From my first day in Louisiana to report on the oil disaster in May, I heard complaints from residents and workers about BP’s restrictive hiring practices. While in general it was, and still is, difficult to get work from BP, one theme was common: many people were frustrated by BP’s drug tests. I heard several unconfirmed reports that BP had fired, in separate incidents, half of a group of fishermen, and half a group of beach recovery workers, for testing positive for marijuana.
Now Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland, in her excellent report last week from Louisiana, hints at a potentially disturbing consequence of BP’s prohibition of marijuana: alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
And the men? How are they dealing with their own anger?
“My husband’s talking about finding BP CEOs and hurting them, even if he has to go to prison forever. He’s not thinking clearly. The oil spill has completely consumed him.”
“They can’t smoke pot anymore. It’s just a part of the culture, all the fishermen do it, but now they have to take drug tests to get the cleanup work. So now they goin’ drinkin’.”
“My husband’s goin’ drinkin’. My husband comes home and screams at me. The food’s not good enough, the floors aren’t clean enough. That’s why I’m here, for him to take it out on me.”
In next-door Plaquemines Parish, 11 domestic violence came in on one recent weekend, compared with 3 on a typical weekend. Cathy Butler, the woman who takes the calls, isn’t ready to attribute the spike entirely to the oil spill; it’s a hundred degrees outside, after all, and calls always increase a bit in the summer. The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, says they’ve had 320 percent more incidents of domestic violence since the spill. Whatever the cause, Butler is sure it’s gonna get worse soon. “The more people are out of work, the more trouble we’re gonna have,” she says. “Plaquemines Community CARE is offering help now, but we’re gonna need some more counselors. In the coming months, I’m gonna see a definite increase.” She says she is also seeing an increase in child abuse calls.
Marijuana use is absolutely part of the culture for fishermen in Southern Louisiana, from what I could tell down there. While out on their boats, many fishermen will smoke pot to pass the time while their nets are in the water. But in order to bring in money while they wait for – or to make up for – BP’s short-term compensation checks, the fishermen have to switch to alcohol to pass the time.
When combined with the obvious stress of the loss of their livelihoods, an unpredictable future, and with little hope in sight, alcohol can lead to a dangerous mixture for fishermen. While there’s yet no clear link to BP’s marijuana prohibition to increase domestic violence, it certainly doesn’t help an already highly stressful situation in the Gulf.