The backstory behind the trending 'Legalize Recreational Cocaine' meme
On social media this week, a simple message got thousands of shares:
The meme is interesting and bold. After all, the Libertarian Party is no student club. No rebellious Reddit sub. No group of teens trolling you for the lulz. It's America's third biggest political party. Four million votes in the 2016 presidential race. And they actually want to free the flakes.
Dig into the meme, and its backstory is even more interesting.
It looks like it was designed by a real estate developer who uses coke to more effectively close the deal, get drunk and sleep with his executive assistant.
It was not. Keith Thompson, mild-mannered software developer and communications officer for the Libertarian Party of Louisiana, designed the meme.
Thompson admits: "I do have a history with cocaine abuse."
Cocaine jacked up his heart, like cocaine can.
But, Thompson says, not in the way you'd think.
Thompson's mom used cocaine while pregnant with him, when she was a 16-year-old. Thompson was born with a four-fold heart defect called tetralogy of fallot. The cocaine may have caused it.
Doctors said he wouldn't live past six months. Then they said he wouldn't live past six years. When Thompson sat on Santa's lap, he would just ask if he could live another year.
Having lived through four heart surgeries, and with more surgeries on the horizon, Thompson is now a 37-year-old living in Pineville, in central Louisiana. He plays "monster" to his toddler son, chasing the boy around the living room while dinner is cooking.
Thompson HATES cocaine, he says. Loathes it. It dented his childhood and his life. Thompson was raised by his grandparents, and his half-sister was in and out of foster care.
And yet he's still for legalization recreational cocaine. Why?
"The illegal status of coke didn't stop it from irreparably harming me," Thompson wrote in a statement released by the national party.
Good point. Thompson's mom had no trouble getting cocaine when it was super illegal in 1981, when she was just 16. Just like no one today has much difficulty finding it.
Thompson was only lucky that things weren't more terrible for him.
"How much worse might my life have been had the government locked my mom in a cage and took me into their custody to be reared as a ward of the state?" he asked.
A drug addicted, absent, mom is bad. A drug addicted, jailbird, mom is worse.
The Drug War can feel like an inhuman presence in our lives, a monolith of faceless policies and prison sentences, but the stories of those affected by drugs are almost always complicated, and they often tug at your heart. Thompson's mom was young and alone — his dad worked offshore — and so who can really curse her for decisions she made as a lonely teen?
"I'd wager that most pregnant teens with recreational cocaine in their system don't tend to be terribly responsible," Thompson told Rooster. "But I do think that they'd be more likely to come forward and get help if they weren't afraid of incarceration."
Drugs have healthy and unhealthy aspects, selfish and unselfish ones, But actual drug users know that the effect of the criminal justice system on users is almost always completely bad: punishment doesn't work, incarceration doesn't work, family separations don't work. Drugs can do enough damage on their own.
Thompson's meme is powerful .It got a discussion going. Most of the commenters, on Facebook at least, were about who is and who is not a "freaking retard" and whether his mom is a "piece of (crap)." Such is the toxicity of Facebook. Maybe Facebook should be a controlled substance.
But the more folks listen to the stories of the actual people behind these memes, the people affected by drugs, like Thompson, the more likely they'll see that the answer to the question of "what should we do about drug users?" might not always be "put drugs in every 7-Eleven," but it's also never "lock 'em up and take away their kids."