Breaking the Halibut: Zero Tolerance

In “Breaking the Halibut,” the second story in Halibut Rodeo, George travels from Seattle to Homer on his uncle’s fishing boat. Before the boat enters Homer harbor, the Coast Guard boards it in search of drugs. They find nothing but a single one year old marijuana cigarette in George’s jacket. On the street it would have been worth a buck or two. The United States government, in order to make an example of George, seizes the boat and fines his uncle $100,000. This, despite the fact that, at the time at least, the possession of small amounts of marijuana was legal in the state of Alaska. The government forces the uncle to fire George. Only after the intervention of the ACLU is the fine reduced to $10,000 and the boat is released. George ends up working at Seward Fisheries.

“Breaking the Halibut” is fiction, but George’s story is taken from real life. This actually happened to one unlucky bastard I met while working in Homer. All the details are the same. The joint wasn’t even his; his sister had borrowed his jacket a year before and left it in the pocket. “George” didn’t even know it was in there before the Coast Guard found it. The people of Homer were outraged. A petition went around, but it did no good. This happened in 1988, when Ronald Reagan’s “zero tolerance” law was in full swing in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of drugs from Latin America. “George’s” uncle was no drug runner, just a guy trying to make a living in some of the most dangerous fishing waters in the world. His innocence would’ve been very clear to the authorities, but hey, with all that time and effort they had to deliver something to Uncle Sugar: one marijuana cigarette. Good for you, Mr. President!

But let’s not knock zero tolerance drug laws. Because of the tightened borders, fewer and fewer drug runners were willing to deal with bulky marijuana. It’s easy to sniff out, and the pay off isn’t that great. Cocaine is far easier to transport, and fetches a far higher price. It can also be easily cut with, say, baking powder, to expand your yield. High school students don’t know the difference. Plus you can turn it into crack. Don’t worry, parents; I’m sure crack is much better for your kids than the devil’s weed.

But pot smokers, don’t you worry. Another fun side effect of zero tolerance laws: it led to really potent marijuana. You see, the “small government conservatives” who came up with zero tolerance laws know absolutely nothing about basic economics. I’m no expert either, but the concept of “supply and demand” is hardly rocket science. Sure, there was suddenly less of that Mexican gold bud that came wrapped in newspaper to pass around at Rush concerts. But it’s not like the desire to smoke it just suddenly disappeared. Can’t get it from Mexico? We’ll just grow it here! And grow it American entrepreneurs did. So many did, in fact, that good old fashioned competition improved strains dramatically. Now scientists grow the stuff in California, Kentucky, Arkansas, even Alaska, not just illiterate peasants in Mexico. The “kind bud” you can score now is far better, far stronger than anything you could get pre-zero tolerance. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when I attended a Further concert in upstate New York. One dreadlocked fellow next to me kept trying to pass his pipe in my direction (Jerry Garcia might be Dead, but his fans live on). “Dude,” he said. “It’ll set you freeeee!” I declined, knowing this new, improved pot just puts me to sleep. Apparently, that’s not the case for nearly everyone else at the show…And for this new wonderweed, they can thank Ronald Reagan, the man, the legend.

Sure, George had to pay the piper, you have to break some eggs to make an omelet.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Breaking the Halibut: Zero Tolerance

  1. I am not the kind to take the time posting comments on individuals weblogs generally however just after stumbling across yours I figured I’d drop a little note to give myself a short break from work. I have to confess that I have gotten a bit distracted going through and reading a few of your posts… I ought to probably be working. You have some good insights here, so I’ll add you to my Google Reader for the future. Take care!

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