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The problem with Modern Drug Reform Efforts

an open letter to Professors Peter Reuter and Alex Stevens

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

April 8, 2022

open letter to Peter Reuter, University of Maryland, and Alex Stevens, University of Kent, authors of "An Analysis of UK Drug Policy: A Monograph Prepared for the UK Drug Policy Commission."

Dear Professor Reuter and Professor Stevens:

As a 64-year-old Virginian who is deeply interested in ending the Drug War, I wonder if you'd be interested in some observations designed to increase your efficacy in fighting unfair drug laws (and ideally stimulate valuable discussion amongst those concerned with these topics). I chose to write to you two in particular after finding your "An Analysis of UK Drug Policy" on This is not a criticism of that work in particular, however, but rather a philosophical criticism about the whole progressive/reformer approach (as I understand it) to fighting the Drug War. The typical approach begins, I fear, by first conceding the Drug Warrior's "party line" that "drug use" is both dangerous and unnecessary -- and only then going on to argue that the current criminal punishments are counterproductive as a way of fighting this "scourge." The whole focus seems to be on containing and otherwise dealing with a "problem." There is no sense that the politically defined phenomenon of "drug use" can have any useful place in society, merely that "drug use" must be reluctantly tolerated, perhaps, with an eye toward limiting the inevitable side effects, both socially and medically.

It is this jaundiced attitude toward drugs, I believe, which led to the UK's crack down on Ecstasy in the middle '90s, at a time when the drug was bringing unprecedented "peace, love and understanding" to the dance floor. Folks of every race, creed and color were enjoying themselves in harmony (please see the documentary "One Nation") -- until one single solitary death was blamed on "E" and the UK cracked down on the drug, after which the dance floor became so violent (with the use of anger-facilitating drugs like alcohol) that special forces troops had to be called in to keep the peace. Special forces! Another "victory" for the Drug War. Moreover, this solitary death was caused by the Drug War itself, which discouraged and criminalized research and honest discussion that could have resulted in safe-use guidelines (namely, the need for ravers to keep hydrated while dancing, especially when, like Leah Betts, they weighed only 100 pounds). But the Drug War party line forces us to view such drugs as unnecessary and dangerous, and so Britain's Drug Warriors looked the gift horse of Ecstasy in the mouth and turned their back on "peace, love and understanding," in fealty to jaundiced drug-war sensibilities.

The fact is, I believe, that what we dismiss as "drugs" today have been used responsibly by other cultures for millennia. The Vedic religion was founded to worship the cosmic insights provided by plants and fungi (in light of which fact, the outlawing of "drugs" strikes me as an outlawing of religion: indeed, the outlawing of the very fountainhead of the religious impulse). Plato's idea of an afterlife was inspired by the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian mysteries. Mesoamerican culture has a long history of using plant medicine to gain knowledge and religious inspiration. Coca has been used by South American cultures for centuries and HG Wells and Jules Verne wrote their best stories while drinking coca wine. Marcus Aurelius and Benjamin Franklin swore by the creative inspiration derived from opium use.

And yet most modern writing about "drugs" makes the reader feel that "drug users" are only after a sordid high. But even if this were the only motivation for "drug use," we should consider that the phrase "sordid high" is subjective. One person's "sordid high" is another person's "self-transcendence," and I would argue that people have been seeking self-transcendence since caveman days -- indeed that's why WASP Americans enjoy alcohol -- and that we therefore seek to quash this propensity by law at our own peril. Indeed, the question is, why would we want to quash such use, such "alternatives to alcohol," when almost any drug is less dangerous than alcohol in attempting to silence the inner-mind and to thereby transcend self?

I believe that the current focus on only negative outcomes of drug use represents a kind of drug-war propaganda in and of itself, since it fills the academic journals with endless papers about misuse, giving the general impression to any reader that drugs are, indeed, a scourge and that there is no sensible reason for their use. We would surely feel the same way about aspirin or penicillin if we read nothing but horror stories about their misuse. But "misuse" itself is a fraught term in the age of the Drug War, since many Drug Warriors consider mere use to imply misuse when the substance in question is illegal. The substance is deemed dangerous and therefore it follows (in the Drug Warrior's superstitious mind) that use is both misuse and abuse.

But the modern progressive approach to drug-war reform is not simply ahistorical when it implies that drug use is a mere unqualified vice. The progressive approach also completely ignores the many benefits that could accrue when a society decides to look at drugs as potential godsends rather than as "boogiemen" that are to be feared rather than understood. There is strong evidence that psychedelic and empathogenic drugs (like psilocybin, LSD and MDMA) improve neural connections and even grow new neurons -- and yet there is very little research going on today about using psychedelics to fight Alzheimer's and autism. Why not? Because the drug-war ideology of fear is so ingrained in western society that we would rather live with these conditions than fight them using the boogieman called "drugs." And so, the Drug War ideology not only persuaded Britain to turn its back on peace, love and understanding, it persuaded the west to turn its back on potential cures for Alzheimer's.

And what about school shootings? MDMA helps the user experience a oneness with humankind. In an age of school shootings, we should be therapeutically treating all known "haters" with MDMA. But as far as I know, I am the only one who has ever even thought of this idea. Why? Because the Drug War ideology of substance demonization forces us to ignore the obvious when it comes to psychoactive plant medicine. And how is this ideology maintained? By the fact that even proponents of drug-law change seem to accept the drug-war lie that proscribed substances can only be used in order for vulnerable young people to obtain a sordid high.

I have thus far tried to suggest that the drug-war, with its false and ahistorical assumptions, blinds us as a society to great social benefits that can obtain from drug use, ranging from potential treatments for Alzheimer's to ways to bring about "peace, love and understanding" and end mass shootings. But this is only the beginning of a long list of potential benefits that become apparent only when we change our presuppositions, only when we begin looking at Mother Nature's psychoactive pharmacy as a godsend pharmacopoeia rather than as the ever-dangerous "stash" of a metaphysical Drug Lord. Take music appreciation, for instance. Imagine a music appreciation course that involved the partaking of a psychoactive substance (like MDMA or psilocybin) that enormously improved the "users" ABILITY to appreciate music. That's unthinkable today due to the ideology of demonization, but the idea would naturally occur to a society that agreed with God in the book of Genesis, when He told us that his creations were "good" both as to flora and fauna.

Sure, there's a role in pointing out the negative effects of drug misuse. The problem is, the current fight against the drug-war seems to involve that one single dimension of the problem, implying that there is no sane use for the substances that politicians have chosen to demonize -- this despite the fact that the substances that they greenlight (especially alcohol and tobacco) cause over half a million deaths a year in America alone. Nor does the current approach place the so-called drug problem in context. Progressives never point out the inconvenient truth that 1 in 4 American women are chemically dependent on Big Pharma drugs, which they have to take every day for life, and that these substances can be harder to kick than heroin because the former substances muck about with brain chemistry (Julie Holland). 1 in 4 American women. That's almost three times the number of Americans (men AND women) who regularly used opium prior to the outlawing of the poppy plant in 1914, and even they were considered "habitues," not "addicts," until the Drug Warrior removed their supply and started labeling them as deviants.

Speaking of addiction, modern "experts" tell us how hard substances are to "kick" -- but they fail to recognize that they have (in fealty to drug-war ideology) ruled out the use of a whole pharmacopoeia of psychoactive medicine that could be used to help an addict. We have no idea yet what wonders a free and pharmacologically savvy empath (or western shaman) could achieve when he or she is free to work with a client using any plant or fungi that grows on the planet. But there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about such "unthinkable" therapy. The ergot derivative known as LSD (see Grof and Fadiman and Bill W. from Alcoholics Anonymous) helps users consider whole new ways of being, as does psilocybin. (This is what's needed for one to initiate big life changes: not clenched teeth and a desperate belief in "a higher power," but a new personal agenda.) Moreover, even the drugs that we most demonize (especially opium and coca) can be used non-addictively and on a therapeutic basis, a simple fact that the Drug Warrior does not want to hear because they want to demonize drugs, not understand them. Even regular use of coca and opium can only be hypocritically referred to as addiction, given the west's enormous indulgence in Big Pharma meds that have to be taken every day of one's life, and for one's entire life.

Again, this is not a criticism of your work, but rather a criticism of the whole approach to drug reform these days, that it accepts the flawed drug-warrior assumption that "drugs" are indeed bad-- thereby ignoring history and turning a blind eye to godsend uses for the medicines that our botanically clueless politicians have chosen to demonize.

My solution?

Facts, not fear. Teach, don't demonize.

The whole business of criminalizing and demonizing substances has to end, since it is subject to flagrant abuses by power-hungry politicians. (Indeed, the Drug War was begun in 1914 by Chinese-hating politicians and then ramped up by the racist Harry Anslinger, who hounded black singer Billie Holiday to her death, planting "evidence" of drug use under her hospital bed, not because she was using heroin but because she was singing songs that made white Americans uncomfortable.) We need a policy that recognizes the benefits of drugs and teaches about them rather than demonizing them. Moreover, this education has to be completely fair: that is to say, the term "drugs" must include ALL drugs: including those anti-depressants that I referred to above, on which 1 in 4 American women are reliant for life. No longer can we maintain the hypocrisy of demonizing the daily heroin user while at the same time claiming that the American woman, for instance, actually has a duty to "take her meds." That's based on scientism, not science. I know this from a lifetime of experience (and the work of Richard Whitaker). I have to take Effexor until my dying day, but my depression remains, and I am now feeling the emotional-flatlining that comes with long-term use of these meds, which were never originally intended for long-term use in any case. (In retrospect, I now believe it would have been bravery, not vice, had I found suppliers of less addictive drugs to meet my psychological needs. Instead, I am an eternal patient and a demoralized ward of the healthcare state.)

But it's a hard battle because there is Drug War propaganda all around us -- beginning with "drug free zones." "Drug Free Zones" tell kids, from grade-school on, that there are evil substances out there that must be avoided instinctively, as it were, without asking questions. Thus "Drug Free Zones" are really Christian Science propaganda, teaching kids to share the anti-drug views of Mary Baker Eddy when it comes to psychoactive medicine.

That's nonsense, of course. Substances are not good or bad without reference to how, when, where and why they are used.

I sincerely hope that this email of mine has given you some ideas.

As you are both criminologists, I should add that I consider the outlawing of plant medicine to be wrong in a still more fundamental legal sense, at least in America, since I believe it is a prima facie violation of natural law to deprive the citizenry of their right to the bounty of Mother Nature that grows at their very feet. John Locke said as much in his 2nd Treatise on Government when he wrote of our natural right to "the use of the earth and all that lies therein." This is why I believe that Thomas Jefferson was rolling in his grave when the DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the garden-loving president's poppy plants.

Thanks for your time! I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Brian Quass

PS Again, this email contains my concerns about the shortcomings of the progressive pushback against the Drug War. For aught I know, you both have already addressed these subjects in different ways. If so, I would love to hear about it!

PPS One other problem with the Drug War that I never see addressed by reformers: the fact that it is censoring scientists. And this censorship is particularly insidious due to the fact that most scientists do not even recognize that it exists. Why not? Because they have been indoctrinated since childhood to fear "drugs" and so they take our modern drug-hating sensibilities as a natural baseline for their research. And so we see otherwise excellent, seemingly authoritative articles about fighting conditions like depression, Alzheimer's or alcohol, in which the author does not even consider the way that the hundreds of drugs that we have outlawed might have helped us solve these very problems. You'd think they would at least leave a footnote informing the reader that they have been forced to limit their search for solutions due to government edict. But they never do. And it is hard to see how the Drug War will ever end if we do not hold it responsible for the evils that it inflicts. At least Galileo KNEW that he was being censored by the Church.

Author's Follow-up: August 15, 2022

There are no such things as "drugs" as that word is used today. The term "drugs" today means: dangerous substances that cannot be used wisely, ever, by anyone, for any reason whatsoever. And there are no psychoactive substances that fit that definition. The deadly Botox has positive uses in the right circumstances.

"Drugs" is a term that should be retired from the modern dictionary, for it is a political and emotional term, not a scientific or logical one.

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Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

Almost all talk about the supposed intractability of things like addiction are exercises in make-believe. The pundits pretend that godsend medicines do not exist, thus normalizing prohibition by implying that it does not limit progress. It's a tacit form of collaboration.
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You have been reading an article entitled, The problem with Modern Drug Reform Efforts: an open letter to Professors Peter Reuter and Alex Stevens, published on April 8, 2022 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)