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Why the Drug War is Worse than you can Imagine

an open letter to Damon Barrett

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

September 3, 2022

Damon Barrett is co-Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy and author of the 2020 book entitled 'Child Rights and Drug Control in International Law.' He is also editor of the 2011 essay collection entitled Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Policies on Young People.

Dear Mr. Barrett:

I was reading "Children of the Drug War" - or at least trying to. It's tough reading to see what the drug-war ideology of substance demonization has wrought in terms of unnecessary suffering.

Personally, I believe that the Drug War survives in part because it is so very wrong that smart people do not even know where to begin in criticizing it. For it is not simply wrong in one respect or another, but it represents a fear-driven and anti-scientific way of looking at the world.

To see this, we need simply consider what the word "drugs" means today in common parlance. Drugs: a psychoactive substance for which there is no good use: not for you, not for me, not for anyone, not now, not ever, not here, not there, not anywhere.

A moment's reflection tells us that there are no substances of that kind. There are no such things as "drugs" thus defined. Even the deadly Botox has beneficial uses in the right doses at the right time for the right person. So the Drug War enshrines a political conclusion about Mother Nature's medicines as the law of the land and debars science (by law and indirectly through discouraging funders) from even attempting to refute the notion that certain substances are somehow bad in and of themselves. This is not simply anti-scientific but it's also ahistorical as well, for the kinds of substances we're talking about here have inspired entire religions, as soma inspired the Vedic-Hindu religion and coca was considered a sort of divinity by the Inca. To say that these substances have no beneficial uses for humanity is not only wrong, but when these prejudices are enforced by drug law, it is a crackdown on religion. Indeed, it's a crackdown on the religious impulse itself.

Many drug reformers inadvertently give aid and comfort to the Drug Warriors by basically accepting that there are indeed substances that can work only evil. They quickly ascribe most western drug use to hedonism and "recreation," but this I would argue is presumptuous, at least when we are speaking of adult substance use. Human beings have always sought self-transcendence. To declare that such attempts are hedonistic or recreational is often a value judgment, even if the users themselves might have never consciously recognized that they were striving for self-transcendence in their substance use.

And so the would-be reformer's argument against the Drug War is watered down to say: "Yes, drugs are bad, but it's even worse to outlaw them."

This sentence is problematic for the reasons mentioned above: First, the very word "drugs" is a politically defined term, and second it ignores the human desire for self-transcendence and the way that religions have been born in the past. Also "bad" is a term that cannot properly apply to substances, except in a world in which governments make superstitious drug policy, while modern scientists (unlike the feisty Galileo) sit back and placidly accept the new censorship, refusing to speak up on behalf of themselves, or of the freedom of science -- refusing even to at least acknowledge that they are being censored.

This denigration of a thing called "drugs" has been public policy for decades now. It has recently been revealed, in fact, that the Office for National Drug Control Policy in America was founded on a charter which barred the group from ever even considering beneficial uses for criminalized substances, with the warped and circular reasoning being that merely talking about such things would "encourage drug use."

To get an idea of how VERY wrong the Drug War is, let us consider a country in which Mother Nature was considered a godsend medicine maker rather than a Drug King Pin.

In such a country (if the US would only allow it to exist!), the psychoactive pharmacy would be a wonderland of potential shamanic treatments wherewith a pharmacologically savvy empath could teach a truly honest and candid client how to live large. Are the clients not enjoying music sufficiently: let them listen to great music under the guided influence of a psilocybin mushroom; are they failing to love their fellow human being sufficiently: let them become more compassionate under the guided use of entheogens; do they not appreciate mother nature sufficiently: let them experience a guided garden tour while using morphine; do they need to increase their work output to survive: let them be taught how to use coca wisely, in the manner of great writers like HG Wells and Jules Verne, both of whom touted the ability of coca wine to increase both the quality and quantity of their literary output.

In such a world as I'm attempting to outline above, the real enemy is not "drugs" but ignorance.

"Drugs" as currently defined would be a meaningless term in their society, for it posits what Julian Buchanan calls a drug apartheid, in which some substances are to be judged harshly in the absence of all evidence (like MDMA and psilocybin) while others (like alcohol) may be green-lighted despite the fact that they cause almost 100,000 deaths a year.

In the world I propose, a substance would be a substance and would be treated dispassionately as such. We can already see why such a world would be opposed root-and-branch by Big Pharma: in a free market in which any substances could be used, no one would choose to buy expensive Big Pharma meds which, unlike any naturally occurring medicine, are actually MEANT to be taken every single day of one's life, for life.

Instead, we actually remove Americans from the workforce should they be found to be using any competitors to Big Pharma meds, upon which 1 in 4 American women are, indeed, chemically dependent for life.

When a long-lived public policy accomplishes all sorts of evil like this while yet failing utterly in its announced goal: namely, to end "drug use," then we can safely say that the policy represents a wrong way of looking at the world. Indeed, the very goal was wrong, since the very idea that we should say "no" to psychoactive medicines is a Christian Science prejudice, not some ineluctable truth to which rational minds are naturally drawn. Of course, the Drug War's longevity (dating from 1914, when America first outlawed a plant medicine) means that it's accomplishing SOMETHING in the eyes of politicians, but it's not stopping drug use: in fact, America is now the most drug-taking country in the world and by far the most chemically dependent. No, the real reason for the Drug War's staying power among racist know-nothing politicians is that it is quite successfully removing minorities from the voting rolls while giving America the moral cover it needs to intervene in foreign countries at will. In this way, the Drug War is a smashing success for law-and-order conservatives, whose world view may be stated by this paraphrase of the Federalist doctrine: "Millions for law enforcement, but not one cent for education."

I could go on and on... but the fact that there is still so much more to say on this topic makes my point: namely (to paraphrase biologist JB Haldane): the Drug War is not only worse than we imagine, but it's worse than we CAN imagine.

Mind you, it would be easier to imagine if the media conglomerates did not deep six any stories that connected the dots between inner-city shootings and substance prohibition, which created armed gangs and cartels just as surely as liquor prohibition created the Mafia. It's quite amusing to read the various local stories (published in "faux local" papers that are actually owned by Gannett or Scripps) in which mayors and other officials scratch their heads bemusedly about the growing death totals in inner cities, as who should say, "Well, where did THAT come from?" It's as if these befuddled leaders had completely forgotten the lesson of the 1920s: namely, that prohibition causes violence, and so they cast about for bogus causes, like the heat, lack of social skills and job opportunities. (They're like, "Search ME!") In 2019, CNN correspondent Lisa Ling produced an entire hour-long special about Chicago violence in which she never even MENTIONED the Drug War. Not once.

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

Extra Credit

September 24, 2022

For extra credit (and to warm the cockles of your underpaid professor's heart), the avid student would do well to read Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas, 2017, by W. Golden Mortimer (see link below). It's interesting to note that in writing this brave work -- which the vast majority of authors would not dare to undertake in today's substance-hating climate -- Dr. Potter solicited thoughts on coca from countless members of academia who might be supposed to have an interest in the topic. The vast majority of these savants completely ignored the letter (which I can well believe, given my own fizzled attempts to rouse philosophers into fighting mode viz. the Drug War -- see I asked 100 American philosophers what they thought about the Drug War). But among those who did reply, a fair portion were indignant that Carol would even dare to write on the subject.

It sounds horrible and anti-scientific, right, to declare that a subject should be off-limits to science in supposedly freedom-loving America? And yet this attitude is to be expected when we consider what the term "drug" means as used today. It means "psychoactive substances for which there is no good use: not here, not there, not for you, not for me, not for anyone: not now, not ever."

Of course, that definition is bogus. There are no substances of that kind. Any substance has potential value at some dose, in some situation, in some place, for some person, at some time. Even the deadly Botox toxin has beneficial uses. To say that the creative mind of humanity can never find positive uses for demonized medicines is nonsense.

But you see the problem here, right? Once we accept this truly superstitious definition of "drugs," then it follows that we should avoid even talking about them. They are evil incarnate after all, and therefore to even talk about them is to remind the unwary youngster that they exist.

This is the evil logic of the Drug War, based on demonstrably false premises, which keeps folks from learning the truth about psychoactive medicines.

But for those who believe that we should value facts over fear, please continue reading books like the following, at least while it's still legal to do so. For once the sentiments of the indignant Drug Warriors mentioned above are codified into law, it may eventually be illegal to merely point out the positive sides of the drugs that America has been taught to hate, sight unseen.

Potter, Carol. "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas." January 01, 2017.

Next essay: Ignorance is the problem, not drugs
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You have been reading an article entitled, Why the Drug War is Worse than you can Imagine: an open letter to Damon Barrett, published on September 3, 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)