Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2001
Source: Mountain Xpress (NC)
Copyright: 2001 Mountain Xpress
Contact:  PO Box 144, Asheville, NC 28802
Fax: (828) 251 1311
Author: Robert Wilson


The movie Traffic has had the salutary effect of increasing the discussion 
about the War on Drug. This would be fine, except the continued misuse of 
the phrase "War on Drugs" perpetuates misconceptions about drugs in general 
and about the potential real hazards inherent in the use of particular 
substances. Drugs and drug users are the Communists of the turn of the century.

They are demonized.

Official agencies of government create hysteria about them. Thousands, if 
not millions, of innocent peoples' lives are irrevocably harmed in the 
course of attempting to rid the land of this menace.

Just as we almost destroyed Vietnam to save Vietnam, we are now destroying 
the lives of many Americans in the belief that we are saving them. Some 
people were able to justify the destruction of the Vietnamese people 
because that war was about real estate and who would own it -- not about 

There can be no such justification for ruining lives in the course of 
trying to keep people from using drugs.

The War on Drugs will not be won by putting more "resources" into it, any 
more than the Vietnam War would have been won by increasing our commitment. 
Vietnam was unwinnable because [the war] was based on faulty assumptions. 
The same is true of the War on Drugs.

The drugs that governmental agencies -- particularly law-enforcement and 
criminal-justice agencies, but also educational, physical-health and 
mental-health organizations -- would like us to not use or use less of or 
use only in certain circumscribed modes are mood-altering substances. These 
are chemical compounds that improve our mood when we take them. They make 
us feel better.

They are categorized in many ways. There are legal drugs and nonlegal drugs.

There are prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs.

There are social or recreational drugs.

There are controlled substances, some of which have legally accepted uses 
and some of which don't. There are substances that are used because of 
their mood-altering properties that are not meant by their makers to be 
used that way. The War on Drugs targets users of these substances 
irrationally and inconsistently.

Among the mood-altering drugs that have the most profound health 
consequences in the United States are alcohol and tobacco, which, aside 
from caffeine, are the least regulated of the commonly used substances of 

Adult users of these substances are not made into criminals for the simple 
act of obtaining them or having them in their possession. Somewhere in the 
neighborhood of 400,000 people will die this year in this country due to 
the effects of using tobacco products in the way in which the manufacturer 
intended them to be used. Some 150,000 will die from causes related to the 
use of alcohol While alcohol has some medicinal properties, its primary use 
throughout history has been as a mood enhancer.

Alcohol also is potentially toxic.

Another drug which has many more medicinal uses than alcohol, and which is 
also used because of its mood-enhancing properties, is marijuana. Marijuana 
is not toxic.

That is, unlike alcohol, there is no known lethal dose of the drug. Yet 
adult users of marijuana face the real possibility of serving long 
sentences in prison or other criminal sanctions for merely having marijuana 
in their possession or for talking to others about obtaining it.

Of course, the use of mood-altering substances is potentially dangerous to 
some people in certain circumstances. Hundreds of thousands -- possibly 
millions -- of lives each year are negatively affected by the use of these 

Addiction -- to alcohol and tobacco, no less than to cocaine, heroin and 
Ecstasy -- and its attendant social costs are real problems of which I am 
acutely aware, having worked in the field for almost 30 years.

If we were to choose, however, to put the resources now going into the War 
on Drugs into family-support programs, education, community building and 
economic development for the most marginalized in our society (instead of 
making sure the rich can get richer), we might reduce some of the 
conditions that lead some people to use mood-altering drugs in destructive 
ways. Telling people not to use drugs and punishing them for doing it will 
not change drug-using behavior, It is time-- well past time-- to 
acknowledge that the War on Drugs is misguided and therefore unwinnable, 
and that the use of mood-altering drugs is not a threat to civilization. 
Any more than, as it turned out, were communists.

Robert Wilson, Asheville
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