle deserve compassion, not ignorance. That ignorance is fully embodied in the anonymous users who started this disappointing trend. Self-harm and the ideas that surround it are not a trend. It isn’t hip. It is truly something more people should care about and make themselves aware.
Photo courtesy TMZ


Editorial: When a library burns

“When an elder dies, it is as if a whole library had burned down.” – West African proverb

There have been few men in the University of Louisville’s roster of deans and professors who have, in their tenure, fostered the type of inspired academic growth as that which was evident in the life and career of the late Arts & Sciences Dean, Dr. J. Blaine Hudson.

In his passing the community has lost a lighthouse of a leader, the university a library filled with staggering experiences.

His legacy is cemented by his monumental contributions to the study of Louisville’s history, and his tireless devotion to building a racially aware Louisville. His work in “Two Centuries of Black Louisville: A Photographic History” remains a treasury of knowledge about race relations in the city.

Hudson’s leadership was visionary. He served his community in his chairmanships of the department of Pan African studies and of the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission. He also led the educational program, Saturday Academy, and served on a committee appointed to curb West End violence in Louisville.

Faculty, students and leaders in the community all looked to Hudson for guidance and wisdom.

Acknowledgements of his work have come from U of L president James Ramsey, who spoke of Hudson’s contributions, saying that they “will have a lasting impact on generations of U of L students” and from Mayor Greg Fischer who said, “He understood the city’s history, and he selflessly shared his learnings and insights from both an academic and real-life perspective. Though he grew up in times of racial segregation, his entire life was spent helping bridge racial divides…”

It is unlikely that this city, much less this university, will ever find a professor and leader with such unique strengths, such profound insights into our shared history, and such devotion to his students as what we found in Dr. Hudson.

The Louisville Cardinal extends its deepest condolences to the family members and community who survive in the tragic passing of this truly great man. We gather ourselves with you under the black umbrella of your grief. We are students who, though left cold by the loss of his light, are still warmed by the magnificent blaze of this library as it burns to the ground.
Photo courtesy


Secessionists should take a lesson from Lincoln

By Lee Cole–

I can’t help but think that the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was conspicuously timed.  In the wake of an Obama victory, a movie about the great healer of a divided nation seems appropriate.  What made the irony all the more delicious was the fact that after President Obama’s successful re-election bid, a number of states submitted petitions to the White House to peaceably secede from the union.  The number of signatures eventually rose above 500,000, with all 50 states participating.

Naturally, the number of citizens who have signed pales in comparison to the number of people who are perfectly satisfied with the union as it is.  There have even been  a growing number of petitions by those who wish to distinguish themselves from the secessionists.Nonetheless, the petitions got a lot of attention and the threshold of 25,000 signatures for a White House review was reached easily.

If you’re wondering how many signatures they need to actually secede, well, the answer is infinity, because it will never happen.  Secession is illegal and the notion that states would be allowed to “peaceably” secede is ridiculous.  It would require all upper-level military officers to declare allegiance to their state above their country and furthermore, it would require the support of state legislatures, governors and congressmen.  To actually pull off secession in this day and age would require a tremendous, concerted effort and widespread international support.

The whole incident comes across as a distraction at best and unpatriotic and childish at worst.  What we have on our hands here is a massive case of sour grapes.  Spielberg’s film arrived at the perfect time to remind us how petty our disagreements are now compared to the 1860s.  Lincoln was fighting to free people who were enslaved and upon whose backs an economy rested.  These modern day secessionists are fighting because their president has a funny name and they have to pay 14 cents more per Papa John’s pizza.

The petition from the state of Texas, shown above, has garnered the most signatures of any state so far.

President Obama is the most threatened and the most hated president in our history.  Most of the articles I’ve written over the past months have been attempts to illuminate that fact and to point to possible reasons why.  I’ve suggested racism and xenophobia and a religiously influenced “us versus them” mentality, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that a new word is needed to describe the peculiar brand of dislike that so many feel for our president.  Driving through the American south, you see countless anti-Obama stickers, signs that read “Obama or America, you can’t have both,” and a slew of restaurants have begun imposing what they call an “Obama tax’ to supposedly make up for the high costs of the Affordable Care Act.  Should we call it “Anti-Obamaism?”  After “Biden his time” and “Romneyverse,” I’m all out of good puns.

In all seriousness though, the specific hatred of President Obama is becoming something of a cottage industry.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that all of the anger is being directed at one man who is heavily guarded and highly unlikely to be gotten to, rather than, say, immigrants, African Americans, gays and lesbians, etc. The problem, of course, is that there always seems to be enough intolerance to go around.

The petitions point to a greater trend, however, and it may be fair to say that many of the same tensions and rivalries that existed during the Civil War era are alive and well today.  We still fundamentally disagree about states’ rights and the proper role of government.  Those who claim the Civil War was only about states’ rights miss that the right in question, specifically, was the right to own slaves.  And as Supreme Court Justice Scalia pointed out, if the Civil War proved anything, it is that no state has the right to secede. Nonetheless, the big government versus small government argument is one that is well worth having.  The signers of these petitions may have been better off focusing on real, addressable issues or garnering support for their states’ rights over and above the federal government.  Attempting to secede, however, just makes them look like imbeciles.
Photo courtesy Dreamworks


Getting High Part 2: A different way of approaching addiction and mental healthcare is needed to solve America’s drug problem

Needle exchange programs, like the one pictured above at the Fresno Free Clinic, are only one way of compassionately addressing drug addiction, without creating lifelong criminals by throwing addicts in prison.

By Lee Cole–

Part one of “Getting High” focused on diagnosing America’s drug problem and examining our attitudes as Americans toward drugs, medicine and recreational intoxication.  Part two focuses on the prescription and tangible efforts and measures that could be put in place immediately to spur real change.

The first and most important step has to be decriminalizing, or flat out legalizing, cannabis.  President Obama has stated numerous times that he supports decriminalizing cannabis and an altogether different approach to treating drug addiction and drug abuse.  Rather than sending drug addicts to prison, and creating lifelong criminals in the process, he favors the European model, wherein drug addicts are treated by medical professionals as people who are sick.  It’s a sensible, decent way to address an important problem.

This approach would apply mainly to heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and prescription drug addicts.  Cannabis, it should be clear, is a relatively harmless substance, and it’s time we started treating it that way.  It’s far less dangerous than alcohol and caffeine. When one considers that around 100 people die every year from Tylenol, and some 50,000 more are hospitalized, whereas no one dies from using cannabis, its current legal status becomes more and more embarrassing.

Although decriminalization is supported by Obama, it’s likely that he will leave it up to the states.  Full-fledged legalization is probably not a realistic outcome for at least another decade.  However, rescheduling cannabis as a schedule 2 or 3 drug is a real possibility, and it would render law enforcement officials impotent when it comes to taking legal measures against those caught with the drug. This would also reduce penalties and do away with mandatory minimums for prison sentences in a large number of cases.  In Washington, following the recent vote for legalization, all the cannabis cases pending were dropped.  I see no reason why this couldn’t be done on a national level if decriminalization were to occur.  Of course, violent offenders would have to remain, but releasing those imprisoned for simple possession would relieve overcrowding and reduce our prison population, which is currently the largest in the world.

Perhaps the most important measure we can take is a reevaluation of how we approach mental healthcare.  As it stands now, mental healthcare is something which only relatively wealthy persons can afford.  It’s why so many in lower socio-economic classes turn to drugs.  The reason may be that general healthcare is seen as a necessity whereas mental healthcare is seen as a luxury.  Mental health should be taken as seriously as bodily health,  and until we begin treating them as equal, the disparity will remain.

Furthermore, we have to reconsider the use of SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) as antidepressants.  Since 1988, the rate of antidepressant use has risen 400 percent, and antidepressants are currently the most prescribed drugs in the United States.  Of course, this isn’t entirely because we’ve become more depressed.  Pharmaceutical companies have a lot to gain by acting as pushers, and SSRI’s, while they certainly do help some people, are almost certainly overprescribed.  Antidepressants are especially insidious because of their subtlety and their widespread acceptance in society.  They affect mood and disposition in ways that are difficult to perceive and they alter one’s personality.  One may be prescribed an antidepressant during a particularly difficult time, usually not by a psychiatrist, and then find themselves still using it five years later, because every time they attempt to stop, their mood is affected in such a dramatic way they don’t feel it’s worth it.  This is normal by society’s standards, and we don’t use words like “dependence” and “withdrawal” when talking about SSRI’s.  If someone were to tell you, “I have this new drug that cures sadness and is tantamount to chemical happiness.  All you have to do is take it every day, indefinitely, for the rest of your life if necessary,” you would most likely be weary.

We don’t see it as strange because pharmaceutical companies and doctors have been pushing the now rather hackneyed phrase “chemical imbalance” for the past few years.  It’s just specific enough to seem credible but vague enough to be unverifiable.  Furthermore, we are expected to believe that the cause of mental illness is a chemical imbalance, but to ask what the cause of the chemical imbalance is in the first place is seen as an unfair question.  The most common answer is genetics; environmental factors are often ignored because they aren’t easy to address.  Naturally, mental disorders are reducible to neurotransmitters and biochemical processes at the level of the brain, but it’s not clear what it is to have a “balance” of these chemicals, or precisely what an “imbalance” entails.

Antidepressants, like the SSRI Prozac pictured above, are overprescribed in the U.S.

The fact of the matter is that we want easy answers and shortcuts.  It’s easier for a doctor to hear an explanation of symptoms for five minutes and prescribe Prozac rather than suggest long term therapy or lifestyle changes.  What’s more, pharmaceutical companies would rather you take their drugs than pursue cognitive behavioral therapy or change the way you live your life.  Imagine a doctor saying “Well, I’m prescribing weekly CBT sessions, an hour of daily yoga, meditation and exercise and abstinence from fast food and television.”  Most people would respond with “Isn’t there some kind of pill you can give me?”

The hard truth, however, is that there may not be a magic pill.  While that’s not to say that sometimes a beer, a joint or some kind of pharmaceutical isn’t acceptable to “take the edge off,” so to speak, we have to agree that in the long run, it’s not the best strategy.  We have to ask ourselves if it’s possible that the culture itself – six hours of television a day, fast food for every meal, addiction to material goods and consumerism – is responsible for the “chemical imbalance” we hear so much about these days.  If we aren’t getting high from substances, we’re getting the same feeling of escape from reality by becoming absorbed in the fantasy world of reality TV, Facebook, product fetishism and celebrity obsession.

If you want to get really deep, consider what the Buddha taught, that suffering arises from an unquenchable desire and our attempts to grasp at objects of desire which are ultimately unattainable.  We have desires; we get the transient feeling of “being high” and then we try desperately to reiterate that feeling, upping the dosage of pleasure each time to overcome tolerance.  If he was right, perhaps the problem is deeply embedded in the human condition, and to overcome our drug problem, we have to overcome our addiction to avoiding suffering by “getting high” on fleeting pleasures and brief episodes of intoxicating self-satisfaction.  While I realize the risks of ending the article with a quote by Jung (after referencing the Buddha, no less!), given his status within most American psychology departments, I can’t help but close with one of his quotes: “I have gone so far with this as to believe that neurosis itself might be best defined as the avoidance of necessary suffering.”  In other words, to overcome our American drug problem, we have to change our lifestyles and learn to cope rather than find ways to distract us from reality.

Read on: Getting High Part 1: The line between recreational and medicinal has become blurred
Photo courtesy

Children in preschool are learning to type and use computers, sometimes before they are proficient at handwriting.

The keyboard is mightier than the pen

Children in preschool are learning to type and use computers, sometimes before they are proficient at handwriting.

By Genevieve Mills–

Try to remember the last time you picked up a pen. Maybe it was during your last class, when you took notes, but many students are now taking notes in class with laptops.  Maybe it was when you jotted down a reminder or a grocery list, but those with smart phones can just tell Siri to remind them of things, and it is easy to make a virtual grocery list. Maybe it was to write a letter to a friend, but let us be honest, who does that anymore?

In 2012, the Western world has gotten to the point where people could easily go days without picking up a pen or pencil and handwriting something. The question is: is this decline in writing by hand a good or a bad thing? I say good.

Many people wax-poetic about the feel of a pen in their hand and paper beneath their fingers, but honestly, I get a cramp when I write too long and too fast, something I’ve never experienced while typing. In the middle of a final with lots of essay questions, I usually have to stop and wave the pain out of my right hand. A keyboard feels just as good as a pen to me, and a pen does not make the same satisfying clicks like the keys of a keyboard. And yes, I have been told I type loudly.

The thing about typing something on a computer is that it is monumentally easier to share it with others that way. If I want to share my typed notes with someone, all I have to do is send an email, and then I don’t have to deal translating my barely-legible handwriting to a classmate. If I make my grocery list on my iPhone, I am much less likely to leave my phone sitting at home on the kitchen table than forget a slip of paper.

If you complain that typing is not as fast as handwriting, then you’re clearly not doing it right. There are approximately a million “learn to type” computer programs out there, and once finished, just keep typing, because practice makes perfect. If you want to be a faster typist, put some effort into it and you will be; there is no secret skill that some are simply born without. I cannot accept a complaint about being a slow typist, because it is so easy to become faster I find these complaints simply laziness.

I will admit that handwriting something is much more personal. But “personal” doesn’t always mean better.”Personal” is better for love notes, thank-you’s, and maybe the occasional poem, but frankly I would rather read a flyer that was typed in a nice font — anything but Papyrus — than try and make out a message through someone’s bubble letters. I argue that uniformity is not always a bad thing, because it is focused on the content rather than the form. Instead of admiring someone’s cursive, a typed note allows you to simply admire their words, their message.

So please, do not panic that people are using fewer pens and more keyboards. Instead, get on the amazingly available Internet and try reading what people all over the world have said with those keys.
Photo courtesy


Awkward turkey talk for the table: Uncomfortable thanksgiving conversation starters the whole family can enjoy

Thanksgiving with the family can be a stressful time. Political conversations can turn tense between gulps of cider while parents bring up sore spots from the past year. The Cardinal’s guide to holiday table talk is here to lend you a helping hand getting through the most difficult dinner of the year.

  • Re-label the saltshaker “Dried Romney Tears.”
  • Steal the thunder: Announce your parents’ divorce before they can.
  • When Uncle Joe dives into his third helping of pumpkin pie, you can safely tell him about the half ounce of Marijuana that you mixed into the filling.  Pro-tip: substitute Marijuana with Extacy.
  • When asking your racist grandmother to pass the corn on the cob, take the opportunity to give her an update on the Pe’ Sla situation; she may yet be unaware that the most sacred Lakota site is still in danger of being privately auctioned off and turned into subdivisions.
  • Demand an advance on your inheritance from your parents. At the first sign of resistance, threaten to put them in a nursing home.
  • Announce your pregnancy and your conversion to communism at the same time by pointing to your womb periodically while referring to your fetus as Comrade and proclaiming it property of the state.
  • “Sorry, everyone. I don’t have time to sit around with you and be thankful. I’ve got to get to Wal-Mart for Black Thursday and buy you people more useless stuff. Merry Christmas.”
  • “Yeah, I’ve got to go too. Wal-Mart says I have to be there to sell it to him.”
  • Give some shelter dogs a happy holiday by letting 10 or 15 of them roam your family’s home at will during the meal.
  • When folks begin to retire to the living room for their annual food coma, wake them by running into the room and screaming, “Dude, it’s the cops. Flush it! I’m not going back!” and diving through the nearest open window.
Photo: Flickr/thisreidwrites

Medical marijuana dispensaries, like the one pictured above, have become a big business in Colorado.

Getting High Part 1: The line between recreational and medicinal has become blurred

Medical marijuana dispensaries, like the one pictured above, have become a big business in Colorado.

By Lee Cole–

“I don’t like to put chemicals in my body.”  It’s a phrase that’s become commonplace but signifies very little at face value.  In order for the chemicals we ingest to affect us psychologically, they must interact with and interface with endogenous chemicals, which already exist in our brains.  Heroin addicts don’t get high from heroin alone; they get high from dopamine present in the brain, and present in all of our brains, whose release is triggered by heroin and all opiate derivatives.  Perhaps Salvador Dali had this is mind when he, in response to being asked if he used drugs, said, “I don’t do drugs.  I am drugs.”

The legalization of cannabis in Washington and Colorado in this year’s election is only the latest chapter in the long, complicated story of America’s attempt to regulate various substances.  We’ve tried and failed to prevent people from seeking pleasure and recreation from substances–as with our experiment in the prohibition of alcohol–for nearly our entire history.  The problem seems to be that people, since time immemorial, have been using substances for medicine, pleasure and religious ecstasy, and the time period during which we have attempted to regulate this activity is very small relative to our history as a whole.  We can ban heroin, alcohol or cannabis, but unless we ban dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, we will always have the potential and the desire to use psychoactive substances.  Our brains are wired to “get high,” whether it’s on cannabis, sex, sugar or skydiving, for that matter.

America has a drug problem, a problem that defies simple solutions and easy answers.  Because America’s drug problem involves the intersection of issues as disparate as poverty and religion, race and mental health, as well as economic interests, any comprehensive analysis of American attitudes toward drugs must take into account much more than marijuana.  Recent interest in cannabis, especially after Colorado and Washington passed the most liberal cannabis laws in the world within the borders of a country where it is still federally illegal, has increased dramatically and support for legalization and decriminalization is at an all-time high, no pun intended.  The problem must be examined broadly, however, looking not just at attitudes toward cannabis but at attitudes toward drugs and “getting high” in general.  This first installment focuses on diagnosing America’s drug problem and its symptoms.

First of all, we have a schizophrenic and fundamentally confused notion about what the term “drug” really means.  We have “drug stores” where one can purchase culturally approved substances sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration as appropriate ways of treating some illness.  Yet many of those very drugs, when they end up in the hands of someone who has no prescription for them, become bad drugs.  The assumption, of course–a rather flimsy assumption–is that those who are prescribed drugs are treating a legitimate illness or symptom and those who “abuse” drugs, who are often of a lower socio-economic status, couldn’t possibly have any legitimate reason for taking them.  In other words, when an older middle or upper class suburbanite downs a Valium with a cocktail, it’s medicine, but when a young person or someone near or below poverty line does the same, it’s drug abuse.

These inconsistencies and double standards point to the dichotomy of recreational versus medicinal, “getting high” versus treating a symptom, which is particularly relevant for cannabis.  Cannabis has several approved medical uses, and yet is a schedule1drug according to the federal government, meaning that they deem it as having no medical value.  Other drugs of note in schedule 1 include heroin and LSD.  Cocaine is actually scheduled lower than cannabis.

One of the strangest and most blatantly racist aspects of our cannabis law is what we call it on the books: marijuana.  We retained the Spanish word for specific reasons.  “Marijuana” actually used to designate an altogether different plant, but when cannabis was first made illegal, government and law enforcement officials wanted it to be associated with Latinos and African Americans, as their rationale for making it illegal in the first place was that it caused those who smoked it, primarily Black and Latino men, to go into a frenzy and rape white women.  This reasoning gradually changed as it was revealed by later research, and anyone’s eyewitness account who bothered to take note of the drug’s effect, that it more often than not made the user docile.  During the Vietnam era, it was particularly popular among young, college-age kids who were against the war, and the war on drugs, as we know it today, was first waged by Richard Nixon to put kids in jail who disagreed with American policies.  Since then, laws prohibiting cannabis have been an incredibly convenient way for affluent, mostly white, Americans to put minorities, the young and the impoverished in prison and away from their communities.  To this day, the illegality of cannabis provides an excuse for law enforcement officials to stop, harass and often arrest minorities.  And why wouldn’t they?  Without cannabis laws, many law enforcement officials would be out of work.  Nonviolent drug offenders make up 60 percent of the prison population.  To give that some perspective, consider that the number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses exceeds the number of people incarcerated for any reason at all in Western Europe.

It is assumed that those who abuse drugs do so merely for pleasure, but multiple studies indicate that the rate of mental illness among drug users is high.  If they are getting pleasure from taking drugs, it is because the drugs often provide some relief from their symptoms.  In just the same way, a housewife taking an extra Xanax may believe that she is merely treating a symptom, but the relief from anxiety is bound to be pleasurable.  The same can be said for cannabis.  Many cannabis users self-medicate with the plant, especially if they have no access to adequate health care or a doctor that could prescribe an undoubtedly more harmful pharmaceutical.  Furthermore, people who may benefit from psychotherapy or regular visits to a doctor never get the chance because they are marginalized as drug users and often thrown in prison.

A number of measures could be put in place to not only reduce the number of incarcerated nonviolent drug offenders but also reduce drug addiction rates, but it requires a change of attitude toward drugs and the notion of “getting high.”  Until then, we will remain addicted to prohibition and demonizing drugs and drug users rather than trying to understand them.

Read on:  Getting High Part 2: A different way of approaching addiction and mental healthcare is needed to solve America’s drug problem
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