Investigating America's Vices

Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market - Eric Schlosser

Written the author of Fast Food Nation, this book contains three case studies that each dealing with an area of the black market: marijuana, immigrant workers in the strawberry fields on California, and the hard core porn industry. As one can expect from Schlosser, it is a thoroughly researched and tries to look at these industries in an objective manner, and does not necessarily try to conclude with some left wing conspiracy.


Basically there are lots of books that cover the topic of marijuana in the United States and the war on drugs. Being an Australian where possession of small amounts (up to three ounces in some places) is pretty much a misdemeanor that results in a small fine, it is difficult to understand the nature of the war on drugs as it plays out in the United States. In a way the war itself is scary because it has been suggested that if you are caught with even one joint you can be classified as a dealer, locked up, and have all of your possessions confiscated, even before you have been convicted. In a way I believe that this is a really heavy handed approach, particularly since the laws date back to the 1930s, where the Dupont company pushed for the criminalisation of marijuana so that it could dominate the textile industry.


Another argument is also that since it is only recently that marijuana has become a popular Anglo-saxon drug (up until the sixties marijuana was predominantly a Mexican pleasure, and its narcotic purposes were only used in cure-all potions made by chemists, who in those days did not necessarily need a license to practice). Unfortunately, it is very difficult to access anything these days on the history of drugs and drug use since many of these documentaries are generally not made, or if they are, do not appear on the mainstream media (unless of course its message is 'Drugs are bad'). In a way, it feels as if marijuana did not exist prior to the sixties, and that modern drugs, such as meth-amphetamine, did not exist until the late 90s (which is not true because allegedly Hitler used it during World War II and also apparently fed it to his troops).


It appears however that this book is about the black market and how the black market influences all of our lives. In a way we are all exposed to the black market, whether we smoke pot, or rent dodgy videos from those dodgy video stores that have no windows. This is where the second case study comes into play: illegal immigrants. Schlosser looks at the strawberry growers, but this applies to a lot of industries across the United States (and while it happens in Australia, the fact that we do not have any land borders with poorer nations, we have a lot less illegal immigrants than do the United States). The reason illegal immigrants are so popular is because the laws do not apply to them, so they can be paid under the minimum wage, which means more profits for the business owner, and that they are not affected by the unfair dismissal laws (or any of the other laws that apply to legitimate employees).


While the section on the porn industry applies to the black market as well, much of this has more to do with the freedom of speech amendment than it has to do with the black market (even though while the industry was fighting the obscenity laws the profits coming from the porn industry were effectively a part of the black market). Mind you, this section surprised me because I was expecting it to deal with Hugh Heffner or Larry Flynt, but they barely made a mention in this section. I guess the reason is that we are dealing not with what is termed as soft porn (if there is such a thing) but with hard core pornography. Mind you, porn has been around as long as there have been people willing to pay for it (even though before photography, we had to pay for live shows, and then we might as well go to a brothel), however with the advent of film, television, and now the internet, access to it has become a lot easier.