Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wrestling and Drug Policy

Sydal got himself into a pot pickle in Japan that could have been averted more easily if Japan wasn't so goddamn strict
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Matt Sydal, formerly Evan Bourne in WWE, got into a bit of trouble lately in Japan. He carried a vape pen full of marijuana into the country, which is pretty notable for its strict drug laws. Because of his transgression, he was held in custody for an extended period of time and faced up to five years in prison. Luckily for him, he was released with only probation while he was in Japan, but he lost his gig with New Japan Pro Wrestling. He came home to the United States, where marijuana usage is slowly becoming accepted. This incident is the latest in a long line of weed-related snafus for Sydal, whose fondness for the herb got him into a bit of trouble while he was in WWE.

Of course, fans, observers, and critics took the news with a reasonable consensus, respectfully agreeing with each other over the harshness of Sydal's punishment. Haha, just kidding, it sparked debate, with too many people taking the "well, those are Japan's laws, and he broke them so he deserves any punishment authorities give him" side of the argument. True, Sydal broke a law. But if the extent of your analysis is that he broke a law and deserves repudiation, then that analysis is frustratingly naïve and overly accepting of strict authority. Without questioning whether the law is just, or the punishment is cruel and unusual, one can't really begin to understand a situation. Too many people take the "drugs are bad" route without any critical analysis, and that kind of thinking leads to the legislation that puts people in jail in Japan for small amounts of pot vape, or here in America, that incarcerates excessive amounts of prisoners, usually disproportionately of racial minority.

Anything that someone can ingest that has little nutritional or medicinal value compared to its intoxicating effects should be used with extreme prejudice, obviously. Marijuana isn't "good" compared to say, a cheeseburger or a salad. But on the scale of controlled substances, pot is on the low end. It also undoubtedly has medicinal properties in addition to its recreational values. I don't know if Sydal had a prescription for it, but what if he had brought with him, say, Vicodin or some other kind of painkiller for which he had no prescription? Although those opioid-based drugs are legal, they are proven to be more addictive and more dangerous if abused than marijuana, which I might add has similar painkilling properties.

Why is one painkiller so demonized and the other so widely accepted, especially when one is nominally more perilous to use than the other? The reasons are nebulous as they are numerous, and I'd rather not indulge in them. The point is that they represent a backwards attitude towards drugs that dominates and shapes drug policies in many countries where pro wrestling flourishes. Whether or not Sydal broke a law in Japan is not my concern; it is how justified that law is in the first place that concerns me. It puts too many people in the line of the government's fire against an invisible boogeyman, one that would be better served as use to help people, especially pro wrestlers, to cope with their injuries, among other things.

Wrestling is a brutal industry. Despite being worked, it takes a physical toll on the performers' bodies through repetitive bumping that shortens lives and diminishes the comfort in said lives in the later years. If marijuana can help ease that pain, both in the now and in the future, then it should be researched, not demonized. Even if harder drugs aren't legalized, it's in the best interest of the state to treat them and addictions to them as public health matters and not criminal affairs. Basic humanity towards drugs and especially drug users has been lacking for as long as people have been using them to relieve pain or just plain get high. Drugs don't strip someone of his or her humanity, and accepting draconian laws against drug use is flippantly irresponsible, no matter if it's your country or not.

Sydal was lucky to get off the way he did, in no small part thanks to his notoriety as a wrestler. Not everyone is going to get that opportunity. It is in the best interest of everyone to support more humane, less penalizing drug policy, not only for a better wrestling industry, but for a better civilized society.