Drug Legalization: it's not just for Libertarians anymore
why drug re-legalization is not a niche issue
by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher
December 27, 2023
Recently, a family member (bless her) said something which implied that I was a Libertarian. I took issue with that implication, not because I have issues with Libertarians per se, but because it bothered me that she would assume that I was one simply because she knew that I was calling for the re-legalization of drugs. This, I feel, is how prohibition survives today after 100-plus years of abject failure, by being compartmentalized in the minds of Americans as a niche issue. Certainly philosophers, by their ongoing silence, believe that it's just one of many issues and can be safely shunted off to Libertarians for any further discussion that the topic may call for. For to quote Mistress Quickly from "The Merry Wives of Windsor": today's philosophers will "ne'er put their fingers in the fire and need not." I believe, rather, that the Drug War is the philosophical problem par excellence of our time and that the ongoing academic silence on this issue represents collaboration in a Drug War ideology that, rightly viewed, will be seen to have already outlawed academic freedom in America.
The following is my email on this topic to said family member.
Nothing personal, of course, but I think part of the problem today is that folks associate drug RE-legalization with libertarians. This way they can "write off" the issue as a niche concern, one which may have some merits but is more or less "beyond the pale" for the average American. My belief is that the Drug War is a pernicious influence on a wide variety of fronts (academic freedom, philosophical freedom, religious freedom, racial justice, etc.) and could not be more relevant to life in general, given the fact that drug prohibition has led to the election of Donald Trump by throwing millions of his typical minority opponents in jail and removing them (either officially or as a practical matter) from the voting rolls. This is why insurrectionists have triumphed in America, because what would otherwise be close elections throughout the nation have been thrown in their favor thanks to the mass incarceration of their opponents1.
Drug laws basically sent out a temptation to the poor and marginalized everywhere in western society to deal in wildly lucrative "drugs," and when the poor and hopeless took up that call (usually as kids in minority "projects" located everywhere from New York City to Toulon, France), the Drug War pounced on them and threw them in jail as irreclaimable losers and even "vampires" (as Jesse Jackson himself once called them, though he finally came around to acknowledging prohibition as a problem rather than a solution). In so doing, they created a faux morality, which even supposedly liberal leaders accepted as valid. Even Dems like Clinton and Biden blamed the victim and called for still harsher laws. These politicians never acknowledge the downsides of prohibition: the inner-city gunfire, the militarization of local police forces, and the destruction of the rule of law in Latin America (etc. etc.) Instead, they focus on one single solitary death (usually of a suburban young person) that was somehow connected with the political boogieman called "drugs." They work Americans up into a lather about the politically defined term: "drugs." Meanwhile inner cities remain no-go zones, a status that would never be tolerated in a white suburb. And yet media stories about gun violence in inner cities never even mention prohibition -- tho' they'll often dwell lugubriously on "drugs."
(Even among those who realized that the Drug War was essentially "criminalizing blackness" in America, few dared to ask the obvious next question: could it be that the Drug War was designed to do just that? That's scarcely a wild assumption considering that opium was outlawed largely on the basis of anti-Chinese sentiment.)
Heather Ann Thompson wrote in The Atlantic in 2014: "Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist."
Yet CNN correspondent Lisa Ling produced a whole documentary about gun violence in Chicago a few years ago and never even MENTIONED drug prohibition.2
In short, America is in denial -- in fact we're in a kind of belligerent denial, since we insist that the entire world adopt our jaundiced way of thinking about drugs on penalty of economic reprisal. Nor do our enemies require encouragement to join our repressive bandwagon since dictatorial leaders are keen to have a new weapon like prohibition wherewith to control their populace and keep them from thinking outside the box in terms of ideal social and political arrangements, etc.3
Liberals, of all people, should see this problem, since the kinds of drugs that we have outlawed are precisely the kind which, according to ethnobotanist Richard Schultes, have been used, time out of mind, by ALL tribal peoples - including the many which western societies have conquered and then introduced to alcohol, often with disastrous results4. It's as if the western mindset was not content with merely decimating these peoples physically speaking, they had to conquer their philosophy of life as well, at least when it came to their favorable view of mother nature and her time-honored medicines.
But groups like the DEA have a vested interest in the existence of a "drug problem." See "Synthetic Panics" by academician Philip Jenkins5 for how they locate an isolated "drug problem" and bring it to the attention of the entire world, resulting in a massive increase of the supposedly problematic use by dint of the DEA's own publicity. So they have us panic in turn about drugs like PCP, Ice, and Crack cocaine. "Boo! Be afraid! Be very afraid!" And then they end their campaign by assisting in the production of a racist "scare" documentary on "48 Hours" warning white Americans of "The New Face of PCP," and then "The New Face of Ice," and then "The New Face of Crack Cocaine." The new face, of course, is a white face, and so mainstream Americans are encouraged to panic accordingly.
Yet I have only begun to list the downsides of prohibition. Scientists today are scared away from researching substances that are considered to be "drugs" in the pejorative sense of that term. Thus they turn a blind eye to drugs that could prevent suicides and help us fight Alzheimer's6. They know that their government will likely only sponsor research about drug abuse and misuse, never about safe use. In fact, it's the de facto government policy that it is WRONG to talk honestly about drugs, lest the information thus conveyed might encourage use.
This is an attitude unbecoming of a country that calls itself scientific. This is rather the description of a country with a state religion: namely, that of Christian Science, which tells us that drug use is morally wrong insofar as all cures come from Jesus Christ7.
The Drug War is thus the establishment of a religion and the Dare organization indoctrinates children into that religion by telling them to say no to the drugs that non-western cultures have used for millennia, above all the one drug that all ancient doctors considered to be nature's one panacea: namely, opium. You remember opium? The drug that was outlawed in 1914, thereby leading predictably enough to a series of "opioid crises," since prohibition outlawed the safest use of opium (smoking at home) and shunted opium fans off to far more dangerous and uncertain drugs for which purity and dosage was never clear. But unfortunately, Gore Vidal was right: we live in the United States of Amnesia, where the news media treat the currently misnamed "opioid crisis" as an inexplicable evil attributed to misguided youths. I say misnamed, because the "opioid crisis" is really a "prohibition crisis"8. For while the government may outlaw certain substances, they cannot outlaw the desire for self-transcendence, all they can do is make its attainment far more risky than it need be.
For these (and many other) reasons, the subject of drug re-legalization should be the concern of everyone - or at least of those who believe in democracy. Until this happens, the Drug Warrior will continue to get away with their old trick whereby they point to the problems caused by prohibition (gunfire, cartels, "crack houses") and say: "See? This is why prohibition must continue!"
This is why I believe that drug prohibition is the great philosophical issue of our time, a policy based on a vast array of pernicious assumptions that would not pass the least logical scrutiny if only philosophers had the courage to fight back against demagogues. It is not just an issue for libertarians, like say a call for the abolition of taxes. It is, or should be, a mainstream concern. Nothing less is at stake now after 100+ years of prohibition than the fate of democracy around the world. Nothing less.
Yet legalization proponents are still considered beyond the pale. I belonged to a philosophical chat group about materialism several years ago (hosted by Italian philosopher Bernardo Kastrup), and the moderator told me that my comments about the Drug War belonged somewhere else: there were, he said, plenty of forums discussing the topic. But that's the whole problem: folks think of drug re-legalization as a niche concern. I will not attempt to describe here how the ideology of reductive materialism tacitly promotes Drug War ideology: suffice it here to say that philosophers evade all such questions merely by pretending that "drug legalization" is a niche issue, of no concern to the lofty minds of the aesthetes in their ivory tower, where they're so used to their own private technical language that plain English jars on their ears like the latest inner-city street slang. They are convinced, like most Americans, that they can have their cake and eat it to: that they can have liberal democracy and a Drug War too. And that is wrong. American science, in fact, is under the firm thumb of Drug War ideology. That's why magazines like Science News are still referring to depression, for instance, as a huge and intractable problem and are now promoting a kind of Shock Therapy 2.0 to meet this supposed challenge. They are 100% blind to all the godsend psychoactive medicines which, absent the Drug War, could elevate moods without damaging the brain.
Pardon my prolixity, but I cannot end without adducing one final factoid which should convince anyone of the absurdity of prohibition, namely, the fact that most Drug Warriors have no problem with the legality of guns, which kill over 50,000 Americans a year, yet if a super-safe substance like MDMA is found to have been connected in any way, shape or form with the death of an American young person, these same fearmongers cry bloody murder. It is this irrational fearmongering mindset that must be refuted and denounced, not just the laws that such an attitude tends to promote. This is why the Drug War should be everyone's problem, but especially the problem of those who call themselves philosophers. That's why the roaring silence on this topic in academia is a bad sign.
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You have been reading an article entitled, Drug Legalization: it's not just for Libertarians anymore: why drug re-legalization is not a niche issue, published on December 27, 2023 on AbolishTheDEA.com. For more information about America's disgraceful drug war, which is anti-patient, anti-minority, anti-scientific, anti-mother nature, imperialistic, the establishment of the Christian Science religion, a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded, and a childish and counterproductive way of looking at the world, one which causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, visit the drug war philosopher, at abolishTheDEA.com. (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)