Drugs as a Right
DRUGS AS A RIGHT
by Robin Sharpe, email@example.com
This should be covered under Freedom of Conscience in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom
People should be free to pursue their psychoactive pleasures free from harrassment, criminal penalties, mandated treatment and most importantly, degradation. Allow users to maintain their ties, and allow them the means and dignity to make their own decisions. Encourage the ghettos to wither. Allow users to negotiate their interests just as we allow most others. Regulations of course, like other forms of expression, but private retailing and possession of all drugs, the whole list, should be everyones’ right. And it is not just the law that needs to change but also society’s pervasive denigration and marginalization of users. Unprecedented moral courage is required.
Only by recognizing drugs as a right can we resolve the problems associated with them and end our own minor holocaust. Ten thousand Canadians have died in this war and millions have been convicted and millions more have suffered directly and indirectly from our current drug laws and policies. They are a leading cause of poverty. By relying on the advice of those who have thrived on this failure system, the police, the criminal justice system and associated therapists, our government perpetuates the ongoing suffering and misery. The “protection of children” in drugs, as in pornography and youth sexuality is cruel fraud perpetrated on young people.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CANADIAN DRUG LAWS
In the late Nineteenth Century North America addiction to opiates and cocaine was probably higher than at any time since. The addicts for the most part were consumers of patent medicines, very ordinary people who were part of the larger community. These medicines were very effective in relieving the pain and other symptoms of many ailments and left the user feeling pleasantly buzzed. Aside from a few writers, poets and artists there was nothing resembling a drug subculture among white people. The original prohibitions targetted the “narcotics” in medicines and products like Coca-Cola. The law appeared to work as the number of users plumetted with relatively little difficulty for those involved. It was almost as easy as legislating the lead out of gasoline.
It was only later in the early part of the Twentieth Century, when there was a moral panic about “Chinamen” using opium to make sex slaves out of white women, that our present approach to drugs developed. Led in 1908 by Mackenzie King, who later became our longest serving prime minister, the Opium Act was enacted, which prohibited simple posssession, an unprecedented but largely unrecognized restriction of civil rights and a radical extension of state power due to the moral panic about Chinese in Vancouver using opium to enslave white women into prostitution. The same coalition of feminists and the religious who subsequently successfuly lobbied for the prohibition of alcohol and pornography vigorously backed the law. It was another victory for women. A subsequent panic, promoted by American law enforcement agencies and sensationalist media and also endorsed by the same coalition, goaded Parliament to prohibit marijuana without once mentioning the “M” word. The prohibition had little immediate effect in Canada where the drug was practically unknown but in the United States there was a massive crackdown mainly on poor Mexicans and Blacks. In a massive crackdown with tens of thousands jailed and the prosperity the Second World War brought, marijuana usage declined, barely surviving among the marginal and poor. It seemed to be a big victory for the forces of rectitude.
The next big drug panic wasn’t until the 1960s. LSD, a relatively new and perfectly legal drug to possess suddenly attained great popular cachet. Rock and Roll, the Peace Movement and hippies incorporated their values into the LSD experience setting its expectations for others. At the time I lobbied Parliament to leave it legal but it was quickly prohibited amid lurid tales of teens believing they could fly. LSD is almost the opposite of an addictive drug in that sooner or later it becomes very boring and people lose interest in it. Its use is mainly among the young and goes in cycles with new generations, each living in its own ethos, rediscovering it. LSD revived interest in marijuana which came to be seen as a less demanding psychedelic. It’s more social and enhances a range of other pleasures. Experiencing marijuana led many people to question the legal and conventional wisdom about drug laws and to experiment further. A new panic arose with widespread media and government backing and people feeling threatened by trends in the youth culture found a cause in drugs. With propaganda and funding the War on Drugs really got underway. Casualties began to mount. My first dealer, a poet, got a seven year sentence and I was outraged.
Most users have to hide their habit because of their job or neighbours or claims to protect children. Many of them go through a ritual, maybe a required one, where they renounce their former selves or confess to a few lonely tokes. The former sinner is reborn again as straight. For most, drugs usage decreases with age and the level of use in society fluctuates. The police claim success when rates decline and demand more funding when they increase. Growing markets and aggressive law enforcement created profitable opportunities inviting organized crime to move in. The law continued to evolve through periodic panics and bureaucratic fiat into our current Controlled Substances (1996) Act. What had been a smattering of opium dens has become a multi-billion dollar illicit economy involving millions of Canadians. For many years, the number of casualties, people suffering legal penalties or physical harm, remained fairly low and attracted little attention. Competition among suppliers with low costs of production led to massive price reductions and uncertain potency and thousands of deaths. Intravenous drug use has become interwoven with the deadly HIV and hepatitis C viruses promoting their spread. Deaths from overdoses and gang murders make the War on Drugs the third most costly in our history. The aggregate cost of the War probably far exceeds the nation debt.
In Vancouver, the traditional hard drug capital of Canada, things are beginning to change, but not in a way that bodes well for freedom in this country. Harm reduction programs are the current rage and in the absurd world of political realities they make sense in immediate human terms. The harm they address they have to claim, is the harm of the drugs and not of their laws. This is an essential myth of the law. These programs treat addicts, or whatever users they can get their hands on, as patients or clients. This medicalization of users leaves them with even fewer rights to lead their lives as they choose. There are projects to fund and new empires based on treatment to build. Harm reduction assures us of the state’s humane concern and obscures the immense suffering its laws generate.
Most heroin and cocaine users are not addicts but enjoy the high on weekends or whenever and know better than to advertize their habit. Because they have no rights as users they cannot exercise their voice. They are not able to negotiate as gays have done. They are like johns who, while having natural rights as clients to safety and convenience, cannot represent their own interests in public debate. In both cases the costs of expressing their views could be severe. It’s hard to make a case without getting abused one way or another. This is why druggies of all sorts need rights. Only through conversation with those in the market will we, including the government, be able to resolve and end the absurdity of the state persecuting and degrading its own people and subcultures in some low intensity civil war. Drugs have to be legal in order for related problems to be resolved. The medicalization of the problem implicitly denies the rights of the users who are officially seen as consumers of therapy. Mandatory treatment can be a cruel punishment and with any confidences being potential evidence against you as well as unethical ones. Ethics is often the first casualty of zero tolerance. Sometimes I wonder if those facing mandatory treatment should be allowed to choose a flogging as a more honourable alternative. Until the government starts treating drug users and retailers, prostitutes and johns, and others as people with rights they can express without fear, and valid interests to defend, there will be no peace.
CONSUMER INPUT: PROSTITUTION AND DRUGS Vancouver 2002
Whenever you have a situation where the views of people most likely to be intimately familiar with the subject of legislation, if not one of those whose behaviour is targeted are not heard, ineffective and unjust laws will likely be enacted. Bad laws, counterproductive destructive and barbaric laws are a result of a lack of consultation with interested parties. Users, and dealers, should be encouraged to give their views on drug laws, the laws that deal with their activities. Prostitutes and their clients should be listened to about laws affecting their activities. Would we have had even a quarter of the disappearances and murders if we had. Consumers should also be consulted about laws affecting pornography they use. They may know more than the psychocops and other official experts. In a free and democratic society no one of these consumers should have anything to fear from speaking up for their interests. Ideally this would be so. They don’t and effectively can’t. Try it.
Are we to believe that drug users have nothing useful to say about how drugs might be regulated so that they would cause fewer problems for society, and still permit them to go about their business? Are we to believe that every junkie and crack head in the East End of Vancouver is anxious to see every kid that goes by end up in their situation? Have we no respect for these people, only alternately seeing them as demons or victims? Yet we know that it is the illegality of drugs that in the longer term has led to their proliferation. Those who see a shining star of hope in the draconian and bloody measures of Singapore and China are kidding themselves, and have no place in a free and democratic society. We have already become less free, and our democracy is being taken over by modern rabble rousers on talk shows and pulpits. And harm reduction despite its marginal short term benefits is a fraud because it denies dignity and autonomy to its objectified clients, and helps perpetuate prohibition. Only by destroying the prohibition created subculture of “scoring”, and giving people the chance to rebuild their lives without concentrating on their addiction per se, can we improve the quality of life for all.
A great deal of prostitution is hell for the workers and shameful for their clients. Perhaps in no other area perhaps have laws pandered to the sensibilities of the righteous at the expense of those ostensibly protected to the extent they have in dealing with this business. The strolls of Vancouver and other Canadian cities are not very happy or safe places. Prostitution should be an honourable vocation as it has been at times in the past, at least as much as teaching or social work. The services of prostitutes and other sex trade workers are a valuable contribution to the welfare of society.
Laws which minimize the social content of prostitution activities, which disintegrate it from other social activities may offer some solace to distraught wives, and serve the interests of pimps and police, but that is about all. These laws flatter and protect the sensibilities of the righteous. Prostitutes like the berdache of North American Aboriginal cultures can do more to guarantee the stability of families than social workers and counsellors. Maybe we should seek the advice of the girls and boys out on the street simply and honestly, without dangling the rationalization of victimization in front of them. Johns should also be asked how they would like to see prostitution regulated. There should be no shame for the johns, or the girls and boys out on the street.
Consumer input is as valid in pornography, including child pornography, as it is in these other areas. What do we want pornography to do? Helping people to attain more satisfying sex lives is the simple answer. There is no accounting for what turns people on. Those who attempt to come up with explanations for that are likely to cause a great deal of harm if they are able to influence the course of affairs. Why does sex involving particular types of people, or even animals and inanimate objects, in a fairly selective way excite individuals? Theories attempting to explain deviations from the conventional have been abundant and destructive. Homosexuality is a case in point. Attempts to explain it in ways that suggest that it is amenable to cure or treatment have directly caused acute suffering to many. Indirectly, the illusions and prejudices fostered by these theories have led to widespread oppression, stigmatization and guilt. While the psycho experts and much of the public realize that past policies and treatments were misguided, if not wrong, the process is being repeated in the case of pedophiles. The experts proclaim, and practically everyone else agrees if only by their silence, that while adult porn, including gay porn does not significantly lead to rape and violence, yet child porn, however it is defined, creates a clear and present danger to children.
UPDATE January 2007
Since I wrote, but never posted the paragraphs below I have spent two years in jail and most of the rest of the time in legal struggles. My lengthy legal troubles began in April 1995 when returning from Amsterdam at SeaTac International Airport, a sniffer dog detected traces of marijuana on my carry on bag. I have written about this elsewhere but briefly it led to a seven year child porn trial which in turn, in 2002, led to charges of child assault and a trial and conviction two years later. My appeal finally went to the BC Court of Appeals in October 2006 and the decision came down at the end of March, 2007. The court quashed my conviction for indecent assault the main count but they revived a conviction for gross indecency and substituted it for the sentence. Gross indecency is an offence that was repealed in 1988 but is still used in historic cases. It was a community standards offence where the jury in 2004 had to determine what people in 1982 would have found grossly indecent. No specific acts are entailed. Sex performed where a person under twenty one could view it, blinds not being drawn, has led to gross indecency convictions. I intend to discuss the entire case in greater detail in a subsequent addition.
ENDING THE HOLOCAUST 2003
Although Parliament is still entertaining changes to the marijuana laws these will, however be only a tenuous start, and a very dubious start on dealing with the question of the non-medical use of drugs. While marijuana laws have adversely affected millions of Canadian lives with no discernible public benefit they are not the main problem. They do not address the devastation of hard drugs nor do they challenge our entrenched prohibitionist mentality. With the Conservative Party in power, albeit as a minority government, little progress can be expected.
The biggest obstacle to any fundamental rethinking and change is that we cannot admit that the war on drugs, which goes back over eighty years, is not only a dismal failure but has led to a holocaust unprecedented in Canadian history. The government, media and a large majority of the public do not recognize this. In fact they cannot. We have accumulated over ten thousand corpses and subjected millions to unnecessary suffering. And for what? While we may reasonably assume that laws and enforcement prohibiting assaults and murder have produced substantial benefits, what is the product of our drug laws aside from diminished freedom, smug moral satisfaction for the righteous and vast tax consuming bureaucracies? And of course the bodies, and the misery and poverty of vandalized lives. There is blood enough, and that blood is on the hands of politicians of all parties and government officials, especially those in the departments of health and justice. They should be held accountable.
It is easy to point to the small visible minority of desperate addicts and say that something should be done, but these people are only a small segment of the drug using population who generally cause few problems for themselves or others. It may be fashionable to talk about harm reduction, but what about the harm itself which logically and clearly devolves from our drug laws to begin with? Does the healing salve justify the flogging? It would take a great deal of moral courage, especially for politicians, to admit that blood is on their hands. It may take many years and several thousand more unnecessary deaths before the horror and absurdity of the crusade against drugs to sink into the public consciousness. Drug users and the others who have suffered from this bureaucratic and populist crusade, need to have this holocaust documented and made readily available to the public. We should possibly erect memorials to the victims of the War On Drugs just as we have to those who died in military wars. Then we need something like a truth and reconciliation commission, not to hang and jail the most egregious drug warriors, but to establish responsibility and help make sure that this kind of thing never happens again.
It wasn’t the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test with me, I was Learyian, all that set and setting stuff. I hadn’t even heard of Ken Kesey at the time but had known about LSD since 1961 through friends at the University of Saskatchewan who had taken it as part of experiments conducted there. My first acid trip, before I tried grass as we called it then, was premeditated. In 1966 I bought the cap off this personable seventeen year old draft dodger from San Francisco. Over a week later he came over to be my guide. We, my wife and I had arranged for the kids to go to a friend’s’, and I invited over a couple of other friends curious about LSD. I was clinical, I showed everyone the cap, I poured two thirds into water and drank it. I had done it. “I am a rock, I am an island,” I am not too sure of the lyrics, the LSD had no effect, and I had brilliant arguments to prove it was having no effect. It was a lot of fun. Then an unexpected friend dropped by with architectural drawings of interest to me, and I saw a brilliance in the sketches, profound subtleties far beyond those of his projects that I knew. I asked him if heard about LSD and he had. I told him I’d tried it earlier in the evening and that it had no effects on me. He genuinely appreciated my praise of the drawings and left. After my friends had left and the kids were returned, and good nights were said, I started looking at the ashes in the fireplace of the fire that had welcomed our visitors earlier. There was a stage over on the right hand side, and an empty battlefield at the front. And then in the finer ashes emerged an army of actors who cavorted and overcame, then it went back to normal again. (I sometimes worry about being wrong. Experience tells me sometimes I am. But experience also tells me when I am right and when I’m not.) History, dramas were played out on the stage of the fireplace hearth of my home. I knew it was the LSD. It must have snuck up on me, but I knew to float downstream. It was over two weeks before I got some more LSD and could arrange an appropriate time and venue.
As an executive member I attended a retreat of a street youth society, Kool Aid at Naramata in the BC interior. Everybody except one, who had a bottle of whisky, dropped acid. It was almost de rigure. It was a rite, supposedly making one naked or honest. Acid is egalitarian commonality. The effects are capricious and have a perverse karma. but it’s a place to go, there’s lots to see, just don’t take it too seriously. I suppose, high on acid we had some good ideas. I used it as a chance to be more pushy about my more deviant ideas. Tolerance was good manners those days, more than correctness is now.
I took LSD about thirty times over twenty years. It is the opposite of an addictive drug in that it becomes boring after a while especially as you wait to come so you can get on with other things. Most but not all of the insights you have seem silly or useless after. The only psychedelic I would still do are magic mushrooms. They were abundant at the prison camp where I spent most of my sentence, and I gladly bought tobacco to trade for shrooms some of the young inmates risked their good time to pick. I did some of my best jail writing on them.
LSD and other psychedelics are something that each generation should discover on its own although it could be argued with all the indoctrination, or set, inflicted on people since, that the effects could be less benign than in the 60’s when acid was popularized by hippies and peaceniks. One can speculate about what would have happened if expectations had been different. Suppose for example that acid had first become popular among the Hitler Youth. What sort of trips would people expect, and have?
With drugs we are stuck with approaches directed at the substances themselves rather than the problems they create. There is total disregard for the fact that almost all recreationally used drugs have positive non medical benefits for users. Drugs are chemical tools for those who know how to use them. With alcohol society tends to target the problems; liver disease, public drunkeness, violence, drunken driving and other undesirable results of its consumption. Drugs however have been so demonized that we cannot take a common sense approach to their usage.
For people whose drug usage prevents them from fulfilling their commitments and responsibilities to others and society, there is a legitimate public concern. Even the student who fails to perform near his or her potential from misusing drugs should be held accountable. Law should deal with manifest problems, not the violation of widely held ideals and beliefs. The much heralded (in Vancouver) Four Pillar approaches affirm the traditional pro-active approach. Given the political realities and restraints on official drug policy, including the Americans and insidious UN motherhood conventions, the practical course is one of general neglect and tolerance of drugs. Drug laws wil not be reformed because of the political difficulties, they can however be enforced only to ensure quality control and to regulate distribution where clear public interests are involved. Existing distribution networks should be left in place and competition among entrepreneurs encouraged. There is no need to set up a government, or government franchised agency to replace the existing system. Bureaucrats could figure out how to make the drug industry pay its share of taxes.
‘Copyleft’ by Robin Sharpe: that is you are free to copy, redistribute or use it for your own purposes provided you retain the present copyleft notice including my name and contact information, allowing others to subsequently reuse the material. Robin Sharpe, firstname.lastname@example.org. Robinsharpe.ca Robinsharpe.com