Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Criminalization of Mind-Altering Substances is Unethical


Criminalization of Mind-Altering Substances is Unethical
Tyler Golightly
College of Southern Nevada

Drug use may be as old as humanity itself, but only in recent times has such a large array of substances been made illegal. Criminalizing the sale, possession, and use of mind-altering substances causes more problems than it solves, the moral thing to do would be to end the criminalization of these substances. By gathering information from books, a journal, the Internet, and personal experience, I have determined the flaws in the attempt to eradicate drug use in much of the world. Humans have been consuming mind-altering substances since before spoken language was invented, only in recent times has drug use been synonymous with existentialism. The effects of these substances can even be attributed as the catalyst for the creation of religion and the beginning of early society. In more modern times, International agreements between multiple countries to control the distribution and production of multiple substances in their borders because they are unhealthy, addictive, cause crime, ruin lives, and along with numerous other reasons, and thus began the non-religious criminalization of drug use, trade, and possession that still goes on to this day. The criminalization of controlled substances in itself actually causes more problems than it prevents, problems such as organized crime, health risks, fear, inflated crime rate, unemployment, misinformation, impure substances, and the rise of more dangerous legal alternatives. Drug use and possession should be decriminalized, with quantities and substances being regulated.

            According to American scholar Terrence McKenna (1993), mind-altering substances were a catalyst for the evolution of mankind and religion. In the early years of human history when the nomadic lifestyle was staple, when the concept of a town or city could not be fathomed, when an individuals diet consisted of anything edible, humans consumed copious amounts of mind-altering plants in their effort to obtain sustenance. There is no doubt that some curious soul happened upon a field of grazing cattle and was greeted with the sight of Stropharia cubensis, the entheogenic mushroom that todays western culture demonizes so ignorantly, perched precariously on top of a mound of dung. The individual enjoys the easy meal that took no real effort in obtaining, but it is what comes approximately 20 to 60 minutes later that will truly make a significant impact on this individual’s life. Without a true understanding of the chemical nature of the fungi or the metabolic reaction that ones body has with the chemical components, this prehistoric individual must be in awe at the sheer power that he/she is overcome by. The individual may experience ego death, which is a very surreal, spiritual experience where a person feels the boundary of self and environment are dissolved and begins to realize that they are apart of the universe. An example of ego death is a scene in the movie I ♥ Huckabees when Albert realizes that he and Brad are both the same person (Russell, 2004). Drug induced experiences of ecstasy such as these are the beginning of religion and possibly even civilization as we know it today.
            Drug use and possession is criminalized for multiple, understandable reasons. According to Talleos (2009), a treaty was signed at the 1912 Hague International Opium Convention between France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, Siam, the UK and the British oversees territories (including British India), to which the countries agreed to control the production, trade, and use of certain mind altering substances. This treaty was the beginning of non-religious drug criminalization that is still in effect today. Addiction is the most reasonable reason for the criminalization of drug possession and use. An addicted person loses control of their life to the substance that they are addicted to. Health risks such as overdose, heart attack, liver damage, and diseases transmitted through the blood such as AIDS, paint drug use in an immoral light, and aid in swaying public support of drug criminalization. Addict parents are in no mental or physical health to care for children, the media as well as public officials love to use children as a way to sway the public to believe that the criminalization of drugs protects children.  Society is accustomed to hiding the truth from children to protect them, in the case of drug use, protect them from ruining their childhood and possibly their life. Children are taught to abstain from drug use, most of the time by over exaggerating the truth and even giving out false information. Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, PCP, mushrooms, and marijuana, can put individuals in a state of mind that they could never reach without them, if they are in an environment that is deemed unsafe or are in the wrong state of mind they may develop anxieties or bring about an unknown mental illness. Society feels it is their job to save an individual from themselves, making drug use an immoral and criminal act is a way of trying to force individuals to conform to their standards.
            Criminalizing drug users does more damage than it prevents. By criminalizing drug use, production, and trade, it is forced in the shadows allowing true criminals to profit. Like prohibition in the early 20th century, organized crime profits greatly from the barring of certain greatly demanded substances. Organizations soon claim turf and use violence to maintain their hold on it. Lowly peddlers, high level criminals and even innocent civilians end up getting killed in acts of violence, violence used to maintain the high profitability of illegal trade. Crime is not the only killer; misinformation is another dangerous outcome of drug criminalization. Individuals grow up only learning abstinence but never the proper way to go about doing the drug. People are still doing drugs and they do not have the necessary information within reach to take the drug safely. Misinformation is the main cause of accidental overdose in first time users because these first time users are unaware of the onset and/or dosage of the particular drug. By putting the drugs in the underground, society is putting the users in the underground as well. Individuals find legal alternatives most of the time are more dangerous than the drug they are mimicking. I know of a synthetic cannabinoid called AM-2201 that has a dosage of 2mg, this drug is very cheap, and just last year was very legal. This cannabinoid has no ceiling, unlike the natural cannabinoid THC, and thus is very dangerous. By making drug use so taboo if an individual becomes addicted to a drug they may be hesitant to seek help because by using the drug they automatically become seen criminals and bad people. These individuals can even be cast out from their homes, jobs, religious institution or even their schools.
             The best way to end the crime and woes associated with drug use is to end the war on drugs and the resulting war on the people who use them. By ending the demonization of these substances, it allows doctors, teachers, parents and community leaders to stop misinforming the public and start informing the public on using substances in a safe and acceptable manor. Moderation and safety in addition to abstinence should be the new form on drug education, like Nietzsche (2010) wrote in regards to morality; our culture of excess must become one of moderation. Even substances such as sugar or aspirin can cause great harm to individuals, especially in a culture of excess such as the United States. Bootleggers and the organized crime associated with it in the days of prohibition should be used as a model of what the barring of substances brings about, which is a state of corruption and fear. We can contrast this with the Mexican drug cartels in the early 21st century that, thanks to the war on drugs, have viable unregulated markets with almost no competitors. The United States war on drugs actually lowers the quality of life of not just the American population but the quality of life of other countries, such as Mexico, by fueling their organized crime organizations. Portugal decriminalized drug use in 2001 and according to Hughes and Stevens (2010),“Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding,”  and therefore was a resounding success. Drugs change ones perception, like the bag in I ♥ Huckabees (2004), can help an individual put their thought processes into perspective, and allows the individual to become in touch with their spiritual and naturalistic humanity, which Nietzsche (2010) explained is one of the great causes of woe in modern man.
            The criminalization of mind altering substances and those who posses and abuse them is doing more harm than good, and therefore the moral thing to do is to decriminalize them. Man has been using mind altering substances since the before written or even spoken language. Only in recent times has such a large scale effort to abolish all mind altering substance from free control for non religious reasons such as addiction, health, crime, and other reasons too numerous to mention. The downfalls of criminalization outweigh the good, downfalls such as organized crime, misinformation, unregulated substances, and the search to find legal alternatives. The use, possession, and trade of controlled substances should be decriminalized and regulated, with an emphasis on moderation and safety being added to the already dominant practice of teaching abstinence. The war on drugs, which was fueled by corruption, racism, misinformation, and greed, must be put to an end if our society ever wants to progress at the rate our prehistoric selves have.
HUGHES, C., & STEVENS, A. (2010). What Can We Learn From The Portuguese
Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs?. British Journal Of Criminology50(6), 999-1022. doi:10.1093/bjc/azq038
Jacobus, L. A. (2010). Friedrich Nietzsche: Morality as Anti-Nature. In A World of Ideas:
Essential Readings for College Writers - 8th Edition (8th ed., pp. 713-26). Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martin's.
McKenna, T. K. (1993). Food of the gods: The search for the original tree of knowledge : a
            radical history of plants, drugs, and human evolution. New York: Bantam Books.
Russell, D. O., Baena, J., Goodman, G., Rudin, S., Hoffman, D., Tomlin, L., Schwartzman, J., ...
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc. (2004). I [heart] Huckabees. Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Talleos, J. (2009, April 12). The great mistake. How illicit drugs became illegal in the first place
- Hartford Conservative | Retrieved April 24, 2013, from <>

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