New York City
Fourteen years ago today in 1993, Pablo Escobar was shot and killed by a Colombian police unit as a menagerie of bullets rained down upon his chubby body. The billionaire, who was once listed on Forbes Top 10 list of wealthiest people in the world, tried to escape a raid by running on the tiled roof of a safe house without any shoes. Unlike Phil Hellmuth, Escobar could not dodge bullets and died instantly on the spot. The cocaine kingpin was no more.
The majority of the parties involved on the War on Drugs felt that the death of Escobar was the crowning achievement in their constant war on illegal drugs. They believed that the death of Escobar would cripple of the drug trade. And of course, nothing has changed. Cocaine is still readily available and in some areas of the country, it's actually cheaper than it was during the heyday in the 1980s. There's so much of it flowing around that prices had to be lowered in order to move the product.
According to an article in Rolling Stone:
"All told, the United States has spent an estimated $500 billion to fight drugs - with very little to show for it. Cocaine is now as cheap as it was when Escobar died and more heavily used. Methamphetamine, barely a presence in 1993, is now used by 1.5 million Americans and may be more addictive than crack. We have nearly 500,000 people behind bars for drug crimes - a twelvefold increase since 1980 - with no discernible effect on the drug traffic. Virtually the only success the government can claim is the decline in the number of Americans who smoke marijuana - and even on that count, it is not clear that federal prevention programs are responsible. In the course of fighting this war, we have allowed our military to become pawns in a civil war in Colombia and our drug agents to be used by the cartels for their own ends. Those we are paying to wage the drug war have been accused of human-rights abuses in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In Mexico, we are now repeating many of the same mistakes we have made in the Andes..."Sure the suits in DC and the DEA thought they killed the Michael Jordan of drug dealers in Escobar, but what they failed to underestimate was the voracious appetite of drug consumption. It didn't matter if Mickey Mouse or Escobar was providing the product, the public wanted to get high. (And the biggest question - one which will be discussed at a later time - is what is wrong with people's lives that they feel the need to escape the reality in which they live in? Why are people so lost and sad and afraid?) Regardless, people wanted to get high, and it didn't matter how, whether it was a construction worker knocking back a few beers after a shift, or a hippie dropping acid in the woods somewhere, or a distraught housewife popping a happy pill, or a Hollyweird starlet ripping gagers of blow in the bathroom of a suite at Chateau Marmont.
In the late 1980s, cocaine was king. Its origins began as a high class drug. Only the rich could afford to do it, so it quickly became the drug of choice for the celebrity jet set. Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of Saturday Night Light, once said "Cocaine is God's reminder that you have too much money."
The cocaine was produced in South America and shipped to Europe and smuggled into America by air, land, and sea. The DEA figured out what was up and eventually blocked up most of Caribbean routes. The Colombians focused on the porous Southwest US border to fulfill the demand. They paid off Mexican cartels to smuggle the drugs across the border.
Once Escobar was killed and the members of the Cali cartel were either killed off or jailed, the cocaine business continued, as the trade splintered into smaller cartels and spread out. The Colombians continued to supply the cocaine, but it was the Mexican cartels that swooped in and seized control of the distribution responsibilities. After all, they had the advantage of being a border country to the largest abuser of cocaine in the world.
In the border town of Juarez, across the river in El Paso, TX, Amado Carrillo Fuentes built up an empire. He bought a fleet of planes that would fly down to Columbia to pick up the cocaine and bring it back to Mexico. That continued for years as he accumulated more wealth and power. After a while, the most feared man in Mexico was known El Senor de los Cielos, or the Lord of the Skies.
With the introduction of Nafta, it became easier to smuggle cocaine onto trucks that freely crossed over the borders. In addition, the cartels paid off thousands of mules to carry it over the border, either by walking or driving it over. Sadly, the violence that plagued the streets of Colombia shifted to the streets of Mexico as turf battles raged in Juarez. The outskirts of the city became known as the killing fields and it was not uncommon to discover mass graves. Gangs would kill rivals in public. In one of the most gruesome incidents, one gang walked into a crowded club and executed several of their rivals on the dance floor by cutting their heads off. Just a few more casualties of the drug trade.
At some point, the Mexican cartels started producing crystal meth. It was cheaper than importing cocaine and much easier to make. After a while, cocaine's demand simmered down while crystal meth became more and more popular with almost every aspect of American society. The demand was growing exponentially every day.
The cartels cut deals with biker gangs in the Northwest and in California, who were responsible for distributing the drugs into cities and rural areas. The DEA eventually figured out what was happening and tried to focus on the suppliers. Unlike cocaine or heroin which are both grown, crystal meth is manufactured. They nailed a lot of the American drug companies that were selling bulk ingredients and powder to the Mexican cartels. That didn't stop production. The Mexicans found Chinese companies that would give them the same chemicals and for a cheaper price. They also imported ephedrine directly from India and Thailand.
The result was a crystal meth epidemic that swept across America as tweakers popped up all over the map. The entrepreneurs came out of the wood work and homemade labs sprung up over night in order to cater to their newly addicted clientele. It was easy to make your own crystal meth, since most of the main ingredients could be purchased at local retail stores.
If your neighbor sprinkles a couple of pot seeds in his backyard and grows a marijuana bush, there's very little danger in that. But if your neighbor is cooking up a fresh batch of crystal meth, there's a chance he'll blow both everyone up on the block.
The DEA eventually banned purchases of bulk cold medicine that contained ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Tweakers would buy up every bit of cold medication they could find at a local drug store, then spend endless hours ripping open the packets and crushing up the pills. They were after the pseudoephedrine, which is a form of speed. That's what keeps you awake when you pop non-drowsy cold medication.
When I was in college, we used to pop trucker's speed or ephedrine, which you could buy at any gas station along North Dectaur Road. It allowed us to stay up all night and party. And by 4am the hair on your arms stood straight up and you were bouncin' off the walls and shaking harder than Parkinson's patient.
When I played hockey, we abused those little red Sudafed tablets. It was a nice buzz and pick me up before you'd hit the ice. Heck, I still abuse Sudafed today. The last two weeks of the 2007 WSOP, I had a nasty head cold and popped Sudafed like they were Pez. That extra boost, coupled with Red Bull, kept me functioning during those 20-hour work days. One of the advantages of being overseas a lot this year was that foreign manufactured cold medications had a higher dosage of pseudoephedrine than American counterparts.
We're a nation of pill poppers. That's going to be the biggest shift in drug abuse over the next decade or so. Our future is something out of a paranoid-induced skin-scratching Philip K. Dick short story, where the fat cats at the pharmaceutical companies reap all the profits from our citizen's dire urge to get high. There's a reason why marijuana is still illegal and that's because if doctors prescribed pot for certain anxiety disorders, it would drastically affect the profits of various drug companies. People would rather drag a few hits off a joint instead of popping a Xanax or Valium to make them feel more relaxed. Or how about those social anxiety drugs? What a crock a shit. So you're shy. It's nothing that a good old fashioned shot of Jack Daniels wouldn't cure. It's called liquid courage for a reason.
Here's a perfect example of the hypocrisy that runs rampant through our suburbs... I have friends of mine that are adults who have jobs and are functioning members of society. They have mortgages, coach youth soccer, and have country club memberships. Shit, even a few of them voted for Bush. And you know what? They're pill poppers. Hardcore. They love Ritalin. I know what you're thinking... "Ritalin? That's what I give my kid for ADD." Guess what? Adults figured out that if they pop Ritalin, that it gives you the same effects as cocaine. Mommies across America are swiping little Johnny's ADD pills to get a quick high. Cocaine in a pill, baby.
If well balanced people take anti-psychotic drugs and anti-depressants, they get super stoned. Kind of like drinking a six pack of beer and smoking fourteen bong hits at once. Doesn't matter if it's Vicodin, Fentanyl, Codeine, Oxycontin, Valium, Darvon, Demerol, Klonopin, Diazepam, Percocet and Percodan. People who don't necessarily need it, are taking it to numb their senses. And it doesn't leave track marks and it doesn't leave a lingering smell like marijuana.
Shit, there were hundreds of poker players juiced up on Adderall at the 2007 WSOP. That drug helps combat adult ADD patients and allows people to focus. Perfect for poker players in pursuit of millions of dollars.
So was it worth spending $500 billion on the War on Drugs, when going after the bad guys did nothing to stop the flow of drugs, nor the demand? Or would have cocaine, like most drugs, run its two decade cycle and fizzle out while another new and more popular drug takes its place?
I'm not using this as an example to legalize all drugs (although I think some drugs should be legal, some with prescription only, and some continued to be outlawed, of course with a percentage of the taxes levied on the legal regulated drugs used towards treatment and rehabilitation centers). Rather I'm trying to illustrate a point, that once something that is popular among the masses is deemed illegal, it opens up more problems as resources are wasted policing the matter and it strengthens criminal elements that reap the benefits of the blackmarket involving the product.
Prohibition did not work. People still drank in the 1930s and criminals like Al Capone got rich running booze over from Canada. Even Joe Kennedy, the father of our beloved President, amassed his fortune in bootlegging. Bathtub gins sprung up all over America while diehards did what they could to secretly sip a drink.
Poker is legal in some states and illegal in others. In some areas of the country, if the cops aren't raiding the games, they are getting robbed by gun wielding thugs. While our government continues to outlaw online poker, it's putting the future of the game in jeopardy, allowing criminals to lurk in the shadows beyond the reach from the long arm of the law.
If you are reading this post, you must have some sort of addiction, fetish, or morbid fascination with poker. Or you're actively seeking distractions or entertainment while at work. Perhaps today it's poker, but tomorrow it will be something else. People juggle addictions. Former junkies switch to booze or cigarettes. Former smokers switch to eating. Former drug addicts switch to deviant sex. Former drunks switch to Jesus. I spent most of my twenties jumping back and forth between different addictions. We all have them. An addiction is an exposed character flaw and weakness that seems to control the rest of your emotional well being.
Religion is a powerful drug. It gives hopeless people hope in a hopeless world. It gives people a sense of belonging and self-worth and approval that so many of them have been seeking their entire lives. It also promotes a sense of stability and a set of laws to live by. There's good and evil and you know which way you should act or think. Religion and spiritually are important and positive things in life, but at the same time, religion is often corrupted by people who are far from pious and are just power-greedy scumbags that prey on people in trouble. Sadly, it's those fanatics that give religion a bad name. And they hijack religion and manipulate their teachings as an excuse to kill their enemies. Religious disputes has killed more people in the history of Earth than any other dispute. And sadly, it will continue to do so.
Some people are addicted to falling in love. I have friends that cannot be single. The second that they break up, they are with somebody new. I know a few of them who are on their third and fourth marriages. Love releases some of the same endorphins as cocaine and chocolate. It can be an intoxicating feeling and nothing is quite like the warm fuzzies that you get when you're walking on clouds basking in the warmth of your new found love.
Love can be dangerous and people crash hard when they fall out of love. Scorned lovers don't write hit songs or make movies or write books about losing their job. They write about having their hearts ripped out on their chests and stomped on the ground or having their fragile self shattered into a millions tiny little pieces that takes decades to pick every single one up and put back in place. People kill because they are in love or they kill because the object of their affection is in love with someone else. Love damages more lives than marijuana and online poker. Maybe the government should outlaw love? After all, you can't tax love like you could do to online poker transactions.
We worship addicts in America. You become a cultural icon if you fuck up, become a drunk or druggie, crash your car, go to jail for possession, check into rehab, and turn your life around. You get an instant E! True Hollywood Story and become enshrined into the Ex-Junkie Hall of Fame with some of your favorite musicians, actors, politicians, and sports heroes.
Poker. Drugs. Sex. TV. Internet. Booze. Cigarettes. Church. Love. Food. Power. Starbucks. Shopping. Sports. Narcissism. Anger. Misery. You name it. Vices surround us at every moment. And hedonistic dens like Las Vegas cater to every addiction and craving that your heart desires. William S. Burroughs said it best, "Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction."
Welcome to a new world order of addicts. Children laughing. People passing. Meeting smile after smile.
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