Many people believe legalizing drugs would increase usage and addiction, but this does not have to be the case. It could reduce both if they were legalized, controlled, and distributed in responsible ways by doctors in safe environments. The fact is we cannot stop people from making or using drugs. We will never eradicate all drugs and punishing addicts for their problems and casual users only destroys lives, so the best action that can be taken is to reduce people’s willingness to abuse and sell dangerous drugs and provide them as safely as possible. Very few people intend to become addicts, (no one puts meth addiction on their to-do list) but addicts often end up addicted by underestimating the addictive potential of certain hard drugs and toxic circumstances lead them to undervalue themselves. Regardless of the reasons, no one deserves to be punished for destroying themselves. Bodily autonomy ought to be considered one of the most fundamental rights that exists. What enters each person’s body is their own individual business alone.
If hard drugs were made legal (or governments were simply abolished, which would be far more ideal) and distributed responsibly, very few people who do not already use them would want to buy them. People who currently use hard drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine and crack, by and large, don’t care about their illegality. They would prefer these drugs be legal, but almost no one quits because they are deterred by the law. Most addicts would take any risk to get what they’re addicted to because physical addiction can be so powerful and overwhelming. If fingers had a price, there would likely be thumb-less addicts on every street corner. Therefore, we must approach drugs in a pragmatic and responsible way.
As stated some people picture drug marketization and capitalization when they think of drug legalization. But there are responsible and irresponsible ways to provide drugs and the difference between them should be made clear. If drugs were to be legalized and marketed without restriction, the effects could be calamitous. This section will discuss ideas on exactly how drugs can be legalized responsibly to reduce harm above all else.
Addictive, potentially lethal substances that have long-term, destructive effects, such as crack and crystal methamphetamine should be legal, but not very readily available, and they should be free. If they were distributed by nonprofit, medical institutions separated from distributors of less harmful substances, they could exist mainly so that addicts could recover. (For the purposes of simplicity, let’s call them “clinics” or “centers”.) These future legal distributors of hard drugs would have to be obligated to ask all who are interested why they want what they are asking for and if they are addicted to it. Those who are clearly addicted should be encouraged to quit and offered help. These distributors could double as rehabilitation clinics, which would be similar to the clinics already in place but without judgment or dogma. Hard drug distributors would also have to be required to educate everyone interested about the effects of hard drugs and their abuse potential, as well as inform them about the dangers of driving or operating heavy machinery while intoxicated on any drug.
Less harmful, non-addictive substances, on the other hand, like cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, and peyote should be legal and readily available for all healthy adults. (Information about the use and misuse of these drugs should also be available where these drugs are sold.) They should not be very profitable, but they could turn a profit without being morally bankrupt since they do not cause addictions. However, since barter, resource based economies, and social currencies are far better than fiat currency (mainly because they don’t require the state) trading for these drugs via goods or services would be ideal and this could be far more informal than hard drug distribution and be done among individuals anywhere.
Although legal distributors of hard drugs would have to do their best to discourage people from buying these drugs, they would have to distribute them on a regular basis, especially to casual users. Otherwise, black market dealers would start selling them outside of these distribution clinics, but even in this scenario, they wouldn’t be able to compete with the idea of “free drugs,” so they would not be at all successful or widespread. Ultimately, the price is most important to addicts. Therefore, addicts wouldn’t (or couldn’t) buy drugs from dealers who sold a product for fifty dollars a gram just to avoid questions. These distributors would not have to serve as merely interventionist traps, but rather as “social safety nets” wherein individuals could reflect and make informed decisions about their wants and needs. It would be most helpful if they served as judgment-free spaces that try to deter drug abuse. It would also make sense if these centers offered classes on job training, exercise, child-rearing, and support groups to provide better alternatives to hard drugs on site.
Doctors at these centers would have to limit how much product one person could procure at one time, which would have to be different for every drug and person, depending on the relative potency of the drug and the tolerance and weight of the individual consumer. If they were encouraged to stay at the center when using the drug, this would give them a safe place to be intoxicated and doctors would be ready to assist in case of an emergency. Ultimately, consumers and addicts would have to make the decision to quit, but it would be a decision much easier to make with so much support available. Doctors there would have to be compassionate and empathetic and explain the benefits of quitting, but it would be best for sobriety to be a choice nonetheless. These clinics would have to focus on creating an open-minded atmosphere where users and addicts could form bonds and see their way to healthier lifestyles.
In order for these distributors to be very effective, they would need to distribute just the right amount of substances and they would need to be operated by trustworthy and knowledgeable physicians. They could not employ individuals who would accept money under the table to sell drugs as this would defeat the entire purpose of these centers. (They would also need security personnel before drug cartels disappeared.) Of course, the doctors would need to be vetted for integrity, personal responsibility, and compassion, which would prevent internal corruption.
It would likely take some time to determine the best way to provide hard drugs, but it would be well worth it to prevent addictions, and ultimately the number of addicts would be very small. Billions of tax dollars would be saved, (so long as governments exist) and this money saved could be allocated to the poor and working classes worldwide. This would make violence rare and even non-existent in many regions. But most politicians could never understand doing something like this. Some people will never understand that reduction of anti-social and self-destructive behaviors can only be achieved by improving lives, not by locking people in cages. (Alternatively, decriminalizing all drugs would have a similar effect, but an illicit drug market would continue to exist.)
Illicit substances shouldn’t be called controlled substances, because as Judge James Gray said, “As soon as you prohibit something you give up all control, and now the only people in control are illegal drug sellers and they do want your fourteen-year-old daughter to get addicted to cocaine.” In some poor cities children can more easily get cocaine and heroin than they can alcohol and tobacco because most hard drug dealers have no qualms about getting children addicted to drugs, whereas stores that sell tobacco and alcohol require an ID as proof of maturity.
Of course, legal distributors of hard drugs would not sell to children, so teenage usage would also decline. However, legalizing drugs would not completely solve the world’s drug problem because many of the current rehabilitation clinics in place are not successful. Methadone clinics usually have a high success rate, but giving patients an alternative drug is not the best approach. Methadone withdrawal can be more intense than heroin withdrawal and it lasts longer because methadone has a longer half-life. Sometimes, methadone only replaces heroin addiction or causes a relapse back to heroin.
Giving addicts in recovery smaller and smaller doses of the same drug they are addicted is often a more effective solution and it costs about the same as methadone treatment. Some clinics in Amsterdam give heroin addicts sterile syringes and heroin while they are weaning off the drug to eliminate the chance of spreading disease, and they have a much higher success rate than American clinics. It is often more gratifying for addicts to kick a drug by reducing their own use more and more until they are clean rather than going through methadone or multiple drug treatment.
Rehabilitation clinics should also refrain from judging addicts or converting them to certain religious faiths (which they often do) and focus more on improving lives and giving thoughtful and compassionate guidance. Too many working in rehabilitation clinics have dubious, puritanical religious motives. Some just want to convert struggling people and this is a serious problem. Regardless of their intentions, religion doesn’t work for everyone as a solution.
The concept of “God” has helped many people recover from addictions, but that is because addiction can feel devastatingly lonely and hopeless, and believing you are not alone, (even if you are) can feel good. But God is not medicine and ultimately relying too much on God (real or not) can perpetuate isolation and inaction. Rehabilitation clinics should be run by doctors and former addicts who understand what leads people to abuse drugs, basic medical science, neuropharmacology, neuroscience, neurotoxicity, and the potential lethality of immediate abstinence from drugs during an addiction. These should be prerequisites to counsel anyone.
There are a few select drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine and crack that can lead to violence just by nature of their psychological effects, which can be severely psychotic. These are very addictive drugs that destroy the mind, but addicts usually only become violent if they perceive the presence of a threat, and if their addiction is illegal they have very good reason to feel threatened and be watchful. Police are everywhere in poor cities rife with addiction and most people don’t side with drug addicts, so if you are an addict, it’s easy to feel as if the world is against you. Addicts can lose their homes, their jobs, their freedom, and they can be in debt (or prison) their whole lives if they are caught. The high levels of paranoia and stress can cause addicts to act irrationally and violently to protect themselves from these consequences, even when there is not an immediate threat in the vicinity. These drugs can also make users feel omnipotent and immune to pain, and if they have very little to lose, becoming violent is a likely reaction. This is what makes legalization and oversight so necessary.
Most parolees convicted of heroin and cocaine use in America return to these drugs within three months of their release.1 Many often resort to crime when they are released because it is nearly impossible to procure a decent job with a criminal record, and minimum wage jobs do not pay nearly enough to cover living expenses, much less an expensive drug habit.
Mike Ruppert, a former LAPD narcotics officer and whistleblower on the Iran Contra Affair, said in an interview, “Drug abuse is simply a medical, social, and spiritual problem, not a criminal one.” The majority of drug addicts only harm themselves, and these people belong in rehabilitation, not prison, which only makes recovering all the more difficult.
Aside from the needless violence and suffering caused by the drug war, it also costs taxpayers billions of dollars. In an interview for Nexus Magazine in 2001, Mike Ruppert quite rightly said the drug war is not a war on drugs, but “a war on people…In 1972 when President Richard Nixon started the War on Drugs, the annual federal budget allocation was $110 million dollars a year for enforcement. 28 years later, the budget allocation was $17 billion dollars a year, and yet, in the year 2000, there are more drugs in this country, they are cheaper, and they are more potent than they were in 1972. That has to tell you that there’s some other agenda going on here.”2 Mike is absolutely right and the budget allocation for the drug war is even higher today. However, Nixon didn’t exactly start the war on drugs, but he was the first President to claim it was necessary to declare a “war on drugs.” In his address to public on June 17th 1971, he declared, “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”
John Daniel Ehrlichman, counsel and assistant to President Nixon for domestic affairs, was honest about the racist motivations of the war on drugs in a 1994 interview with journalist Dan Baum, in which he said, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Ehrlichman was also convicted for his involvement in the Watergate Scandal.
While governments, private correctional facilities, and many big businesses profit financially and often ideologically from incarceration and the drug trade, tax payers bear the burden as stated. On average, it costs about $36,000 to house and feed an inmate, whereas a year’s supply of methadone only costs about $4,100 and those who are addicted often pay for it. Furthermore, some only take a few months or weeks to recover. There are also many better alternatives to methadone that cost about the same or less like heroin itself, natural opiates, and certain semi-synthetic opioids like buprenorphine.
If all of the currently incarcerated, non-violent drug offenders were in treatment programs instead of prison or jail, billions of tax-payer dollars would be saved. This would also allow released offenders to procure jobs after treatment, support their families and friends, heal from the trauma of incarceration, and contribute to their broader communities instead of rotting in cells. The legalization of less harmful drugs like cannabis would also create tens of thousands of new jobs and opportunities.
Legalizing drugs would significantly reduce their cost, and this would reduce the violence in the drug trade. No one gets killed over poultry shipments, because chicken is not illegal, and therefore not expensive. If drugs were legal robbing a truck full of heroin would be just as pointless because it would be little more valuable than poultry.
Legalizing drugs wouldn’t just reduce violence. It would also reduce the number of people who abuse drugs. Legalizing cannabis can result in a slight increase in use at first, but eventually use declines because it loses its taboo quality. According to survey data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, cannabis use among teens dropped significantly in Colorado immediately after recreational cannabis use was made legal there.3 The same occurred in other US states that legalized cannabis. A 2016 study from the Washington School of Medicine found that “rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use.”4 In Holland cannabis is technically illegal but adults can buy cannabis openly in coffee shops and cannabis use and possession of small amount is tolerated. As result, Holland has less cannabis usage, less illicit drug abuse, and less alcoholism than America does5 because as the Dutch Minister of Health said plainly, “We have succeeded in making pot boring.” Substance abuse and addiction are also much smaller problems there than they are in France and the UK. Most in Holland also know the dangers and pitfalls of addictive drugs because they are more educated about drugs. (The fact that cannabis is still technically illegal in Holland is a major problem, however. Coffee shops are “tolerated” despite the law while growers aren’t and are regularly busted, which is a complete nonsensical contradiction. The state’s “experiment” in tolerance needs to be codified in law and apply to growers as well.) The differences in rates of drug addiction and use are also due to differences in quality of life. Scandinavian countries have even less drug abuse than Holland because their governments treat health-care, housing, and education as basic human rights, and they have far less brutal police forces, so fewer people feel the need to escape their lives with drugs.
Legalizing drugs is a necessary part of the solution. Governments have no right to tell us we cannot do something that does not directly harm others. In fact, they have no right to tell us anything. All governments restrict us (women especially) from making personal decisions about our bodies and how we treat them. But we should have control over our own individual bodies, even if we want to destroy them. We can be talked to and persuaded to make good decisions using compassion. We have to genuinely believe that to make it happen. But if governments try to force us, they often have the opposite effect on people. We do not need our governments that rarely have public interest in mind to babysit us. Governments should not be able to make laws about lifestyle choices.
Addictions to illicit drugs are often harder to kick than addictions to legal drugs like alcohol because there is more support for alcoholics and tobacco smokers. Simply being an addict is a crime in most countries, so this gives addicts incentive to keep their problems in the dark. Bars and liquor stores also know who not to serve and they are usually far cleaner environments than the average street corner or alley where drugs can be purchased. Buying drugs in such contexts can be degrading, and if people in recovery remain in these toxic areas, they will be reminded of drugs on a daily basis and of all of their experiences with them, making recovery more difficult. This is yet another reason to legalize all drugs.
Most politicians could not be less concerned with rehabilitating addicts, and they would much rather imprison them than try to help. The idea of legalizing drugs is often scoffed at by most politicians. For example, in a town hall meeting in March of 2009 when Barack Obama (who was supposedly the “candidate of change”) was asked whether or not he would consider legalizing cannabis to help improve the economy, he laughed at the question. It does not take an economic genius to realize this would provide billions in tax revenue, and this should not be about money or silly chemicals. Millions of peoples’ lives are destroyed by the drug war and million of lives are improved and saved by cannabis. That’s what is important.
5.9 Reforming Rehabilitation Programs like “The Twelve Steps”
One of the major problems with rehabilitation clinics is that many of them still use the twelve-step program developed in 1939. Seven of the twelve steps involve God or spirituality in some way, which makes many atheists and others who aren’t religious reluctant to enter or stay in treatment. Accepting God is not even optional in the program. No one cannot complete the twelve steps without devoting their life to God. The following is a list of the steps that involve God or spirituality:
“Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Praying for God to remove “defects of character” does not alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms caused by a decrease in the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the body, which can be fatal if not treated by a GABA agonist. Almost nothing was known about drug or alcohol withdrawal when the 12 step program was invented and its authors believed the best approach to alcoholism is simply immediate and life-long abstinence. Many people who followed these steps in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) died as a result. There were no drugs readily available to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms in 19396 and their approach to treating addiction had no scientific basis. The fact that many clinics and support groups still use these steps is unfathomable when we know so much more about the science behind addiction. What is even more troubling is that attendance to Alcoholics Anonymous, (the group that uses the twelve-step program more than any other) can be court ordered, which is a plain violation of the first amendment of the constitution, which requires that church and state be separate.
Another fundamental problem with the twelve-step program is that many of the people who organize meetings centered around the program believe alcohol is impure or “sinful” to consume, a belief shared by many religions. Many alcoholics and addicts already have terribly low self-esteem and the last thing they need to hear is that they have “lived in sin.” Alcoholics or addicts of any sort do not need to adhere to a religion’s version of right and wrong to recover from their addiction and they do not need to focus solely on what they have done wrong.
One of the most effective ways to get clean is to discover and analyze what lead to the drugs and the abuse, resolve those issues, and improve the former addict’s self-esteem and self-respect. But many clinics do the opposite. They often berate and belittle their patients by constantly reminding them of their mistakes and how they have failed. In reality, most addicts are not “weak-willed.” Some very strong people succumb to addiction due to unexpected tragedies and misfortunes that occur for no significant reason. No one is immune to addiction. Most addicts are normal people who just sought a coping mechanism for the misfortune in their lives. If we could eliminate common misconceptions about addicts, there would be far more outrage about imprisoning and abusing them.
Step eight of the twelve step program is “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” There is nothing wrong with this step, but there is no parallel step about other people who may have harmed the addict. Addictions often build out of caustic environments where there is blame to go around and some of the people hurt by an addict may have also hurt the addict as well, in which case both parties have something to apologize for. It would be constructive to talk about those people in therapy and not have the addicts assume total blame for every one of their problems. Sometimes, the people they need to apologize most to are themselves, because they damage themselves most.
Because most of the people who run AA meetings believe the mere use (not the abuse) of alcohol is a sin, they often promote life-long abstinence from alcohol and this can be psychologically unhealthy. Staying sober for life can be helpful for some, but this has to be a choice made by the individual, not an imposed rule. Many clinics that do not use the twelve-step program also tell their patients that they need to be completely drug-free for the rest of their lives, but this is an unrealistic and ultimately unhelpful expectation. A substance is not a bad just because it can be abused. It also takes time to work through the problems that led to an addiction and if former alcoholics can learn to use alcohol responsibly, this can make relapse less likely. However, if a former alcoholic remains abstinent for life, alcohol may always haunt that person and have power over that person that it doesn’t deserve.
When addicts are told to never touch one drug for the rest of their lives again, this can have serious consequences, because the desire for drugs can increase over time and relapse can occur, even if they have worked through their problems. However, if former addicts give themselves the option every day to use addictive drugs and they still choose not to, this can instill them with confidence, responsibility, and self-respect. They can show themselves they do not need drugs as they once did. Occasional, responsible drug use can also serve that purpose. Abstinence can be a more stable form of remission for some as years of abuse can take a toll on the body. But the point is there is no one-size-fits-all approach to drug addiction. What works for one may be a disaster for another. The only universal commonality is that the root reasons for the addiction need to be addressed.
As most people know, alcohol impairs cognitive and motor function, reaction time, and feelings of pain. It has few medical uses except as an analgesic and a cough suppressant. Alcohol in excess can cause cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure. It can also increase cholesterol and the risk of heart attack and certain cancers. Ethanol itself does not provide any nutrition, just energy. Hops in beer have medical benefits, however, and alcohol can be a sort of social lubricant by reducing inhibitions. It is also worth mentioning many studies have shown light to moderate drinking can prolong lifespan, whereas, of course, heavy drinking is tied to premature death. In fact, one study found light to moderate drinkers were 20% less likely to die prematurely than those who are completely abstinent.7 However, light to moderate alcohol consumption is often accompanied by a lifestyle of exercise, healthy diet, balance, and so forth, which affect lifespan on their own.
Accepting God into one’s life or being religious may help some get beyond their addiction, but it does nothing to address the root of addiction and it can be as unhealthy because it is similar to picking up another drug. Addicts can become just as dependent on God as they were on drugs, and most ultimately receive less (aside from a placebo effect) than they did when they used drugs, which makes relapse likely. Drug rehabilitation centers are the last places religious mythology and dogma belong. There must be real education about drugs in rehabilitation clinics. Doctors, social workers, counselors, and psychologists need to be knowledgeable and honest about illicit drugs and their effects and not dismiss them all as the same. People committed involuntarily for treatment, (which is wrong in and of itself) will tune out as soon as a counselor tells them all drugs are bad. Some drugs are better than others and we need to explain the science behind the effects of drugs. We need to finally have honest discussions about drugs and their effects to prevent the continued suffering of millions of people.
(The woman in the featured image is Gloria Licya Colon, a former homeless addict from the Bronx.)
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse: Drug Abuse Treatment in Prisons and Jails, US Department of Health and Human Services. 1992. <<https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/138622-138640NCJRS.pdf>>
2 Mike Ruppert: Nexus Magazine, Volume 8, Number 6 (October-November 2001) Journal.
3 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Comparison of 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 Population Percentages (50 States and the District of Columbia) <<https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHsaeShortTermCHG2016/NSDUHsaeShortTermCHG2016.htm>>
5 Robert J. MacCoun: What can we learn from the Dutch cannabis coffeeshop system? Goldman School of Public Policy and UC Berkeley School of Law, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Addiction Policy Case Studies, 2010. <<conium.org/~maccoun/MacCoun2011_DutchCannabisCoffeeshopSystem.pdf>>
6 Baclofen and GHB are GABA agonists that were discovered before 1939, but it was not known at the time that Baclofen could be used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms and synthesized GHB was not available for human consumption until decades later. However, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can also be treated with progressively smaller amounts of alcohol, so these drugs have never been entirely necessary.
7 Bo, Xi, et. al: Relationship of Alcohol Consumption to All-Cause, Cardiovascular, and Cancer-Related Mortality in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Volume 70, Issue 8, August 2017. <<http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/70/8/913?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=1&access_token=>>