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In Response to Laurence Vance

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

June 22, 2021

i, Laurence.

I hope you find time to read the following since I spent the better part of today composing it. It's feedback to the first two essays that you listed: THE DRUGS OF JOHN GRAY and THE MORAL CASE FOR DRUG FREEDOM.

Best wishes,



Excellent attack on the utilitarian motives of "drug law reformers." The utilitarians are ready to support a wide variety of anti-democratic measures provided only that the "Drug War" can "work." There is at least one American law student on who writes that she cannot fault Duterte for his murderous crackdown because he seems to be making real progress in the war on drugs. She gets hundreds of reads by academics. Meanwhile, modern drug-war movies glorify DEA agents and civilians who take the law into their own hands to fight the "scourge of drugs."

In "Running with the Devil," a DEA agent played by Leslie Bibb hangs one "drug suspect" by a meat hook (after stripping him down to his Speedos) and then shoots another suspect in cold-blood at point-blank range - while she herself is puffing away at a cigarette containing a far more dangerous drug than that which her victim was peddling. In "Crisis," the hero DEA agent helps a distraught mother shoot a "drug dealer" whom she holds responsible for her son's death - tho' if she had to shoot someone, it should have been the DEA agent himself who works for an agency that created the black market that truly resulted in the child's death. In the movie "Four Good Days," Glenn Close eyes a suspected "drug dealer" and mutters the words, "He should be shot!" It looks like utilitarians from Duterte to John Gray would agree with Glenn - if only John could be convinced that such extrajudicial killing would work in the long run.

I can only conclude that the Drug War is a horrible sociopolitical toxin because it is convincing otherwise freedom-loving Americans that the government needs to crack down to the point of full-blown tyranny to fight this politically created scapegoat called "drugs." Imagine what success would mean in that case: a population of cowed Americans - since a close look at both psychology and history show that the desire for pharmacologically aided self-transcendence can no more be expunged from the human character than can the desire for love and nurture, nor is there any reason to suppose that it should be.

One suggestion: I think it would help if you would identify the Drug War as Christian Science Sharia. For the first person to tell us to say no to drugs was not Nancy Reagan but rather Mary Baker Eddy. Why? Because she felt it immoral to seek help from anyone or anything but Jesus. The fact is that there is no logical reason why we should say no to substances of which politicians disapprove, and so the unspoken assumption of utilitarians like John Grady is a religious one (or one that is derived and justified only by religion). It is the religious idea that so-called sobriety is somehow valuable in and of itself - something that was hypocritically maintained by Columbus when he saw the Taino people receiving insights from psychedelic mushrooms. (He encouraged them to use alcohol instead prior to enslaving them and wiping them out.) It is not just that great people have survived drug use, but rather that great people have thrived on drug use. (Like Marco Polo. Like Marcus Aurelius. Like Benjamin Franklin. Like Richard Feynman.) This only sounds weird because we're forced to use the language of the Drug Warrior, who has created the word "drugs" to mean: "dangerous substances which have no possible use except for hedonists." The word "drugs" is thus like the word "scab": both terms do not merely evoke a subject, but they morally pronounce on it as well.

If the reason for a Drug War were public health, John Grady would be advocating the removal of all drinkers from the voting rolls, throwing them into overcrowded prisons, and denying them federal housing aid, etc. He would then tell us to travel overseas to burn grape vines. But utilitarian Drug Warriors are not interested in such an obvious goal. Moreover, the Christian Science crackdown that they call for is a clear violation of the natural law upon which Jefferson founded America, since nothing is more obviously a natural right than a citizen's ability to profit from the plant medicine that grows at their very feet (substances which God himself referred to as "good" in the book of Genesis). As John Locke wrote, a person has a right to "the use of the land and all that lies therein."


As a libertarian, you place a huge value on property rights because you see that as fundamental to everything else. I would argue that the right to control one's mind is more fundamental than that.

Look at it this way, Lawrence: When a government outlaws books, they are controlling what you can think. When a government outlaws psychoactive substances, they are controlling how and how much you can think.

If I had to choose between private property and the right to control my own mind, I would choose my mind every time, because I have to live with myself and my thoughts 24/7, and my thoughts lead me to success or failure, to happiness or sadness.

Moreover, with respect, I think you are unaware of the magical properties of certain plant medicines and related psychoactive substances, how under proper circumstances they can help one clarify one's goals in life and live more purposefully. Otherwise you would not so easily pronounce your determination to "never use drugs." Why would one want to rule this out in advance without knowing what "drugs" can accomplish - especially when that ignorance has been encouraged by one's own government through propaganda and censorship? I would argue that such a statement itself is confusing in any case, because the very word "drugs" as we use it today is a Christian Science pejorative, designed to slander plant medicine and other psychoactive substances that are not handled by the medical system, which, so we are told, produces only "meds" and not "drugs." So, when you say you would never use "drugs," one has to assume (rather than understand) that you are referring only to substances that are not considered "medicines" by authorities, which latter position seems somewhat at odds with your otherwise libertarian approach to this topic.

In short, I think you have fallen for at least one Drug Warrior lie: the idea that things that we politically refer to as "drugs" can only be used for getting "high" - that psychoactive medicine is "dope" and "junk" as opposed to blessed "meds" - and all this, as you know, flies in the face of history itself, where entire religions have been founded on the insights provided by naturally occurring substances, as the Vedic religion was founded on the use of soma. The western world attempts to think otherwise and so it focuses all "drug" talk on the misuse of substances by young people, thereby implying that there is no other imaginable circumstance for the use of demonized substances. Maybe the western world would say that those ancient people were just "getting high," but that is a scientistic western judgment, not a fact. Perhaps our view of the Vedic religion is at fault, not the religion itself. Perhaps we're the prudes who, seeing nothing in "drugs" ourselves, insist that no one else could have ever profited from them either. It is surely this presumptuous viewpoint that sends Americans abroad to burn the time-honored plant medicines of which we disapprove, thus turning our own pharmacological provincialism into the law of the entire world.

To the contrary, I think the world needs to do MORE drugs, not less. By replacing the psychiatric pill-mill with pharmacologically savvy shamanism, we can begin bringing happiness to lives rather than simply dulling those minds to the psychological pain that they feel using SSRIs that are more addictive than heroin. Remember that you're forming your opinion on "drugs" in a country that has spent 100+ years demonizing psychoactive medicines and which has all but criminalized any positive-sounding reference to the same. The use of MDMA brought peace and love to the dance floor in England - but politicians shut it down because they attributed one single solitary death to so-called Ecstasy - and that death was caused by the lack of safe-use information which was itself a result of the research-blocking war on drugs. And what was the result of this crackdown, Lawrence? Dancers turned to alcohol and other hate-facilitating drugs and the concert organizers had to hire special forces troops to keep the peace. Special Forces. (See the documentary "One Nation" by concert promoter Terry "Turbo" Smith.) Another "victory" for the war on drugs and the demonization of substances for which it stands.

In a world where we live on the edge of nuclear annihilation, in a world where we have daily mass shootings, in a world where conservatives and liberals are at each other's throats, we need MORE substances that safely conduce to brotherhood and sisterhood, not less. It is no time to eschew such substances on principle. And what principle would that be, anyway? Nothing other than the religious principle of Mary Baker Eddy that we are somehow morally obligated to do without mother nature's godsend plant medicine.

I also dislike the notion of letting employers decide which plant medicines you can use, presumably by insisting that you urinate prior to working with them. Martin Luther King Jr. said he wanted to be judged, not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. But in such a world as you propose, a man would be judged, not by the content of his character, but by the content of his digestive system.

If we allow employers to decide which plant medicine one can use, then that is the enforcement of the Christian Science religion. An employer should no more insist on drug testing than he should insist on his employees being Quakers (with obvious exceptions where Quaker employees somehow make sense, as in a Quaker Museum perhaps). Moreover, drug testing is absurd and disingenuous, because in 99% of cases, it does not punish an individual for actual impairment but simply for the discovery of traces of politically demonized substances, some of which substances might well have improved one's work performance rather than impairing it. In this way, drug testing is actually a kind of Christian Science Inquisition. "Have you tried to get by with anything but Jesus? Let's check your urine to find out, shall we?"

Cocaine was a godsend for Freud's depression. If he had worked for others in the modern healthcare world, his cocaine use would have deprived him of a job, but not because he was unfit, merely because he did not meet the Christian Science expectations of his employer.

Do you really think it's up to a business owner to determine how and how much an employee is allowed to think? Surely we can only believe that because we have become so used to the government's successful encouragement of causeless drug testing in the first place. I would have thought that a libertarian would want an employee judged on how they do the job, not on what substances they had in their digestive system (with obvious exceptions here for specific substances that are documented as dangerous in specific situations, such as piloting and so forth, where the use of psychedelics would obviously be wrong - tho' we'd still have no excuse for firing an employee simply because they have traces showing that they used psychedelics in the distant past).

Your stated aversion to using "drugs" makes me fear that you believe the Drug War lies that 1) there are such a thing as "drugs" in contradistinction to "meds" and 2) that once a substance is classified as an evil "drug," it is morally good to refrain from using it, the only possible use being hedonism. But these notions are just Drug War propaganda.

You do know, for instance, that the "frying pan" ad by the Partnership for a Drug Free America was the most mendacious ad in the history of public service announcements? Cocaine did not fry Freud's brain: to the contrary, it focused his mind to the point that he was able to achieve self-actualization, chiefly through a gigantic work output that his "sober" self could never have accomplished (except perhaps in the wishful thinking of Christian Scientists). Opium did not fry the minds of Benjamin Franklin and Marcus Aurelius. Francis Crick envisioned the DNA helix with the help of liberal doses of psychedelics. And what we denigrate as "speed" today is so far from frying the brain that the Air Force used to insist that its pilots use that drug prior to crucial missions. If any drugs fry the brain, they are the modern antidepressants that muck about with brain chemistry in a way that makes the user reliant on those medications for life, tho' long-term usage was never intended and is shown to conduce to anhedonia.

Not only are these facts hidden from the public, but the public sees daily cop shows in which "drugs" are used by nothing but "scumbags," never by intellectuals or those seeking religious inspiration.

In fact, the American mind is so warped by all this propaganda that I am suspicious when any American uses the word "high," since the "high" that we project onto other "users" may for them have been a deep spiritual experience - it's just that the Drug War insists that we look at it as sordid hedonism, which again points to the religious foundations of the Drug War.

As a Christian, I'm sure you would agree that a good person should rejoice in nature and seek to appreciate it to the extent possible. Consider then how the character Augustus Bedloe rejoiced in nature in the story by Edgar Allan Poe entitled "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains." Augustus purposefully used what we call an evil "drug" today to better appreciate nature. With this use, the world around him "was endowed with an intensity of interest...

In the quivering of a leaf—in the hue of a blade of grass—in the shape of a trefoil—in the humming of a bee—in the gleaming of a dew-drop—in the breathing of the wind—in the faint odors that came from the forest—there came a whole universe of suggestion—a gay and motley train of rhapsodical and immethodical thought."

Though we would censure Augustus today for being "addicted" to his drug of choice, namely morphine (in Poe's time they would have used the non-judgmental term "habituated"), I would definitely choose morphine over modern antidepressants were I given the choice. If I'm going to be reliant on something, I want the substance's effects to help me see the world with grateful eyes, not to dull my vision and ultimately leave me as depressed as ever. Not only do antidepressants fail to help me rejoice in nature, they further depress me by turning me into an eternal patient of the psychiatric pill-mill, with all the expense and humiliation that this latter addiction implies.

One final point. I have argued above that substances that we westerners denigrate as "drugs" have great therapeutic potential - great but largely unstudied thanks to the Drug War and the general western bias against plant medicine. I've also pointed out that some drug effects have inspired entire religions. But while the west might dismiss the religious importance of "drugs," there is reason to believe that there may be some ontological importance to substance use as well, that certain substances may indeed have something to tell us about consciousness and reality itself, were we not dogmatically obliged to ignore and/or denigrate such hints, both by the Drug War and by a kind of scientistic materialism.

I am thinking here of my quasi-legal use of peyote a few years ago at the Peyote Way Church of God in Wilcox, Arizona. During that experience, I had two hours' worth of crystal-sharp green-colored visions consisting of rectangular Mesoamerican iconography. Think of this: I am not a Native American and have had no great experience with Mesoamerican culture. If I were simply "getting high" on peyote, one might think I would just see fancy colors - or at least objects that were familiar to me as a westerner. Instead, I saw (with eyes closed) a rapid slide show of crystal-clear images of meticulously formatted Mesoamerican imagery. This experience strongly suggests that Joseph Campbell was right in his idea that certain themes (archetypes) are potentially present in all human minds. Stranger still, it suggests that there is some biochemical process whereby certain plant medicine can evoke and/or pass along the imagery in question.

This is a miraculous possibility, and the thought that government can forbid me from exploring such experiences is intolerable, not just from a scientific point of view but from a humanistic one as well. Western scientism may stand in front of such slide shows and wave its arms, shouting, "Nothing to see here!" But why should they get the final say in what I can see and feel in life? No one knows what the ultimate truths are behind what Nagel calls "mind and cosmos." Why should a materialist view of "reality" be forced upon me by substance prohibition? Why should I be forced to ignore evidence that runs counter to the tenets of materialism? Neither the religious nor the scientific motives of a Drug Warrior can justifiably deprive me of these philosophically tantalizing glimpses that are offered up to me freely by mother nature herself.

I make these points only to suggest that your renunciation of "drugs" is premature, being motivated more by Drug War prejudices than by rational consideration, especially considering the fact that we have never even attempted to investigate the many positive psychoactive uses of thousands of tantalizingly powerful plant medicines for the simple reason that America has chosen to demonize substances rather than to learn from them. Why should we renounce the potential uses of psychoactive plant medicines that we have yet to even discover?

This blatantly anti-scientific situation called the Drug War seems inexplicable in a free society, except when we suppose that there is a religious feeling that underlies it, and that is the religious sensibility of Mary Baker Eddy herself, who tells us to shun all medicine and rely on Jesus instead. Of course, the Drug Warrior generally leaves "Jesus" out of it, but it is no coincidence that the strongest Drug War supporters tend to be Christian fundamentalists. They know what Emperor Theodosius realized when he banned the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian Mysteries in 392 AD (after 2,000 consecutive years of catering to such western luminaries as Plato, Cicero, and Plutarch): namely, that the use of certain psychoactive substances is a threat to the Christian religion.

NOTE: For information on the therapeutic uses of "drugs," see authors such as Daniel Pinchbeck, Richard Louis, James Fadiman, Terrence McKenna, Francoise Bourzat, Jim DeKorme, William Richards, and Stanislaf Grof.

See also Animals and Psychedelics by Giorgio Samorini and Opium for the Masses by Jim Hogshire.

Next essay: Predictive Policing in the Age of the Drug War
Previous essay: Open Letter to Variety Critic Owen Glieberman

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Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

Cop and detective shows are loaded with subtle drug war propaganda, including lines like, "She had a history of drug use, so..." The implication being that anyone who uses substances that politicians hate cannot be trusted.
So much harm could be reduced by shunting people off onto safer alternative drugs -- but they're all outlawed! Reducing harm should ultimately mean ending this prohibition that denies us endless godsends, like the phenethylamines of Alexander Shulgin.
The DEA rating system is not wrong just because it ranks drugs incorrectly. It's wrong because it ranks drugs at all. All drugs have positive uses. It's absurd to prohibit using them because one demographic might misuse them.
Here's one problem that supporters of the psychiatric pill mill never address: the fact that Big Pharma antidepressants demoralize users by turning them into patients for life.
Folks like Sabet accuse folks like myself of ignoring the "facts." No, it is Sabet who is ignoring the facts -- facts about dangerous horses and free climbing. He's also ignoring all the downsides of prohibition, whose laws lead to the election of tyrants.
If I want to use the kind of drugs that have inspired entire religions, fight depression, or follow up on the research of William James into altered states, I should not have to live in fear of the DEA crashing down my door and shouting: "GO! GO! GO!"
This, by the way, is why we can't just "follow the science." The "acceptable risk" for psychoactive drugs can only be decided by the user, based on what they prioritize in life. Science just assumes that all users should want to live forever, self-fulfilled or not.
The Shipiba have learned to heal human beings physically, psychologically and spiritually with what they call "onanyati," plant allies and guides, such as Bobinsana, which "envelops seekers in a cocoon of love." You know: what the DEA would call "junk."
Prohibitionists have blood on their hands. People do not naturally die in the tens of thousands from opioid use, notwithstanding the lies of 19th-century missionaries in China. It takes bad drug policy to accomplish that.
We should hold the DEA criminally responsible for withholding spirit-lifting drugs from the depressed. Responsible for what, you ask? For suicides and lobotomies, for starters.
More Tweets

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You have been reading an article entitled, In Response to Laurence Vance published on June 22, 2021 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)