Drug Policy Reform: a Better Way to Handle Drugs

Drug Policy Reform

The US policy on "illegal drugs" has been a terrible, hurtful sham for my entire life. Today there are more than 2,000,000 people in prison in the United States -- supposedly the freest country in the world. One quarter of the world prison population is imprisoned in the US. We have imprisoned a larger number AND a larger percentage of our citizens than in every single other country. Minorities are imprisoned at large multiples of their actual incidence of criminal behavior.

458,000 of those people are in prison for non-violent mind-altering drug charges. Many of them are otherwise law-abiding people, making families and pulling their weight in society. The vast majority of them are black. The policy that locks them up, and makes their drug-using friends fear their own government, is wicked and racist. It damages our citizens' respect for the law, it encourages corruption in our government institutions, it has been responsible for major losses of our Constitutional rights, and has wasted hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. It has also cost millions of people their time and money to fight the criminal justice system. It encourages violent resolution of commercial disputes with drug sellers, by denying recourse to courts, harming not only those people but their families, neighborhoods, and innocent bystanders. This policy has been forced down the throats of countries all over the Earth, vastly multiplying the misery and injustice it creates. And it artificially raises the prices of these substances, feeding our citizens' money to many violent and irresponsible suppliers. At least 68 million people have used illegal drugs, including our own Presidents, but the madness persists. The obvious lies that the government tells in furthering its drug policy make every thinking citizen doubt other statements -- even true ones -- from such an obviously corrupt government.

Besides the practical issues, there are fundamental rights involved. The right to speak freely is irrelevant if the citizenry does not have the right to think freely. Our government's control of drugs is really intended to control our citizens' mental states. The substances themselves are not important unless they affect human minds (and some, such as nitrous oxide, are freely sold for non-mind-altering uses, but controlled when people wish to influence their own mental states).

These drugs appear to be prohibited by the government because they permit users to see that the world is not composed of a single point of view, a single concrete reality shared by all. The way each of us interacts with the world is a function of our internal brain chemistry, which is unique to each of us, and can be altered by our own choice or by imposed choices. The government seeks to impose its answer to the choice of whether or not to view reality in certain ways. These altered ways have clearly been useful in religion, art, music, medicine, and recreation for millennia. These government attempts to control the minds of its citizens are a direct violation of the basic Constitutional freedoms that the government is designed to secure for ourselves and our posterity.

I have known many people throughout my life who are able to use drugs in appropriate settings without harm to themselves or to others. I have known a few who were unable to control their use, and abused drugs. Today's policy does not "cure" these drug abusers, nor successfully remove them from society. The huge number of harmless users swept up in the gears of "justice" swamp the system, preventing the real troublesome people from being reformed or isolated.

Just as adults keep immature children away from matches and hot objects, though there is no law prohibiting the possession of matches by children, parents and social feedback should be used to teach children how to handle drugs responsibly. The War on Drugs has certainly not kept children from being able to get drugs! By eliminating the black market and the threat of prison, and allowing straightforward talk from people who know the dangers first-hand, children can learn the real reasons why some drugs are best avoided, and learn the line between use and abuse of other drugs. Today's situation teaches children that it's best to sneak and lie about what they're doing -- both because they are afraid of prosecution, and because they see drug-using parents doing the same thing.

I believe that mind-altering drugs should be usable and sellable under the same rules and the same taxes that apply to substances like flour, sugar and coffee. If the label says it's pure Humboldt County marijuana of 18% THC content, then it had better really contain that, or the seller is in legal trouble. Otherwise, no restrictions, no special taxes, no more black markets. If someone consumes a drug in a way that damages people around them (or seriously threatens to), they should be held responsible -- whether the drug is coffee, alcohol, or cocaine.

No matter who you are, you know someone who uses illegal drugs. Talk with these people about the real effects and the real dangers of the drugs they use, compare what they tell you to what the government tells you, and ask them about how the current drug laws and policies affect their life. If you think you don't know any drug users, think again of who you know. Are you really sure about all of them? If you still can't think of anyone, ask your friends in private whether they have ever used illegal drugs. You'll be surprised at what some of them have been afraid to tell you. Learn from what they know, but learn especially from the paranoia and fear they have had to live in. Then work with me for a peaceful end to the Drug War and a sane policy for how to treat our fellow citizens.

John Gilmore