Former Seattle Police Chief on the high costs of the drug war

From Reason TV:

Norm Stamper is a cop who saw it all during his 34 years on active duty. As police of Seattle from 1994 through 2000, he was in charge during violent World Trade Organization protests in the Emerald City.

Stamper, who holds a Ph.D. in leadership and human behavior from United States International University, has emerged as one of the most thoughtful and outspoken critics of the war on drugs, which he believes causes untold misery, undermines effective law enforcement, and doesn't begin to pass any sort of cost-benefit analysis. As important, the libertarian Stamper believes that the drug war--and other wars on the behaviors on consenting adults--does great violence to the idea that we own our bodies.

Stamper is the author of the Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing (2005) and now works with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a nonprofit created by former cops to "reduce the multitude of unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition."

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper on the high costs of the drug war


  1. As someone who is a friend and relative to a few addicts (most in recovery) I find the idea of legalization to be troubling.* Without the law, most of them would not have found help. In fact, two of them intended to keep going until they basically killed themselves. The law allowed for intervention.

    While I have compassion for those oppressed by law enforcement, I realize the importance of having laws in place. Plus, not sure I want dealers running around my neighborhood unchecked.

    I realize the impact the drug war has on society. But I remain unconvinced that the benefits would outshine the detrimental effects.

    Here’s my challenge: convince me otherwise.

    /yes, I’m serious.

    *I’m not opposed to medical marijuana

  2. Clearly he’s been gotten to by Big Weed.

    I’ve never used any kind of illegal drugs and if they were suddenly legalized tomorrow I wouldn’t run out and start shooting up and toking.

    I realize the impact the drug war has on society. But I remain unconvinced that the benefits would outshine the detrimental effects.

    It’s not a question of benefits, any intoxicant is has its risks. Legalization and regulation would take a sledgehammer to cartels (which are parasites in south and central American governments), take away millions from violent street gangs, free up billions to combat the real roots of crime (poverty, abuse, untreated mental illness) while creating a viable new revenue stream and treat people who are addicted or dependent as human beings with problems, not criminals.

    I’m not a utopian about it, I’m sure there will be drawbacks. But the current system is so utterly, completely broken I can’t imagine those negatives being worse than what we have now.

  3. All right. I’ll bite.

    Your addicted friends needed the law to intervene because society is so bent on the image of addicts as roving thieves and rapists that there are few friendly avenues of treatment. We have plenty of alcoholics around, but there’s less stigma when someone says that they’re in AA.

    If your friends were so self-destructive that they wanted to die, eliminating one source of convenient suicide won’t keep them from finishing the job by other means. They can still play in traffic, dump a toaster in the bath tub, or OD on a rainbow of legal drugs both OTC and prescribed.

    Legalization of drugs does not mean legalization of antisocial behaviors that may occur when on those drugs. If you commit a crime while high, you’ve still committed a crime.

    If drugs were legal and taxed in a system similar to alcohol there would be no roving dealers. The whiskey and cigarette man does not cruise my neighborhood. Why do you think it would be different for other drugs?

    And drugs are just one facet of any number of consensual crimes like prostitution or gambling where there is no victim, but the activity is illegal. When there are stories of victims the problems are generally caused by the illegal nature removing the usual protections that any other business transaction has.

    I suggest reading the freely available (e)book, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do”–

  4. @ CINEMAJAY: “not sure I want dealers running around my neighborhood unchecked.”

    Prohibition is what created these dealers in the first place. Legalization would make the bottom drop out of the market. There would be no more high profit margins, and it would put the dealers out of business. I’m sure you don’t have people with moonshine stills in their backyards in your neighborhood, nor do you know anyone making gin in their bathtubs, do you?

    As far as treatment goes, right now the proportion of public funding that goes to wards enforcement prosecution and incarceration, versus the amount put into education and treatment is likely on an order of magnitude of 10,000 : 1. Addicts would be much much much better off if all our tax money was going into treatment and doctors rather than tazers and SWAT teams. Don’t you think?

  5. I will read this book, because I just don’t see how they plan on “lessen(ing)…addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition.”

    That would be a neat trick.

  6. Plus, not sure I want dealers running around my neighborhood unchecked.

    Like all those bootlegger running whiskey and smokes around your neighborhood now?

    Legalization doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. Age-restricted sales, taxation, standards and measures enforcement, that’s all part of the process.

  7. Are there going to be different regulations of purchase based on the new products capacities? Crystal meth is gonna kill you – how the hell do you legalize it? How do you regulate it? By age? Prescription? WTF?

    The push for the legalization of drugs is just corporate America trying to capitalize on a new revenue stream. They have been hella jealous of the cartels for maximizing profits in verbotten markets and now they want in.

  8. Stamper, who holds a Ph.D. in leadership and human behavior from United States International University

    is that where one would go to get a Ph.D. in something like … oh i don’t know, let’s say Horribleness?

  9. #4 (last point) – I agree completely. If I choose to put on a little XM chill and kick back in my living room with some MDMA coursing through my veins I see no valid reason why I, as an almost-40-year-old, employed, home-owning, tax-paying adult, shouldn’t be allowed to do so.
    I have many times in the (very near) past and the effect it has had on any other soul on the planet? Zero.

    And I’m more than happy to pay for it, so make it harmless and easy to procure, tax me, but let me decide for myself if I want to go to the show.

  10. I went to Amsterdam a couple years ago for various reasons. One of them being the legality of drugs.

    One event that was very surprising was walking down the street and passing a cop. It was amazing because I didn’t feel anything. There was no feeling of dread. No impulse to duck out of view so I might not get stopped. There was no wishing I had a gun on me for self-protection from the “law”. I felt more free in the Netherlands than the USA.

    Back in the US, I have a spotless criminal record. I work my job, own a house, and pay taxes. I don’t walk around with a bag of weed or crack rocks in my pocket, but when I see a cop I feel nothing but resentment and an urge to kill for self preservation. All because a freaking plant I might want to ingest is illegal. I have zero respect for police and the justice system in general.

    The militarization of the police that we see stories about here started with the drug war. I wonder how much more civilized things might be if we hadn’t felt the knee-jerk need to over-arm the police to combat a black market that would disappear overnight if drugs were legalized. This is not a theory. We did the experiment back in the 20’s.

  11. @#8
    The push for the legalization of drugs is just corporate America trying to capitalize on a new revenue stream.

    Actually, the money being dumped into the militarization of law enforcement is quite lucrative for “corporate america”. All that shiny equipment, techno-gadgets to bust potheads and dopers.

    As for what you said about Crystal Meth, you know people huff paint, gas and even computer keyboard cleaner, right? A destructive personality will find an outlet.

    Should addicts be jailed? Nonsense. They need medical and psychiatric care. Right now the system makes them into felons, locks them out of many jobs and leaves them almost no options save a criminal existence.

    We’re talking about legalizing drugs for the millions upon millions (including many politicians and cops) who imbibe responsibly.

  12. There are drugs and then there are drugs.

    I’m all for the legalization of marijuana, and psychedelics. The side effects and addiction levels of these drugs are at par or lower than other already legal substances (alcohol, cigarettes)

    Other drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, crack-cocaine etc are simply to addictive and destructive. I don’t feel these drugs have any place in a healthy society.

  13. Crack-cocaine: it’s interesting how this drug is marketed only in USA (and few gangasta wannabe areas in London…)

    Can you imagine a society where police should solve real crimes like (omicdes and robbery) instead of defending our kids from drugs?! Fighitng drugs is way easier than do real police work…

  14. 1) the war on drugs has reaches far beyond US borders, ensuring that the primary crop in several nations can not be taxed by the government of that country, therefore ensuring it stays third world. we are fighting a war in one of these countries at the moment

    2) prohibition causes violence

    3) research into safe alternatives, better treatment, etc. can not be carried out effectively unless restrictions are lifted.

    drugs will never be safe, but the system that distributes them can be safer. prohibition does not work, look at history for more than enough evidence of that. there is a great deal of money to be made by legalization; but not by the same people who profit greatly from prohibition. treatment for addiction will become easier once the stigma is removed. for many, many, people drug use CAN be a safe and enjoyable recreation, like having a drink at a bar, but for some it will be a problem; legal or not this is the truth.

  15. Vellon@12: “I don’t feel these drugs have any place in a healthy society.”

    I agree with you. The unfortunate fact is that, like disease, these drugs will always be in our society. We can only do things to reduce their harm to society. The current method, criminalization, has a lot of horrible side effects that have been covered nicely in the comments above. It’s time to try something else, like treating drug addiction as a social/medical problem instead of a crime.

  16. Maybe fewer people would want to get high if the world wasn’t quite so low…
    In the meantime – refuse to convict! Jury Nullification is the remedy to unjust laws.
    Just don’t commit perjury during voir dire.

  17. derail/side rant:

    “libertarian” Stamper was present for the WTO protests. to characterize them as violent is to describe the police tactics. he suspended the constitution (shoppers were allowed downtown, but people who had a political button on were not). and went so far as to confiscate copies of the 1st amendment that were being distributed.

    happy about his new stance, but to pretend he is a champion of liberties is to ignore his part in the dark chapter of seattle’s history.

  18. The profits can go toward schools and roads (good), or toward AK-47’s and cop-killer ammo (bad).

    It’s our call.

  19. Funny, when he was running Seattle all he stood for was neglect and abuse.
    His thug/cops were out of control during the “POLICE RIOTS’ of the WTO.
    Where were his insightful, humanitarian views then.

    Noone needs Meth, Coke or H legalized. Those drugs are for people who can’t score cannabis. And the war on weed has only caused these drugs to become more prevalent.
    When it comes to cannabis, pack it, tax it and take away the profit.
    Time to wake-up and smell the bong water America.

  20. I like how Ending The War On Drugs is only for certain drugs – there still will be enforcement for the unpopular ones.

    So, it’s not really ending ANYTHING, just letting stoners be less squicky about their buys.


  21. if you’re scared of crazed addicts roaming the streets once they legalize drugs, perhaps you should take a look at the Vancouver Safe Injection Site.

    you’d think, “wow, addicts can go there and shoot up with impunity, they must have a lot of crime in that area!”

    and you’d be wrong.

    you might think “well, if the drugs are tolerated, theyre never going to get clean. only outside disapproval can ever motivate someone to do that.”

    and you’d be wrong.

    perhaps you think “well, the neighboring businesses must hate it, with all the junkies hanging out there all the time and stuff, harassing patrons.”

    and you’d be wrong.

    the only reason “addiction” is such a huge bugaboo in the first place is because of the laws against these drugs. they let people think that this group of people is less than human, or somehow damaged. but they’re all people with aspirations, goals, trials and travails, just like me and, presumably, you

  22. simply put, it is prohibition that makes drugs criminal when they should, in fact be looked at as a MEDICAL problem. in the nederlands, drug crime is practically nil. heroin users register and pick up teir drugs and clean needles, and are provided with a safe place to use if they want. there are also dr.s and nurses there to make sure noone o.d.’s. spred of disease due to needle sharing=zero. the drugs are sold via pharmacy, not street dealers, so no roving bands of crazed dealers roving the streets. any profits taken in due to drug sales goes to treatment facilities and edumacation. our jails can be emptied of almost half it’s nonviolent inmates! stigmas dropped and forgotten. sanity once again has a chance in society! win-win. simple.

  23. “Other drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, crack-cocaine etc are simply to addictive and destructive. I don’t feel these drugs have any place in a healthy society.”

    I disagree. Addiction can be bad but it’s not up to you or anyone else how someone wants to spend their life. If fact the addicts may “feel” that your choices aren’t appropriate in their preferred society.

    By the way “crack” is just low grade freebase. It’s been around a long time.

    1. Seriously, you can huff glue and markers. I had a third cousin in Canada who drank melted down shoe polish. People will find a way to get high. Better that it be clean and safe.

  24. #4/knifie_sp00nie,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I understand and agree that funds for law enforcement could/would conceivably used for helping addicts.

    I’m not sure that prostitution is really a victimless crime. Kinda lost me there. The sex trade (even in more lax nations) is booming bigger than ever. Aside from that, I get what you’re saying.

    Also, #13/vellon, I agree there does seem to be a separation between hard core drugs and their less destructive cousins. For the record, the people I referenced in my first post are addicts in the harder drug category.

    While I’ve seen some good points raised on marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, etc., I can’t say I’m 100% convinced yet. Especially for the narcotics. So I’m hoping to read more thoughtful discussion.

  25. @#8 Actually, if you look at the historical precedent for the criminalization of marijuana, it was largely done on behalf of tobacco companies (pretty big corporations in their own right). Marijuana was seen as a huge potential competitor to tobacco that just about anyone could grow in their backyard.

    Big tobacco freaked and ran some pretty outrageous ad campaigns painting marijuana as something only criminal sex-crazed Mexicans would smoke and that contributed significantly to it’s ultimate criminalization.

    Honestly, I don’t see where the big fear of legalizing drugs comes from given that we already went through this with alcohol (which is pretty damn dangerous, addictive, and socially destructive if used in excess). Plus, it’s not like tobacco isn’t a carcinogen for crying out loud. Yeah, people still end up addicts and they end up dying, but ultimately it’s their life.

    We already know what it would take to make things better in the long run. Education. Look at tobacco, ever since it stopped being glamorized the way it was once upon a time, and kids were taught more and more about its dangers, its use has declined (true some people will still use it even when they know the risks, but that’s also the case with currently illegal drugs). Maybe if drug education was based on reality (i.e. not all drugs are created equal, almost all drugs carry some risks etc… etc…) we’d have less kids experimenting and doing stupid things.

    When it comes to various forms of prohibition and the puritanical attitudes many of us have towards things we don’t like, you’d think we’d have managed to learn from the past and realize that the best we can do is teach our kids what we think is right/wrong and lead by example (I’ve had enough of parents warning their kids about the dangers of drugs practically with a beer in their hands).

  26. I do like the image of whiskey and cigarette man driving around suburbia playing his little tune.

    As an addict in remission, a few observations.

    The killer thing with drugs is the extremely high price which leads to a) outlandish & Tax free profits b)The destruction of quality as exemplified by cocaine being turned into crack or heorin being cut to make it last longer.

    Anther thing is that everyone balks at paying for the rehabilitation of addicts. Whether it’s moral contempt or monetary self interest the response ” I’m paying for those bums to get high?!!” is quite common.

    Finally for each person who is stereotypical user there are ten like myself who are invisible. meth & extasy for the clubs and sex, cocaine for a few conversations, weed & robaxecet to chill out, acid to go somewhere else. All throughout I kept my job, paid my taxes, and no-one was the wiser.

    The only reason I stopped is because my one legal indulgence (alcohol) got out of control.

    In essence legalization would have only brought my price down and removed the risk. My access to what I wanted was not affected and I had no constraints on my use. And I stopped anyways when it became too much.

  27. Antinous,

    There used to be a liquid shoe shining product called Dyanshine (sp?) on the market; very popular on military bases and aboard ship. It was essentially shoe wax dissolved in alcohol, but it gave a hell of a shine. I saw two old-soldier drunks one night straining the contents of a couple of bottles through slices of bread and into a canteen cup. I did not hang around to see how successful it was. People WILL try anything to get high.

  28. Three basic moral philosophies here:

    1. What’s of highest importance is individual rights, and rights shouldn’t be limited for paternalistic reasons (i.e., because some people will exercise their rights in such a way that they harm themselves). Legalization would be favored.

    2. What’s of highest importance is preventing harm, no matter the cost in individual rights. Again, there’s a good argument that legalization is favored, since prohibition seems to do more harm than legalization would.

    3. What’s of highest importance is the government sending a message about a particular notion of morality, regardless of the cost to individual rights or in harm to people. Prohibition would be favored. This is also the school of thought that favors abstinence-only sex ed, even though kids that get it have higher teen pregnancy rates, because at least we sent a message that sex is wrong.

  29. There will always be a subset of people who for whatever reason can’t handle anything or are bent on self destruction.

    However if we legalize drugs and place certain restrictions on their use, ( we drink at bars, why not have drug “bars”?) even drugs such as PCP, Meth and Crack can be used safely -No drug is ever safe, however if you use in prepared environment, with the proper safeguards the chance for harm is reduced substantially-. Where most of the damage comes from is when people use it out in the “wild”, on street corners, without support, and without restrictions.

    Bring those into line and any drug we now know of and is created in the future can be used with minimal social cost.

  30. #27,
    Big tobacco freaked and ran some pretty outrageous ad campaigns painting marijuana as something only criminal sex-crazed Mexicans would smoke and that contributed significantly to it’s ultimate criminalization.

    Can you document that?

  31. DragonVPM – also recall that a significant volume of those against the drug war are still pro-regulation while being anti-criminalization.

    If alcohol is legal within regulations, so should be weed (and many other substances).

    Whose financial interest is it in to keep them very illegal? 1) the competition – Pharma companies and Brewers/distillers, 2) the producers/distributors – Cartels and gangs, 3) the police – who get to auction off your assets if you get caught (gasp!) growing plants in your own house (or running a drug lab, which won’t hardly happen if player #1 can be placated).

  32. @#28, those are really the arguments. You did maintain a legit lifestyle, kept your job, etc. and yet, everything you did was illegal. That is insane.

    It’s amazing to me how casual users can be caught up in legal nightmares, possibly have to deal with asset seizure, and have their life affected/interrupted while maintaining what is accepted as a perfectly normal lifestyle.

    I cannot help but think this outrageous and I don’t touch any of the “controlled substances”.

  33. @27: You’ll also find a lot of evidence that William Randolph Hearst had a lot to do with MJ prohibition as it’s friendlier cousin, Hemp, threatened his publishing empire – of which his own paper mills were heavily invested. Controlling a significant portion of media at the time, and controlling the government with cash, he was able to vilify Hemp as an evil scourge, securing his businesses and ensuring the less-than-green paper industry remained tree-based.


  34. throw in the dupont family whose chem corp just figgered out how lucrative the nylon and polyester market could become without the competition from stronger, longer lasting hemp fiber.

  35. Let’s see, I’ve tried Marijuana, crystal meth, OxyContin, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. I’ve never become addicted to any of them, and do not use any of them. I’m a successful taxpaying citizen with my own business.

    The idea that a drug causes addiction is from people who do not understand statistics or psychology / sociology.

  36. While I’m 100% in favor of legalization/regulation of marijuana (any drug which is strictly less harmful than already-legal drugs should be legal), I’ve got to second #13/Vellon’s statement with regard to harder drugs. It’s completely possible to be a frequent user of marijuana and still be a productive member of society; is this true of opiates and amphetamines? Also, while I’m generally sympathetic to the “any activity in which a reasonably-sane consenting adult participates should be legal” sentiment, I’m not sure those who would willingly choose an addict’s lifestyle count as “sane.” Yes, if I’m claiming they’ve got psychological problems, the solution is counseling and therapy, but that doesn’t mean the drug should also be legalized.

  37. #16

    Mark, must respectfully point out that until only very recently, opiates (in various forms) and cocaine were available over the counter.

    Anecdotally, it appears that many families (except the excruciatingly poor) harbored addicts or near addicts. Aunt Millie and her ‘Sleeping Draughts’ or something similar can be found throughout turn of the century literature. Laudanum was very popular, up through the 1950’s but I am not clear on when it was declared prescription only.

    Heroin, of course, is not really bad for you in the long term. Rich heroin addicts who can get high quality smack regularly go for 20 years or so and often the ill effects they endure are due to self neglect and not from the drug itself.

    Interestingly though, it isn’t until oil companies find that hemp oil is a real threat to the machine lubrication market that we get our first drug scare.

    This is top of my head stuff here, so grains of salt are recommended, but I cannot recall ever hearing of a ‘crisis’ with some drug or another before they were prohibited.

    That’s my 2 cents and I’ll be wanting my change back.

  38. True about Hearst, a real villifier of the sacred weed, but . . . I wonder if he caught Marion and some of her friends smoking it?

  39. trimeta, the drugs are illegal NOW. can they be made more illegal? do people still use them, even knowing of their addictiveness and illegalness? in droves. i don’t see the basis of your arguments. the current system does NOT work! the only way to make it better, is to remove the criminality, and give the manufacture and distribution over to an authority, tax and educate. if someones gonna do drugs ( i.e.: heroin pcp, meth, etc…) they is gonna do it. right now it’s cheap and not too hard to find. the more it’s against the law, the more people seem to want to do it. this is true globally. in the nederlands, where anyone can register as a drug taker, drug use is way lower than in the u.s., britain, etc. drug crime is almost nonexistant.

  40. #44/Gilbert Wham: Do we have any numbers for this? I fully expect that >90% of people who use pot once a week or more have minimal effects on their daily lives (on par with alcohol). Is this also true of heroin? Cocaine? Meth?

  41. #40 Alex Mingoia

    Let’s see, I’ve tried Marijuana, crystal meth, OxyContin, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. I’ve never become addicted to any of them…I’m a successful taxpaying citizen with my own business.
    Give it some time. You can’t expect to get strung out and all fucked up right out of the gate.

  42. #45/minTphresh: The Netherlands are IMO not the best case, because I think that the US’s prohibition of pot is actually pushing people towards harder drugs (the reverse of the “gateway drug” hypothesis). If we tell people, “Pot is an atrocious drug, if you do it once you’ll become an addict,” then when they actually do try pot, and realize it’s not so bad, they begin to think that all drugs must just as harmless, because all those ads said it was just as bad. As for drug crime being reduced, yes, crime is a natural result of a black market, I’ll grant that. I dispute your claim that legalization is going to actively reduce the number of users, however. Sure, there might be a slight “forbidden fruit” effect, but it’s not like PCP is going to be thought of much more highly were it legal. If the illegality makes it harder for people to get addicted, it’s working.

  43. Correction to my previous post: I suppose what I’m arguing for is more analogous to the “self-fulfilling gateway hypothesis”: If you tell people pot is a gateway drug, to some extent it becomes true. The solution to this is to stop telling them lies, and then they’ll stop believing them.

  44. #51 Trimeta

    There’s a few pieces to consider. Would legalization of a drug

    (1) cause more or less people to use the drug,

    (2) cause more or less of the users to become addicted,

    (3) cause more or less of the users to come to harm directly from the drug use (overdose due to unpredictable strength or contents, blood-borne diseases…),

    (4) cause addiction to the drug to be more or less harmful to addicts (loss of employment, having money left over for rent and food…),

    (5) cause addiction to and use of the drug to be more or less harmful to the community (thefts by unemployed addicts, violent cartels, epidemics…)

    (6) make it easier or harder for addicts to seek treatment and successfully recover from or contain their addictions

    I may have missed some important points in there. When you look at prohibition of alcohol, that being the case with the best-studied “before” and “after” cases, you find that it may or may not, depending on whose figures you use, have had a very tiny bit of its intended effect under (1). But the harmful effects under (2) through (5) were devastating.

    I have yet to hear a convincing argument why other drug prohibitions would escape the same fate.

  45. Further

    “I’m not sure those who would willingly choose an addict’s lifestyle count as “sane.””

    Which lifestyle are you talking about now, perhaps Sigmund Freud’s?

    As has been pointed out, there are exactly as many addicts’ lifestyles as there are addicts, and 90+ percent of addicts don’t look to you like addicts, as they are well dressed, gainfully employed, more or less fit, but happen to need a drug to sustain their composure.

    Yes, your stereotypical mentally ill homeless addict exists, but these people’s problems are mostly mental illness. They will self-medicate any way they can, to ease that pain; if the drugs they used didn’t exist, they’d use something else. Banning alcohol wouldn’t sober them up, any more than legalizing meth would. But legalizing meth might make it just a little bit easier for them to get treatment, an apartment, or a job.

  46. Dragonfrog: I’ll agree that your points 1-6 are all important to consider, and that the historical prohibition of alcohol had negative effects on #2-6 far outweighing any benefits on #1. However, one of my major claims is that there’s a difference between “soft” drugs, like alcohol and pot, and “hard” drugs, like opiates and amphetamines. In particular, some drugs are so prevalent that no amount of prohibition is going to have any effect on #1, and will simply drive #2-6 way up. For other drugs, the market is smaller, and since it’s already closer to the “edge,” slight effects such as the law can have a significant effect on user base. Though the consequences to users are unquestionably worse if usage is illegal, I’m unconvinced that for hard drugs, the law has a minimal effect on user base.

    Also, I agree that extreme penalties for users doesn’t help all that much; once someone is addicted, there’s not much they can do to stop, without external aid. In principle, giving them help to break their addiction should reduce the demand for the drug just as jailing them does, and thus is the preferred strategy. Still, I don’t feel that this equates to legalization; maybe a matter of looking at the law differently, or perhaps only making distribution illegal.

  47. From my perspective, it seems to me that the drug laws we have just clap a violence problem on top of an abuse problem; I don’t think we could have much more drug abuse than we do now, with draconian laws against it. I am puzzled, btw, by the argument that alcohol is not a hard drug; it is as addictive as any opiate.

    “Without the law, most of them would not have found help.” Or perhaps without the law they would have found help sooner. The law makes it harder to seek help early, and pressures people into treatment who don’t actually want to be there, and therefore will not benefit.

  48. Nothing personal people, but I am surprised by all the brilliant and well informed conversation going on with this subject.

    Usually when I go to chime in on something like this, I find the comments already posted to be by people who are woefully mis or uninformed.

    All the arguments I’ve read for pro-legalization are the same sentiment as mine. Legalize cannabis and apply to it the same laws that govern tobacco and alcohol, and (this may be putting it simply) you effectively destroy the criminal market.

    Imagine going to a liquor store and purchasing a pack of Marlborough Chronic.

    One of the biggest obstacles to getting cannabis legalized is that it is (so far) the only known pain killer that is not physically addictive. It can be viewed as psychologically habit forming, but so is coffee and chocolate and many other things. If cannabis were legalized, the drug manufacturers would loose BILLIONS of dollars in narcotics sales, and politicians who readily accept campaign contributions (and stock earnings) would see those go away.

  49. @#56 randwolf:

    ”I am puzzled, btw, by the argument that alcohol is not a hard drug; it is as addictive as any opiate.”

    No, it’s not. It is definitely lethal, an overdose can kill, but only alcoholics become addicted.

    Opiates will addict anyone but those who are allergic to opiates.

  50. nicotine is the most addictive substance on the planet. too much of it can kill as well. according to u.s. spook,g.gordon liddy, it takes less than a drop of pure nicotine to kill a human being.

  51. I need to chime in about the characterization of the WTO protests as “violent”. It was the police, under Norma Stamper’s command, who were violent. I was there, and I saw the police on a rampage for no good reason.

  52. “only alcoholics become addicted [to alcohol]”


    also, look up “biological determinism”

    because that appears to be the misconception you’re laboring under. prhps y nd tht rcst ss jms wtsn shld gt tgthr.

  53. hey i’m late.
    I notice the first post is a “convince me to legalize” one.
    It should rather be “Convince us that drugs ought to be criminalized”, for the facts on the ground are the ones that need justification. The onus is on the prohibitionists as they are the ones advocating publicly-funded repression of otherwise peaceful activity.
    In other words, justification is needed for our loss of freedom to the State, not justification as to why the State should give us back our freedom…
    I refer again to the Canadian Senate report on Cannabis. The work has been done and the arguments weighed. There really is no further need to debate. Americans can make a start by immediately repealing or modifying their mandatory minimum sentencing laws with respect to drugs.
    “I’m serious.” So are we. But how often must we repeat ourselves? Until every little cop is convinced that the social default switch should be set to “freedom”?
    A link :
    This is international. Cause Americans have made it so….

  54. When this started yesterday, my initial thought was there are people who are not going to change their minds. Now that I have time to respond it is obvious this is true. While many may be able to agree pot is relatively harmless, after removing the police state it engendered, they will never understand the same is true of so called hard drugs. This is on the whole an above average group. However, this group is still divided. In spite of what many see as overwhelming evidence of the destructive nature, cost, and futility of drug law enforcement, they will remain convinced that drugs are worse. The funny thing is the people that believe drugs are too dangerous to allow humans to make their own decisions, are often the same ones that support the right to own a firearm. The inverse is also usually true. And no this is not the time to discuss firearms, this is simply an observation that what we see as dangerous is more emotional than rational. Cars are more destructive and costly than guns and drugs combined, but are we spending billions building mass transportation?

    Everything below this sentence, is something I wrote a long time ago as a pissed off kid; I still believe it.

    Prohibition of prostitution
    Criminalization of sexual orientation
    Drug laws and involuntary testing
    Censoring artists, banning books
    Control and confiscation of weapons
    Prohibitions of preference
    We do not repeat the past
    We are the past
    While our tastes may change
    We have never been different

    This statement is axiomatic: you can not simultaneously criminalize personal decisions and live in a free society. Are you paying attention, you do not live in a free society.

    If you support prohibitions of any of the above mentioned activities or objects you are brainwashed, it is that simple. We use laws to control those we do not need or want. These laws are the handles on society’s excess baggage. Favor these laws and you provide the means of your own enslavement.

  55. Agreed Fetus nail….freedom vanishes if the State can get between your hand and your mouth…

  56. #63 rageahol:

    “only alcoholics become addicted [to alcohol]”

    tautology. also, look up “biological determinism”

    Biological determinism is itself something of a tautology, if not a downright redundancy. (In fact, I AM a determinist; but a cultural determinist.) However, I know from drunks; oy! do I know! And one thing I know is that alcoholics are born; it is only a matter of being exposed to alcohol to complete the sad picture. But a metabolic intolerance for alcohol precedes the ingestion of alcohol. A person with a genetic tolerance for alcohol cannot be transformed into an alcoholic by getting drunk a lot. He can be transformed into a corpse, or an organ-damaged wreck (it is, after all, toxic), but he will not become-alchohol aversive or dependent.

    Alcoholism is either a socially defined condition or a medical one. The AA people are right when they call it a disease. To arbitrarily toss the word around so as to include anybody who drinks too much, for whatever period of time, is to rob the word of any accurate descriptive value.

  57. Wow. Looking at all the ignorant people here that support drug prohibition, one thing becomes clear: Don’t blame the government for this mess. Blame your neighbor. The American people really are the problem. Neck deep in shit and shouting for more. Maybe it’s time to move.

  58. Regis- If this thread proves anything it proves knowledge is not enough. Those that believe drugs should remain illegal are not always lacking knowledge. The key word is believe, what we believe is often more important than what we know. The human ability to continue to believe erroneously in spite of evidence is limitless. We all fall victim to this human fallibility, it is in our genes. This ability is at the root of all of our conflicts and what gives us hope when all seems lost.

  59. Regis- I should add, you are none the less right when you say, “Neck deep in shit and shouting for more.”

  60. What we need is research on finding, better, stronger, drugs. Without the side effects. It’s been proven that addiction is easily cured, by getting the addict addicted on a stronger substance. Eventually, we will get all current drug addicts, upgraded to our new drug. But, it wouldn’t be a problem, because it’s completely safe.

  61. Another angle on the issue of effects on addicts and addiction, and at the risk of coming off like an ass… about, “I don’t care”.

    To be more clear, I care a little, just not enough to require millions of dollars in police, lawyers, judges, etc…

    At some level, adults have to be responsible for their own actions, and in my opinion, this is good example. One reason native Americans have a disproportionately high number of addicts is that their culture hadn’t had thousands of years of addicts dying early and not passing on their genes. Maybe it is time to go back to letting natural selection do its thing.

    …or I could just be having a bad day.

  62. Levine’s the guy who says he was offered Bolivia’s entire crop one year for less than the DEA’s annual budget, but his bosses killed the idea because it would put them all out of work. Do you think that’s true?

  63. One reason native Americans have a disproportionately high number of addicts is that their culture hadn’t had thousands of years of addicts dying early and not passing on their genes.

    I’m going to have to demand a credible citation on that one.

  64. g.gordon was a professional spook/assassin for the c.i.a. for many years, before he was caught bungling the watergate fiasco.

  65. The one argument that I didnt see is that a lot of people are running around now high on amphetamines, morphine, and heroin. Its called adderall, ritalin, morphine and morphine derived painkillers, and methadone also used for pain. Most old people I know are on methadone because it is the cheapest pain killer on the market and they cant afford anything else. So we have elderly smack addicts and mostly juvenille tweakers coming into adulthood. But somehow its still illegal!

  66. #76 Antinous , August 16, 2008 1:17 PM

    One reason native Americans have a…[large]… number of addicts is that their culture hadn’t had thousands of years of addicts dying early and not passing on their genes.

    ”I’m going to have to demand a credible citation on that one.”

    He is on to something. There is a World Health Organization chart on alcoholism rates in various parts of the world (transnational cultures), that cites both estimated percentage of alcoholics and the number of years that alcohol has been a part of that culture. If the numbers are accurate, it is a brief and dramatic essay on natural selection at work. The percentage of alcoholism rises in inverse ratio to the number of years alcohol has been used. Thus, non-moslem Mediterranean cultures have the lowest rate; Nordic cultures are next; and the Celts, the highest in Europe. Native Americans, at the other extreme, are almost off the chart. I can’t remember the exact figures, but they range from 3% to 85%.

    Now I can’t raise the chart (poor googling skills) but it’s reprinted in the excellent book on alcoholism, ”Under The Influence,” linked below. This book created quite a stir in the alcohol-treatment industry twenty years ago.

  67. @36, I did some searching and while I can’t find direct links to Big Tobacco, I did find references to the Hearst and DuPont connections to hemp that others previous mentioned (

    and I found this reference:

    The name marijuana (Mexican Spanish marihuana, mariguana) is associated almost exclusively with the plant’s psychoactive use. The term is now well known in English largely due to the efforts of American drug prohibitionists during the 1920s and 1930s, which deliberately used a Mexican name for cannabis in order to turn the populace against the idea that it should be legal, playing upon attitudes towards the nationality. (See 1937 Marihuana Tax Act). Those who demonized the drug by calling it marihuana omitted the fact that the “deadly marihuana” was identical to cannabis indica, which had at the time a reputation for pharmaceutical safety.[7] It must however be noted that cannabis indica in the 1930s had lost most of its former popularity as a medical drug.[8],

    (Also from Wikipedia,

    My original information on Big Tobacco’s connection came from a college class “Drugs and Culture”. I looked for the book we used, but I can’t find it. Unfortunately w/ big tobacco, it’s hard to know if they were unfairly painted as the bad guys in that specific instance, or if it was ANOTHER instance of lying like we’ve seen wrt the health effects of tobacco consumption.

  68. #81 DragonVPM,

    I wouldn’t have been surprised if Big Tobacco was in the mix; I had just never heard of it. If Hearst had owned tobacco fields instead of timber, however. . . .

    #78 minTphresh,

    I think you’re absolutely right about tobacco. It’s the most damnable substance to kick! Despite Mark Twain’s ironic observation that it is easy to quit smoking . . . because he had done it a thousand times.

  69. Something I see lightly touched on by the pro decriminalization side and nearly oblivious to on the pro criminalization side is who the users are.
    It is not the street druggies supporting the mega tons of drugs being brought into the USA.
    it’s soccer moms and your buddy on the assembly line, the hard working heart of America that supports the drug dealer, that stuff aint free yano. the math could get dramatic but do a little counting on your fingers. and use a little common sense. Only a small percentage of drug traffic is stopped. See your neighbor across the street in his 90,000 dollar house? He works at the plant making 44,327 a year and has a nice yard. That guy is likely as not a drug user. He isn’t on the street smelly, dity, stealing and begging for enough money to get his next buzz?
    Dayum, I bet you even shared a beer with him while admireing the azaleas he planted after his bump.

  70. Hmm, lots of arguments about drug legalization, but very few about the “war on drugs”.

    This, ahem “war” isn’t about drugs. It’s about control. Maybe not even control of drugs. The U.S. gov sends lots of “money” to Mexico to counter drug production in the name of this so called war, yet it tends to arrive in the form of military and para-military assistance to be used against groups like the Zapatistas.

    That’s one use of the drug war I know of, but I’m betting there are lots more that don’t actually target drug production/use.

    I say we put our heads together and think about that. Might explain the need for 25-plus years of a war that doesn’t seem to have had any effect.

  71. Trimeta @55

    This isn’t (necessarily) a refutal of your argument, but a comment to your statement However, one of my major claims is that there’s a difference between “soft” drugs, like alcohol and pot, and “hard” drugs, like opiates and amphetamines.

    Calling alcohol a soft drug is not in fact very well supported. It is much less harmful in the West because it is legal – under prohibition, it suddenly became much more harmful, right up there with the really “hard” drugs you mention.

    A very comprehensive study was conducted in the UK about a year ago, to assess the suitability of the three schedules of banned drugs there (with sentencing being most harsh for the supposedly most harmful drugs, etc.). Not surprisingly, when they looked at the harmful effects of the drugs themselves, isolated as much as possible from the surrounding social circumstances imposed by the existing legal regime, the legal penalties didn’t match the harm of the drugs fairly well.

    In particular, they found that a rational harm-based scheme would consist of:

    Class A (highest harm): drugs more harmful than alcohol – including heroin and cocaine at highest harm rating, alcohol being only borderline (the drop from street methadone to alcohol was pretty small).

    Class B: drugs more harmful than cannabis, and no more harmful than alcohol. Alcohol comes at the top of this class, tobacco down near the bottom, and amphetamines right around the middle. There was no question of cannabis being in this class – there was a very sharp drop from buprenorphine down to cannabis

    Class C: drugs no more harmful than cannabis. This class went from cannabis at the top, down through LSD, ecstasy and GHB, to khat (also a great scrabble wore when spelt qat) at the bottom.

    The full paper is in the Lancet, which requires a free membership to read online, and in a slightly less browsable format on the UK parliament’s page.

    Here’s a link to a discussion of it. It includes the table that ranks drugs by their harms, showing their current A/B/C/unclassified status. It’s visually very striking.

  72. When you get busted for simple possesion, Plead not guilty and demand a court trial by jury. If you can tie up a court room,The DA’S office a judge,baliff, court reporter, and of course your own attorney for couple of days, The cost would be so high to the system,the law would stop such nonsense pretty quickly. The law is controlled by sentencing guidelines so the punishiment would still be the same, but it would cost so much to insure your rights it would become simply a matter of was it worth it to take it to trial. I think not and the only answer would be legalazation. The court makes its money and the bondsman makes his money and of course the state makes their money all because someone chose to toke a joint. Think about it!!!!

  73. Thanks again guys for a thoughtful discussion. I appreciate that the Boing Boing crowd can stay above the usual fray and provide insightful debate and commentary.

    Enjoy your weekend.

  74. @cinemajay: “As someone who is a friend and relative to a few addicts (most in recovery) I find the idea of legalization to be troubling.* Without the law, most of them would not have found help.”

    Paraphrased from the excellent video on the LEAP site (apologies if someone has already mentioned this; I can’t read through the whole thread at the moment); “Ending prohibition should not be construed as an answer to our country’s drug problem. It’s an answer to our crime and violence problem. Once drugs are legal, we will be free to find more effective ways of addressing the drug problem.”

  75. when the varieties of religious experience have been thoroughly analyzed in light of the actual brain neuro-chemistry entailed in aspects like the “conversion process” (“clicking”, “being born again” etc.) and there is understanding of the various transmitter substances required, will then religion be somehow categorized on the various governmental drug law schedules? Especially after rapture-in-a-bottle is available?

  76. Mapping brain activity tells us precisely nothing about whys and whats of religious experience…correlation is not causation, nor does it elucidate mechanism or function…it just maps it.

  77. It’s always funny to read “legalize cannabis but not the harder drugs.”

    The harder drugs are already legal, as has been mentioned earlier, and even methamphetamine is prescribed as Desoxyn. It’s prescribed when other amphetamines such as adderall produce too many side effects. Of course, this means that meth has fewer side effects than adderall (and caffeine, actually). It also induces a greater sense of euphoria than other amphetamines which is why it’s prescribed last after trying the others, since God said euphoria is one of Satan’s ploys for our soul (or something, I guess).

    What most people think of when they think of “meth,” however, is the impure street garbage made with non-pharmaceutical grade reagents and mixed by non-chemists (or lousy ones). That results in a product containing leftover solvents and unreacted reagents, plus some heavy metals and such from the industrially-sourced raw materials. THAT causes “The Faces of Meth.”

    The same goes for the other ‘hard’ drugs; much of the harm comes from unprofessional synthesis and contaminated ingredients. It’s yet another way that prohibition increases harm.

    It’s also tiresome to read arguments against legalization based on “my friend/mom/brother/child was an addict and died.” I have friends who’ve used coke and died, used heroin and died, driven cars and died, popped some xanax and methadone and died, etc. BTW: It also turns out that 100% of people who never use illegal drugs… die!

    Risk can’t be eliminated from life, and the more we attempt to mitigate risk by proscribing certain behaviors and making others mandatory, the more our lives resemble those of animals in the zoo. Wouldn’t it be just dreamy to live in a zoo, without fear of predators or starvation or street drugs, and where the Keepers rush in and shoot us with tranquilizer darts (or pepper spray) when we get too agitated or try to leave?

    If you want to hand off responsibility for the choices you make in life to “officials” or “the government” then go right ahead, but please don’t try to force the rest of us do it too or I’ll spike your corn flakes with prozac.

  78. I appreciate that the Boing Boing crowd can stay above the usual fray and provide insightful debate and commentary.

    Me too! that’s why I thank the moderators.

  79. “Are there going to be different regulations of purchase based on the new products capacities? Crystal meth is gonna kill you – how the hell do you legalize it? How do you regulate it? By age? Prescription? WTF?”

    Methamphetamine is in fact somewhat available by prescription (its hard to fill).

    “The push for the legalization of drugs is just corporate America trying to capitalize on a new revenue stream. They have been hella jealous of the cartels for maximizing profits in verbotten markets and now they want in.”

    Its corporate America that made marijuana illegal in the first place… Hearst and DuPont in the main.

    Its a damn weed thats too cheap to grow compared to trees or pump out of the ground like plastic.

  80. Regarding alcoholism:

    Alcohol sensitivity is a distinct quality dependent on the expression of genes that code for alcohol dehydrogenase & aldehyde dehydrogenase, as well as GI tract size(stomach staplers get tanked on a single beer), stomach contents, weight, & metabolism.

    The genetic aspects are one of the better studied examples of recent human evolution (along with lactose tolerance). The theory goes that Indo-European cultures who had to survive the filth of dense cities tended to brew alcohol in order to sterilize water. Beer and wine were much safer to drink than most river or stream water for millennia, before proper water treatment facilities were created.

    Asians developed a different solution to this in their dense cities: they brewed tea, boiling (pasteurizing) their water in the process.

    Most other cultures either never developed the kind of population density to require these kind of cultural adaptations to survive, or lived in areas which had consistently good fresh water.

    After a few millennia, Mediterranean & European civilizations were selected for family lines who didn’t get ridiculously drunk while trying to stay healthy, people who didn’t trash their livers by the time they were middle aged,

    And so, the result is that most Asians and Native Americans, among others, suffer from something called Alcohol Flush Reaction – they get redfaced drunk off of a single drink.


    The genes for something as subtle as propensity to addiction are only starting to be studied, and results(such as “alcoholism is a distinct genetic disease”) won’t be conclusive for decades. Many of us find it likely that there is simply a predisposition for certain brain chemistries which makes it easier for them to fall into an addictive seratonin feedback loop for certain substances – but that a majority of people are able to form that loop if they’re given certain psychological & physiological conditions.

  81. BUDDY66, #58: “Opiates will addict anyone but those who are allergic to opiates.”

    No, that’s not so. Opiates are routinely given as painkillers for medical purposes–they are among the best–and most users do not become addicted. As with alcohol, some people are more at risk than others, for reasons that are not fully understood.

  82. BUDDY66, #58: oh, yes. In terms of addictive potential, the stimulant drugs are probably the most troublesome. But, in fact, some of those (caffeine and nicotine) are legal. Go figure.

    1. The identification of an alcoholism-susceptible gene has more to do with where research money goes than anything special about alcohol. I’m fairly immune to the ‘caines”, like novocaine and cocaine, which is common in people with EDS. Opiates make me really speedy. Everyone has an individual, and presumably genetically determined, profile of susceptibility to various substances.

  83. Antinous – they’re actually ‘ines’, including cafe-ine, nicot-ine, and amphetam-ine.

    And lucky you. I saw how addicted I got to coffee after a few cups, and cigarettes after a few drags, and decided to just not go there. It did help to see people who had gone there and failed at life as a result.

    The legality of them had nothing to do with it.

  84. Anonymous owns this thread as to alcohol. I just want to remind all that distilled alcohol is of considerably more recent “vintage” than wine or beer. Like the 1100’s.
    Those exceptional Finns made a frozen distillate by removing ice as it froze from their cider in the winter – perhaps this explains their alcohol usage now – they were exposed to the strong stuff millennia before others. Perhaps.

  85. OT: The lactose mutation story to which alco anonymous alludes is an amazingly cool story well worth looking into.
    Long story short: Mutants colonized Europe.

  86. seyo “I’m sure you don’t have people with moonshine stills in their backyards in your neighborhood…”
    It’s a birdbath. Yes, the birds are all drunk. Serves ’em right. Damn birds.

    Santa’s Knee “I like how Ending The War On Drugs is only for certain drugs – there still will be enforcement for the unpopular ones.”
    Stoners don’t break in to homes to raise money for pot.
    That said, I’m against tossing heroin addicts in jail, unless they stole my car…and that would be for stealing my car rather than for being a junky.

    Neither legalization nor criminalization are ideal. Some drugs are bad. Some are worse. The War on Some Drugs hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and will continue to not work. All it does is give Sheriffs/politicians some easy votes, enrich criminals, and give a bunch of people (on both sides of the Law) a bunch of power that they shouldn’t have. Legalization, at least, will reduce the crime and violence that’s a direct result of prohibition. After that, cleaning up junkies will be a cakewalk, since their pushers won’t be shooting at you.
    As long as you’re only harming yourself, it’s nobody’s business but your own (it gets sticky with concepts like “secondary harm” of family…but that leads to banning, um, everything, which won’t protect them any more than legalization of everything would, and it would give the thugs and authoritarians even more power than they have now).
    When it comes right down to it, the government doesn’t own your body. You do.

  87. NO PUNISHMENT FOR A CRIME SHOULD BE MORE HARM THAN THE CRIME ITSELF. I stand firmly that right and wrong should have more to do with law making. When you start making everything illegal the problem starts that you make everyone a criminal. It doesnt take long to figure out that right and wrong have no place in a courtroom, nor law… It should be everything but instead its nothing. People would do well to realize that the government is interested in making cents not sense. The list is unimaginable to the people who benefit from the drug war, either directly or indirectly. Ill start the list but its longer than I have time….
    Cartels and the citizens they pay.
    People in charge of shipping.
    Dealers from mr big to mr user.
    DRUG COMPANIES/Gov. kickbacks/dr. kickbacks/advertisers/etc.
    Textile/Clothing industry.
    Oil/Gas Industry.
    Paper Companies.
    Lumber Industries-Big component.
    Etc. etc. etc.

    Now dont get me wrong, there should be some control, I dont want drug addicts running around going nuts. I am just positive that there are perfectly good citizens sitting in jail right now for petty non-violent crimes. I am also positive they cannot be productive members of society sittin behind bars with their living expenses put on the state. On top of that for every 5 men in jail there is likely a couple children at home who dont have a father or a provider. I can also assure you there are men who have lost their jobs for their personal weekend excursions that have no effect on their job.

    Lastly, People all over the world are taking drugs, people all over the US takes drugs, everything from soda to coffee, xanax to meth, etc. etc. If only they would stop shoving newer and better bullshit pills onto us and actually find the problem or a plant that can fix it. For now plants cant even be called a drug when it comes to medicine, yet for the last 100,000 years plants have been our only medicine and its worked out pretty well if you asked me. Marijuana is not a crime its just illegal.

  88. #100 randwolf,

    Right. I should have said given enough time and dosage…

    Remember ”Manchild In The Promised Land”? The author recounts how at 15 he and his friends couldn’t wait to try heroin, but when he did he had a violently allergic reaction and never tasted again. Ten years later most those friends were either dead or hopelessly strung out, while he was struggling, clean and sober, to survive the bohemian jungles of Greenwich Village.

    #99 Anonymous,

    It’s always nice to have somebody check in who knows what they’re talking about. Thank you. Do you know that book I cited at #80? Or the W.H.O chart?

  89. To the commentators talking about hrader drugs “killing”.

    In the US you can legally be prescribed pharmaceutical Meth amphetamine, for ADHD and related disorders. I do not believe those people are dropping ead, in fact, it is theraputic and beneficial to their overall health.

    Equally, strong painkillers – more addictive than diamorphine (heroin) are also available on prescription, quite freely.

    The fact that people equate these drugs to death shows how well you’ve been brainwashed to think the DRUGS ARE BAD. Drugs are not bad, nor are they inherently harmful.

    Forcing people to pay black market rates, whilst also turning them into criminals on the back foot, are far worse than the effects of any drugs.

    Equally, take the money used to build prisons, fill court rooms and put cops on the street and pour it into education and treatment, plus the revenue from a legalised, taxed system… you sudenly have drug dependant individuals who can afford to maintain a “normal” life, pay for their medication and live without shame or fear of being judged should they cross a line where their use becomes troublesome to their health.

    It takes a while to realise, but you’ve been duped: Drug prohibition creates harm, creates crime and does NO-ONE any favours, short or long term.

    I might go on to quote the 40%+ HIV rate in IV users in America, a group of people that also have unprotected sex with non drug users. But then i’d get stuck on some damning facts, and i’d be here for a thousand plus word essay.

  90. Buddy66:

    Uh.. “only alcoholics will become addicted”.

    One becomes an alcoholic (not by definition, by my detox centre, anyway) when they are addicted. Anyone can become adicted to alcohol, given the ability and the will to ingest (in)appropriate amounts.

    The same will be said for opiates – anyone and everyone is susceptable. Some people are more susceptable – the brain produces it’s own opiates, and preliminary research is showing that some individuals overproduce, and critically, some underproduced. These indivduals are presumed to be more prone to adiction.

    And humans, by deault, are alergic to opiates. The degree to which you have a reaction varies – grab 10 people and inject them Morpine Sulphate, YMWV.

    But yes, Buddy66, your logic about aloholics and addiction is a bit…. off. And I do say that as someone who works with drug and alcohol addicted individuals daily, and as someone who uses morphine daily.

    Now – prescribed opiates. Even when you do develop a dependance (ie, your receptors are used to dealing with opiates being attached to them) it’s not an addiction. It’s dependence.

    When drugs are legalised and I do get my smack from a doctor, it’ll be interesting to see how i’m no longer a ‘junkie’ or ‘addicted’.. i simply have a dependence.

    Another random fact: Benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal can be life threatening and cause permenant withdrawal symptons after moderate extended use. Here is a class of drugs that the manufacturers tell you not to take for more than 7-14 days but are routinely prescribed for years at a time by lazy GPs and psychs. And to all and sundry.

  91. #111 jbang,

    Check my #80 post, please. The book.

    So you’re a junkie and I’m a lush; nice to meet you. It’s nice that all you will need is a scrip to go from addict to dependent; wish I could do that. But ”once a lush….”

    It’s not the stuff that’s going to kill us, it’s the semantics.

    Good luck, bro.

  92. Hey Buddy and all who are fighting to rid themselves of addictions and unhealthy dependencies, keep up the good fight, no one wants to see you fail. Good luck in your struggles. My demon was tobacco…but the monkey’s been gone now for many years…very tough to shake off…look at George Harrison, among many others, he never got it off his back, but for me it’s done. Most difficult thing I ever did…..was to stop smoking.
    The most difficult action can sometimes be not to take an action, if you get my drift.
    Keep up the good fight.
    But legalize it all already….

  93. #80: I’m familiar with Under The Influence, and yes, it presents a lot of research that was pivitol in understanding alcohol abuse.

    I have a few papers floating around work (as in research papers, and a few summary-only docs) that update the data presented in Under The Influence. I’d be more than happy to get them up and link them for you.

    Another point I haven’t touched on is actual harms – alcohol is much more efficient at causing the body physical harm than even Meth. But still, there’s a very weird, inaccurate notion that heroin or amphetamines must be much worse for you.

    Again, it’s the law and lack of education that is causing widespread harms. Most injecting drug users I know have issues with Hepatitis C, perhaps thrombosis and local infections – not atually a result of the drug being used.

  94. #115: I really don’t want to get rid of my dependence… besides financial issues I’m employed, healthy, fit and have a great relationship with my family an friends.

    As are… 95% of the drug users I know.

    Maybe not so much my clients, but by the time people get to treatment they are often so disenfranchised and have been told from all angles that they’re wrong, a failure etc etc… and that’s when people stop caring about their well being and doing stupid things.

  95. JBANG,

    Yes, I would appreciate any up-dating of ”UTI” that has advanced or questioned its arguments. My ”Jones” is pretty much under control because of the coincidentally aversive medication I take for another condition. So there is less ”will” involved in my daily choice not to drink. If it makes you sick, then fuck it.


    Thanks. Tobacco’s a bitch! I fought that fight that too.

    The real miracle of addiction and its time-consuming travails is that for all the tripping and slipping and stumbling, we manage to get work done and things accomplished. Some people simply can’t; they’re the ones we must sympathize with and try to aid and understand. The laws and absurdities that injure and thwart sane approaches and humane solutions must be opposed and defeated. And damn the thugs and the running dogs of the drug war industry!

    Iced tea drinks for the house!

  96. This is something I’ve been trying to remember since genes entered this thread. As luck would have it, the show was rebroadcast tonight. Checkout Ghost in Your Genes a NOVA scienceNOW episode about epigenomes. Epigenetics is a relatively new science that studies changes in the regulation of gene activity and expression independent of gene sequence. Epigenetic chemical switches are the mechanism that allows your environment to change which genes are turned on or off. This is some really interesting stuff.

    Also, if you’re using IE ieSpell is a great add-on spell checker for spell checking comments. This add-on works great, when I remember to use it. My comments and grammar often reveal my ignorance, but at least it looks like I can spell.

    1. Firefox (or some fundamental Windows demon) aggressively spell checks my comments. It’s quite handy except for the fact that I coin words constantly.

  97. hey buddy, been there, dun that, bought the tee shirt, took it home and smoked it. cigarettes were even harder than the powder! someone showed me a vid of me completely wasted-drunk, alcohol wasn’t that hard to give up after that. oy.

  98. OS X has a lovely inbuilt dictionary and on-the-fly look-up/correct. In my fervor I tend to ignore the squiggly red lines and click post. It reveals my sloppy fast-paced typing.

    #120 Foetusnail: Also, if you’re using IE…FAIL! ;P

    Buddy66: I’ll see if I can get the online docs and send you the URL, either at this thread or a message at your profile page. I think your sentiments in the last para of #119 really sum up how I feel about the issue.

    Threads like this is why I love BoingBoing. Most awesome.

  99. I don’t know if this will add much to the conversation but of the handful of friends I’ve had who used heroin one is dead, one kicked in prison and another switched to methadone and is doing okay.
    They all were doing great while using up to a point, at which I found myself in some cases feeding and clothing them.

  100. If the war on drugs ended, how many DEA agents would be out of a job? This govenrment has helped to strenghthen another layer of the police state. The money should all go into treatment programs for those who use drugs and who want treatment, or who don’t use drugs and who want treatment. Prohibition creates a black market. That’s not a complex or discredited theory. It’s so sad that the feds are as stupid as they are. And it’s so sad that we put up with it.

  101. A summation of a few key points made repeatedly.

    The harm from drugs comes from their illegality which degrades their quality, criminalizes their suppliers and users, and creates a huge gap in information which leads to all sorts of bad practices.

    Despite this many people use and use without comment or crisis.

    Not only does enforcement lead to the ills described above it diverts huge resources from the state, and into the hands of criminals, increasing the breadth of corruption and organized crime.

  102. As long as drugs are illegal it gives the state or well enabled state agency or ally a monopoly on moving the substances at the top of the supply/distribution chain. Whether it’s running opium in China or moving plane loads of cocaine from South America (I believe there’s a story in the BB archives about the latter.) I know all the movies would have us believe that this is an endeavor controlled by organized crime with the federal authorities as our protectors, but who do people think run what is one of the most corrupted and powerful empires the world has ever known?

  103. I have a question and a hopeful message I’d like to share.

    We’re never going to win or lose the war on drugs, as we all know, but we will end it. The key is to remind people that before they talk about the solution to any problem, they need to know what the problem is.

    I believe the vast majority of the population, including myself, are on the same page here: drug abuse, addiction, and all that comes with them. Our problem is the aggregate negative effects of drug use in our society (some have religious issues as well, but those have no place in our laws).

    So now that we have a consensus on the problem, the question is well what’s the best way to minimize these negative effects?

    I find that when framed this way, nearly everyone I have talked to (right or left, abstainer or addict) has agreed that prohibition is not the best solution, legalization with regulation is the only sane answer. There are a million articles discussing why, and I don’t have anything new to add to them…

    Those who did not clung to abstract moral reasoning. This is what gives me the hope, we really are all on the same side here. The problem is that it takes time to come around, it takes a real discussion not a sound-byte, and it’s uncomfortable for many people – but ultimately they get it. We have rationality on our side.

    As a bit of an aside, I may have read this somewhere but I have no idea where, we make mistakes. We’re embarrassed now by how we treated Native Americans, African Americans (well, before they were Americans), Women, Homosexuals… I believe that very soon we will be embarrassed by how we treat drug addicts (as well as other criminals – not by refusing to coddle them, but by not rehabilitating them). Being a health issue, the previous analogies aren’t quite as apt – but consider our treatment of the mentally-challenged over the last couple centuries, hell, even the past few decades…

    Anyway my question is for those of you who know a lot more about ending the war on drugs than I do. There’s a quote from Ethan Nadelmann I just looked up for this, “Virtually everyone, except those who profit or gain politically from the current system, would benefit [referring to eliminating prohibition, beginning taxation, with a third of the revenue going to addiction and related disease].

    We all know a few people with a lot to lose is infinitely stronger than a lot of people with little to gain. What, if anything, can be done to ease this transition for them? A lot of people, a lot of jobs with skills not easily transferred… If that could be addressed, it might help slightly weaken protest…

    An added bonus of talking about that more publicly as a concern would be

    A. It would make the possibility of ending the war on drugs seem more real if we were already talking about how to help the transition of an industry, which I see as more of an obstacle then figuring out taxation and regulation by the way…

    B. The very act of talking about this issue could make war proponents look defensive, and more people would realize their interests aren’t quite the same…

    anyway, just (a few) thoughts…

  104. Wow! there has been one HUGE item of ignorance going on in this discussion. So let me set ALL you straight on the subject.

    It does not matter what the substance is. It could be tobacco, heroin, alcohol, coffee, cocaine or chocolate. The fact of the matter is that people become addicted to one substance or another because we as human beings have a genetic propensity do develop a dependence on anything.

    People can develop obsessive behaviors just as easily as getting addicted to narcotics. Granted this is simplifying the psycho/physical connection, but when a person is in a state of addiction, their state of being can not achieve homeostasis without that third outside source.

    My father was an alcoholic and I had a very bad childhood because of it. When I was younger and in the military, I saw myself following the same patterns that my father did, and I quit drinking alcohol immediately. Oddly, I lost a few friends, but I gained a lot of self respect.

    Ever since then I know that I have the ability to become easily addicted to just about anything. It’s not a part of my personality, it’s simply a part of my being. However, I know myself well and am able to make the right decisions before I go down that slippery slope.

  105. #129 teckels:

    Wow! there has been one HUGE item of ignorance going on in this discussion. So let me set ALL you straight on the subject.

    Wow! Make way, here comes The Lone Ranger, going to set us straight ”And if he can’t straighten us, I’ll bet he knows a cat who knows a cat who can straighten us all out.” (Lord Buckley)

    It does not matter what the substance is … people become addicted … because we as human beings have a genetic propensity do develop a dependence on anything.

    That’s IT? That’s busting up a whole lot of logic. First time I ever read a statement that begs the tautological question! C’mon, masked man, there’s gotta be more than that! Who says? Source? Citation? Quote? Study? You say, ”we as human beings have a genetic propensity do develop a dependence on anything.” That’s ”…the HUGE item of ignorance” we’re saddled with? You can’t just ride off and….”

    ”Who was that masked man?”

    Why, that was . . . The Lone Straightener! : )

  106. “If your friends were so self-destructive that they wanted to die, eliminating one source of convenient suicide won’t keep them from finishing the job by other means. They can still play in traffic, dump a toaster in the bath tub, or OD on a rainbow of legal drugs both OTC and prescribed.”

    You’ve missed the point, and apparently have no experience with addicts.

    A perfectly healthy and happy person who winds up addicted to powerful intoxicants can easily wind up suicidal. Changes to their mental process, plus the depression associated with their own knowledge of their problem, can lead to suicidal thoughts.

    However, what the original poster was referring to wasn’t the process of intentionally committing suicide. It’s the self destructive nature of an addict that he/she meant. With quite a few illegal drugs (crack, heroine, meth) the user tends to stop taking care of themself, eating improperly (if at all), and becoming more and more desperate for their next fix, which sometimes turns into using larger and larger amounts. If they don’t starve themselves or die from untreated problems, they’re likely to OD.

  107. I am the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). I am also a retired detective lieutenant—26 years with the New Jersey State Police and 14 in their Narcotic Bureau, mostly undercover. I bear witness to the abject failure of the U.S. war on drugs and to the horrors produced by its unintended consequences.

    LEAP is an international nonprofit educational organization created to give voice to law-enforcers who believe the US war on drugs has failed and who wish to support alternative policies that will lower the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction, without destroying generations of our young by arrest and imprisonment.

    LEAP intends to end drug prohibition just as we ended alcohol prohibition in 1933. When we ended that nasty law we put Al Capone and his smuggling buddies out of business overnight—no longer killing each other, cops, or children caught in crossfire and drive-by shootings—and we can do the same to the drug lords and terrorist who today make over 500 billion dollars a year selling illegal drugs around the world.

    Legalized regulation of drugs will end the violent and property crimes that are a result of drug prohibition not of drug pharmacology. We can then treat drug abuse as a health problem instead of a crime problem and save the lives of our children, which we are now sacrificing at the altar of this terrible war, to the tune of 1.9 million arrests every year.

    In five years LEAP increased from the five founding police officers to a membership of 10,000, police, parole, probation and corrections officers, judges, and prosecutors, prison wardens, FBI & DEA agents, and others, across the United States and in 90 other countries, which is fitting since U.S. drug policy has ramifications that affect the entire world. All LEAP speakers must be former drug-warriors but anybody can join us.

    View the LEAP promo at

    Walter Cronkite says, “Anyone concerned about the failure of our $69 billion-a-year War on Drugs should watch this 12-minute program. You will meet front line, ranking police officers who give us a devastating report on why it cannot work. It is a must-see for any journalist or public official dealing with this issue.”

    After looking it over please feel free to join LEAP and help us end drug prohibition. Anybody can join at

  108. The discussions on this topic are surprisingly well-informed generally, and I am pleased to see not everyone missed the fact that this man was in charge during the ’99 WTO fiasco (and the implications of his involvement).

    However, I am a bit confused by how many people are discussing the “drug issue” in terms of addiction when it is well understood scientifically that marijuana has literally no potential for physical dependency. This is part of the reason that the DEA once characterised it as “the most pharmaceutically harmless drug known to man” as a conclusion of (really the last) long term and in depth study of its use and properties. To compare pot to opiates like heroin, or even tobacco, alcohol, caffiene or most pharmies when considering its effects and place in society and legality based on “addiction” or use by “addicts” or even rehabilitation (let alone toxicity) is patently absurd.

    And briefly, while I’m closing in on the subject of pharmaceuticals and economy . . . has anyone ever really wondered why Cannabis is a Schedule I substance but Marinol is not? According to the theory that THC is the primary active compound of ole MJ, you might almost think there should be more to differentiate what is illicit and acceptable than whether a farmer or Ely lilly etc gets the money.

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