"The Wire" creator and former Baltimore Sun journalist David Simon is the recipient of the 23rd annual Damon Runyon Award, which he'll get at the Denver Press Club on March 31. (Courtesy photo)

“The Wire” creator David Simon on the politics of weed and the racism of the war on drugs

David Simon has one thing in common with the 45th president of the United States, whom he has criticized on social media and in public: He understands the power of television, Twitter and other electronic media to instantly disseminate ideas in ways the printed word never could.

Simon, 57, is the creator of HBO’s genre-defying/defining series “The Wire,” whose achingly realistic marks can still be seen on nearly every police procedural or crime drama of worth since its finale in 2008.

Simon will receive The Denver Press Club’s 23rd annual Damon Runyon Award, named after the influential journalist and author, at a banquet at Denver Athletic Club on March 31 — a paid event that is open to the public via denverpressclub.org.

Read the full interview on The Know

Q: You’ve railed against what you see as the futility of the drug war, but it seems a lot of “regular people” are just now waking up to the ravages of heroin, for example, because they can’t ignore it. Since Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, how do you see that trend advancing nationally?

A: You tell me. Is (Colorado’s) Oxycontin use up over other states, or is there any appreciable difference since marijuana was legalized? That’s the primary argument against the liberalization of marijuana: that it’s a gateway drug to other things. Even though, yes, all the rummies drinking rye down by the Cross Street Market, 94 percent of them started with a beer. So is beer a gateway drug? On some level, 94 percent of all murderers who picked up a gun probably had a traffic ticket. Do traffic violations pose the inevitable route to violent crime? There’s a specious equivocation we were sold for 50 to 60 years of the drug war. People who have compulsive disorders are going to struggle with addiction regardless of where they begin, whether it’s caffeine or a beer or a barbiturate. They’re going where they’re going unless it’s interrupted in some definitive way externally. The (anti-marijuana forces) are ignoring the fact that millions upon millions upon millions have used it recreationally and haven’t become drug addicted in the same way that millions have used alcohol and not become drug addicts. So I’m really dubious on the gateway drug part of it.

Q: And certainly, you’ve said in the past that the drug war is as much about social and cultural control as it is about public health or safety.

A: The reason we have the drug war is to police our feared other, and not necessarily to police dangerous drugs or drugs that do the most harm, or we wouldn’t be chasing marijuana, we’d be chasing Anheuser-Busch and R.J. Reynolds. On the other hand, I have a counter-intuitive argument against what Colorado did, which has nothing to do with my concerns about marijuana. And I’m sort of alone in this, but I see this as being political inevitably: If we could get marijuana separate from the drug war, this country would allow the police and prison system to beat the (crap) out of brown people and poor white people disproportionately. Once middle-class white kids can get their high legally, it’s like the military getting rid of the draft. We weren’t taking kids of opportunity, so wars of choice became much more viable with a volunteer army. The military’s never going back to a draft because it’s given them much more credibility to fight even interminable wars of attrition as long as everybody’s there of their own volition. White, middle-class kids stopped protesting wars on campus once they weren’t vulnerable to fighting them. The opposition to the drug war should be comprehensive and should have a real, sustained sense of how laws are used disproportionately on black kids. If you’re really serious about addressing this nightmare, the totality of it, it’s probably a bad idea to be looking at marijuana separately, but not meth or heroin.

Q: You seem like a pretty intense guy most of the time. What disarms you?

A: I’m charmed by the same things other people are charmed by. I laugh at the same stupid (stuff). Don’t we all? I watch mostly movies and sports. I don’t watch 24-hour cable unless something’s going on. Somebody has to tell me a television show began and ended well and then I’ll be watching it. I hate going to something where I don’t know if the guy knows how to end a story, so I’m not a good consumer of my own product. I really find “Archer” funny. There’s a level of silliness where it’s just … fun is fun. I was really rooting for “Moonlight” at the Oscars, but I put in the screener of “La La Land” the other day and I was just charmed. So those aren’t big ideas. Whether the Baltimore Orioles have enough pitching is not a big idea. I can be taken aback by a perfectly turned double-play. By the things that my 7-year-old daughter says.

Read the full interview on The Know

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