Pubdate: Thu, 28 Mar 2002
Source: Free Inquiry (US)
Copyright: 2002 Council for Secular Humanism
Note: Published Quarterly
Author: Joan Kennedy Taylor
Note: Ms Taylor is the author of 'Reclaiming the Mainstream -- 
Individualist Feminism Rediscovered' and the vice president of Feminists 
for Free Expression.
Note: Published Quarterly, this article appeared in the Spring edition Vol. 
22 Number 2


A growing chorus of people in a position to know - judges, retired law 
enforcement people, politicians, journalists - say the War on Drugs is 
unwinnable; that despite all the money and the incarcerations and the 
foreign policy maneuverings we haven't succeeded in materially lessening 
either supply or demand since President Nixon declared a federal war on 
drugs in 1969. On the one hand, avowed conservatives including William E 
Buckley George Schultz, and the Republican governor of New Mexico, and on 
the other hand, the national American Civil Liberties Union-people who 
rarely agree with each other - agree that this "war" should end.

If these informed people are against this war, why is anybody for it? 
Basically because the government tells them to be. Most people don't have 
time to evaluate risk for themselves; we trust the government to evaluate 
the safety of the meat we buy the medicines that can be prescribed, even 
the materials from which children's clothing can be made. But government 
experts are fallible, like everyone else - only when the government makes a 
mistake in banning something, it's almost impossible to change.

Remember the drug thalidomide? It produced terrible deformities in babies 
when taken by pregnant women.

Clearly no pregnant woman should take it. At the same time, it was the only 
known drug that could treat leprosy - not a widespread scourge in the 
United States, but hardly unknown either. After the scandal, any use of 
thalidomide was forbidden in the United States for decades - until very 
recently, in fact. when officials decided to reevaluate thalidomide in 
light of its other beneficial properties and perhaps allow it to be 
prescribed again - not just to pregnant women. It's quite apt that this has 
been called "The War on Some Drugs."

Are the forbidden drugs more dangerous to health than those that are 
legally allowed?

Not at all. Experts seem to agree that the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco 
are much more destructive to health than heroin, cocaine, or, of course, 

Opiates and marijuana have been in use through history, but 
pharmaceutically created drugs arrive on the scene and are encouraged or 
banned by the government for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

At least two drugs that are now controlled substances, LSD and MDMA 
(Ecstasy), began life as psychotherapeutic drugs before they were banned 
because of recreational usage.

Several other psychoactive drugs - Prozac, Paxil, and Ritalln, to name a 
few - are not only allowed by the government but often promoted by official 
institutions. So, of course, is methadone.

Battle now rages around marijuana because of its medicinal value. Marijuana 
is apparently highly effective against the persistent nausea many cancer 
and AIDS patients experience. For many years some doctors have unofficially 
urged these patients to use medical marijuana.

Now with the success of some political campaigns to legalize such use, the 
battle is being joined.

The widely publicized fate of the bestselling author Peter McWilliams is a 
horrific case in point.

McWilliams, a terminal AIDS patient, was brought into federal court in 2000 
for growing and using marijuana, a practice that has been legal in his 
state of California since 1996. He was forbidden to tell the jury that what 
he did was legal in the state, that he had AIDS, or that marijuana was all 
that could prevent his vomiting up his medication. In order to get bail 
during his trial, he was forbidden to use the drug, and was tested 
periodically to make sure he complied. He was convicted, and while awaiting 
sentencing, he choked at home on his own vomit and died.

Now, as of last October, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has 
prohibited as "controlled substances" all products made from hemp (the 
marijuana plant) that contain any trace of the active ingredient mc. Not 
that the DEA thinks that cloth and rope and hand creme and dietary 
supplements will make anyone high, but edible products made from hemp can 
sometimes give false positives in drug testing.

So they are all banned. Well, not quite all. Cloth and rope and, 
provisionally toiletries are exempt from the ban, courtesy of your government.

Inconsistency is the least of the problems the War on Drugs has brought us, 
of course.

The statistics are ubiquitous and disturbing civil liberties violations; 
random searches on highways and in public places; warrantless searches; 
questionable killings; asset forfeiture (seizing property on suspicion of 
its being involved in a crime and requiring owners to sue to get it back); 
domestic government expenditures that escalated from millions per year in 
the seventies to billions today', and the racist effect - 57 percent of 
those serving time in federal and state prison for drug offenses are Black. 
I won't even mention the foreign policy repercussions. The effect on 
respect for the law of course, has been bad - exacerbated by the mandatory 
minimum sentences that have overcrowded our prisons even while the judges 
compelled to impose them have denounced them from the bench.

Why has this war been so horrendous? The very prohibiting of something that 
people find pleasurable creates a market by making it harder to get. 
Experts know that, too, In 2000, the president of Uruguay Jorge Batlle, 
began calling for the legalization of drugs (especially cocaine), first at 
the Tenth Latin American Summit of Heads of State and then at the 
inauguration of President Vincente Fox in Mexico, saying that "while this 
substance has this fantastic market value" no mechanism "can impede its 
trafficking," When drugs are legalized in the United States, be says, they 
will lose their value, and Latin American leaders should call for that day 
to protect their countries.

Meanwhile, here at home in December, Judge Richard A. Posner suggested in 
the Atlantic Monthly that, while terrorism may lead to some curtailment of 
civil liberties, if we take the opportunity to challenge the War on Drugs 
(which be calls a "big flop" that targets a consensual activity with 
consequently few complaining witnesses and therefore requires intrusive 
police surveillance and action), we could minimize any net decrease in 
civil liberties.

The answer as to why we haven't insisted on doing this is not just that we 
don't know what the experts know. It's that we find it hard to imagine 
changing the status quo. In the nineteenth century when John Stuart Mill 
was protesting the subjection of women, he said that you can't expect 
people to "give up practical principles in which they have been born and 
bred and which are the basis of much of the existing order of the world, at 
the first argumentative attack which they are not capable of logically 

The argument cannot be resisted - it can be shown to be true. The practical 
principle we have accepted without question is that practices that are bad 
should be illegal.

The practical principle we overlook is that when pleasurable consensual 
practices are made illegal some people may indeed be deterred, but others 
will try to get around the legal barriers - and there is then money to be 
made. Those who are for the war hope to end drug use, as evil. Those who 
are for ending it realize that we are fighting a war against our own 
society. We can make our society more and more unbearable, but we cannot 
win this war.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens