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Remove discrimination from drug regulation

Comment 12th July 2010


What is the difference between the tobacco leaf and the coca leaf?

Why is it, that if I want to use a drug, and I choose alcohol or tobacco, the state, quite rightly, allows me to make my own decisions so long as I don't hurt or inconvenience others, but if I choose coca, or cannabis, or opium, or MDMA, or magic mushrooms, no matter how responsible I am, the state deems me a criminal for this choice and seeks to take away my freedom?

What is the difference?


Alcohol and Tobacco are far more intrinsically dangerous than many of the drugs on the banned list. It's nothing to do with the drugs themselves.

The difference is that alcohol and tobacco are the mainstream drugs of our society. If someone takes alcohol or tobacco, that makes them the same as you, or at least the same as some OK people you know. 

If someone takes something else, that puts them under an influence which is unfamiliar. Something used only by 'the other'. Even when they are far safer than the drugs we use – we don't know them well enough to be sure. Forces we don't understand, which might affect the mind? We react with fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the foreign.

We refer to 'drugs and alcohol', as if alcohol isn't a drug, not because of its pharmaceutical properties, but because "I take alcohol, so it can't be a drug, only fools take drugs".

The net result of which is that prohibition dictates, on the question of what drugs you may choose: "You must conform to majority behaviour. Nonconformists lose their freedom."

The freedom to be different, to not suffer government oppression merely because you don't make the same choices as everyone else and certain people find this frightening or objectionable, is one of the most basic civil liberties there is, and one of the most widely recognised. And prohibition is the last great bastion of state-sanctioned intolerance.

Because it's not just current attitudes we have to conform to. Prohibition started in America, about a century ago. And that was a far less enlightened place. The first laws against Opium regulated only Chinese people. Cannabis was banned amidst lurid claims of how black men were getting high on it and raping white women.

The attitudes which we have to conform to now, which merely discriminate against minority interests because they are unusual, are attitudes which started off as racist ones. And while we have set aside racism, this product of racism, by only targeting small groups of people not powerful enough to defend themselves, by making them criminals and hence undesireable, has become self-sustaining, and we've forgotten why we made these decisions in the first place.

Ultimately, the difference between the tobacco leaf and the coca leaf is that the tobacco leaf comes from North America and became normal to the powerful white people there, while the coca leaf comes from South America and so didn't have this chance.

We have laws which lock people up because of this.

This discrimination against people who don't conform to modern, arbitrary drug choices, and old, racist ones causes huge amounts of crime, costs enforcement money and spurns tax income even during a financial crisis, makes drugs which would otherwise be pretty safe into something deadly, completely fails to achieve its stated aim of reducing usage, and turns people who could live normal and productive lives into criminals. Worldwide, it devastates entire countries such as Mexico and Colombia.

But the biggest reason why it is wrong, why it is a gross offence against our civil liberties, is because the government takes away freedom from people merely for making choices which are unlike the normal ones.

This must stop. Drug regulation must regulate all drugs by the same criteria we regulate the popular ones. It must cease to be one rule for the familiar ones we all know, another rule for anything different. You can keep banning those very rare drugs which genuinely have _pharmaceutical_ properties worse than those of alcohol or tobacco, (NOT those whose worst qualities are only a result of prohibition and wouldn't be so bad if users had untainted supplies of reliable concentration at a non-stupid price) (you _shouldn't,_ it's still a stupid, illiberal idea which can only be counterproductive, but at least it's not an offence against the basic principles we all pretend to stand by), but almost all drugs bans, and certainly all the well-known ones, are not based on reason, they are based on prejudice and must be lifted.

We no longer have anything against things from South America, right?

Why does this matter?

Would stop hurting and criminalising people who have done nothing wrong but making choices which are different. And would stop corrupting police, judges and juries, by forcing them to harm the harmless.


Would greatly reduce crimes such as burglary.

Would take money out of the hands of criminals and return it to public finances and/or the legitimate economy.

Would allow the police and courts to focus more on crimes which actually hurt people.

Would help the fight against other forms of discrimination which we do publically recognise; it's easier to spread the message of tolerance if government is genuinely tolerant as a principle.

Would make users safer and healthier, by giving them regulated supplies. The evidence suggests addiction would just as likely reduce in absolute numbers than increase, and being addicted would be far less dangerous and harmful. Hence would greatly reduce the harm done by drugs.

A society which treats one group of people differently to another group of people simply because there are more of the first than the second is a shameful society.

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