Re: war on drugs and other minor issues

I posted the following comments on our Stanford Alumni e-mail network, adding my thoughts to an ongoing discussion on some of the big issues facing the nation and the world (as well as a few small issues facing the e-mail network itself)

It should be mentioned specifically that different substances can be considered and treated differently in a reformed drug policy.

Some call for legalization or decriminalization of marijuana and other natural, unrefined substances such as mushrooms. Both of these substances are far less addictive than nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and other “hard” drugs. However the delineation based on a substance being natural vs. processed or refined does not always take into account the consequences or damage of particular drugs such as Opium, which can be highly addictive and very dangerous.

One line of thought is to decriminalize all drugs for the sake of reducing the demand for unregulated dealing and trafficking, thereby helping to curb organized crime. Decriminalization would also reduce the cost to our society of imprisoning offenders (especially in the cases of consumption or possession), and allow for a way to provide substance abuse treatment without stigma.

Others suggest treating different substances in different ways, according to the harm of use. Some substances could be legalized, others decriminalized to provide social services to curb use, and a few could remain completely illegal (perhaps drugs that are used as part of violent acts such as date-rape drugs).

Particularly with marijuana it is nearly impossible to die from an overdose, the effects of intoxication are not as severe as those of alcohol in most cases, and there are proven medicinal benefits (especially if you factor in the so-called benefits of legal psychoactive pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants, even “feeling good” is a relative benefit). And being widely grown across the country, regulated and taxed trade would generate tremendous revenues.

There are complicating issues, such as the difficulty in testing for intoxication. For example, a person involved in a car accident may have been impaired due to having smoked just before getting into the car. Or the driver could have been completely alert, attentive, and sober at the time, but may have smoked at some point a month earlier. Both drivers could test positive for THC in their body, but there is currently no fast and affordable way to see which driver was under the influence at the time of the accident and which was driving responsibly. Still, the behavioral impairment of marijuana use is likely testable in the field — just like walking a straight line or counting backwards, an officer could perform some sort of screening in the field. And unlike alcohol, where people get drunker and drunker (toward the point of unconsciousness) the more they drink, people just get high and stay there on marijuana rather than getting higher and higher. The high for some people may impair them to the point where they absolutely could not drive safely, and for others they may actually be more focused on the road under the influence. At any rate, it should not be society’s decision to exert over the individual, since there are so many analogs between marijuana and legal (not to mention profitable) substances such as alcohol, tobacco, alprazolam, zolpidem tartrate (look them up…the SOLAR spam filter thinks I’m some kind of internet pharmacist spammer), etc.

Concluding, this isn’t intended as a well-organized argument…just some thoughts. But I am convinced that our current drug policy, enforcement, and cultural stigmatization of drugs need to change to reflect the actual effects of drugs, both positive and negative, rather than discriminatory gut reactions and intentional marginalization (see Nixon) of individuals and communities who use these substances. Or worse yet, plain legislation for corrupt political ends — for example favoring the pharma lobby over the drug reform interests (not to mention the paper and textile industries which felt threatened by hemp fibers), or criminalizing substances out of Jim Crow era hatred toward the minorities who were associated with the use of certain drugs.

This is a complex issue that needs a balanced solution that respects individual health, choice, privacy, and liberty as well as the stability of society. That, I hope we can all agree on.

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