I had never heard of the Peru Two till I binged High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule last week on Netflix.
It tells the real-life story of two girls—Michaella McCollum of Northern Island and Melissa Reid of Scotland, both young—who get caught smuggling 12 kilos of coke out of Peru in 2013 and are put on trial in Lima.
When the people back home hear what’s befallen poor Michaella, it breaks their hearts. Believing her initial claim that she’d been duped by some mysterious charmer in Ibiza, they raise thousands of pounds to help her.
But when the Peruvians threaten to send Michaella to prison for 15 years, she makes a plea bargain, saying she knew all along that the packets of porridge in her suitcase were filled with booger sugar, and had done it all for the money.
That’s when the public turns on her.
“From that moment onwards, I felt like I was the most hated person in the world,” says Michaella, who narrates her own story.
“Her actions were abhorrent,” says a so-called friend from Ibiza. “No one supported what she did.”
When I was 15, a guy approached me and my friend in the street and asked us if we wanted to make money selling Ecstasy. He had a big glass cookie jar filled with pills and said he’d give us a decent cut of the sales.
We ended up telling him no—we were too scared of getting caught—but believe me we thought about it, and would’ve supported anyone who decided to take dude up on his offer.
“Just a common criminal,” says an Irishman of Michaella. “Don’t deserve anything.”
Stupidy is the theme of this story: Michaella being stupid for getting herself involved in such an operation, but also the even greater stupidity of the drug laws that condemned her, her wingwoman Melissa, and most likely a lot of the other inmates they got locked up with. According to the documentary, 30 Brits were already sitting in a Peruvian prison for drug smuggling when Michaella got arrested.
Most people have a deep faith in the law. Conservatives everywhere talk of “respecting the rule of law”—the parts of the law they agree with, naturally.
Even my liberal friends berate me when I, say, bust a uooey where there’s a No U-Turn sign, or hang a left after waiting at a red light when it’s two o’clock in the morning and the streets are deserted.
Some of these friends of mine are bonafide kleptos, I might add, with absolutely no qualms about five-finger discounts anytime and anywhere they can snatch one. So maybe they only obey the particular laws dealing with their own physical safety.
Shoplifting is called a “victimless crime” because the companies you typically steal from are so big and profitable that you can walk off with hundreds of dollars in loot without anyone feeling it in their wallet or purse. But the company, its owners, and its employees are still the victims, whether they feel it or not, because enough people shoplifting is bound to drag down how much money the company could make and how much, at least in theory, could go toward workers’ paychecks.
It’s generally considered morally okay to steal if it’s to feed yourself or, especially, your kids. Then, and only then, can the law be ignored—though someone might have something to say about that exception if I’m stealing from their family to feed mine.
But drug smuggling? That really is a victimless crime. If I bring bags of blow from Peru to Miami, where’s the victim?
You might say the addicts, alive or dead, are the victims, plus their families and friends, their communities. But fatty foods kill more people than drugs every week, so Ronald McDonald has more blood on his gloves than all the drug smugglers combined.
Plus I believe wholeheartedly in the right of every consenting adult to put into his or her body whatever he or she wants, whether orally, nasally, anally—you name it. A person’s right over their body is supreme, and who the hell is anyone to tell them what they can or cannot do with it, so long as it doesn’t affect anybody else?
As far as I can tell, the only victims of drug smuggling are the people harmed by desperados trying to protect their money-making. But those crimes—extortion, kidnapping, murder, etc.—though often associated with drug smuggling, are not the same as drug smuggling itself. Those crimes are moral crimes, wrong in and of themselves, while drug crimes are just the government shoving a dirty finger where it doesn’t belong.
Drug smuggling is only a crime because the government has enacted laws against it, and it has enacted laws against it because the government either a) doesn’t want certain drugs entering its jurisdiction or b) doesn’t want to enrich the places where the drugs are made or the people bringing and selling them.
The people back home treated Michaella like the scum of the earth once they learned she had been in on the whole thing. Yet the Sacklers, the family behind the company that pumps out OxyContin and knowingly ignited a fire that did to white families what crack did to black ones—they’re still riding around in luxury here in the United States. People open doors for them, make their beds, fold their clothes, clean their houses.
They live in the most exclusive neighborhoods and are members of the most exclusive clubs. Events are held in their honor. Their names adorn the walls of prestigious institutions. All because it isn’t illegal to sell Oxy—at least not with a doctor’s note—no matter how many people have been ruined by it.
Now, I’m not saying Oxy should be banned—not at all. The Sacklers are merely supplying a demand: people are in pain, and the Sacklers sell them something to ease that pain… and then some.
But the drug producers, smugglers, and pushers are also supplying a demand, and easing people’s pain, only the pain is psychic trauma.
Drug laws, then, in the end, criminalize the supplying of a demand and the relief of pain. And drug laws exist because somewhere along the line the government decided its rights supersede personal rights, namely the right of an adult to eat and drink and smoke whatever they want.
Of course, the drug warriors always bring up the crisis of addiction, and it’s a real crisis. Most people dabble with drugs and at most go on a decade-long bender before leading productive lives and becoming sound citizens, while some, it’s true, go off the deep end, never to return.
But, again, the same is true of eating cheeseburgers and drinking pop.
And that’s just it: For all the government likes to rail on about addiction, it really has no problem with addiction per se—especially those addictions that benefit the government. They’ll never enact a law against being a shopoholic, or a workaholic, a foodaholic, or a TV addict.
The government did enact a law once against drinking, even added an amendment to the Constitution banning it. And guess what: It didn’t work. In fact, people actually drank more under Prohibition, not less.
That wasn’t water in all those martini glasses at Gatsby’s place.
And not only were people drinking more and dying from unregulated stuff, but the makers and sellers of illegal liquor were also shooting it out in the streets.
We only know the name Al Capone today because the government outlawed alcohol, just like we only know El Chapo because of the War on Drugs—which we’re losing miserably, by the way, worse than Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined.
Prohibition was such a failure, and caused such a bigger headache than alcohol had alone, that the ban only lasted 13 years, with the government having to add another amendment to the Constitution undoing what they did.
“A law that is not just,” said Augustine, “is not actually a law,” which means only the brain-dead would follow a law that didn’t work and only made things worse.
Our current drug laws treat a Michaella like a common criminal while treating a Sackler like a member of the King’s Court, and any law that does that is unjust, yeah, but also incredibly stoooopid.
Featured image by Valerie Everett/CC BY-SA 2.0