Aunt Martha's Vice

By John Wrisley, Midlands Maturity, Sept.'94

Aunt Martha's sciatica was particularly distracting. She hated the aches and pains that haunted her life, but was grateful she could rely on a hot cup of tea to lift her spirits and ease her pain. Aunt Martha often wondered why poppy tea wasn't widely marketed, particularly among old people, It never occured to her there was anything illegal about her afternoon tea,

She popped the dried heads from the stems of a bunch of poppies she had got from a craft shop. The proprietor had said they were in strong demand for accenting dried floral arrangements. She smiled at that. She considered that rather a waste.

Aunt Martha poured the little seeds from about a dozen heads into a small bowl, then stuffed the dried heads into her electric coffee grinder. Meanwhile, a pot containing two cups of water boiled on the stove. She ground the heads as finely as possible and poured the material into the water, removing from the stove to slowly cool. She stirred the contents now and then. After about five minutes she poured her tea through a wire strainer into her cup. She made a mental note to save the soggy mash for another run through.

This seventy-year old grandmother sat by her window slowly sipping her afternoon tea. As the minutes ticked by she felt at peace with the world and noticed that her sciatic pain was fading into the background. "What a blessing a cup of tea can be to old people," she thought, little knowing that she was breaking the law, One of the ingredients in her tea - the one that alleviated her pain - was opium. It is an analgesic. A pain killer. Citizens are not supposed to use it, or any of its derivatives, such as morphine, without permission and supervision.

Opium is a Schedule II narcotic and Aunt Martha could go to jail for using it, although the law is not clear on poppy tea provided it is not further refined. It depends, more or less, on the whim of the local Poppy Police. If society presses for prosecution of people like Aunt Martha she could get anything from a probationary sentence to several months in jail.

The question should not center on how much time Aunt Martha will do if caught making poppy tea. The question should be why should she be prosecuted at all for her little vice? A vice, after all, is not the same thing as a crime. A vice is an act by which a person harms himself or his property, while a crime is an act harming someone else's person or property. (This line of reason and logic was raised in the 19th century by Lysander Spooner, among others.) raise taxes to expand the numbers of Poppy Police who will search the gardens and pantries of little old ladies to see if they are possibly imbibing a substance widely available `in nature, Imbibing it, by the way, in the belief it is making them feel better! In short should poppy tea drinking be a prosecutable crime or merely a harmless vice? And if Aunt Martha is not harming society by ingesting the by-products of the Papaver somnifirum poppy plant, can the person using by~products of the common hemp plant be said to be harming society? Is such an action a vice or a crime?

These interesting questions are engaging a great many people in a growing debate, America's multi-billion dollar Drug War has resulted in jailing an enormous number of people, but has done little to stem the underground marketing of illicit drugs. The mayor of Baltimore, judges by the dozens, a former U.S. Secretary of State, and many other reasonable people are calling for an end to the "war" with an eye to taking the trade of drugs out of the informal back alley market and bringing it under the supervison of regulators.

Americans could once buy opium by the pound in a grocery store. History does not show that citizens stumbled about in a narcotic daze because of it. In fact, the period in which Americans medicated in any way they wished the technological advance in the United States was the greatest ever witnessed in history'. There is no evidence Americans will take to drugging themselves more than they do now should illicit drugs be legalized. The legalizing of alcohol in 1933 demonstrates that. What will happen is drug syndicates and the underground drug economy will be destroyed.

Jail populations will be sharply reduced, and the violence associated with the present illicit rug marketing system will all but vanish. Come to think of it, what will the TV people do without all those drug busts for the nightly news?