Of Hamlet & addiction

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Why do they do it? A CGRCO essay on addictive substances

Shakespeare’s Hamlet contains the well-known line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” It is a line from Hamlet and Horatio’s midnight eavesdropping on boisterous, laughing soldiers dancing wildly while singing that the King is drinking to excess (again). Hamlet then shares his disdain for the King’s behavior.

This line could be paraphrased as, “being wasted is neither appropriate nor noble.” Sorry, Hamlet, but your dad didn’t start such behavior and it sure hasn’t stopped with him. Plenty of society’s “temporary escapists” are still chasing their personal oblivion, and their families continue to wonder why. Is this trip really necessary? Mind altering substances are still with us. They now come in a wider variety, with an accompanying mix of cautions and legal status. There are even jurisdictional differences in sanctions against these between the federal government, states, and local cities and counties. “Dry counties or dry cities” come to mind in connection
with alcohol.

Addicts & addiction

The words addict and addiction are not held in high esteem, because these words summarize a dependency by humans on certain things. The addict constructed their dependency toward a primary necessity in life to the exception of many other pursuits and/or relationships. U.S. excess consumption of alcohol in the early 20th century spawned the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and hastened the 13-year life of our 18th amendment. It was a legal and policy failure—but its necessity was well understood at the time. Too many fathers were spending family cash reserves on alcohol in tavern settings and then coming home, useless to their families, often inflicting emotional or physical abuse on those who ought to have received their greatest affection and support.

The effects of certain substances on humans are not entirely universal. Not everyone is just a “sleepy drunk.” Until the U.S. arrival of crack cocaine in the 1980s, substance dabbling or regular ingestion did not present an instant addiction. Repetition is the onramp toward addiction. I remember starting with regular coffee late in life for early morning construction work. Experiencing headaches when going without it caused a switch to a de-caffeinated brew. The headaches continued for a while, but eventually faded. The alcohol “hangover” is different, resulting from too much consumption over too little time. In those not yet addicted, that morning after may represent a warning not to take that onramp again.

I’ve no experience with nicotine addiction, but here are three things I’ll offer for consideration. Tobacco still kills nearly half a million people annually. Science has clarified its varied harms to both smokers and bystanders. The tobacco industry has spent decades making its products more addictive with higher concentrations of nicotine and the addition of non-tobacco chemicals. This has been part of the central evidence in government lawsuits forcing monetary sanctions on the industry.

Think of it. A legal industry has achieved enhanced addiction power in its products (second only to heroin) and still exists without regulation. Nicotine remains unregulated! There is a billion dollar industry centered on helping smokers to quit, and tobacco’s advertising and legal defense has masked this health menace for years as “an adult custom,” never mentioning the word addiction. In California, tobacco purchase has only recently become legal for those 21 and above, the same age as for marijuana consumption.

Delayed benefit

The longer we can delay the choice to avoid this custom, the better. Age and maturity usually carry a higher self-esteem, which helps fend off the need for peer approval. One can be more able to “go it alone,” not copying the pastimes of peers whose choices might seem less than ideal to those who are more mature. Building one’s self-identity on multiple things in early life often provides a chance for a more self-directed set of life choices. Being a non-smoker is a great investment in longevity for self, and future family. Caution with alcohol is also helpful.

The celebration of freedom is often hailed by young and old. But bountiful freedom does not inoculate a person from stupidity not serving one’s self-interest over the arc of lifespan. Forrest Gump told us that “stupid is as stupid does.” When attempting to protect our citizens and children from addiction, we must be aware of a new day in the legal setting for marijuana. Recreational and medical use are both allowed in California—though the federal government sees it differently.

Close to home

Plumas County has a chance to enact legal controls on marijuana cultivation here. We don’t need a local copy of the U.S. tobacco industry following its singular self-interest for profit at the expense of the rest of us (wider use, reduced quality of life, and damage to the environment). California has recently okayed a six-plant limit while we are living with thousands of plants in eastern Plumas. That product is solely for export and they net millions of dollars a year that’s shipped tax-free to Puerto Rico.

The Board of Supervisors recently extended a commercial cultivation moratorium to two years’ time. The CGRCO (Citizens Group for a Responsible Cannabis Ordinance) is working to eliminate commercial marijuana cultivation, and we need you. Please list your support on this website to ensure our success.

Hamlet would approve!

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