Legalize ALL Drugs, Not Just Cannabis

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IMAGE: L’Aubade, Pablo Picassso

I was entertaining a customer in our cannabis vapour lounge (420 Session) a couple days ago.  We had the usual chit chat and banter about pot–what kind I like, what kind of vaporizers are best, you know, the usual.  Then the War on Drugs came up, and after taking a hit from his bong, the customer (who I suppose I assumed was more open-minded, as he was a university student, studying political science hanging out in a vape lounge, consuming cannabis) said “Weed should be decriminalized, but nothing else.”

I told him I disagree.  I told him I think ALL substances should be legal, not just decriminalized, and not just the helpful/harmless ones like cannabis, psilocybin, and LSD.

“Even HEROIN?!” he questioned incredulously, whispering the “heroin” part because he didn’t want anyone to overhear the taboo word.

“Especially heroin,” I replied.

That’s when the conversation turned into a one-sided debate, (at least from my perspective it was one-sided; I shoot down prohibitionists as easily as fish in a barrel).  He was armed with the typical prohibitionist rhetoric:  What about cartel violence and criminal element?  Why should I care about a junkie?!  WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!?!

First, it’s important to understand and accept that even though most drugs are illegal right now, people still do them.  Making something illegal does not make it magically go away.  Some users hold down regular jobs, and get up and go to work every morning.  They drive on our roads, and stand behind us in line while we are waiting for our coffee.  They may even be telling you what to do all day while you are at work, or teaching your children in school.  They may be running one of the largest cities in North America.

Drug use is not only reserved for the seedy, underground dealings that after-school specials from the Reagan-era would have you believe.  We need to accept that drug users live among us already, and accommodate our reality.  Here are 5 good reasons to consider legalizing all drugs:

  1. Drug use is a public health issue, not a criminal one. The end users are the easiest targets for police, with most suffering from serious physical and mental health issues.  It’s easy to understand that dirty needles spread diseases; well that’s only part of it.  Drug users also typically fail to seek out traditional health care for anything, because of the negative stigma attached to their drug use—they are afraid of being reported or turned in, and suffer alone instead.  Without places like inSite, the safe-injection facility in Vancouver, users have no means to exchange dirty needles for clean ones, or educate themselves, or reach out for help when they are ready.  Instead of providing them the resources they need to help themselves, we brand them criminals and force them to sort out their issues while incarcerated in a tiny cell.   How is that rehabilitating them?  How is that helping?  Why is compassion reserved only for the sick and dying in hospitals?  Ending prohibition will help these people get help and lead productive, responsible lives.
  2. Drug use is a victimless crime, but the drug trade isn’t. Cartel and gang violence is on the rise because they have something to fight over.  There are many civilian casualties in this war, and the cartels are winning, by getting help from places you wouldn’t expect.  Between 2000 and 2012, The Sinaloa cartel had made a special arrangement with the US government that allowed them to smuggle billions of dollars of drugs into the US in exchange for information about rival cartels.  Meanwhile, over 77000 people have died since Mexico started its War on Drugs.  The authorities have all either been corrupted or intimidated by the cartels.  As a result since 2012, vigilante groups made up of civilians are rising up and forming their own militias.  So you have cartels fighting each other, the government, the people, and anyone who gets caught in between.  This war spills into US and even Canada, because the drugs come from the cartels to our local black markets causing unneeded violence within our communities as well.  Ending the prohibition will cut these cartels off at the knees, and will help stem some of the violence.
  3. Drug prohibition gives children easier access to dangerous drugs; the children are more likely to overdose because of it. When was the last time you saw a drug dealer ask someone for their ID?  The only thing a drug dealer requires is that their customer has money.  Plus, dealers aren’t really concerned with the dosage; they want to sell as much as they can.  They aren’t concerned with quality (which will also vary from dose to dose) unless telling you its better will guarantee their sale.  Your children are not given a sterilized setting, with single-use needles and nurses available to administer and educate about the medication.  Content also may vary from dosage to dosage—one may think they are purchasing a certain drug, when in fact they are purchasing a much cheaper substitute that has been cut with toxic chemicals and made in someone’s bathtub (do some reading on krokodil).  In a clinical setting, opiates are rebranded as pain relievers and prescribed as Demerol to help women in labor.  Amphetamines are rebranded as stimulants and prescribed as Adderall to help your kids focus.  While there is no doubt that prescription pill use can lead to overuse, at least we aren’t concerned about consistency from pill to pill because it is regulated.  Ending prohibition will mean there will be restricted access to children and some quality and quantity control.
  4. Drug prohibition is the new form of slavery. Non-whites are disproportionately targeted for drug arrests, even though whites are just as likely to be in possession of, or using drugs.  Mandatory minimums are imposed on crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses, and are designed to target Blacks and Hispanics respectively.  Young men and women throughout the US and Canada are locked up for non-violent drug offenses, and are officially entered into the system.  The best part about getting into the system is that you are in the system for life, even after you leave prison.  In the US, inmates don’t have right to vote, which means while they are incarcerated and disenfranchised, they don’t have a voice.  In most states, disenfranchisement doesn’t end until after probation is complete (if it ever does).  After leaving, they have to submit to regular monitoring and drug-testing (which is a huge industry in itself), and are given conditions, which for some are impossible to follow. How are these people expected to find a job they always have to say they are a felon on every application?  If (and when) they fail (because the system was designed for them to), they have to start the process all over again.  Some prisons are even profiting off having bodies in their beds (luckily none here in Canada anymore, but plenty in the US) and throw money at lobbying the government for stiffer sentencing and mandatory minimums to help keep them there. Prison guards make more than school teachers.  Ending prohibition will give the disenfranchised a voice, and a better opportunity to lead a productive and independent life.
  5. Drug prohibition inhibits the police from investigating violent crimes. There is no financial incentive for police to investigate murders and rapes—they don’t receive a reward, their department doesn’t get any larger, no extra jobs are created.  It infringes on the art of the investigation—the romantic idea of what I think police work is—dusting fingerprints, finding clues, asking questions, getting the bad guy, that sort of thing.  In drug raids, all they need to do is knock down the door with a battering ram, no romance necessary.  When crimes happen to people in the drug trade, police dismiss their case as “another drug deal gone wrong” without doing a full investigation.  Look at what happened with the Waltham St. Murders in Boston in 2011 —if the police had taken the triple homicide seriously, perhaps the Boston Marathon Bombing could have been prevented.  Ending prohibition will help police focus on violent criminals like rapists, pedophiles and murderers.

The drug war has been an expensive experiment costing well over a trillion dollars so far.  It’s time to truly concede defeat.