This blog post will be controversial. Some will immediately be angered and consider me a moron. Some will be triggered as they bare scars from our war on drugs. However, my opinion has been formed in stages over the course of my life and is based on both my historical knowledge and my personal experiences. My purpose in sharing this opinion is to stimulate thought in those that read it.
The ancient Egyptians recommended used opium to dull the senses before surgery and afterwards to ease pain as far back as 3000BCE. Pliny the Elder in Greece cautioned about overuse of opium a few thousand years later because it had an addictive quality. In South America tribes people were cultivating the coca plant for the medicinal stimulative effect of chewing coca leaves about 500 years after Pliny and by the time the Incan Empire rose in Peru the coca plant was in regular use by members of the Empire and we’ve ignored the fact that Spanish Conquistadors took back barrels of coca leaves as well as gold when they sailed back home. In Central America and North America the native empires of the Aztecs and Apache were using peyote for its medicinal properties as well as religious rituals and on the east coast of North America the native shamans used marijuana as medicine.
The point is, as long as human beings have had civilizations, they have used drugs. Naturally occurring drugs such as opium, cocaine, marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol have long and storied histories. And we’ve known about addiction. The ancient Egyptians understood that opium use led to opium addiction. Incans knew the stimulative high derived from chewing coca (this is the root of cocaine) was addictive. The Mohawk understood the difference between physical addiction and mental addiction and limited the use of both marijuana and tobacco because of it.
Now, 3000 years after a Greek physician wrote about withdraw in opium eaters and smokers, we are still struggling with drugs. We also have problems he never dreamed would exist. He couldn’t have predicted organized crime syndicates would murder tens of thousands of people a year to protect their crops, shipments, and profits.
About a decade ago, I began to think the war on drugs was backwards. We’ve been fighting it since the 1980s when the US government instituted D.A.R.E. programs across the nation in elementary schools. I am still in contact with the police officer who served as my DARE officer (1987-1989). The more restrictive society and government becomes with drugs the more overdoses and addicts we have. According to the CDC 140,000 people a year die in the US as a result of alcohol use (these are suicides, diseases related to alcohol abuse such as cirrhosis, cancer, overdose, and accidents caused by over consumption). Yet, we have not banned alcohol sale and consumption in the US because we know what a disaster that is.
The Temperance Movement began in the early 1800s and culminated in triumph when the Volstead Act was passed by congress in 1919. January 17, 1920 the 18th Amendment banning the manufacturing, sale, and consumption of alcohol in the US went into effect. This directly led to the rise of the gangster, organized crime, illegal moonshine, and later, the creation of the drug cartels in Central and South America. Prohibition didn’t just outlaw alcohol, it would eventually outlaw cocaine (and force Coca-Cola to change it’s recipe), peyote, and marijuana in the US and limited the sale, manufacturing, and consumption of opium derivatives to medicinal only. When the 18th amendment was repealed in the 1930s, only the alcohol prohibition portion was repealed leaving the above mentioned drugs illegal.
What we discovered during the 1920s was that making something illegal didn’t limit its consumption. It increased it! Even as moonshine killed drinkers with poisons such as wood grain alcohol, people continued to drink it and its usage skyrocketed, as did alcoholism. Unfortunately, statistics on addiction to drugs were not reported and we don’t know the number of people addicted to things like cocaine and Laudanum (a concoction made of opium and alcohol), but most historians believe the number of opium and cocaine users increased alongside the increase of alcohol consumption.
We do know that in the 1950s and 1960s the demand for cocaine increased, giving rise to the first “drug cartel” which began trafficking in cocaine in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Amphetamines, a stimulant, available over the counter in the US were in high demand from 1920-1959 and they were not being used by the poor but by the middle class and use was dominated by women. They provided “extra energy” to ensure a woman could work all day, come home clean, take care of the children, make dinner for the husband, and still have the energy for any sexual demands after the lights went out. But cocaine provided more of a boost (this was true until the creation of meth amphetamine). The use of stimulants led to an increase in the use of cocaine, nature’s most potent stimulant.
Yet we have documented evidence that servants in the 1700s and 1800s were using cocaine in the Americas and Europe to assist with job performance. Cocaine was also a favorite among the creative types during this time and many of the centuries most prolific writers were also avid cocaine users, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might be a fictionalized account of cocaine use with Hyde representing the cocaine addict) and most people did not consider cocaine use to be a problem. They even knew cocaine was addictive and still didn’t consider it an issue. Today, we all know cocaine has nasty side effects, but it’s still used and we know making it illegal didn’t curb its use.
That is really the point. Until a drug becomes illegal use and abuse is moderate. There will always be people who want to use cocaine, opium, or marijuana, it has been a historical fact. But rampant out of control use has always been tempered in the past and not by its status as an illegal or illicit drug, but by the societal repercussions of their abuse.
It’s time to strike down the remainder of the 18th amendment and go back to legalized drugs. Let’s put cocaine back in Coca-Cola and put Laudanum back on the shelves of our pharmacies, because cartels and illegal drug use is killing more people than legalized drug use ever did. Fentanyl overdoses continue to rise and it almost never turns out to be Fentanyl the person is abusing when they overdose; it’s cocaine or meth or scarily marijuana that’s been laced with Fentanyl for some reason.
Also, we should leave drug sales as a competitive business: let Bayer and Merck price battle over the cost of a bottle of cocaine infused water (or bring back the Original Coca-Cola, so that Bayer and Merck can battle the powerhouse of Coca-Cola over the price of their cocaine infused concoctions).
“HJ, think of the crime wave! Look at how much crime is fueled by drug addiction now.” I am thinking of drug related crime. If Bayer, Merck, and Coca-Cola are trying to underprice each other, cocaine becomes affordable, sex work to feed a $200 cocaine a day cocaine addiction is no longer necessary as $20 might buy a 12 pack of cocaine infused Coca-Cola. Neither are burglaries or hold-ups or car thefts. Also, the drug cartels lose the market for their blood drenched Fentanyl-laced cocaine. Drug dealers and gangs no longer need to battle over turf to sell the cartels’ cocaine. We could decrease meth use by reinstating milder amphetamines to the pharmacy counter and the era of the skinny housewife with the energy to do it all can return (amphetamine use is also not mentioned in the idealized 1950s when every woman was a housewife who stayed home and took care of the children and her husband fantasy that people harken us to return to… but it was rampant).
“HJ legalizing marijuana hasn’t stopped black market pot.” This is true and it’s because marijuana growth and sales are not competitive businesses. Government regulations prevent competitive marijuana business practices. Brand X is not competing with Brand Y for customers, driving up prices and there might be a bit of price fixing going on as well. A “dime bag” at a dispensary is going to cost you way more than $10 and that is an issue. Prescription drugs are treated the same way in the US and that’s why our prescription drug prices are outrageous – Yes, Bayer and Merck both make insulin, but your pharmacy decides which brand to use, so Merck and Bayer only need to seduce your pharmacy CEO or insurance company to get their products sold and do not need to directly compete with each other over the price of their medications.
The next argument against legalized drugs is the idea that addiction rates would soar. There was not a significant increase in alcoholics after the repeal of the Volstead Act. Many who argued against the repeal swore there would be a huge surge in alcohol addiction after the repeal. There wasn’t. In fact the opposite happened. Binge drinking at speakeasies and private parties dropped because alcohol was again legal and the mental aspect of knowing one could go back to having a few beers while watching the baseball game in one’s own home supplanted the need to over indulge during the one night a week someone could get out of the house for the sole purpose of getting drunk. I suspect responsible use of newly legalized drugs would eventually supplant the over-indulgence “abuse it while you can” mindset. Also, we know that making something illegal makes it more interesting. With the taboo of cocaine use gone, fewer teens and young adults would try it leading to lower addiction rates. We can also combat this by teaching people to understand their bodies. I have severe anxiety. Caffeine is the only stimulant I’ve ever been willing to try. I have never once thought I’d like to try cocaine – not because it’s illegal but because I imagine it would be hell on my anxiety. My resting heart rate is in the 90 beats per minute range even on wonderful days (we don’t know why my resting heart rate is so high, it’s been that way for as long as I can remember and a heart stress test showed it took serious exertion to raise it above 110, so I guess that’s good), cocaine would shoot it into the 140 beats per minute range I suspect, and that would be bad. Because I know my body, I know cocaine, meth amphetamines, and even mild amphetamines would be hard on me, so I’ve never considered trying them. This leads to the final argument against in a weird way as we move towards responsible drug use.
What about all the accidents: unfortunately, there have always been people who fail to use drugs and alcohol responsibly, not because of addiction but because of over confidence. I’m not a huge drinker, never have been, because I don’t like the sensation of being drunk. Having said that, I’ve been drunk more than once, which is how I know I don’t like the sensation. Not one of the two dozen times I’ve been drunk, have I driven a car, because I knew I couldn’t operate a motor vehicle safely. These days; I don’t drive as a general rule for two reasons. The first is that I find driving painful, however if that was the entire issue, I’d still do things like drive to the store when I desperately need something instead of waiting on J or my mom to get motivated to go. But… I take opioid pain medication for the daily pain in my hip and I won’t drive on them because it causes impairment. This makes me a responsible drug user. Unfortunately, there will always be impaired drivers, because most of us are over confident in our driving ability and driving impaired by drugs or alcohol is really no different than driving distracted by your cell phone. February 8, 2023 recreational marijuana use in my state becomes legal. I’ve seen a couple editorials proclaiming the accident rate will soar after that date because of the number of people who will get stoned and start driving around. Uh, what? People who recreationally smoke pot and drive under its influence isn’t going to change, because those people have been doing for years while it was illegal. And these are realistically probably the same people who routinely drive while intoxicated and compulsively text while driving.
In summary, I think legalizing drugs is the best way to combat them. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but history shows that drug use will always exist and when they are legal the negative ramifications are fewer to individuals and society as a whole.