The last time I saw Henry Granju he was mocking me for being so mainstream as to support a major-party Presidential candidate. His mother had invited friends over to watch Barack Obama give his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic convention. Henry was not old enough to vote, but a friend of his had turned 18. I was telling him he would be proud all his life of a vote for Obama, but the two boys told me I should vote for Steve Kubby, a Libertarian who helped legalize medical marijuana in California.

The irony amused me. I am usually the one trying to get someone to vote third party. I have wasted many a vote on sure losers and will waste many more. When the two parties serve up tepid fare, I am more than happy to spice up my ballot with a vote for a Green, a Libertarian or whatever might be available. I could not convince the boys that Obama was something different, someone not connected to wealth and power like the lawyers and businessmen who have made government a debt-hobbled behemoth that pursues stupid strategies like the war on drugs. Even Obama’s confessed youthful use of marijuana did not persuade them.

Henry will never get to vote for a President because he died last week after a month-long struggle to survive a drug-related assault. He was beaten, suffering a fractured skull and jaw and brain injuries, but his companions did not summon an ambulance or take him to a hospital. Instead, he spent two nights in a fog of injury and self-medication before his condition grew critical and someone called for help. By then Henry had gone too long without oxygen to his brain. He barely survived the incident and never regained motor skills or his ability to speak before complications took his life.

If marijuana were legal, he might be alive and healthy today. If you could buy a license to get stoned like you do to go fishing, if you could buy a joint like you buy a pint of whiskey, there would be no black-market deals that end in gunfire or beatings. If he never had to cross paths with drug dealers, Henry might never have moved on to more dangerous habits.

Addicts learn to live in the shadows to hide their illegal activities, and Henry’s companions’ reticence to call for an ambulance was surely colored by their possession of illegal substances. If they had nothing to hide, no reason to fear arrest, Henry might have gotten real medical care and not an ill-considered dose of pain-numbing drugs. Assuming he had enough presence of mind to decide whether to seek a doctor, Henry himself might have placed his fear of being found out ahead of his need for medical attention.

Drug legalization advocates speak of “harm reduction,” a policy goal that aims to minimize the harm drugs cause society. Pot smoking has negative consequences, but so do black markets. Methamphetamine is a dangerous substance, but its manufacture is even more toxic. A harm reduction strategy would use licensing, regulation, and taxes to control these drugs rather than prohibition. Our nation learned how harmful alcohol prohibition was a century ago, but we have never applied that lesson to other drugs, even as we throw billions of public dollars at them year after year.

Possibly worse than the danger prohibition creates for users is its impact on our justice system. We have the most crowded prisons of any first-world nation thanks to mandatory sentencing laws, and police priorities have shifted as politicians grow desperate to prove prohibition can work. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that drug prohibition costs federal, state and local governments $48.7 billion per year. He also estimates that legalization would yield $34 billion in revenue if drugs were taxed at rates similar to alcohol and tobacco.

Instead, law enforcement agencies are growing dependent on income from confiscated property, and this distorts their attention from crimes like theft and assault. In Henry Granju’s case, the sheriff seemed to be making excuses and leeway for those who injured Henry. First responders thought they were dealing with a drug overdose, and only later did doctors discover his head wounds. It was not until Henry died that detectives investigated the assault and discovered it did not happen at a convenience store on John Sevier Highway the day before he was hospitalized, but in Vestal a day earlier. As of yet, no one has been charged for assault, negligence or a drug crime in connection with his death.

I had another conversation with Henry a year or two earlier about math, physics and the limits of science. He was both intelligent and insightful enough to see beauty beyond truth. At his funeral, Henry’s father described his mischievous humor, but also his sensitivity to our world’s injustices. One of those injustices is how we stigmatize drug users and treat them as if they deserve misfortune when they fall into addiction. Henry argued for a more just approach, but I doubt he knew the stakes of that debate would grow so tragically high in his own life.

© 2010 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 21

penguins writes:

Rikki, I think you are waaaay off base here. Enabling drug abuse is a bad idea any day of the year on any planet. Romanticizing drug use is irresponsible. You may want to bring Henry back by repeating he might be alive today if... but that's never gonna happen.

Your cavalier attitude toward drug use is juvenile and maybe you wanted to honor Henry with your twisted ideal of legalized drug use but you haven't - if it were my child you were referring to here, I'd be insulted and madder than hell. I would boot you straight out the friendship door.

I am being generous of spirit here but let me emphasize - you are wrong to encourage and idealize illegal drug use.

tannin writes:

Are you kidding, legalize Methamphetamines? You really need to cut back. Apparently the Metro Pulse does not drug test its writers?

You want more people to die from casual drug overdose to save money on the war on drugs and to produce revenues with drug taxes. Aren’t people more important than money to you?

The daily paper reported a drug overdose in this situation, and made no mention of a drug-related assault. Did I miss a new announcement by local law enforcement? If there is some new information, I would appreciate a link.

Rikki writes:

Let's see, "negative consequences," "dangerous substance," living in the shadows, placing fear ahead of medical need, where exactly am I romanticizing and idealizing drug use?

Amphetamines were legal and a fairly common stimulant a half century ago, used widely by U.S. soldiers in WWII. While there were people who abused these drugs and developed addictions, only in the wake of a legal crackdown did we start to see the profound devastation and toxic, backwoods labs that now characterize meth. There is harm in both approaches, so the question is have we made a bad situation worse with prohibition?

Overdose is not a function of availability so much as quality. It is the unpredictable nature of street drugs that make illegal drug users prone to overdose. Regulations and standards would make overdose less likely.

tannin, every article in the daily paper about Henry's death mentioned that he was beaten during a drug deal. I'm not sure how you missed that information; it is not new.

You all should note that I do not advocate legalizing meth, nor marijuana for that matter. I present the standard "harm reduction" argument and leave it to the reader to ponder. Were we to move beyond theory and start discussing actual changes in policy, I would probably opt for legalizing marijuana first and seeing whether law enforcement can better control other drugs using the new source of tax revenues and resources freed up from pursuing pot growers and dealers.

I do advocate rethinking our country's drug policies. I am also an advocate of free markets and personal liberty.

tannin writes:

Rikki, I remember the media reporting that the authorities concluded there may have been a simple assault days before the boy was taken to the hospital.

Sheriff Jones of the KSCO also stated "Although drugs were involved, our investigation has revealed he did not go there to purchase drugs," Jones said.

"No trauma is observed at the time of the autopsy," states the report from the Knox County Medical Examiner's office. "Final determination of the cause and manner of death is pending further investigation and ancillary studies."

The accuracy of your statement that the boy “died last week after a month-long struggle to survive a drug-related assault,” is not the conclusion of the authorities. This looks to be a simple drug overdose and making these types of drugs legal could only increase the number of young deaths from overdose.

It is good to see you have a conservative side in your statement, “I am also an advocate of free markets and personal liberty.” Unless by free markets you advocate unfettered drug dealing, and by personal liberties, you mean the right to abuse yourself freely with substance abuse.

I can also agree with your statement, “I do advocate rethinking our country's drug policies.” The laws should be stricter.

Rikki writes:

tannin, the authorities have not issued a final report about the assault nor about Henry's death. It is not even clear whether he took methadone of his own accord or someone gave it to him to ease his pain, so your conclusion about this being "a simple drug overdose" is premature at best. His medical records show jaw and skull fractures. A concussion can have serious impacts that manifest hours or days after the injury, but we will likely never be able to tease apart brain injuries from the assault versus those suffered during the overdose.

The important thing is that there are dangers inherent in drug use and dangers inherent in illegal activities. Those we can tease apart. Much of the violence associated with drugs is a consequence of prohibition, not the drug itself. Stricter laws will just exacerbate that violence. We saw this with alcohol prohibition, and we can see it around us now. Your approach has been in effect for decades, and it has cost a lot of money and a lot of lives.

Rikki writes:

"Who do you expect to pay for this nightmare?"

This question shows just how limited your reading skills really are. Who pays for the current nightmare? Every time a backwoods meth lab gets busted, you pay for the clean up. You pay to prosecute and imprison the meth cookers. If the meth heads they supplied get any treatment at all, you pay for that too.

The only way to get anyone but the public at large to pay for the nightmare is to regulate and tax the drug. Not only does this create revenue, it also reduces enforcement costs and violence. Before you reply with more personal attacks and indignant sputtering, read the Miron study: http://www.prohibitioncosts.org/miron....

Rikki writes:

You've spent the past month demanding that homeless addicts magically cure themselves before even being eligible for care. You have no concern for addicts nor comprehension of the problem.

Addiction is a problem that happens when you force users into the shadows and make them deal with criminal suppliers of unpredictable products. Meth addiction is a problem that has grown while your simplistic, authoritarian approach has been in full effect, which is probably why you can not discuss this rationally but instead call for me to be fired simply for discussing a change in strategy. I have no idea why you are bringing Jesse into this, but little that you say makes much sense.

Marijuana is considered less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. If prohibition of more addictive drugs like meth and cocaine can work, funding those efforts through marijuana taxes and licensing fees offers a better chance at success as a simple matter of resource allocation, but also because you would not have pot dealers luring kids into more dangerous habits.

Rikki writes:

Since you can't argue with anything I've said, you just make things up, pretend I said them, then argue with your own nonsense. You'd think someone arguing a mainstream, status quo position would have no need for such pathetic tactics. Maybe it's just you.

Rikki writes:

"You can't take it back or make it about someone else."

You, however, can twist it into what it is not, sprinkle in unrelated matters, refuse to talk about what it is and make the whole conversation about nothing.

I am arguing that there are reasons to revisit how we approach drugs, ways to save and even generate money, ways to use law enforcement resources and prison space more wisely and create a healthier society and safer streets. I have been vague about specific changes because my goal is to first identify the problem before trying to solve it.

You, on the other hand, refuse to recognize the problem, speak vaguely of some "nightmare" you have not shown will come to pass, and advocate policies with a track record of expensive failure stretching back decades. Your position is so incoherent you can only defend it by changing the subject to the TYP.

Ronald Reagan said, "If you want less of something, tax it." Taxing and regulating drugs can mean many things. There are many drugs available only with a doctor's prescription, others you must purchase over a pharmacist's counter, others you can grab right off the shelf. With alcohol and tobacco we impose an age limit, ID, special stores. There are many commodities for which we require a license to sell or buy.

A change in drug policy can mean many things, but you are terrified to speak of anything but "legalizing hard drugs" for fear that you will look yet more hapless and confused. I am also advocating use of free-market tools and an enhancement of personal liberty, so I also have core American values on my side.

It's no mystery why you keep trying to change the subject and reframe my argument. You can't win if you play fair.

Rikki writes:

"Harm reduction" is a concept that has been around for years. It has been written about in many newspapers, and the quoted passage is an attempt to explain the concept and start a conversation about how licensing, regulation and taxation can be more effective tools against drugs than prohibition.

You are afraid of that conversation. Changing this country's drug policy is reasonable and necessary, and you can not dispute that. You've got nothing but some raw indignation you can barely verbalize. You don't even know why you support the status quo; it just feels safe.

penguins writes:

Rikki said: <<You, on the other hand, refuse to recognize the problem, speak vaguely of some "nightmare" you have not shown will come to pass, and advocate policies with a track record of expensive failure stretching back decades. Your position is so incoherent you can only defend it by changing the subject to the TYP.>>

Rikki, Hon, the nightmare would be the truncated lives of sons, and daughters, brothers and sisters whose inability to fend off the relentless call of addiction takes them away from their families many of whom have beat their brains out and wrung their hands raw trying to get the addict clean.

The policies have not changed for several reasons not the least of which is lack of political will. I argue it is not necessary to change the drug laws first, enforcement is the issue.

As far as I'm concerned you don't have a leg to stand on in this disagreement because you are behaving too arrogantly to hear the dismay expressed as a result of your writing. I'd say that everyone posting here may have a fresh wound where Henry is involved. Henry is every child. He is the icon for serious drug addiction. We're not talking jonesing for a bowl here Rikki...

You devolve quickly to calling names and hurling accusations. It shows neither professionalism or journalistic integrity. Remember, when you point a finger there are three pointing back at you.

Harm reduction is a theory that goes way back it's not a new idea. The basic ideals are fine but largely unsupportable without lots of money to support the drug addict. The reason Number 9 brought up the TYP I bet is because of their lame ideas to house the drug addicted and alcoholic without demanding they attend drug treatment and addiction counseling. Emancipated addicts = Henry.

We could go round and round and around. You probably shouldn't have tried to build your harm reduction theories on the back of a beloved child so soon after his death.

Rikki writes:

penguins, you speak of truncated lives as if that is something that would only happen if we change drug policies, but it is obviously happening all around us right now.

With licensing and taxation, families would have more tools available to combat and prevent addiction. There would be funds from the users themselves to pay for counselors and treatment, and licensing could even offer a mechanism for detecting the onset of habitual and addictive behavior.

Families (and users) would be spared the risks of unpredictable or tainted supplies and worries about who their children are interacting with in order to get their drugs. Without the incentive to hide illegal activity, fewer users would slide into addiction.

Despite 9's tedious efforts to confine the conversation to the most extreme corner, I am talking about "jonesing for a bowl." Treating marijuana, which is less addictive and less dangerous than alcohol, in the same manner as more dangerous drugs undermines the whole effort. Policy should be tailored to a substance's actual dangers, and there is political will to change marijuana laws. It is happening all over the U.S., and Colorado is now considering going beyond treating it as a prescribed medicine into full decriminalization.

As a final note, you may not have interacted with Number 9 during the years he has spent polluting discussions on message boards all over town. Defending him is something you'll regret. Numerous boards have asked him to leave, begged him to leave, suspended his account, blocked his IP and even blocked all anonymous comments just to shut him up. He never knew Henry and has no interest in this discussion beyond the opportunity to slander me and Metro Pulse.

Rikki writes:

I have every right to define and clarify my own position. Your persistent effort to tell me what I think shows how profoundly rude you are.

The violence in Mexico and other countries to our south is a consequence of prohibition. Licensed and regulated trade would eliminate most of the bloodshed. That you cite Calderon's remark as a defense of your position shows how poorly you understand this issue.

Sarah Palin just said that marijuana is a "minimal problem" that distracts law enforcement from more serious matters. She lives in a state that has long allowed possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, so if that policy were going to trigger a nightmare, she would know.

Rikki writes:

I have not changed what I wrote. "legalizing hard drugs" is a phrase so vague as to be meaningless, and it is not my phrase. I don't know which drugs you think are hard drugs nor what you mean by "legalizing." I have attempted to explain, specify, elaborate, justify and develop my thoughts, which do change as I learn and explore. I have also attempted to correct your misunderstandings, though years of experience have taught me that is pointless with you.

Were there to be some sort of substantive discussion of the risks and nature of the various intoxicating drugs and of the myriad ways government can control their distribution and use, I would be able to develop ideas about which approaches could be used with which drug. penguins and tannin have offered substantive contributions. You have offered vagueness and empty dismissal.

Since you seem to know my thoughts better than I do, please enlighten me about which hard drugs I want legalized and what exact form of legalization I have endorsed.

waustin writes:

I think the majority of people who think for themselves agree with you, Rikki. I think you make a very valid point.

It so funny (sad really) how black and white this issue is. If you don't agree with how drugs should be regulated, you're automatically labeled a proponent of letting kids use drugs recreationally, and you like to make homeless addicts suffer.

I'm sincerely sorry for some of you who posted here. It's quite obvious that you've been hurt (either directly or indirectly) by the very hypocrisy Rikki is condemning. No amount of overcriminalization is going to bring back what you've lost however.

Most American's have completely bought into gestapo-esque hysteria federal and local officials have been force feeding the American people primarily since the 1980's and Nancy Reagan's "Just say no" campaigns.

The prohibition of Marijuana and industrial hemp is a result of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and his smear campaigns in the 1930's to protect his timber interests and his monopoly on newspaper print.

He associated marijuana use with being poor, and created propaganda posters (much like the Nazis) portraying marijuana users as vile baby killers.


The over-criminalization of narcotics is feeding the black market profit margins. As long as local and federal authorities have the opportunity to seize the profits from these lucrative sales, and as long as the federal governement incentivizes drug prosecutions, they will take precidence over other violent crimes. This is why Henry's case was not thoroughly investigated. If the perp who beat him was a drug kingpin they could have prosecuted in the courts and in the media, they would have been all over it. They would have prosecuted him or her for the drug crimes, and tacked on manslaughter since the prosecution was already being paid for by the U.S. attorney general (he would have no doubt gotten a plea deal on the attack). But as it was, the prosecution of violent offenses cost the state and local authorities money. Drug prosecutions get them money. Add to that Henry was an addict, and well you get the point.

When you make anything illegal and profitable to smuggle and sell, you create not only increased profit opportunities, but you also add a mystique to kids who want to know what all the fuss is about.

I'm not a proponent of illicit drug use, nor have I ever been a user (before the bashing begins on me). But I have known many friends and family members with addictions.

It seems to me this area is having more issues with so-called "legal" narcotics like oxycodone and oxycontin.

If we took a fraction of the money we're spending on drug "enforcement" and put that towards drug treatment facilities for the addicts, and for prevention for our children a lot of these issues would be a moot points.

waustin writes:

Case in point European countries where the drinking age is 18, but in most Eurpoean countries it is customary for kids as young as 12 to drink at the table with their parents. As a result, binge drinking and habitual alcoholism is a small fraction of what it is in the U.S.


TallGirl writes:

Let me start by saying I was the victim of violence at the hands of my cousin who was at the time a practicing drug addict. He has been clean for almost 6 years. So I have seen first hand the effects of drug addiction. He once said something to me that was very telling: "You'll never get that first high back."

Now, let me say this:

1. The level 1 trauma unit at Vanderbilt was in danger of having to close not too long ago. Why? That is where most victims of the exploding trailer meth labs end up. The plastic used to seal off the windows of the trailer is embedded in the skin of the victims. Cost? $1 million per case. Do these people have insurance? Nope. Cost to TennCare (aka YOU, the tax paying citizen)? Oh....$1 million dollars. Something to think about. Number 9, Tanin, Google it to find the links.

2. Speaking of meth, do you have any idea what is mixed up in the backwoods meth lab. Oven cleaner, draino, and other toxic things. Now, I'm not saying it should be legalized, but I also don't think I should have to pay for a blown up trailer full of toothless meth cookers. And I also don't think they should be allowed to die. So what do you propose?

3. Ken Irvine, Ken Irvine, Ken Irvine. Don't know the name? Of course not, he was Democrat running for (re) election as judge. He was appointed to the bench to finish out some other judges term who had a bad habit of falling asleep during trials. Anyway, Ken lost his bid because well, he wasn't a Republican. Had anybody bothered to read what he was in favor of, you would have realized he was in favor of starting a drug court for first time, non-violent offenders. He understood rehabilitation, not incarceration. Which while it would have cost money up front, the long term savings to the tax payer and society would have been greater than the upfront cost.

4. Warehousing drug addicts does nothing but tax our system, clog up the courts (because we don't have a drug court to handle all of those cases) and often leaves behind other victims; the children of drug addicts who are either thrown into the system (drain on our tax dollars) or go to live with relatives, have unstable home lives which only serves to continue the cycle or pregnant teens that we end up paying for.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that what we are doing doesn't work. Hasn't worked. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I think this qualifies as insane.

"We could go round and round and around. You probably shouldn't have tried to build your harm reduction theories on the back of a beloved child so soon after his death."

Penguin, you just did what you accused Rikki of; you used Henry "Emancipated Addict = Henry, comments about him being every child and talking about fresh wounds" by people who never knew Henry (for the record I never met the kid and I don't really know his mother) is trying to further YOUR point on a dead young man's back.

1357531 writes:

Vancouver BC's Downtown Eastside is the poorest neighbourhood in the city.

This is their way of tackling the problem of drug addiction.




IF ALL YOU SEE IS SUPERVISED DRUG USE IN VANCOUVER. Then yes, that is what you see. However, you've failed to notice that this help comes with support programs and other services. And it's showing results. But, it also isn't a perfect program and only catered to a specific and special area. But we're trying.

Because whatever we're doing in Canada and the US seems to not be working.

If this thought just ran through your head, "Vancouver has romanticized drug use". Then you've missed my point. And somehow have a knack for twisting words and sentences to fit in with your beliefs.

Thank you Rikki for helping to create a discussion on an issue such as this. Though, there isn't too much discussion going on. Just plain ignorance and rudeness.

-a reader from Vancouver, BC

D3 writes:

Knox County has a drug court!

Drug Court
Located in Criminal Courtroom, Division I
First floor
City-County Building
400 Main Street
Knoxville, TN

Knox County has a single-jurisdiction adult Drug Court to serve as an alternative approach to incarceration for nonviolent offenders dependent on alcohol and other drugs. The purpose of the Drug Court is to promote public safety and health by providing comprehensive care to substance abuse offenders through a partnership between the judiciary, the Metropolitan Drug Commission, the Knox County Sheriff's Department, the Knoxville Police Department and health care providers. The General Sessions Drug Court presents the participants with a prescribed range of drug treatment services, as well as other social service programs, in a three-tier, highly structured, case management approach in a non-adversarial atmosphere.

Heard each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Criminal Courtroom,
Division I.

The Office of the District Attorney General, the District Public Defender's Office, private defense counsel and other courts can refer participants to the Drug Court. All of the initial referrals are assessed by the Drug Court Team to determine if the case meets the program's clinical and judicial requirements.

TallGirl writes:

No number9, YOU inferred that I said it should be decriminalized. You seem to have a knack for jumping to conclusions based on nothing but your own mind's eye.

Did I ever say it should be decriminalized? NO. I said, quite clearly that I don't want to pay for meth cookers who almost blow themselves up but that I also didn't think they should be denied care (on moral and ethical grounds) and then I asked what you, (you being everyone, not just your opinion) suggest we do. Sure, abstinence is the only "cure" or safe way and we all know that abstinence education regarding sex ed has worked SO well in this country.

Number 9 or D3 or whoever you really are, I think this is your only source of human contact or the only way you've ever had to make somebody listen to you. I also think this serves as some sort of sexual gratification for you, the arguing back and forth. So this is my last post to you, about you, in response to you.

On a side note and as a journalist myself, what Rikki wrote was not, from a journalistic stand point irresponsible. Why? Because it's an OPINION column.

johndominicphoto#204720 writes:

Wow. Taking legal drugs by senior citizens is a perfect example of how difficult the "drug lifestyle" is. The possibility of drug overdose is very high for them with failing abilities and sometimes mixing these doses with a social cocktail (which most of them know should not be consumed.) Drugs as recreation or social escape is just plain dangerous behavior.

It is true though, fear contributed to death of this young man. He may have lived but in a very reduced state, possibly his whole life. Where did the insight come that put him on a path to seek such a way of life and with such ill serving companions?

Tolerance isn't going to prevent further sadness. What would help is that the community find a way to let all its youth know that they are open to finding ways to HELP them. This would include law enforcement outreach, judicial review of laws, and a proactive medical community fostering such beneficial outreach. The time to sleep and bury the shortcomings of a whole society by ignoring work is to be done is just shallow misguided thinking by a fearful people. Wake up community. The life you save could be your own, and also the life that could contribute greatness to your world.

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