Rethinking the Legality of Recreational Drugs

About 20 years ago while living in Arizona, I fell in love with the philosophy.  The intro college course I that I was taking opened my mind to so many amazing things and my personal habit of journaling was forever changed.  So much so that one night at my usual cafe, Coffee Plantation in Tempe, I decided to write a 20 page paper on why all drugs should be legalized.  20 years later and with a doctorate, I still hold the same view.  I believe that it’s time to outline why I think this should happen, even though I’m doubtful that my words will be heard.

All Drugs Legalized?  Yes, I am of the view that all drugs should be made legal.  As horrible as they can be, and this includes alcohol, they should be made legal.  For some, legalizing marijuana is not a concern, but everything else should remain illegal.  Yet, this means that we are picking and choosing which drugs should be legal.  But on what basis?  As far as I can tell, the criteria is not consistent and at the mercy of the opinions, not facts, that those in power retain.  However, if we were to make those drugs that were most harmful illegal, in an unbiased process, then this would result in making alcohol illegal.  This is because it is deadly and can often result in people becoming violent and aggressive.  What we need is a level playing field for such decisions, where the propaganda and cultural tendencies of the past are no longer driving the evaluation.  We need a fresh look at this subject and to really step back to assess the current situation and likely outcomes.  As I have reflected upon this subject through the years, my position has remained the same conclusion has remained the same.

No, I’m Not a Libertarian. I’m an Independent Thinker  I identify, politically, as an independent.  I believe that there are many accurate views from a variety of groups and individuals.  Sometimes they get things right and sometimes they bomb it.  Simply know that I am not one thing or another, my independence is chosen deliberately and my views are not a random collection of things that sound good.  Instead, I have a consistent set of values, that I continue to refine and challenge, and their natural result is that they cross arbitrary lines of distinction (e.g., republican, democrats, etc.).  I say this in order to caution you against putting my words into a mold and making assumptions or other cognitive short-cuts.

Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine, and Peyote  Alcohol has been around for a very long time and it’s embedded in our cultures.  It goes with our meals, it’s enjoyed when we celebrate, and it’s held on to like a childhood blanket when we’re down.  Regardless of how horrible it is for you, it’s a part of so many cultures and it’s not going to go anywhere.  The monks made it, big companies make it, and we make beer in our house or backyard.  Marijuana, as most know, was popular along with valium and even cocaine, but then people started to push against them and the propaganda arose, especially for marijuana.  Lies were told about how people acted when they were high and people believed the lies, not knowing the entire truth.  And even though we know that marijuana is less dangerous and harmful than alcohol, it’s status as a controlled substance, equal to that of heroin, persists.
Now, cocaine is a funny one.  It had been in the U.S. for a while and was even an additive in Coca-Cola.  However, it didn’t become a designer drug until the 80’s.  The timing for this surge in cocaine was interesting and years later, it was found that the U.S. government permitted it to be imported for selling.  Why was it permitted?  Because a rebel group in South America, that the U.S. supported, needed the funds to build up their military arsenal.  Consequently, our own government declared that something was illegal, would punish it’s citizens for possession and the sale of it, but they were the ones who permitted and encouraged it.  Talk about throwing your own people under the bus and encouraging drug use!

As for peyote, this has been used by Native Americans for centuries.  In fact, I would say that Native American traditions exemplify how substances can be used responsibly to promote a persons psychological and spiritual health.  The ceremony around peyote usage and the ultimate purpose of consuming it involves spiritual experiences.  Even today, peyote can be legally used and grown by those who are Native American and religious.  I was able to participate in such a ceremony, several years ago, and I would say that it was one of the most responsible and controlled uses of a substance that I had ever seen.  While many of you know this information already, I wanted to highlight just how illogical the laws have been developed, chosen and enforced.  And this goes to the importance and need for us to engage in an unbiased re-evaluation of the entire situation.  We need a fresh perspective, but we have to be open to the idea that the truth uncovered from a fresh and honest perspective might be quite radical to us.

Legalize All Drugs But With Limitations  Several years ago, I discussed my views with someone almost double my age and they were immediately opposed to the idea of legalizing all drugs.  “I fly all of the time and I don’t want my pilot high on cocaine,” they said.  I was surprised that they assumed that 100% legalization equated “free for all” usage.  Do you think this?  If so, this is NOT at all what I am proposing.  Instead, the same limitations around alcohol use would be applied for all other drugs.  In fact, I would recommend limits on how much can be purchased and possessed each time and in a period of a week, month, etc.  When I first wrote about this in 1995, I envisioned a way to track what people purchased through computer networks and now that pharmacies have such a capability, it is quite possible.  ID’s should be scanned and people should be prosecuted who sell to those who are under age.  Our increased scientific knowledge would allow us to determine how much one person needs in a given period of time.  Legalization does not mean anarchy, it simply means that all of the drugs are legal and can be consumed by people of a specific age and in certain circumstances.  If you’re working, drug use is not permitted and this is common sense unless a doctor has prescribed a drug.  Even then, your work performance expectations need to stay the same.  The issue that could cause quite a bit of controversy involves using drugs and caring for your children.  Some will be up in arms about this and can spin the oppositional statements quite well.  The easy counter is this: Are there not alcoholics and addicts who have and raise children?  Yes.  Illegal or legal, people can and do abuse drugs despite the negative impact it has on parenting and childrearing.  Legalization doesn’t permit this because the same laws against the neglect and abuse of children would apply.  Yes, legalize everything but this doesn’t give everyone a pass to be irresponsible and destructive.  In fact, it’s ultimately encouraging the opposite.

Prohibition Has Never Worked  When alcohol became illegal in this country, people didn’t stop consuming alcohol.  They did it regardless of whether it was legal or not.  In fact, making something illegal means that crime will go up and that any wish to regulate the substance is gone because it naturally creates the black market.  Illegal drugs are not processed consistently, are completely out of the hands of knowledgeable and responsible people, and those who consume these illegal drugs have no idea what they are consuming.  As a result, the dangers related to drugs (e.g., dealing, consuming, gangs, etc.) are extremely high and they are this high because there is no regulation.  Therefore, individuals regulate it in whatever way they wish, no matter how ignorant they are, and their greed and aggression go unchecked as they market and sell their products.  Let’s take a look at legal alcohol…are there alcohol gangs?  Has Buffalo Trace had a violent feud with the Left Hand Brewing Company that’s resulted in hundreds of deaths?  No, they produce their drugs responsibly and they compete peacefully.  As you will see, working and moving with the reality of this situation has a greater potential to get us more of what we want and allow us to better address the harmful effects of the drugs.

The Paradox and Why We All Benefit More With Legalization 
Violence – As soon as substances become legalized, we all benefit because their trade, production, and distribution are no longer violent.  People don’t want the fight because what they really want is money.  And people will go the route that has the least amount of resistance, so they’ll turn their operation into a legal entity so that they can make a lot of money, just like brewing, distilling and pharmaceutical companies do.  Consequently, the violence involving substances will take a nose dive because there is no need for guns because people can produce the substances and make a business out of it.  Do we see the beer delivery truck drivers with armed guards?  No.  Does the pharmacist at your local drug store have a 9mm in their waistband and brass knuckles ready at all times?  No.  However, should this change occur security will want to be tight when shipping the substances, especially in the beginning.  The transition from illegal to legal will take some time for the population to adjust to.  Once everyone takes it for granted and the legality of drugs is assumed, security can start to be decreased as needed.

Better Taxes, State Budgets, and Health Programs – Recreational drugs can and should be taxed like crazy.  Not to the point where people can’t afford them but the taxes should be heavy.  All of us want to see well funded schools, health clinics, mental health services and universities.  What better way to decrease college tuition and even pay for room and board by taxing a substance that is not needed for survival?  When I first envisioned this change in policy, I pictured myself walking down the street as a college student, having all or nearly all of my expenses paid for by drug sales, and a person who was strung out on heroin asked me for money?  In this scenario, even today, I would have been happy to give them $20 because I know that it’s allowing me and others to have a home, an education, and a future.  And everyone will know, including those who are strung out, that everyone can have this healthy and positive future.  Since all of us, deep down, want such a future, then becoming sober becomes the way out of a painful existence and that the support will be there.  People who want to get clean can easily do so because they’ve been paying for clinics and mental health programs with their drug purchases.  Then they can go to school with much of the costs off-set by those consuming substances.  Also, the budget of states and of the federal government will improve because the amount of money that they spend on housing criminals in jails and prisons will go down.  Court costs will also go down.  Not only will the taxation money become plentiful for the states, but they will have more money from reduced prisoners and can lower other taxes and interest rates.

Jobs Galore and National Security – Creating a new industry is good for the economy and manufacturing and commerce is built right into recreational drug use.  One wouldn’t need to spend money to market these because recreational drugs are generally social.  Word of mouth is your natural marketing tool.  By legalizing all substances, we create an increased demand for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, in security services, in border control, port authority, medical devices, mental health, education, and so on.  Taxes also go to various organizations within the government to keep our country safe, for the drugs to be monitored and tracked, for their production and sale, and for everyone to be thoroughly educated upon the effects of drugs on their body and neurology.  Research and Development will increase in order to create additional therapies to those who want to recover and as such, biochemists will be needed in greater numbers.  And finally, we’ll advance our medical cures for addiction and related research much quicker with the sales of these drugs as opposed to them remaining illegal.  However, there will be a redistribution of jobs.  There may be a decreased need for DEA agents and police officers but these individuals will be supported in transitioning to new jobs that meet the new demands.  Such individuals could easily transition to the Port Authority, Border Control, Customs, and Security services.  But the government should help them transition so that they are not victims of the change.  Such good will can go a long way.

Drug Safety is Enhanced – Generally speaking, when people accidentally overdose on a drug it’s because they are not aware of how the product has been made, what it contains, how much to use, and how it affects one’s body and interacts with other substances.  When we educate people, we given them the power to make more informed choices.  And people will make choices that they regret, we’ve all made choices that we regret.  But in this new system, the deadly risk is decreased because education and regulation are central.  People will become aware of the side-effects, dangers, and they’ll know what they’re consuming and how to do it.  Sure, we don’t want them to use hard drugs like heroin, but we also don’t want them to die.  In the current situation, the populations that are the major clients for drug dealers are kids and the poor.  They’re the most vulnerable but by making substances legal and controlled, we can ensure that their production processes are known and that the final product is as safe as possible.  This means that the risk of overdose is lower and with the black market uprooted through legalization, the primary populations (which are the most vulnerable people) are no longer focused upon because money can be made elsewhere.

Social Trends Will Improve
What makes substances so attractive?  They’re novel, exciting and forbidden.  They’re also an escape for those who view their lives as hopelessly lost.  For adolescents, they’re fighting for their independence and illegal substances are easy for them to obtain.  What better way to rebel against authority than to try some drugs!?  What better way to be “grown up” than to do drugs that aren’t legal?  I know, this doesn’t make any sense and the kids generally don’t think of their actions in this conscious way, but it is, often times, what drives them.  And just like it is with alcohol, some kids will get their hands on similar or more severe dangerous substances.  But with better education and improved regulation, the dangerous outcomes of their irresponsible and illegal behavior will be less volatile.  Furthermore, because the drugs are legal they may be a bit less appealing, though I’m uncertain of this because kids do enjoy to do things that are illegal for their age group.  Regardless, the accessibility will be lower and the punishments for purchasing substances for kids should be more severe.  As for those who wish to escape hopelessly, tax money gained from drug purchases will go toward mental health services and helping people gain housing while obtaining an education.  For those who feel hopeless, hope is created through the drugs themselves!  This way we turn the harm of drugs on their head to produce more good than harm.  

As I had mentioned, the taxes from drug manufacturing and sales will be higher and as a result, these taxes will pay for a lot.  The government needs to ensure that the money from these sales and services are returned to all of us through education, supporting cultural programs, funding non-profits, creating jobs in the aforementioned industries, job training, and border and trade security.  These moneys are NOT be used for the military or for any international benefit.  Such a provision can be revisited after the experiment continues but initially, the focus needs to be on changing the social norms and improving the values.  I do not believe that paying for everything for everyone is helpful, but I do believe that our most basic needs and those things that enable us to become intelligent, successful, and content adults need to be paid for.  While I won’t get into a lot of detail here, I do think that there should be limitations on how long a person can take to complete a college degree.  They can take longer but they will have to pay for it.  Regardless, when we know that drug sales go toward our education, our health, our safety, and our basic livelihood, then our view of drugs will change.  So many of us will benefit from this change and we’ll begin to appreciate how our government allows us freedom and rewards us with the basic needs to live a good life.  Many of us don’t want or need to be rich but we want the security of the basic things.  Once these basic things are present, we can turn toward advancing ourselves individually and collectively.  To raise our collective maturity and intelligence.  But this act of legalization and the implementation of what I’ve suggested is, in fact, an act of maturity.  Why?  Because the act conveys the message, “we cannot control you and rather than punish you, we’re going to account for mistakes and support you when you decide to turn things around.”

People will always buy substances, we always have.  Many people buy and consume substances and are extremely successful.  These people will consistently fund all of things mentioned and this will enhance our society.  To be realistic, this will take time.  The level of control that the U.S. government has upon its citizens is high and it’s often like an overbearing parent.  Children of overbearing parents don’t learn how to think for themselves and as a result, they’re less prepared to deal with the difficulties of life and the challenges that will present themselves.  The kids who are rebellious also don’t know how to think for themselves because they are living a purely reactive life.  Whatever will oppose the overbearing authority, they will do it.  And then there are those who wish to be overbearing and over-controlling.  They will continue the reactive pattern and plant the seeds of violence and unrest.  The world will be what the world will be, but if we move with our collective maturation process rather than fighting it, we will learn and grow as a species.  Providing one another freedom, opportunities for learning through mistakes, and caring for one another when forgiveness is asked for are all paramount to our maturity.

Transitioning Social Trends
I want to end this with a final note on transitions.  Should full legalization occur, there will be a swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction to the overbearing laws of present.  It’s like the teenager who leaves the home for college and no longer has the overbearing parents around to nag them about everything that they’re doing.  These kids go out and party, get out of control, and make some stupid decisions.  Not everyone will do this but I believe that many have the potential do this.  They’ll get fired from jobs and really screw up.  So the services need to be in place before legalization occurs.  The best way for this transition to happen is to allow marijuana to be legal first and to use these funds to build up a supportive infrastructure.  This way, if many people go off the deep end, we can help catch them and give them the support in order to recover.  Next, we should legalize hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote.  Again, funding increases and supportive services build.  When everything is finally legalized, society should have adjusted quite a bit and the shock, upheaval or reactivity will have been lessened.  We can mitigate many of the negative effects and gradually educate and expose our society to a new way of living maturely through freedom, trust, and choice.  Those who purposefully break the laws will be punished severely but more will be cared for in the end, rather than tossed into the prison system where they learn how to be better criminals.

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