Pubdate: Wed, 14 May 2003
Source: Huntsville Forester, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The Huntsville Forester
Author: Dale Peacock


Canada may soon decriminalize 'simple' cannabis possession. Based on the 
history of 'drug scares' in North America, I believe that it is time to 
address our Draconian drug laws despite American threats of retaliation 
should we do so.

Reading across historical episodes, one can abstract a pattern for drug 
scares and repressive drug laws which have a number of elements often 
completely unrelated to the use of drugs. Drug scares are not about drugs 
per se because drugs (including alcohol and cigarettes) are inanimate 
objects which have no power or social consequence until they are ingested. 
Instead, drug scares are about the use of something by a group of people 
who are already perceived by a ruling elite as some type of threat.

For example, it wasn't alcohol that drove the move toward Prohibition; it 
was the behaviour and morality of what the dominant, middle-class 
Protestant saw as the 'dangerous class' of urban, immigrant, working-class 

It was the Chinese opium dens and the resultant racism, not the widespread 
use of opiates among white, middle-class, middle-aged women, that prompted 
the first drug laws. It was only when cheap, smokeable cocaine (rock or 
crack) made its way from rock-band tour buses and upper-class penthouses to 
the African-American and Latino underclass, that calls in the U.S. for a 
drug war began. Moral entrepreneurs were able to link a certain substance 
to a group of users perceived by the powerful as deviant, dangerous and 
otherwise threatening.

Scapegoating of drugs is a way of blaming a drug or its alleged effects on 
its users for a variety of social ills which usually have nothing to do 
with the user or the drugs per se. Had one been a fly on the wall at a 
turn-of-the-century Temperance meeting, one might have believed that if not 
for booze, there would be no crime, no broken homes, no mental illness and 
no sex outside of marriage.

To listen to politicians and leaders of organized medicine in the 1960s, 
one might assume that without the evils of cannabis and LSD there would 
have been no student revolt or opposition to the Vietnam war. Most 
recently, tuning in to politicians and the media about the blight of crack 
cocaine in the inner city, one might think that the underclass would cease 
to be marked by crime, poverty and violence if crack disappeared. There is 
no historical evidence to support any such claims.

In short, drugs are highly useful, functional and beneficial scapegoats. 
They provide a ruling class with "fig leaves to place over the unsightly 
social ills that are endemic to the social system over which they preside" 
(Patricia and Peter Adler). And they give the general public a focus for 
blame in which a chemical 'bogeyman,' or the 'deviants' who ingest it, are 
the root cause for a wide array of complex social problems.

In a recent letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail and American had 
this to say: "Many of us in the States increasingly look to Canada for 
leadership on social issues--not just drug policy reform, but healthcare 
funding, urban planning, recognition of gay marriages and more. So, we say 
to Canadians: Don't let the Walters (self-proclaimed U.S. drug czar) push 
you around." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Dale Peacock

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