The fiction around legalising marijuana
Sometimes fiction is much more illuminating than fact. A case in point is a new novel by Michael Wilding, one of the stalwarts of Australian contemporary fiction. The Sydney writer’s ‘In the Valley of the Weed’, released this week, examines some key issues and implications of the move to decriminalise marijuana, a hot topic nowadays.
One of the leading characters of Wilding’s deeply subversive novel is Tim Vicars – an academic suspended because of his politically incorrect emails, who disappears. Then there’s Plant, the private detective hired to find him. Vicars’ major research project is on the implications of decriminalising marijuana.
The novel’s conspiracy theorist, Fullalove, explains: “This is going to be like tobacco. Or alcohol. This isn’t legalisation. This is monopoly control and regulation. The lobby for decriminalising isn’t about growing your own half dozen plants in the back yard. That’ll still be illegal. It’s all about profit for the monopolies and government revenue-raising through excise tax. The tobacco companies are desperate.
“They need a new product. Marijuana’s their last hope of staying in business. Think of all the investors. Think of the potential profit. This is about paving the way for government, Big Pharma and the tobacco companies to make money by monopoly control.”
Fullalove then outlines some of the problems. For 50 years there has been a thriving trade in marijuana. “If the trade’s legalised, a lot of people could lose a lot of money. It’s a goldmine as long as it’s prohibited. Those people aren’t going to be happy. And they’re powerful people. They’ve bought protection at the highest level; otherwise they wouldn’t be in business. Highest level means cops and politicians. Customs, military, the lot. They’re being paid off.
“If dope’s legalised, all that money’s going to dry up. Not just the crims are going to be mightily annoyed. So are the police and the politicians. Won’t be able to pay off their mortgages. So all that’s got to be taken into account, how far they’re going to go, decriminalising and regulating medical marijuana but keeping recreational use illegal so there’s still a shitload of money to be made.” Good point.
Early in the novel, Plant observes Fullalove removing rat droppings from his marijuana stash. Plant suggests that if the trade did end up franchised by transnational pharmaceuticals or the tobacco companies, they might get some quality control and “dope that’s free of rat turds and dog hairs”.
But Fullalove responds: “I’d rather smoke dogs’ droppings than the chemical additives and preservatives they put in tobacco. And think about it, if they can impose forcible fluoridisation of the water supply, imagine what they could put into dope? Preservatives. Colouring. Taste enhancers. Things to get you hooked.”
As Wilding said to me recently, these days most supposedly libertarian campaigns turn out to be for unbridled, free market capitalism.
A fascinating element of ‘In the Valley of the Weed’ is to compare and contrast medical and recreational marijuana. As Wilding asks rhetorically: “Why would anyone do a project on decriminalising marijuana? The real drug issues are ice and opiates and cocaine and their derivatives. That’s where the social, health and crime issues are. But what other sort of research project would a university sanction?”
He continues: “Could it possibly be that Vicars’ line on decriminalisation was for the spread of well-being and universal happiness? In the words of the Nobel Laureate – ‘Everybody must get stoned?'” Excellent for some. But really, not very likely.
Wilding concludes that, despite all the hype, our governments won’t be decriminalising recreational marijuana any time soon. Arguing that governments need drugs to be widespread and illegal, he puts it thus: “Then you’ve always got something to hold over folks. Like the uncensored internet. They need all those paedophile sites and WikiLeaks and jihadist calls to arms and instructions on making a pressure cooker bomb like they need the place awash with dope, so they’ve got something to nail people with who are stupid enough to hit on those sites. Makes life easier.”
‘In the Valley of the Weed’ is a social satire and a conspiratorial novel par excellence. “What happened when they legalised homosexuality?” Fullalove asks. “Suddenly the cops and the security people had nothing to hold over all those poor frightened buggers they’d been threatening with exposure. Suddenly they’d lost all their snouts and grasses. So what happened?” According to Wilding the answer is all too predictable. They immediately flooded the place with dope.
“Now they’ve got something else to bust people for. And then offer them a choice. We’ll lose the paperwork and let it go if you just give us a few names. For the next 50 years of your life.” But actually the authorities don’t lose the paperwork. They just keep it up their sleeves — to hold against the many citizens who have broken the laws about marijuana possession and supply.
We can only hope that’s not how it will be in Australia in 2017, and beyond. But first-rate fiction has a strange talent for prescience, and Wilding’s novel may well be an example of that.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, the author of 39 books, including a memoir ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey.’
The Canberra Times, December 27/28, 2016.
Also The Sydney Morning Herald & The Brisbane Times online.