Essay date: October 21, 2022

Why Kevin Sabet is Wrong

philosophically speaking

evin Sabet rails against the failure of marijuana proponents to follow the facts as he sees them (as opposed to how Dr. David Nutt of England sees them, for instance), and yet how does Kevin support his case? By pointing triumphantly to the Obama administration's preliminary decision to put the plant on schedule I. Only a Washington insider like Kevin could fail to see the irony in this approach. For the scheduling system is part of the problem when it comes to America's muddled views about so-called 'drugs'. It is a political creation, having nothing whatsoever to do with science. The scheduling system merely codifies a pack of political prejudices about psychoactive plant medicines. It tells us, for instance, that coca and opium have no potential therapeutic uses whatsoever, and yet that is a brazen lie, first because there are NO substances for which the creativity of humankind cannot find SOME reasonable uses, in some dose, for some reason, at some time, for some people-- and second because the kinds of substances we're talking about here have inspired entire religions. How could they NOT have some therapeutic value? Indeed, it's surely a sign of anti-religious prejudice to insist that they do not.

So far from being a therapeutic wash-out, opium (in the form of laudanum) was a virtual cure-all in 19th-century England for such diverse conditions as sleeplessness, depression and the common cold. It was the go-to drug for such western luminaries as Marcus Aurelius and Benjamin Franklin. The coca leaf was chewed daily for millennia by the long-lived Peruvian Indians, by whom it was considered semi-divine. It was the inspiration (in the form of Coca Wine) for the stories of HG Wells, Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. And yet the DEA tells us that these substances have no potential reasonable uses whatsoever.

After completely ignoring the inconvenient history of such drugs, the DEA then guarantees that no more reasonable uses will ever be discovered for them. How? By outlawing (and otherwise discouraging) mere research into the substances that botanically clueless politicians have demonized with the pejorative epithet of "drugs." In so doing, the scheduling system bars scientists from even considering the role that such time-honored medicines could play in treating depression, in treating Alzheimer's, in treating autism, etc. That's why magazines like "The Atlantic" (which hails Kevin as a great Drug War pundit) publishes endless articles about conditions like depression in which the authors completely ignore the role that psychoactive medicines might play in combating them. And so they write feel-good stories like "The Diet That Might Cure Depression" and "Depression is not Contagious," full of the latest "findings" on depression, discovered entirely by scientists who seem to have never heard of psychoactive medicine and its long history of, as Michael Pollan might put it, "changing minds" for the better.

There is no doubt that some marijuana proponents will play down safety concerns, but this is to be expected in a country where drug law is based on political prejudices. If marijuana was criminalized thanks to politics, it's natural for marijuana proponents to fight back with politics of their own, by emphasizing only the facts that will make their case, for the simple reason that no activist on any topic wants to adduce facts that might be used and/or misused to aid and abet the political position of their enemies. The answer to this problem, however, is not to tweak the criminally false scheduling system (that political document par excellence) with harsher laws for marijuana, but rather to get the government entirely out of the business of criminalizing mother nature in the first place. That is a clear violation of the natural law, which tells us that some freedoms are so basic to humans qua humans that they cannot be justifiably outlawed by government, and our access to Mother Nature's bounty is surely one of those things, a fact which I believe should be "self-evident" to all Americans, but if it's not obvious to Kevin, then I would refer him to John Locke's Second Treatise on Government, in which "the father of Liberalism" himself tells us that we have a natural right to the use of "the land and all that lies therein."

As a Drug War philosopher, I have no brief to make for marijuana in particular. Personally, I would much rather chew the coca leaf for clarity of mind and use opium on occasion to enhance my dreams than to smoke, chew or drink cannabis. But the reason marijuana is being so heavily promoted these days is precisely because of Drug War prohibition itself. For it is prohibition which has pared back the potential user's menu of government-demonized psychoactive substances to marijuana alone. It's no wonder then that marijuana use would skyrocket when we assiduously outlaw all its naturally occurring competition. In a sane and educated world, wherein folks have access to all of Mother Nature's bounty (the status quo for the entire history of the world until 1914), marijuana would be one of only dozens (perhaps hundreds) of psychoactive medicines that human beings could freely use to achieve self-transcendence, spiritual insight and mental focus, etc. But in today's world, in which the right to use substances has to be arduously extracted from a grudging government one drug at a time like so many eye-teeth, it's no wonder that the semi-legalized marijuana leaf should become the lightning rod for controversy, with the debate on cannabis serving as a proxy battle for drug legalization itself.

But as far as safety is concerned, Kevin, plants and fungi are under no obligation to meet FDA standards. If there are drawbacks to using given substances, there is a place for such information to be publicized - or at least there would be in a free society: namely, via a Drug EDUCATION agency: a non-partisan organization which would serve as a clearinghouse for information about ALL psychoactive medicines, listing their benefits and downsides, both objective (as reported by scientists) and subjective (as reported by users). But the fact is that Americans do not want to be honest about substances in this way. Like Lieutenant Kaffee in "A Few Good Men," we can't handle the truth. For if we were totally honest about psychoactive medicines, we would have to acknowledge, 1, that tobacco and alcohol are the top two psychoactive killers in the country and, 2, that Big Pharma meds have rendered 1 in 4 American women chemically dependent for life.

Of course, the Drug Warrior will say that we do not want to add to the problem by legalizing more drugs, but they thereby fail to recognize that the informed use of less dangerous meds would naturally wean Americans off the aforesaid deadlier substances. Psychedelics, for instance, were showing great promise in helping alcoholics in the 1950s, until Nixon demonized the substances in order to remove hippies from the voting rolls by charging them with felonies. And who would use expensive dependence-causing tranquilizing meds like SSRIs when drugs like coca and opium could treat depression non-addictively, that is if we stopped demonizing those substances and taught safe use instead.

I heartily agree with Kevin that today's drug-related situation is a mess, but it's the Drug War that has made it so. He wants to solve the problem by a "scientific" approach, apparently by making the scheduling system more scientifically honest, but when it comes to the legalization of psychoactive medicine, science should not have the last word. Substances like the coca leaf, and opium, and psychedelics are used to achieve what we may call "life goals," to improve mental focus, spiritual enlightenment and to gain insights about the true nature of reality. Science may tell us how to achieve those goals as safely as possible, of course, but it cannot justifiably tell us to renounce those goals in the name of being safe. In so doing, they are making value judgments about what counts as the good life. In the FDA's book, the good life is longevity in the abstract, but in the book of the real flesh-and-blood human being, the good life is one in which they achieve their most cherished goals, with safety coming in, at best, a close second.

The Drug War continues to cause civil wars overseas. It kills thousands of blacks yearly in inner cities, denies morphine to kids dying in hospice care, censors scientists, prevents them from researching potential cures for Alzheimer's, autism, etc., militarizes police forces, Nazifies the English language, and popularizes movies like "Running with the Devil," in which a hypocritical cigarette-smoking DEA agent hangs one suspect from a meat hook and shoots another unarmed suspect at point-blank range, and of course she is the hero of the film. It makes one wonder how much more damage substance prohibition will have to do before Drug Warriors will finally admit that it was a colossal mistake.

Finally, it's no surprise that Jimmy Carter gives Kevin Sabet rave reviews, for his philosophy about drugs is rooted in the past, a time when we Americans truly believed that "drugs" was an objective category rather than a politically created epithet designed to demonize psychoactive medicines. It's time to move on, recognizing that science should be free and that substances are only good or bad with respect to how they are actually employed. (Indeed, it's long since time to move on for depressed sexagenarians like myself, who have been waiting now an entire lifetime for our government to give us access to the plants that grow at our very feet.) Meanwhile, if Kevin wants to protect marijuana users, he should write a book called "How to use marijuana safely," rather than publishing fearmongering tomes that are even now being cited by Drug Warriors to maintain the ruinous status quo of substance prohibition for decades to come.

Author's Follow-up: October 21, 2022

And let's not forget the reason that the Feds started cracking down on cannabis in the first place, which they called marijuana in order to associate it with Mexicans: they started cracking down on cannabis because law enforcement needed jobs after liquor was re-legalized. They had set up all this infrastructure for cracking heads, and without prohibition there were no heads left to crack. The solution: crack down on cannabis users.

Related tweet: October 22, 2022

No wonder Kevin is praised by the Atlantic: that's the magazine which writes articles about alleviating "depression" without ever mentioning the fact that the Drug War has outlawed almost every substance that could help achieve that goal.

Why do you think there's such a big focus on cannabis in the first place, Kevin? It's because the Drug War outlaws everything else. If you really want to help, end substance prohibition and teach safe use!!!

Author's Follow-up: October 23, 2022

Kevin reminds me of those cops in "Naked Gun" who inadvertently force bystanders off the edge of a cliff in an effort to protect them from potential danger. He sees problems with marijuana with wide-opened eyes and yet he's blind to the gargantuan damage being done by the Drug War ideology that he himself represents. He wants us to "follow the science," not realizing that American science has been censored for over a century now by the Drug War ideology of substance demonization. That's why all the academic articles about the government-defined category called "drugs" concern only abuse and misuse, without any reference to the fact that psychoactive medicines have inspired entire religions, given Plato his view of the afterlife, and formed the very basis of the long-lasting Inca society.

The Links Police

Pull over to the side of the Web page. You just scrolled by an important link without stopping, viz:

Kevin Sabet and Drug War 2.0
How the Atlantic Supports the Drug War
What Obama got wrong about drugs

Related tweet: October 26, 2022

Science is censored in a Drug War society. Look at All the articles about psychoactive substances are about abuse and misuse. No one talks about how such drugs inspired entire religions, how they increase music appreciation, how the coca leaf was used by the Inca for millennia, how the Vedic religion worshiped soma. Your doctors and scientists on whom you want to rely are all biased. They received one too many teddy bears for saying no to godsend medicines.

Author's Follow-up: March 10, 2023

Here's another reason that Kevin is wrong about prohibition. The reason is called 13-year-old Karon Blake.

"Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist." --Ann Heather Thompson, The Atlantic, 2014

Next essay: One of these things is not like the other
Previous essay: Majoring in Drug War Philosophy

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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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