hen I first became fascinated with the potential for psychoactive therapy a few years ago, I started visiting Maps.org, at which point I suddenly began noticing many references to "harm reduction." This struck me as a trifle odd, not because harm reduction is a bad thing, but merely because of the extreme emphasis placed upon that one aspect of substance use. I would regularly see notices of public get-togethers from Maps to discuss psychedelic therapy. But no sooner would I get my suitcase out of my closet when I would realize that the rendezvous in question was going to be discussing "harm reduction," almost to the exclusion of anything else. I was invited to Burning Man to meet with fellow Maps devotees, for instance; upon reading the fine print, however, it turned out that the group traveling to Nevada was going to be focusing on... you guessed it, "harm reduction." Since then I joined Twitter (God forgive me), where I hoped to find a plethora of state and local organizations devoted to ending the hateful and anti-scientific war on drugs, but again, the only obvious "plethora" I found on that platform consisted of organizations devoted to "harm reduction."
Of course, upon mature reflection, this made a lot of sense to me. The Drug War clearly puts would-be users in harm's way, first because prohibition incentivizes the sale of unsafe and tainted product, and second because the Drug War teaches us to fear substances rather than to understand them. (When MD Golden Mortimer solicited academic insights about coca use while writing his informative book on the subject, he was told that it was immoral to publish such a book lest the existence of such unbiased information should encourage "drug use": immoral to publish unbiased information!) The natural result is that many Americans need help now, in real-time, and it's a praiseworthy thing that these groups are rising to the challenge. I understand all that.
Yet when drug law reformers focus so exclusively on harm reduction, it leaves an odd impression, at least for the layperson who is wondering what all the fuss is about.
Think of it this way: you receive a small drone for Christmas and look online for fun, useful and/or educational ways to use it, only to find out that almost all sites on the topic are about "harm reduction," that is to say, ways to keep the downsides of drone use to an absolute minimum.
It would leave you wondering: am I the only one in the world who sees the great potential for drones in mapping the scenery, filming movies, following wildlife, searching for trespassers, etc.?
Just so with "drugs": when I see such an emphasis on "harm reduction," I wonder, am I the only one who sees the benefits that they can provide humankind: how MDMA therapy could help end school shootings, how the informed use of psychedelics could obviate the need for a lifetime of expensive and demoralizing trips to the psychiatrist, how the chewing of the coca leaf could drastically reduce the cases of depression in the world, how the strategically non-addictive use of the drugs we have learned to demonize could drastically increase our appreciation of Mother Nature, and music, and our fellow human being?
This lopsided focus on harm reduction makes me feel like the Drug Warriors have achieved their anti-scientific goal: they have convinced even the clearest thinkers among us that demonized substances have -- and can have -- no positive uses whatsoever, for anyone, at any dose, at any time, in any place, ever.
That is the unscientific dogma of the Drug War. It's unscientific because there are no such substances in the world. Even cyanide and Botox have beneficial uses.
Yes, as Drug War opponents, we need to be focusing on harm reduction. The Drug War itself has seen to that by placing "users" in harm's way. But harm reduction should not be our only focus. We need to start talking about "benefit maximization" as well. Otherwise, our lopsided focus gives the impression that the substances that we demonize as "drugs" can truly cause nothing but harm, which is the very lie that Drug War propaganda has been trying to teach us ever since we were given teddy bears in grade school in exchange for just saying "no" to the boogieman called "drugs."
You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. 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.
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. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.
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)
Andrew, Christopher "The Secret World: A History of Intelligence" 2019 Yale University Press
Aurelius, Marcus "Meditations" 2021 East India Publishing Company