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Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market What happens in the black market t i c : worth examining because of the way fortunes are made there, lives are often ruined there, and the vicissitudes of the law can deem one an a gangster or a chief indeed embody the sum of all human wishes, then , secret ones are just as important as the ones that are openly displayed. ERIC fICHLOSSER aut at Nati of doobage. In fact, many drug enforcement authorities estimate that pot is the largest cash crop in the United States, “right up there with corn and soybeans.” Some agents guess that America harbors about 100,000 to 200,000 commercial pot growers. Chances are that someone you know is currently stoned. Predictably, the gaping fissure between law and reality leads Schlosser to advocate pot’s legalization. “The decriminalization of marijuana,” he writes, “should be the first step towards a rational drug,policy.” Less predictable, however is Schlosser’s refreshing jus ti fication for his position. Unconvinced by libertarian rationalizations for legalization, he works from the more sophisticated premise that “the expansion of America’s underground economy stemmed … from a growing sense of alienation, anger at authority, and disrespect for the law.” In other words, he suggests that the criminalization of a culturally acceptable product encourages otherwise law-abiding folk to flaunt the law. By linking the legalization of pot to the establishment of civic order, Schlosser cleverly couches his argument in terms that force conservatives to put down their golf clubs and scratch their heads. As Schlosser frames it, to oppose legalization is to support civil unrest, however subversive or quiet that unrest may be.And can’t civil unrest become a gateway to more serious modes of rebellion? \(Recall, as Schlosser does not, the slippery slope in the 1920s between With legalization, moreover, the demand for effective federal regulation would automatically increase, as a governmental apparatus would have to establish drug education programs, substance abuse organizations, and distribution systems. And although Schlosser never mentions it, enormous tax revenues would also have to be collected. \(Can you imagine what kind of public schools we’d have if they were funded with tax revenue from the sale of marijuana? Okay, then how about a Schlosser’s next essay investigates the illegal immigrants working California’s strawberry fields. Whereas the underground participants in his first essay suffered the overzealous attempts at law enforcement, they were a fairly mellow cohort. Not so the migrant workers, who are categorically distraught, overworked, indebted, and injured. Statistics bear out their pain. Although they “are in effect subsidizing the most important sector of the California economy,” migrant workers in the strawberry industry make about $7,500 a year. They live on average to be 49 years old. Typical living arrangements are four men to a 120-square-foot room with a bathroom down the hall or outside. Historically, the wages that an illegal worker smuggled back to Mexico far exceeded what he would have made at home. Now, however, migrants routinely fall into in crippling debt. Growers have rigged up an especially insidious employment arrangement whereby Spanish-speaking workers sign elaborate contracts written in English allowing growers to smother them in debt at a 19percent interest rate. “Under the old arrangement,” Schlosser writes, “if things went wrong sharecroppers would simply not be paid for their hard work; under the new one, they are being saddled with thousands of dollars in debt.” “Every sharecropper I met,” he adds, “was in dire financial straits:’ 5/23/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25