Essay date: October 29, 2022

My Conversation with Michael Pollan

about the war on drugs

few years ago, I got in touch with Michael Pollan's publicist, briefly explaining my concerns about the author's lukewarm stance on drug legalization. I pointed out that I was a lifelong victim of the Drug War, which had turned me into an eternal patient by outlawing godsend plant medicine while rendering me chemically dependent upon Big Pharma "meds" for life. I went on to explain how this dependency had lowered my morale and turned me into a ward of the healthcare state, how it had obliged me to make expensive trimonthly visits to see a complete stranger who was 1/3 my age, all in order to receive yet another prescription for expensive and mind-numbing pills, after first, of course, answering a series of humiliating and invasive questions. (On a scale of 1 to 10, how was I feeling today? Had I contemplated suicide over the last 3 months? ANSWER: Only when I thought about how the Drug War had turned me into an eternal patient.) I ended the strategically short letter by politely asking if I might have the honor of contacting Michael to elaborate my views on these topics.

To my great surprise, the gatekeeper responded promptly, telling me that she had passed my email along to Michael and that he would contact me shortly. Finally, I thought. After years of having my views ignored by psychiatrists, professors, authors, publishers and academics in general, I could get my message out to a real mover-and-shaker, someone who could help popularize at least some of my unique insights about the endless downsides of prohibition.

The good news is that Michael did contact me shortly as promised. Moreover he then generously agreed to read my extensive thoughts on this topic, which ended up taking up as many as 50 pages. This, of course, is far more than I could reasonably ask of any author, let alone a superstar, and the fact that he obliged me so generously speaks volumes about his humanity and open-mindedness.

I preface thus much lest the following criticisms be misconstrued as an attack upon Michael himself rather than on the viewpoints that I attribute to him.

For now we come to the apparent bad news: After spending several months writing my lengthy tract that I hoped would expose the folly of the Drug War, containing 40,000 words that I listened to on my headset as I walked around a nearby lake, determined to hone my message to the point where the truths it posited would strike the reader as inevitable, I received a response.

I hovered my mouse over the Gmail link, expecting to encounter a lively discussion of the topics that I had broached, some of which I was sure had never been mentioned before by anyone on planet Earth.

Then I clicked -- and my heart sank.

I had not yet read a single word, and yet my hopes had already died, for Michael's response to my 40,000 words consisted of one short paragraph. Either my ideas had completely flummoxed him, leaving him literally speechless, or else he had found literally no points in my screed that he thought even merited rebuttal.

I finally brought myself to read the unexpectedly terse response. Basically, Michael assured me that he had read my paper in its entirety and that he would think about the points that it contained.

"That's that," I thought, and I began moping around, trying to think of my next "big idea" for promulgating insights that the world seemed so determined to ignore. I wouldn't mind so much if the world disagreed with my ideas: but no one ever does. They simply ignore them instead, leaving me to ask myself: "Wherein do I offend?"

Of course, I can't really blame Michael for playing his cards close to his chest. Suppose he told me that I had raised some great points -- like the fact that the Drug War censors scientists or that it renders shock therapy necessary because the government outlaws plants like coca that could cheer people up? I might start telling everyone that Michael Pollan endorses my concerns about the Drug War, and then his brand might be compromised. For an author who targets a mainstream audience cannot afford to get too far out in front of public opinion. That's the one benefit of being a nobody like myself: I can pluck the last nerve of anyone on earth and my bank account will not suffer for it.

I am not suggesting here that Michael was being disingenuous, merely that I could understand it if he were. Besides, it's common sense to avoid offending one's paying audience unnecessarily. Almost any author could ruin themselves financially by being completely honest with their audience about every hot-button issue under the sun.

But now we come to my issue with Michael:

He is a botanist, and I believe that all botanists should be against the very idea of outlawing Mother Nature's bounty. That should be common sense and a first principle of botanical study. For once we grant the idea that Mother Nature's bounty has to be "safe" in order to be accessed by human beings, we turn over the reins of botany and science in general to politicians. That is not just an assault upon the freedom of science, but it is an assault upon the natural law upon which Jefferson founded America, for according to John Locke himself, we have a right to the use of the land "and all that lies therein."

Instead of protesting the Drug War on these most basic of American principles, Michael plays right into the hands of these Drug Warriors by fretting that, indeed, psychedelic mushrooms could cause bad trips and so therefore should be legalized slowly, if ever (which is tragic news to folks like myself, who have already waited an entire lifetime now for the "privilege" of being able to use the medicines that grow at their very feet).

But even if we grant the disturbing notion that Natural Law is henceforth invalid in America (and therefore, as a practical matter, around the entire world!), Michael fails to realize that there are far more stakeholders than uneducated youth when it comes to the prohibition of desired substances. There are the blacks who die in inner cities thanks to the guns and violence that naturally follow prohibition. There are the children who are orphaned by drug-war violence in nations where our prohibition has caused civil wars. There are the hundreds of thousands who have died in Latin America over the last 20+ years due to violence that was a natural result of outlawing a plant medicine that the Incas considered to be divine. There are the children in hospice who suffer unnecessary pain because doctors deny them morphine thanks to the Drug War ideology of substance demonization. There are the scientists whose research into cures for depression and Alzheimer's, etc., are censored by a government that prohibits them from freely studying almost all naturally occurring psychoactive medicines. Then there are the millions of depressed 'patients' like myself who are turned into wards of the healthcare state because the Drug War has denied them access to the medicines that grow at their very feet.

So why does Michael have this lopsided concern for our hapless youth, particularly as the problem he cites could be resolved through education rather than incarceration?

It's because Drug Warriors never talk about education. Drug warriors are generally fiscal conservatives and the only thing they're willing to spend money on are prisons, law enforcement, and the military. The thought of turning the DEA into the Drug EDUCATION Agency would never occur to them. Indeed, the original charter of the Office of National Drug Control Policy promoted user ignorance by forbidding its members from even mentioning any positive or safe uses of the drugs that had been outlawed by demagogue politicians.

So even when we grant the validity of Michael's concern, we find that it is the Drug War itself which promotes the ignorance that causes the problem in question.

But then that is the classic M.O. of all Drug Warriors: They point to problems that are created by the Drug War itself and then blame them on "drugs." And so Obama's drug advisor Kevin Sabet continues to decry the increasing use of cannabis today, failing to realize that the Drug War itself has made marijuana popular by outlawing all its psychoactive competition -- like the coca leaf, for instance, which the long-lived Peruvians have chewed for millennia to promote physical endurance and social harmony, just as Americans drink coffee to promote mental clarity and ambition.

I was hoping to share these concerns of mine directly with Michael himself via email, but the gatekeeper is silent to my entreaties this time around, which is understandable, of course. Miracles do not generally happen twice.

So I've posted this essay instead, in the hopes that the author of "How to Change Your Mind" will one day read it and decide to change HIS mind about the Drug War, by proclaiming what I believe that he as an American botanist has a duty to proclaim: namely, that government never had the right to outlaw naturally occurring medicines in the first place.

Because once you grant legislators an exception to Natural Law when it comes to criminalizing Mother Nature, all manner of politicized evil follows: as has been clearly demonstrated over the last 50+ years by the crowding of American prisons, the creation of civil wars overseas, and the establishment of a psychiatric pill mill which has turned me into a patient for life.

Next essay: Why Kevin Sabet's approach to drugs is racist, anti-scientific and counterproductive
Previous essay: Why I Am Pro Drugs

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old time radio playing Drug War comedy sketches

You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.

A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.

The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.

It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)

If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley.

Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)
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