Ryan Grim’s new book, This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America, is a smart and sophisticated telling of the complex interaction between two opposed forces: Americans trying to alter their moods and mental states with chemicals and Americans trying to stop them. It is a book that tries, and largely succeeds, in making sense of the apparently senseless mix of prohibition, regulation, and permissiveness in the U.S. today.
As I write this, I am under the influence of a powerful amphetamine: Metadate, a time-released formulation of methylphenidate (Ritalin) that Grim also reports having taken. This is totally legal, since I have a prescription from my doctor. A few nights ago, I smoked a little marijuana, which is to my mind a much more benign drug than Metadate. But that was a crime. I broke the law. I could try to get a prescription for cannabis, but I’m sure my doctor wouldn’t give it to me, and if he did it wouldn’t make a legal difference here in Iowa. But it would make a legal difference if I lived in California. If I tried, I might be able to kill myself with the bottles of liquor sitting atop my refrigerator. I don’t need a prescription for any of that, despite the fact that Americans about a century ago passed a Constitutional amendment to ban it. And then there are the legal but heavily taxed cigarettes in my unpacked suitcase. I could go on. The point is: WTF? Well, if you would like to know how we ended up with this unprincipled jumble, then you might like to read < This is Your Country on Drugs (TIYCOD, from here on).
TIYCOD begins with Grim’s telling of his fascinating discovery early in this decade that the American LSD supply had dried up. It really had. He couldn’t find it anywhere, and if there is anything that emerges clearly from TIYCOD, it is that Ryan Grim knows how to find drugs. What happend? Where did it go? Did (gasp!) the War on Drugs work? (more…)