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Finally, a drug war opponent who checks all my boxes

an open letter to Julian Buchanan

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

February 28, 2024

The following correspondence is in response to Julian Buchanan's thoughtful message to me on Monday, February 26, 2024, on the website. Julian is a professor of social and culture studies at the Victoria University of Wellington. Our correspondence is in regard to Julian's 2018 post on WordPress entitled "Breaking Free From Prohibition: A Human Rights Approach to Successful Drug Reform."1

Hi, Julian.

Thanks for that. I have just read (or rather re-read) your excellent post entitled "Breaking Free From Prohibition: A Human Rights Approach to Successful Drug Reform," and I agree that we are, indeed, on the same page. Frankly, I seldom read something that I find as both new and useful when it comes to the Drug War (there is so much unacknowledged "group think" out there, even from those who seem to be on the "right" side of these issues), but your warnings about problematic regulation seem to qualify. State regulation, as you write, is not a panacea, since we first have to recognize that denying psychoactive substances to human beings in the first place is the real problem.

This kind of prohibition is particularly worrisome in light of the ethnobotanical research of folks like Richard Schultes, who tell us that all tribal people have used psychoactive drugs for personal and religious reasons2. The outlawing of such substances takes on imperial overtones in light of this fact. It's as if the western world was not satisfied with simply dispossessing these cultures of their lands, but we now want to eradicate the very nature-friendly ideology upon which their societies have thrived.

Another thing that strikes me in reading your article, which is something I have said many times myself though in different ways, is that the Drug Warrior never does a true cost/benefit analysis of legalization proposals (or rather of re-legalization proposals). They focus exclusively on the potential downsides of legalization for young suburban Americans while ignoring the potential downsides of criminalization for all sorts of other demographics, like pain patients, the depressed, or the philosopher looking to follow up the study of altered states that was pioneered by William James3 (not to mention the Blacks who will be killed in drive-by shootings and the Latin Americans who will become victims of civil wars, etc., and certainly not the poorly educated poor who will be lured into drug dealing, and thus into jail, with the financial incentives that prohibition creates for such illicit activities4).

And so I appreciate your acknowledgement that there are other stakeholders in the drugs debate besides "impressionable young people," because this is something that even legalization proponents generally fail to address in public, as if they too believed that the debate is all about keeping suburban white people safe.

I believe that the whole idea that "something must be done" (outside of merely decriminalizing private drug use and drug production for personal purposes) is a result of Drug Warrior fearmongering via agencies like the DEA and NIDA, as described by Philip Jenkins in "Synthetic Panics."5 Of course, as a practical matter, the long-term answer will no doubt require some sort of benign government oversight, but this fact, as you suggest, should not stop us from doing the right thing in the here and now: namely ending substance prohibition.

I think, instead, that what needs to change is the world's mindset toward drugs. The world needs to simply "grow up" when it comes to psychoactive substances. We need to start thinking of psychoactive drug use in the same way that everyone now thinks of other potentially dangerous activities like horseback riding or driving a car: yes, they can be dangerous and even fatal, but we never consider outlawing these activities based on horror stories in the tabloid press6. Neither should a well-publicized drug overdose of a rock star lead us to outlaw drugs, let alone to deny the drug in question to anyone anywhere, at any dose, for any reason, ever. (This is the absurd logic of the Drug War: that a substance that has one bad use can never be used wisely anywhere ever.) This, I think, dovetails with your point that the problem is prohibition itself and that regulation schemes cannot help us if they are in denial about this fundamental fact.

We will also have to guard against a powerplay on the part of the healthcare industry to claim the right to decide for us if psychoactive substances are safe enough to be legal, since psychoactive drug use is all about attempts at personal improvement, self-transcendence and even religious experience, topics about which doctors qua doctors have no expertise whatsoever. All that they can tell us about psychoactive drugs is their potential physical actions at certain doses. So while they can define risks, they cannot themselves perform a risk/benefit analysis of psychoactive drug use given the highly personal psychological and sometimes spiritual nature of the benefits in question7.

I could go on and on, of course: that's why I have made this topic the focus of my retirement years, which, I believe, is another thing that we have in common.

Best of luck in your ongoing efforts.

Brian Quass

PS I also appreciate your reference to the medical benefits that we are forgoing in the name of prohibition. This is something that is rarely pointed out. I myself have come to the conclusion that we are living in a new Dark Ages thanks to prohibition, because science is currently blinded to all potential beneficial uses of outlawed psychoactive substances. Perhaps you are familiar with "The Book of the Damned" by Charles Hoyt8. He wrote in the early 1900s about how certain facts are "damned" (i.e. ignored) by science whose goal is to organize the world according to certain preconceptions. I believe Hoyt "didn't know from damnation," however, because since his time, we have damned all reports about positive effects of "drugs," and so dogmatically gone without an untold number of potential godsends, both psychological and physical.

PPS Sorry, but I can't resist one plug: I have launched a new radio station called Drug War Radio to combat Drug War ideology. I'm trying to mix good music with a great message! If you can think of those who might be interested, feel free to share a link.9

I'm still casting about for the best format, but I think it will be top-ranking alternative hits alternating with snippets of anti-drug-war chatter, quotes, parodies, etc. My real goal is to make prohibition literally laughable and to encourage others to do the same. We need plays and movies and books that highlight the absurdities to which Drug War ideology has led us: including that self-imposed ignorance about potential medical breakthroughs.


1 Buchanan CPA, DSW, MA, PhD, Julian, Breaking Free From Prohibition: A Human Rights Approach to Successful Drug Reform, Drugs, Human Rights & Harm Reduction, 2018 (up)
2 Schultes, Plants of the Gods:Origins of Hallucinogenic Use, 1979 (up)
3 Quass, Brian, William James rolls over in his grave as England bans Laughing Gas, 2023 (up)
4 Quass, Brian, The Invisible Mass Shootings, 2022 (up)
5 Jenkins, Philip, Synthetic Panics: The Symbolic Politics of Designer Drugs, New York University Press, New York, 1999 (up)
6 Horses Kill, The Partnership for a Death Free America, (up)
7 Quass, Brian, How Science News Reckons Without the Drug War, 2023 (up)
8 Fort, Charles, The Book of the Damned, (up)
9 Quass, Brian, Drug War Radio, 2023 (up)

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You have been reading an article entitled, Finally, a drug war opponent who checks all my boxes: an open letter to Julian Buchanan, published on February 28, 2024 on 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 (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)