Legalize All Drugs Now!

HIGH by Brian O'Dea

HIGH by Brian O'Dea

by Brian O’Dea, author of HIGH: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler (Other Press 2009).

“The most important… revolutions all include as their only common feature the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our certainty….” —Stephen Jay Gould

President Obama recently announced that his administration would bring a halt to “preemption”, a practice that used federal regulations to override state laws on the environment, health, public safety and other issues.  This includes the arcane drug laws that have seen the feds at odds with various states over the dispensing of medical marijuana and that have seen the DEA raid medical marijuana dispensaries in violation of state law and voters rights, which established these state laws in the first place.  Even the Supreme Court won’t hear another challenge to California’s decade-old law permitting marijuana use for medical purposes, finally coming down on the side of the state.  Now, more than ever, we have a true potential for change, a desperately needed change from treating the sickness haunting the weakest among us with the hammer of corrections.

For over twenty years I smoked, snorted, popped, and or drank every single day.  I was continually on the lookout for another moment to inhabit; the one I was in was never the right one.  This is called “uncomfortable in my own skin”.   All of this behavior culminated in my “doing the fish” on a friend’s floor.  A cocaine overdose finally nailed me to a moment, one which I barely got out of alive.  That was the eve of my fortieth birthday, almost 21 years ago.  Talk about mid-life crisis.  Since that day, I have found another way to live.  As Nietzsche said, “Of such evil and painful things is the great emancipation made”.  For me that was certainly the case.

Such “emancipation” can never come on someone else’s terms.  The pain I experienced had to become great enough for my life to change.

In so many ways drug use/abuse looks like a “right and wrong” issue, a moral issue, but it is not.  It is about ease and dis-ease.

I never once met a person who didn’t do drugs because they were illegal.  At this very moment someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandmother, grandfather is doing drugs; legal, illegal, it does not matter.  There is no boundary in our social strata that drug use/abuse has not breached.  It is all pervasive.  Human beings have been getting high this way since there have been human beings.  We are foolish to think this behavior can be legislated away. 

Alcohol prohibition was brought to us in the 20’s through moral outrage, “false morals”, and it ended not with a bang, but with a double scotch at the local saloon.  No half measure there.  We didn’t legalize its possession then force its consumers through the keyhole of illegal activity to get it.  No, we legalized it top to bottom, regulating its distribution, taxing its sale.  That’s almost happening with marijuana today, almost.  It looks like it will cross all the way over pretty soon, too, bought and paid for by our economic need.  Does that mean what was once a moral issue has become an economic one?  Yes.  Does that mean our morals have a price?  Or does that mean it was not really a moral issue in the first place, and our financial distress simply pulled that beard from it?

“But surely not heroin or meth, or crack cocaine?”  That’s how the conversation goes, right?  “Not the hard drugs.”  I wonder how they came to get the classification of “hard drugs”.  Chances are its source is the same one that does not want you to know that 95% of those imprisoned for violent offenses committed those acts bolstered by the use of the second most ubiquitous drug on the planet; the drug that presents hockey, and football, and all those youthful sporting events on your TV; it’s the drug depicted in logos on t-shirts worn by our kids; it’s the drug whose corporate owners help sponsor A Partnership for a Drug Free America… You’re getting it now, aren’t you?  Yes, alcohol.  Alcohol is responsible for more domestic violence and road carnage than all other drugs combined.  But corporate alcohol has bought and paid its way into cultural acceptability and respectability, and thinks, in its darkest soul, that it cannot possibly handle the competition from pot and crack cocaine.

As far as I can tell, all mind changing substances I have ever used are a false short-cut to enlightenment.  Through years of conditioning brought about through advertising, I have been taught that one pill makes me larger and another makes me small, and those little blue pills… well, let’s not even go there at all.

Heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, government taxed and controlled alcohol, and the number one killer, tobacco are all horrible substances to get hooked on.  The ultimate and actual cost is all too often life itself.  And the costs along the way to that death are staggering.  This is not a moral issue, not a right or wrong, and it is high time we stopped treating it as such.  The hammer of the corrections industry has never worked for anyone but the financial stakeholders and politicians (who, themselves, are financial stakeholders).  Those folks have spent a fortune in a successful program of convincing us of this illusion, but it is time to wake up now.

There remains a solution, so simple it’s practically alarming, a solution enacted by others, who, to date, have had greater courage than us.  If we are as brave and free and courageous as we so readily profess, then it is time to stop what has never worked.  We simply cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results.

For many of us, when we think of drug legalization, Holland comes to mind, and the accusations heaped in its general direction by lawmakers with an axe to grind, and a seat to hold onto, false accusations at that.  But Holland has only taken half-measures, and half-measures avail us nothing.  We need only look just beyond Holland’s border to Portugal, a country whose generosity and courage toward the weakest of its citizens should shame us into right action.

Leading up to 2001, Portugal was immersed in a health crisis of alarming proportions, a crisis due to drug addiction.  Then drug possession was legalized.  And now, here we are, eight years after “personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled…” (Time Magazine, April 26, 2009)  And guess what.  The flood gates did not open; the population has not turned into a bunch of Junkies, as some legislators would have us believe would happen here.  We’ve got to start electing people to the senate, to congress, and to all levels of government all over the planet who have greater faith in us, the people who vote them in and out of office, my friends.  We are in a deep hole, and we must stop digging immediately.  It is time to interfere with privilege and power and subvert the dominant paradigm; time to insist from our elected that we expect action from them that produces real, honest results.  It is time for a complete overhaul of our approach to the issue of drug use and abuse.

And now this sound emanating from Washington, from no less than Gil Kerlikowske, the new White House drug czar, “Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”  Mr. Kerlikowske, there is only one way to show the least among us that their lives mean as much as any of our lives, and that is to legalize and regulate all drugs, and do it now.  It is time, as our great President says, for CHANGE.


O'DeaBrian O’Dea is the author of High: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler (Other Press 2009).  He is currently working as a film and television producer and lives with his family in Toronto.


Filed under Author Essays

8 responses to “Legalize All Drugs Now!

  1. This sounds like a fantastically interesting read- one which I hope to pick up.

    I think your point on the fluidity between the EFFECTS of drugs (legal or illegal) is especially salient as we approach H1N1 vaccine time. While doing field work in Europe, numerous articles suggested potential negative effects (as far as neurological damage). If true, then we can say that the illegal-ness of drugs is not based on health issues.

  2. I see the point O’Dea is making here, and I have to note that it makes perfect sense.

    Alcohol is an excellent example. It’s a harmful drug to those who abuse it (publicly, privately..). At the same time, it’s culturally acceptable and legal to use alcohol at one’s own discretion (assuming legal age). This industry makes tons of money, even when, and perhaps especially when our country is in recession.

    Making drugs legal, taxable, controllable, is def something that needs to be given more thought.

    “War on drugs” is a war on some people, and these people are going to buy and sell them whether it’s legal or not.

  3. Amber McCurdy

    “Does that mean our morals have a price? Or does that mean it was not really a moral issue in the first place, and our financial distress simply pulled that beard from it?”
    Aren’t most of our “moral” issues just really ways we SHOULD act based on comon sense, gone way into the “dark side” of taboo and becoming codified into our society?
    Don’t all of our morals eventually break down in the face of enough money? Look at how acceptable it is for Rush Limbaugh to be an addict, and yet there he is, day in day out, still ranting. I know an addict, addicted to pain killers like Mr. Limbaugh, but he is not accepted in society. He is an “addict”, and Mr. Limbaugh a tragedy. Yet, they both made the same decisions, both ended up in the same “dis-ease”.

    Let’s start throwing money at things that IMPROVE society, like legalizing a drug that helps so many, and could help so many more. Prescription marijuana, its better than valium, and we STILL take that by the dixie-cupful. That way, HEMP can be legal, and can be used in so many ways. By demonizing marijuana, hemp too was demonized by association. Money did that, cotton money to name but one.
    Let’s also stop overcrowding our prison system with drug offenders. Imagine the money we’d SAVE by simply stopping that, on top of what we could make as we taxed the sale of said drugs.

  4. Mike

    I’ve never thought that legalizing marijuana was a vague, “hippy” notion designed to turn the world on. There is economical merit to making marijuana as “mainstream” as alcohol, and it seems that this excerpt from “High” reveals that point. Similarly, I think Timothy Leary’s heart was in the right place regarding LSD, but his methods were far too extreme for society to take seriously. Had he approached the subject with some…restraint, perhaps his message wouldn’t have been so shocking then and now.

    It seems that O’Dea’s approach to his subject matter is realistic – alomost anthropological – akin to Burroughs’ approach to heroin in “Junky”. We can only see where this debate will go in the future.

  5. We like to say that the legal system is based on natural law–on some underlying conception of morals. It is, of course, but the question is WHOSE morals. Drug illegalization is a great example of this, particularly given the history of marijuana, opiates, and crack in the U.S. in terms of race-based eradication efforts. Reading the history of opiate exclusion and the racist attitudes towards Chinese immigrants at the turn of the 1900s can be particularly enlightening in thinking about these issues, since the stereotypes of opium dens as places where Chinese immigrants would seduce white daughters into prostitution are so different from the stereotypes we tend to hold today.

    Legal scholars know that deterrence does not work unless people believe the thing in question is wrong, punishment is severe, and the offender is almost certain to be caught. These are not and cannot be true of drug prohibitions (even in Singapore, where drug users may be executed, people still use drugs).

    But as we consider moving in the other direction, toward legalization, the questions are not always so easy. Do we legalize and regulate the substances, like alcohol and tobacco? Will they then be marketed to children? Do we decriminalize a la Portugal, and increase dollars spent on treatment while prohibiting marketing and losing the potential tax revenues? Do we take one approach for marijuana and another for heroin–and then how do we decide which drugs go in which categories? We know illegal doesn’t work, but what will?

  6. Amy

    I agree on many of the points made, but I see a very long road between now and legalizing all drugs. Marijuana may be in the near future, but the “hard” drugs have far fewer reasons to be legalized. Sure, there would be a financial benefit, but by saying it is ok, does that encourage young kids to just try heroin once…and become addicted for life? This is less likely to happen with alcohol and even marijuana. Good read, however. I will be happy to read more.

  7. Steven Strang

    Before addressing drugs, I’d like to point out the danger inherent in: “President Obama recently announced that his administration would bring a halt to “preemption”, a practice that used federal regulations to override state laws on the environment, health, public safety and other issues.” More times than not, state laws are repressive, ill-conceived, short-sighted, and prejudiced–we’d still have slavery if federal laws did not preempt state laws. Tossing the baby (the good that federal laws do in trumping state laws) out with the bath water (federal laws mistaken about drugs) is not a good plan. Change the federal law–don’t return to states’ rights.
    That being said, I agree that federal laws about drugs have been a collosal mistake. The whole concept of a “war” on anything except another coutnry makes no sense–war on poverty, war on terrorism, war on drugs–all are emotional appeals that make no logical sense. As others above have pointed out, laws that don’t work and have no chance of ever working need to be re-examined and tossed out.

  8. Pingback: Mexico’s President Talks Drugs, Arizona Immigration Law, and Violence | Denver Marijuana

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