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Rethinking drug laws

Legalise drugs

Patrick Guntensperger

Parksville, BC


Have you ever met a violent pot smoker?

Violence: for pot smokers is not

When I write a piece on US politics, I usually generate some negative email. Particularly when I point out that the US is by definition a Third World country and is not as developed as, say, Paraguay, much less Canada or any northern or western European country, I seem to receive a gratifying level of hate mail. That mail is usually vitriolic, barely literate and hate-ridden; it’s a lot of fun. Those people don’t usually comment by using the appropriate comment space below each post, but that seems to be because they are reluctant to initiate anything resembling a rational discussion; they don’t want to engage – they want to vent. It serves to support my thesis that the United States is in even more need of rigid gun control laws than those countries in which such laws have long been part of their way of life.

Even more than my writing on US society, or lack of one, my criticism of modern religion and Christianity in particular, brings out real hostility in my poison pen fans. If I ever need to be told about every character flaw and hateful aspect of my personality, heritage, or physiognomy, from people who have never met me, all I have to do is take a broadside at organised religion. It never fails to amuse me how the strongest and most committed members of a cult that claims to espouse peace, love, and forgiveness seem to have the deepest and most varied repertoire of venomous threats and murderous epithets ready for deployment against those who don’t share their beliefs and have the temerity to say so. By far the most vile and flat out psychotically vicious communications I ever receive are prefaced with something like, “As a devout Christian…” or “Having been born again since…”

That said, the piece I’m about to put out there for public discourse is likely to inspire a whole new set of villagers with torches and pitchforks.

I’m writing this time to suggest and support the notion that drugs should be legalised. All of them. Controlled to some degree, certainly, like other drugs – alcohol and nicotine come to mind – but permitted for sale to adults in all civilised countries.         And yes, in this suggestion I include not just the self-evident ones like marijuana and its derivatives like hashish, as well as psilocybin, mescaline, and other hallucinogenic fungi, but also the hard ones like heroin and cocaine, as well as the laboratory drugs like LSD, ecstasy, and the new designer drugs; in short, pretty much anything that is a psychotropic substance. Certainly out and out poisons like cyanide and arsenic ought to continue to be controlled, as they have industrial and other uses, but substances that are designed and effective for the purpose of the alteration of psychic states ought to be legal; if anyone wants to use a natural or pharmaceutical product to achieve and explore altered states of consciousness, that ought to be that person’s business.

Doobies and joints and reefers, oh my!

20 times as many people are in prison for this as for murder, aggravated assault, and kidnapping combined

Let’s first dispense with a couple of knee-jerk responses to the proposition that all psychotropic drugs be legalised. The first objection that pops into the minds and out of the mouths of otherwise rational people is one or another version of this: People would break all sorts of laws because of the prevalence of the use of now legal substances.

To propose that a person’s external behaviour is what needs to be controlled and therefore access to drugs that might affect behaviour needs to be prohibited is a specious argument at best. Most crimes are motivated by and have at their root, money. We don’t have a lot of laws outlawing money as a cause of crime. In the first place, we have plenty of laws that control people’s behaviour; those laws can be used, whatever motivates the unacceptable actions. In fact they are employed all the time; it’s just that when drugs are involved, the same behaviour entails a quantum degree of more serious punishment.

Associated with this is the second automatic objection: If it were legal, everyone would become a heroin addict! Really? Would you become a heroin addict if it were suddenly possible to purchase it at a drugstore? Is its illegality the only thing that stands between you and becoming a junkie? Of course not. What makes you think that everyone else is a potential junkie, but you personally are above such temptation?

There are people with addictive personalities who can make virtually any activity into an obsession; most people do not fall into that category and therefore do not need to be protected from that possibility.

The fact is that it is quite possible, even likely, that some curious or adventurous types will buy some legal heroin, follow the instructions on the label, and experience for the first time a narcotic high. I’m even willing to go out on a limb, based admittedly on personal experience, and predict that they will enjoy it. A lot.

But they will be no more likely to become an addict than a sixteen year-old who has a glass of champagne at his parents’ anniversary party will become an alcoholic. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, the frequency and regularity with which one has to take opiates to become addicted virtually precludes anyone from becoming an addict accidentally. One could stay high all weekend, function perfectly normally throughout the rest of the week, do it again on subsequent weekends, and never develop an addiction. I know this for a fact. And moreover any expert on addiction or narcotics use will confirm that.

I now have a family, and because of the legal jeopardy casual recreational drug use poses, I no longer use them  (although at the moment I am sipping from a very toxic but perfectly legal martini), but the drugs themselves have never done me any medical or psychic harm. I am a far more rounded person from my occasional past use of what are illegal substances, particularly psychedelics like those espoused by Aldous Huxley, Somerset Maugham, Arthur Conan Doyle, and a vast number of other intellectuals and artists. I have also seen the harm that has been caused — not as much by drugs themselves as by their prohibition.  By far the greatest harm I have seen done has been a direct result of their illegality…not the intrinsic characteristics of the narcotics themselves.

The far right side of the political spectrum is passionately opposed to the decriminalisation of drugs; the faction of the political population that claims to find governmental intrusion into the personal lives of citizens abhorrent, is the faction that insists on becoming involved in the decision to alter one’s consciousness…surely one of the most personal and private activities imaginable. Moreover, the right is always screaming about government overspending; let’s take a quick look at what they spend on ensuring that you don’t take a little psychic vacation.

In the first place let’s be clear that in the United States, which has by far the highest percentage of its citizens in prison of any western country, more than half of the prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses. 50.8% according to the Department of Justice’s 2012 statistics. Just to put that into perspective, the next highest group of prisoners were convicted of weapons, explosives, or arson offenses; they make up 15.1% of the inmates. And the offenses that we tend to associate with those that ought to be locked up, the real criminals, when we think of the prison population, those convicted of murder, aggravated assault, or kidnapping? They make up 2.7% of the prison population.

One's first taste of home for the next little while

Doin' time for doin' doobie doobie do

Shocking as those numbers are, it is more appalling to find out that fully 70% of those drug offenses were for marijuana. That’s right, seven out of ten of the vast majority of people incarcerated were locked up for weed; and two thirds of those for simple possession. There are vastly more people doing hard time for a doobie than for armed robbery. When you combine that with the fact that the US Department of Justice alone has a budget of approximately one and a half trillion dollars, the majority of which is spent on drug and drug related investigations, trials, and incarcerations, the current situation takes on a strangely unreal aspect.

This is madness and it has to stop.

We need to look at ways to allow the controlled use of any psychotropic drug; ways in which the quality is assured, the effects are known, and the distribution creates a revenue stream for our governments. The amount of revenue that will be freed up would be astounding; balanced budgets would be a reality. The amount of revenue generated by the excise taxes imposed on the drugs themselves and the income taxes on the industries that would be created would spur great economic progress as well as offset any minor social problems that might arise. And those potential problems would certainly be vastly less significant than the very real social problems that the illegality of drugs definitely causes.

If that money was dedicated to the responsible decriminalisation of something that is essentially a personal matter, much of our social, criminal, and political strife could be, if not ended, certainly mitigated.

Make that paradigm shift and consider it; it’s not as outrageous as you think.

I’d welcome any concrete suggestions as to how such a positive vision could be realised.







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