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What Obama got wrong about drugs

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

August 20, 2020

lthough President Obama's views on drug law were a great improvement over those of his Stalinist predecessors (Reagan and the two Bushes who shamefully called on kids to "turn in" their parents for using substances of which politicians disapprove) his desire to be "scientific" about drugs raises at least three major problems of its own.

1) Why need we turn to science to justify the legalization of plant medicines that were unconstitutionally criminalized in the first place? Surely, a country founded on natural law cannot justifiably deny its citizens the right to access the plants and fungi that grow at their very feet. To turn the discussion to science is to yield unnecessary ground to the Drug Warrior, saying in effect: "Yes, of course, citizens cannot be trusted with free access to all of Mother Nature's bounty, but let's decide which plants can be legal on a scientific basis." That's as much as to say, "Yes, Drug Warrior, we agree on one thing: that common law must now triumph over natural law, given the prevalence of all these nasty drugs out there in Mother Nature."

2) Natural law aside, the subject of drugs is not merely a scientific issue. It is also an aesthetic, spiritual and political one. This is because illegal substances can endow the user with a whole new view of life, especially viewpoints that are thought to be left-leaning, including a love for nature and a feeling of unity with all of humankind. It is therefore tyrannical and partisan to render such new outlooks criminal. It is an attempt on the part of government to discourage certain ways of thinking about the world. It is thus the ultimate form of governmental mind control. And that is not a tyranny that science is going to solve for us: it is a question of fundamental freedom in a modern democracy: either we have the freedom to entertain new outlooks that these substances can facilitate or we don't.

Consider how the eccentric character Augustus Bedloe saw the natural world around him with the help of morphine in the Edgar Allan Poe story entitled "Tale of the Ragged Mountains":

"In the meantime the morphine had its customary effect- that of enduing all the external world 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."

I don't know about you, but I want that kind of wide-awake life, rather than to drowsily trudge through God's scenery with dull eyes and shuffling step, and science's view on my desires is irrelevant. Science may play an advisory role in telling me the downsides of morphine use as a means to living such a lifestyle (no doubt there are safer means through, say, the guided use of certain psychedelics), but their advice will be laughably hypocritical to me until the day when they are free to tell me both the subjective good sides and the objective bad sides of ALL psychoactive substances, including Big Pharma pills and alcohol. Instead, most "drug information" focuses on the negative properties of illegal substances alone, thereby reinforcing Drug War propaganda which says that substances can only bring about evil once they have been criminalized by American politicians.

Which brings up the final problem with the "scientific" approach to drugs:

3) Even science is political when it focuses only on specific aspects of a supposed problem. That's why science today has zero street cred in lecturing me on drug misuse. This is because it completely ignores the fact that 1 in 8 American men and 1 in 4 American women are addicted to Big Pharma meds. If 1 in 4 American women were addicted to morphine, conservative politicians would be screaming for martial law to be put in place, allowing the government to do constitutionally shady things to quash the scourge of drug abuse. The last thing they want is a drug being popularized which gives the user a "touchy-feely" outlook on life: it might cause them to vote for Democrats, after all.

But what is the difference between me being addicted to the daily use of morphine and me being addicted to the daily use of Big Pharma meds? There's no doubt which I would personally choose if I had to be addicted to SOMETHING. It's really a no-brainer: do I want morphine to facilitate deep insights into the world around me, or do I want my emotional life to be "tamped down" by Big Pharma meds? Um, I'll take the morphine, please, hold the moralizing. Why? Because addiction itself is not necessarily a problem if a safe supply of one's chosen poison is reliably available to the user: the problem is being addicted to a substance that keeps you from attaining self-actualization in life.

Relax, Drug Warriors: I'm not advocating morphine use: rather I'm advocating free but informed decision making regarding all substance use, which is nothing more radical than the status quo that existed in the American Republic until 1914, when racist politician Francis Burton Harrison first outlawed a plant in violation of the natural law upon which America was founded.

Inconvenient Truths

Dr. William Stewart Halsted, co-founder of Johns Hopkins medical school, was a lifelong morphine addict. Sound shocking? Well, check your hypocritical astonishment at the door, because thousands of famous and worthy men today are addicted to Big Pharma meds and use them every single day of their life. As Thomas Szasz reports in "Ceremonial Chemistry," Halsted was able to adjust his dosage so that he appeared eminently sober while yet having the increased energy and focus that the drug facilitated in him. Interviewed late in life, his colleagues professed astonishment that he could have done so much IN SPITE OF his morphine use, never stopping to think that he may have done so much BECAUSE OF his morphine use. If Americans thought rationally about drugs, they would reserve their astonishment for folks who achieve a great deal in life while yet taking modern-day anti-depressants, since those latter drugs have been shown to conduce to emotional flat-lining in long-term users.

Author's Follow-up: July 21, 2022

I feel compelled to add that the ideal pharmacological world for me would be a non-addictive one. Such a stand, however, does not rule out the use of morphine or opium, because Drug War propaganda aside, a potentially addictive substance can be used non-addictively. You'd know that if the government spent its time and money teaching folks how to be safe rather than demonizing substances like so many Christian Science cavepersons. Moreover, even if I did err on the addictive side, the world is still my pharmacological oyster when all psychoactive medicines are legal and I have a pharmacologically savvy empath for a friend. I look forward to the day when pharmacologically savvy empaths will have the green light to leverage psychoactive substances of all kinds in order to provide a seeker, as opposed to a "patient," with insight, guidance and focus for the human mind. Indeed, I see such interventions as getting rid of the whole concept of "patients" when it comes to mental conditions, since we only think of them as patients because the healthcare business wants to claim mood and mind as their bailiwick, for obvious financial reasons.

Of course, this will be hard to understand for many brainwashed readers -- those of you who received teddy bears as kids for just saying no to mother nature's godsend meds -- especially since you then went on to watch TV shows in which coca and opium users were only ever depicted as fiends -- and in which even scientists only ever focused on the downsides of substance use. And then you discover that drugs are so evil that you'll be removed from the American workforce if you use even a trace of the government's official list of despised substances (notwithstanding that some of them have inspired the creation of entire religions). Moreover, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy has actually been forbidding its employees for decades now to even consider possible safe uses of "drugs" -- in other words, they are all about spreading propaganda and fearmongering. So it's amazing that anyone sees through the mist of Drug War lies considering how politicians have run a full-court press against the truth for the past century, starting with their Sinophobic demonizing of the poppy plant.

That's why I maintain that the Drug War is a cult. Indeed, I believe it meets the 8 conditions for being a cult as defined by psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton. But that's a subject for another essay.

Author's Follow-up: December 3, 2022

Obama launched his so-called BRAIN Initiative in 2013, at the same time that he was supporting a Drug War which outlawed all the substances that reveal the power of said brain. Psychedelics reveal whole new worlds in the mind. Opium allows one to metaphorically parse their negative experiences (including physical pain) so that one is not bothered by them. The problems do not go away: rather they are seen as separate from one's true self. Such drugs imply all sorts of wonderful things about the role of the brain and of consciousness itself, yet the BRAIN Initiative will not investigate these angles, since it will be censored from doing so by Drug War superstition, which says that such substances are without any value whatsoever. And so the "scientific" BRAIN Initiative is completely unscientific. The fix is in. By outlawing the study of such experiential wonders, Obama invites consciousness-scorning materialists to declare premature victory in the field of neuroscience.

Next essay: Heroin versus Alcohol
Previous essay: How the Drug War turned me into an eternal patient

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Today's Washington Post reports that "opioid pills shipped" DROPPED 45% between 2011 and 2019..... while fatal overdoses ROSE TO RECORD LEVELS! Prohibition is PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE.
Prohibitionists having nothing to say about all other dangerous activities: nothing about hunting, free climbing, hang-gliding, sword swallowing, free diving, skateboarding, sky-diving, chug-a-lug competitions, chain-smoking. Their "logic" is incoherent.
Drugs like opium and psychedelics should come with the following warning: "Outlawing of this product may result in inner-city gunfire, civil wars overseas, and rigged elections in which drug warriors win office by throwing minorities in jail."
If we let "science" decide about drugs, i.e. base freedom on health concerns, then tea can be as easily outlawed as beer. The fact that horses are not illegal shows that prohibition is not about health. It's about the power to outlaw certain "ways of being in the world."
The formula is easy: pick a substance that folks are predisposed to hate anyway, then keep hounding the public with stories about tragedies somehow related to that substance. Show it ruining lives in movies and on TV. Don't lie. Just keep showing all the negatives.
Then folks like Sabet will 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.
I think there needs to be a law -- or at least an understanding -- that it's always wrong to demonize drugs in the abstract. That's anti-scientific. It begs so many questions and leaves suffering pain patients (and others) high and dry. No substance is bad in and of itself.
When we say so, we knowingly blind ourselves to all sorts of potential benefits to humankind. Morphine can provide a vivid appreciation of mother nature in properly disposed minds. That should be seen as a benefit. Instead, dogma tells us that we must hate morphine for any use.
I might as well say that no one can ever be taught to ride a horse safely. I would argue as follows: "Look at Christopher Reeves. He was a responsible and knowledgeable equestrian. But he couldn't handle horses. The fact is, NO ONE can handle horses!"
That's the problem with prohibition. It is not ultimately a health question but a question about priorities and sensibilities -- and those topics are open to lively debate and should not be the province of science, especially when natural law itself says mother nature is ours.
I personally hate beets and I could make a health argument against their legality. Beets can kill for those allergic to them. Sure, it's a rare condition, but since when has that stopped a prohibitionist from screaming bloody murder?
I can think of no greater intrusion than to deny one autonomy over how they think and feel in life. It is sort of a meta-intrusion, the mother of all anti-democratic intrusions.
Enforced by the blatantly rights-crushing solicitation of urine from the king's subjects, as if to underscore the fact that your very digestive system is controlled by the state.
Until prohibition ends, rehab is all about enforcing a Christian Science attitude toward psychoactive medicines (with the occasional hypocritical exception of Big Pharma meds).
When folks die in horse-related accidents, we need to be asking: who sold the victim the horse? We've got to crack down on folks who peddle this junk -- and ban books like Black Beauty that glamorize horse use.
Democratic societies need to outlaw prohibition for many reasons, the first being the fact that prohibition removes millions of minorities from the voting rolls, thereby handing elections to fascists and insurrectionists.
Prohibition turned habituation into addiction by creating a wide variety of problems for users, including potential arrest, tainted or absent drug supply, and extreme stigmatization.
The goal of drug-law reform should be to outlaw prohibition. Anything short of that, and our basic rights will always be subject to veto by fearmongers. Outlawing prohibition would restore the Natural Law of Jefferson, which the DEA scorned in 1987 with its raid on Monticello.
Philip Jenkins reports that Rophynol had positive uses for treating mental disorders until the media called it the "date rape drug." We thus punished those who were benefitting from the drug, tho' the biggest drug culprit in date rape is alcohol. Oprah spread the fear virally.
This is the "Oprah fallacy," which has led to so much suffering. She told women they were fools if they accepted a drink from a man. That's crazy. If we are terrified by such a statistically improbable event, we should be absolutely horrified by horses and skateboards.
This hysterical reaction to rare negative events actually creates more rare negative events. This is why the DEA publicizes "drug problems," because by making them well known, they make the problems more prevalent and can thereby justify their huge budget.
The Partnership for a Death Free America is launching a campaign to celebrate the 50th year of Richard Nixon's War on Drugs. We need to give credit where credit's due for the mass arrest of minorities, the inner city gun violence and the civil wars that it's generated overseas.
In 1886, coca enthusiast JJ Tschudi referred to prohibitionists as 'kickers.' He wrote: "If we were to listen to these kickers, most of us would die of hunger, for the reason that nearly everything we eat or drink has fallen under their ban."
Drug Warriors never take responsibility for incentivizing poor kids throughout the west to sell drugs. It's not just in NYC and LA, it's in modest-sized towns in France. Find public housing, you find drug dealing. It's the prohibition, damn it!
I don't believe in the materialist paradigm upon which SSRIs were created, according to which humans are interchangeable chemical robots amenable to the same treatment for human sadness. Let me use laughing gas and MDMA and coca and let the materialists use SSRIs.
What prohibitionists forget is that every popular but dangerous activity, from horseback riding to drug use, will have its victims. You cannot save everybody, and when you try to do so by law, you kill far more than you save, meanwhile destroying democracy in the process.
Prohibition is based on two huge lies: 1) that there are no benefits to drug use; and 2) that there are no downsides to prohibition.
The 1932 movie "Scarface" starts with on-screen text calling for a crackdown on armed gangs in America. There is no mention of the fact that a decade's worth of Prohibition had created those gangs in the first place.

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