Re: decriminalizing drugs...

From: James Wetterau (
Date: Sat Jan 22 2000 - 13:15:32 MST

"john grigg" says:
> Sasha wrote:
> Decriminalization of drugs and their research now would allow to start work
> on adjusting personal attitudes and social regulations to reliance on
> personal choicesand responsibility, rational discussion on acceptable risks,
> grow research labsand educational groups discovering and teaching personal
> work in alternatestates, etc, etc. - these are issues that will take much
> You are right that these issues will take much longer to resolve then the
> technological matters! I am against the use of "recreational drugs" and yet
> I find infinitely more appalling the so-called "war on drugs" that is
> trampling more and more on civil liberties in the United States and
> At the same time I feel our culture does not have the maturity to handle the
> decriminalization of drugs. I just want to see the "war" be toned down to a
> sensible level.

I hear this sentiment expressed fairly frequently. Allow me to chime
in with some data that might change your mind.

Though the regulatory story is complex, prior to the late 19th
century, some of the most super-vilifed drugs of today were fairly
readily available to most Americans. Cocaine and various opiates,
including heroin and morphine, were not hard to obtain -- certainly no
harder to obtain than, say, valium is today. In certain locales and
at certain times they were easier to obtain; you simply went to the
druggist and bought them. Certain patent medicines available through
the mail without a prescription contained either, primarily depending
on whether they were meant as analgesics or "tonics". Smokable hemp
(marijuana) was also widely used, and was, as far as I can tell,
completely decontrolled everywhere throughout the United States for a
century or so at least.

As far as I can tell, the widespread arrival of opium was what changed
this picture somewhat. Fairly racist attitudes toward Chinese opium
smokers fueled a public hysteria which led, by steps, to the
nightmarish situation that pertains today.

Despite the relatively laissez-faire attitude of the state and federal
governments in the U.S. for a century or so, almost all commentators
at the time agreed that the number one drug problem was with
*alcoholic beverages*. A little historical investigation will
eliminate the doubt about this, but allow me to adduce the Prohibition
period as evidence. Alcoholic beverages' special combination of ready
availability, acute and short-term effects and long-term addictive
properties made it particularly ruinous to a large number of people
and undermined public health in a manner which no other drug came
close to doing, except perhaps smokable tobacco.

This situation is identical *today*! Even government studies show the
use and abuse of alcohol *alone* (and especially in combination with
tobacco) takes a much greater toll on the public health than all other
illegal drug abuse combined does. This includes accounting for
short-term effects, long-term effects and accidents. I refer you to
this study by the National Institute of Health in re: alcohol and
illegal drugs specifically:

Bear in mind that this is a government funded study which might be
biased in favor of showing negative effects of illegal drugs, and it
still shows alcohol as much worse of a problem than all other illegal
drugs combined.

Prohibition against certain drugs has not changed the situation.
Alcohol and tobacco claim far more lives than other drugs in America,
just as they always have done. If anything, drug prohibition seems to
have worsened the situation by creating an illicit appeal to illegal
drugs and by imposing huge social costs in terms of imprisonment and
so on.

So please bear in mind that if you support the drug war on
recreational drugs, then to be logically consistent you ought to
support prohibiting alcohol and tobacco.

Any other position is hypocritical. Either alcohol and tobacco, our
most dangerous drugs, ought to be banned too or none of them should be

There can be no statistical doubt that alcohol and tobacco do far more
harm than the illegal drugs. In fact, certain illegal drugs, such as
LSD, statistically do no harm to the public health, yet carry huge

It is for this reason I support total drug legalization.

James Wetterau

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