By Rocky Neptun
Tijuana, Mexico. Deep within the cavernous Fiesta Bar; blubberous, bald-headed men sat with their young, dark-skinned, street girls, while Mexican college students mingle with shoe shine boys and laborers from a nearby street project. Layers of thick marijuana smoke swirled about the room, spinning grey webs under the fluorescent bulbs in the dim light.
Alternating between drinking Tecate beer from quart bottles and shooting down shots of heavy tequila, everyone seemed to have a joint in their hand. This was my third visit to the bar, just off First Avenue, near the Plaza Santa Cecilia, where Tijuana’s red light district, The Cahuilla, begins. My lady friend’s oldest son, Miguel, has been smoking pot since he was 12 years-old, when he began working at a nearby restaurant as a bus boy.
After 10 years, now a waiter at the restaurant, still hanging out with friends at the Fiesta; we watch as his wife, a back-up bar maid, reaches under the counter and hands a bag of marijuana to a well dressed businessman, who quickly stuffs it in his briefcase and makes for the massive stairs that lead up to the street.
Mexico last week, in an historic, enlightened, humane move, legalized personal drug use throughout the country. The government also announced that drug addiction would be treated as a medical problem rather than a criminal offense.
Citizens will now be allowed to carry and use 5 grams of marijuana (about four joints) as well as half a gram of cocaine (approx. 4 lines), 50 milligrams of heroin (about three “fire-ups”), 40 milligrams of methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams of LSD.
When I talk with the Fiesta Bar patrons about Mexico’s recent legalization of drugs, they laugh uproariously at either my stupidity or naiveté, reminding me that they have been smoking pot in this bar for generations. They point to the two huffing, overweight policemen who just lugged their fat-asses down those tremendous steps to collect their “hands-off” money. The mordita, the bite, that every bar and restaurant in the central district pays not to have their establishment “set up” with an under-age plant; just like in the strip joints, the hooker bars, the Gay discos, the heroin “shooting gallery” backrooms of the pool halls.
As the policemen walk past two 15 year-old boys and an even younger girl, who were half dancing, half swaying, while taking deep tokes; several patrons announced my stupid question. A professor from a nearby Secundaria school slid into our booth.
“That law is for you Gringos, not us,” he smiled. “The police have always allowed the decriminalization of drug use, otherwise the jails would be full, the city treasury bankrupt from having to feed them and the courts clogged with meaningless cases. They only used it when they needed to bust someone, similar to how your cops use vagrancy laws, or when our officers want to shake down an obviously wealthy, arrogant, young North American college student for a few dollars.”
” Look at your stupid state of California,” he seemed to announce, like a lecture, “no money to pay for services because of the billions of dollars you spend locking young kids up for having a good time.”
“You people are hysterical about drug use, a kind of obsessive paranoia that borders on madness,” he continues, while taking a hit off Miguel’s joint. “I truly feel sorry for your intense jealously that someone else might be enjoying themselves.”
“Porque?” Miguel asks. “Why are the nortenos so afraid?”
The teacher took a deep drag, sipped the pale beer, fondling the EZLN button on his shirt pocket, beginning slowly, enunciating clearly, “just like 80 percent of our country’s economy is owned by 10 wealthy families, the government of the U.S. is owned by very wealthy corporations, including the powerful pharmaceutical cartels. Here the drug cartels use guns and violence to gain control, in your country, the drug cartels, like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxcoSmithKline and Bayer, use politicians who pass laws that say only the artificial, manufactured drugs, with their dangerous side-effects and addictive nature, are the only permitted medication because wealthy investors and CEO’s need to make millions to finance their lifestyles.”
“Recreational use of drugs, for pleasure or mind-enhancement, is taken out of the hands of individuals as a freedom, a liberty that is far too dangerous for the corporate-owned system that dominates the anti-democratic system you have in your country,” he said. “The hypocrisy of claiming rugged individualism as a mantle; while denying it, is blatantly apparent to the rest of the world. That is why Mexico and much of the rest of the civilized world is legalizing personal drug use.”
As I stumble up the stairs, into the bright sun, the second-hand smoke of a hundred joints still addles my brain, seemingly clinging to my clothes like wet fog. I see my acquaintance Carl at a nearby taco stand. A primitivist, anarchist, he lives deep within the empty southern hills of Baja and, rumor has it, makes his living helping the old Mexican families smuggle a few kilos into the U.S.
The Mexican mafia in the late 70’s and 80″s, before the massive cartels, started out with small amounts of high-quality meth. My friend and former roommate Bobby, had an uncle who was a family member, and in those days he used to carry around gorgeous “rocks” that led to many active days and crystal nights. When the dangerous, violent cartels began moving into Tijuana; the Mexican mafia kept a low-profile, a kind of mom-and-pop operation that didn’t compete with the cocaine trade.
They tell me that the family uses human “mules” to carry sealed cylinders of the meth inside their bowels. The plastic tubes are soaked in dog urine because apparently the Border Dogs are trained to overlook their fellow canine’s smells, especially from Tijuana where there are few fire hydrants (and even fewer trees) which makes tires the object of choice for the thousands of roaming male dogs in the city.
Carl tells me the local family members are going to branch out and open coffee shops where bongs for marijuana and glass pipes for cocaine will be available along with wireless hook-ups. They expect tourism, especially from the oppressed youth of North America to increase one-hundred fold. Like the old days, in the 50’s and 60’s, when women from all over the U.S. came to Tijuana for abortions, youth will flock to the city to sample the tremendously unique experience of having sex while high on quality drugs . What he calls their “liberation therapy”.
I told him that San Diego’s Police Chief William Lansdowne almost came unglued when he learned of the new law, saying North American will go south because they can get drugs. “For a country that has experienced thousands of deaths from warring drug cartels for many years, it defies logic why they pass a law that clearly will encourage drug use,” the Chief ranted to the San Diego Union-Tribune in a recent interview.
“In that totalitarian cesspool I was born in,” Carl almost shouted at me, “justice is pre-emptive; poor kids go to prison, rich kids go to college. Lansdowne is a glorified warden who has allowed his officers to gun down innocent kids, daily brutalizes the homeless and makes his living protecting the wealthy from the poor. That cliché spouting Capitalist goon can’t seem to understand that legalizing drugs takes the profit out of the equation and actually undermines the power and control of the cartels.”
“Like my family, the old Mexican mafia, mom-and-pop operations will spring up around the country as people safely, legally make personal decisions about medicinal, recreational and experimental uses,” he said, smilingly. “U.S. Empire has lost another round.”
“The insanity of America’s war on drugs is finally being realized in Latin America as a correlation of their move away from the brutal, anti-human domination of market-based economic principles,” he told me. “In Mexico, while President Caledron spends millions in U.S. anti-drug money to increase his party’s control over the government and economy, personal drug use has increased over 50 percent between 2002 and 2008. What started out as an effort to impress their American benefactors with sheer numbers of arrests has turned into a fiscal nightmare with prisons overflowing with Mexican youth.”
“I read on the internet recently that Ricardo Soberon, Director of the Drug Research and Human Rights Center in Lima, Peru said that Latin America was ‘disappointed’ with the results of the current drug policies, imperially demanded by the north, and is exploring alternatives,” Carl added as we walked toward Revolution Avenue. “That is why Brazil, Argentina and most of the rest are moving to both decriminalize and legalize personal drug use.”
As we parted near the boom-boom club, a young Mexican hugged his North American amiga, handing her a large joint before they disappeared into the club. He looked a lot like my young friend Bill, handsome, carefree, generous, decades ago, who’s cocaine snorting girlfriend got him prison time. He returned broken, angry, a trained criminal in every respect who didn’t live to see 25 years-of-age.
Such a tragic waste; collateral damage of an insane war we wage against our own children. Like deranged hamsters who eat their newborn; we allow the fear-mongers from the editors of the Union-Tribune to the Police Chief of San Diego to the drug company boardrooms to create panic in our minds and callousness in our hearts. Let us hope the rest of the world can help us cure our addiction to fear before we sacrifice yet another generation of youth.
And cheers to Mexico. It may be a third-world country…..but, unlike the United States, it has a 21st Century mentality.
Rocky Neptun is director of the San Diego Renters Union and writes for the website Media Left. He lives part of the week with his lover, a Mexican national, at their home in Tijuana, Mexico.