Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tense Times at The Last Place on Earth

I went to a conference in Duluth recently.  Driving through downtown I saw a sign that simply demanded my return for further investigation...


So, on a brief lunch break I hiked over and saw:

This is the Last Place on Earth, a notorious establishment that makes the newspapers with regularity.  The owner, a Mr. Carlson, is an "in your face" individual who sells bongs, "adult toys", and most notably, "synthetics".

Synthetic is a general description of a variety of substances that mimic the active ingredients in marijuana and other drugs such as Ecstacy.  The Last Place on Earth is one of the few places to openly - oh I think we can safely say, blatantly - sell the stuff in my part of the world.

Not surprisingly this has attracted a great deal of attention from the Authorities.  By noon hour there was one police cruiser and two officers on scene.  When I was done with the conference I swung by again and saw:

There were five or six squad cars and at least eight officers on hand.  There was also a crowd of about forty people who appeared to be waiting to get into the establishment. They might have all been investment bankers and Lutheran pastors, but I think not. To describe the world as it really is, rather than how political correctness would have things, they were a motley bunch, and looked twitchy and irritable.  So, what is really going on here?

I found a lot of information in THIS news article.

This explained a lot.  As I walked through this crowd I experienced something I had only encountered one or two times before in my life.  This looked like a protest, albeit one with no organizing ability.  But it felt like a restless mob, one capable of riot with little additional provocation.

I asked an officer on one end of the sidewalk, "What's this about?"


I asked an officer at the other end, "Why are they all here?".

"The guy just got back from court".

So.  The Star Tribune article mentions that every morning at the 10am opening time there would be dozens of motivated customers out front, ready to acquire the wares within. Imagine how these folks felt by 4pm.

Let's not mince words.  The owner of The Last Place on Earth is making money, and substantial amounts at that, helping people get high and to avoid some of the consequences of doing so.  When he refers to his beach front estate in Mexico as "The house that Urine Cleaner built" he is not even attempting to be coy about it.  (Urine Cleaner for you innocents, is a system to try and keep your urine drug screen from telling the truth about your illegal habits).

I see people messed up on Synthetics in the ER all the time.  They act crazy.  I had one handcuffed individual haul off and kick me last year.  The officers on hand did offer to arrest him for assault.  But I was so pleased to have effectively parried an assault from a punk half my age that I declined their kind offer.

Yes, Mr. Carlson is a strong believer in the right of citizens to do damnably stupid things.  In another news article he was boasting that he would pay the tattoo bills, up to $150, for anyone willing to have the name of his establishment inked onto visible areas as a permanent advertisement.

But this is not as open and shut a case as one might prefer.  There are people of varying political orientation who defend legalization of drugs.  On the one end of the political spectrum are pure Libertarians.  In addition to various laudable goals such as smaller, less intrusive government they think people should be allowed to do, well, lots of stuff.  On the other end of things...

Yesterday I discussed the implausible survival of Occupy Duluth. Click on their website, it chronicles in great detail their involvement with the very neighborhood where this business is located. They can clearly see the societal damage being done, both by the chemicals and by the things people resort to in pursuit of them.  But they can't quite find it in their hearts to condemn it.

(I wish I had learned of their neighborhood meetings in advance.  I would have very much enjoyed talking with them.  They have been worked up of late regarding Genetically Modified Organisms.  One wonders how they would feel when hearing that the real marijuana of today has been radically modified from what their parental units toked at Woodstock, and that the synthetics are made of chemicals so weird and hostile that I am quite sure even their arch foe Monsanto would have nothing to do with them!)

Under the restless and crowded circumstances it was difficult for me to get close up pictures.  But in the window of the shop was a poster promoting the candidacy of Mr. Carlson for President.  Yes, the head shop owner ran for Leader of the Free World.  He only got 3,149 votes, which according to Wikipedia rounds out to 0.00% of the electorate. Chalk one up for people who feel our voting system is still secure, I figure that many people just liked the nice Scandinavian name.

In his unsuccessful candidacy Mr. Carlson was the standard bearer of "The Grassroots Party".  I ran this past my rather Libertarian son.  He opined that perhaps legalizing dope was too narrow platform on which to propose running a country.  But heck, maybe they have loftier ambitions.

Their party logo suggests, ah, maybe not.

Well, it is the Fourth of July.  A time of frivolity in the form of picnics and pyrotechnics.  But I find myself in a serious mood today. What exactly are our obligations as citizens?  How do we balance the greatest amount of personal freedom with a societal imperative not to get jazzed up on mysterious orc-chemicals and try to kick old men?

As you sip a beverage today, ponder this point.  And remember that across the spectrum of our fellow Americans there is a surprisingly even distribution of wisdom and folly, of compassion and contempt, of heroism and knavery.  That Occupier may be a naive, impractical fool....but may also genuinely care about the lives ruined by drugs.  A Conservative of the Religious variety may think those who sell and use drugs are likely going to hell, but will pray for them and hope to be wrong.

Be tolerant.  Take citizenship seriously.

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