DRCNet Book Review: "A Drug War Carol," by Susan Wells and Scott Bieser (Big Head Press, $5.95) 12/12/03

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'Tis the season for a charmingly pointed little comic book about the drug war. With apologies to Charles Dickens, whose work they cheerfully adapt, Susan Wells and Scott Bieser have pulled it off with "A Drug War Carol." The 64-page comic, or, as Bieser calls it, "graphic novella," grabs readers for a whirlwind tour of drug prohibition past, present, and future. In the process, Bieser and Wells revisit some of the shameful episodes at the root of our century-long crusade against drugs, while at the same time tying it in with a most contemporary tale of drug war madness.

"A Drug War Carol" begins on a snowy December evening in Washington, DC, as our protagonist, drug czar Scrooge McCzar holds a press conference vowing unrelenting struggle against the latest danger to the nation, medical marijuana. A small band of demonstrators and patients circle outside, and when McCzar leaves, he is confronted by a sick woman in a wheel chair, multiple sclerosis sufferer Mary Jane Cratchet, and her husband Bob. In an act of civil disobedience, Mary Jane fires up, and an angry McCzar orders the pair arrested on drug conspiracy charges. "But who will look after our child, Tiny Tim?" asks the sick woman as the police wheel her off to jail.

That's not McCzar's concern, he tells himself, as he heads home to a well-deserved meal of beer and microwavable "Frozen Crud." But like its Dickensian model, Ebeneezer Scrooge, to whom Wells and Bieser also apologize -- Scrooge's miserliness doesn't compare with the depredations of the drug war, in their opinion -- McCzar's evening has only just begun. It continues in a particularly nightmarish way, as the first in a series of apparitions to visit him that night makes his entry. Yes, the hideous beast from the past is none other than the original drug warrior, Harry Anslinger! Ooh, the horrors! "I am here to give you a chance of avoiding my fate," warns the greenish ghoul, his bald pate glistening, his broad shoulders weighted down with chains. "Human beings were meant to do each other good, not harm," he tells the stricken McCzar, as he points to the wraiths of drug warriors past, their mouths opened in soundless screams, condemned to haunt the netherworld for their misdeeds against their fellow man.

But the ghostly, ghastly Anslinger is only the beginning for McCzar. Three more visitors will come in the night, he warns, and so they do. The spirit of Christmas past, an odd little long-haired imp wearing a robe with pot leaf embroidery; the spirit of Christmas present, a seven foot tall dreadlocked Jamaican Santa in a green suit; and the spirit of Christmas future, an eerie police state emblem resembling Robocop or a SWAT team member on bad steroids, take the increasingly appalled McCzar on a guided tour of prohibition then and now. In the meantime, Mary Jane Cratchet, jailed in the hospital infirmary, lingers at the edge of death.

Will McCzar see the light? Will he act to save Mrs. Cratchet and poor Tiny Tim? Will he survive his encounter will the drug war beast he helped create? You'll have to read the comic to find out. And as you do, you'll enjoy not only Wells' pithy, pointed, and historically accurate text, but also Bieser's beautiful artwork and lettering in the finest comic tradition.

A Drug War Carol may be a comic, but it's no laughing matter. Instead it is a thoughtful, visually pleasing addition to the ever-growing anti-prohibitionist literature. Though frequently making use of marijuana culture references (such as the name "Mary Jane,"), A Drug War Carol also strives to inform readers on a wide range of important drug policy issues, such as mandatory minimum sentencing, civil asset forfeiture, under-prescribing of opioids to chronic pain patients, the crime and violence caused by drug prohibition, dilution of constitutional rights and others. It is also unusual among comic books in its inclusion of several pages of end notes and an extensive bibliography of recommended reading.

A Drug War Carol is fun and would make a worthy gift for fellow drug reformers this season. But it could also be the perfect thing to prick the conscience of that Scrooge McCzar on your Christmas list -- or more likely that well meaning member of the public who simply needs a little more information. With half a million nonviolent drug offenders spending the holiday in jail or prison, now's a good time to provide it for them. In the meantime, visit http://www.adrugwarcarol.com for a web site edition and further information.

DRCNet is now offering A Drug War Carol as a new membership premium -- please visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ to secure your copy or copies -- there's still time to get them before the holiday, but place your order soon to be sure! Due to A Drug War Carol's low cost, we are able to offer a free copy to any reader donating $15 or more -- add $5 for each additional copy (e.g. $20 and get two, $25 and get three, etc.) -- or add $5 to your order for any other DRCNet premium (such as a StoptheDrugWar.org mug or t-shirt or the Flex Your Rights video "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters") and we'll include a copy of A Drug War Carol with it. Remember that donations to the Drug Reform Coordination Network are not tax-deductible. Contributions to the DRCNet Foundation to support our educational work are tax-deductible, but the amount of your donation will be reduced $5.95 per copy, the book's list price.

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Issue #315, 12/12/03 Editorial: Steve Kubby IS a Refugee | Canada Denies Refugee Status to US Medical Marijuana Exile | Fallout Continues in Goose Creek, South Carolina, High School Drug Raid | DRCNet Interview: Darrell Rogers, Acting Executive Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy | DRCNet Book Review: "A Drug War Carol," by Susan Wells and Scott Bieser (Big Head Press, $5.95) | Newsbrief: Bush Campaign Letter Attacks Drug Reform Funders | Newsbrief: Thai Government to Investigate Itself over Drug War Killings | Newsbrief: Bolivian Government Shifts Away from "Zero Coca" | Newsbrief: New Canadian Prime Minister to Revive Marijuana Decriminalization Bill | Newsbrief: Jamaican Solicitor General Warns Ganja Decrim Could Violate International Treaties, Invite US Retaliation | Newsbrief: Australian Prime Minister Says Injection Room Violates Treaties, UN Says No It Doesn't | Newsbrief: Medical Marijuana Approved by German Court | Newsbrief: West Virginia Supreme Court Grants Private Employers Greater Pre-Employment Drug Test Rights | Newsbrief: NYC Cigarette Tax Hike Leads to Black Market Violence | Newsbrief: Cop Kills Cop in Methamphetamine Raid Gone Awry | DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | The Reformer's Calendar

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