Category Archives: Ethics

Musings on obligation

i’ve been saying this all along…

Two different magazines, with similar interests, not low-level progressives, but visible icons of the publishing world have stated unequivocally that we need to do something different from the 40 year old drug war. First the Guardian article discusses the medicalization of drugs. The second article in Harper’s discusses the geo-political backlash from the ill-advised war on drugs, and why we are going against it now.

What I’ve been saying all along is that the drug war is not a war against drugs, but a war against people. The first article, modern medical opinion, reflecting the large majority of prior medical opinions, suggests that the drug issue should be treated as a medical issue not a criminal one. In the introduction to the second article, I quote John Ehrlichman saying that the drug war was all about suppressing blacks and leftists hippies by making their favored drugs illegal.

The Guardian: Sarah Boseley and Jessica Glenza write Medical experts call for global drug decriminalisation

Boseley and Glenza conclude their remarks with a statement by Norman Lamb:

Norman Lamb, a former British government minister and Liberal Democrat MP, said that he supported the Lancet commission’s findings: “The war on drugs has failed and it is Liberal Democrat policy to decriminalise the personal possession and use of all drugs, and introduce a regulated, legalised market for cannabis. Drug use should be treated as a health issue, not as a criminal issue.”

Harper’s Magazine: Dan Baum writes Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs

In Baum’s conversation with John Ehrlichman:

I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (emphasis mine)

I thought ten years ago that we would be farther along. Some of us are, but many of us still believe that violence against people is a fruitful avenue to pursue when you want them to change their behavior. But in ten years, we have finally begun something of a fruitful conversation. Baum recounts the movement from officials in Washington D.C. toward a kinder and gentler treatment of people. But the U.S. government is still a long way from recanting its politically suspicious activity over the last 100 years, especially the last 46 years of the drug war. Many and varied documentaries have come out about the terrible consequences of the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1934. They are explicit about how the government of the people, by the people, for the people raised many of the specters of tyranny from its recent past and again took the posture of, in C. S. Lewis’ terms “omnipotent moral busybodies.”

The quote from Ehrlichman above is news porn. My God in heaven! You let them do that? How could you? I can think of only one reason. My philosophy teacher in college Chet Roberson used to say to students who spouted ignorant remarks. “Hold on to your ignorance for as long as you can. If you give it up too early, you’ll go back to it.” How does this relate to the drug war and its ignorance? Well, obviously, we learned too few lessons in the alcohol prohibition. Even the government killing people by doubling the poison in denatured alcohol was not enough to stop people drinking. (See “The Poisoners” on PBS’ American Experience. On Netflix) The rise in violent crime attendant with prohibition was not enough for the government to see its own complicity in the betrayal of the American people. The practices and advice of our forefathers was not enough, the warnings agains tyranny not enough, etc. The long drawn out battle for reasonableness against the tyranny of the state and the tyranny of the majority is coming to a close. Now the staunchest drug warriors are blinking. Something has gone so horribly wrong that the good, and great nation is now one of the worst, and least in a variety of ways. The republic that split itself so completely from the tyranny of Britain is now one of the worst tyrants against its people in the world. Its prejudice and spite now clear for the world to see.

The so-called conservatives in their disgust for the drug user (Ehrlichman’s blacks and leftists), have played into the hands of the abusers with their self-righteous smug avoidance of illegality. What they didn’t know is that the illegalities were constructed to capture certain classes of people, again, Ehrlichman’s blacks and leftists. The so-called conservatives thought they were cleaning up the streets, and so without a question set themselves to the task of upholding those same illegalities as if they were the law of God. Jesus, in Matthew 15 and Mark 7, is explicit in the denunciation of those who exalt their tradition above the commandment of God. In this case the tradition is to put drug users in jail, the commandment requires that we love our neighbors as ourselves. And to display the “conservatives’” position as even more explicitly violent in practice Jesus made sure the disciples and his critics knew what he meant. He said that it wasn’t what went into the mouth that defiled a person, but what came out because what came out proceeded from the heart. So the “conservative” clamor to cleanse themselves from the taint of sin turned on the very people who needed their charity, healing, and help, those who, for whatever reason, decided to put drugs in their mouths.

It may be now that we are prepared to abandon our ignorance. Have we learned enough of the necessary lesson not to repeat the same mistakes ad infinitum? Can we have enough explicit history of prohibition to release ourselves from its bonds and return to a world where self control under liberty is the expectation and the rule? Can we have the gumption to follow Christ into the darker parts of our world with the everlasting and all-sufficient compassion that means the healing of the nations?

a wiser course

The following is the outline for the report generated by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York in a publication called The Record in June 1994. Read the full article HERE.

This outline which is also the table of contents in the printed report with 83 pages and 203 footnotes of sources and authorities.

A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition

      1. New York State
      2. Other States
      3. Federal Courts
      4. The Judiciary is Impatient with the Present System
      5. Efforts to Handle Court Congestion
      1. Perception of Ineffectiveness
      2. Perception of a Self-Perpetuating System
      3. Police Corruption
      4. Poor Children are Victims of the “War on Drugs”
      5. Selective Prosecution
      6. Erosion of Constitutional Rights
      7. Forfeiture’s Heavy Hand
      8. Erosion of Privacy Rights
      1. Spread of Disease
        1. Sharing Needles
        2. Trading Sex for Drugs
        3. Neglect of Health
        4. Avoidance of the Health-Care System
      2. Lack of Information and Quality Control
        1. Adulterated Drugs, Designer Drugs, and Drugs of Unknown Potency
        2. Lack of Knowledge About Safer Use
        3. Using Alcohol and Tobacco Instead of “Soft Drugs”
      3. Injuries Due to Violence
      4. Diversion of Resources from Treatment and Prevention
      5. The Sense of Treating Drugs as a Public Health Problem
        1. Treatment Works
        2. Self-Help Groups
        3. Therapeutic Communities
        4. Other Inpatient Drug-Free Treatment Programs
        5. Outpatient Methadone Maintenance Programs
        6. Outpatient Drug-Free Therapy
      6. Empirical Research on Effective Drug Treatment
        1. Studies Examining the Effects of Treatment on Substance Abuse
        2. Studies Examining the Effects of Drug Treatment on the Consequences of Drug Abuse
      7. Education Works
        1. Life Skills Training Program
        2. Students Taught Awareness and Resistance
        3. Project Healthy Choices
        4. Student Assistance Program
        5. Smart Moves
        6. Seattle Social Development Project
        7. Programs for Children of Addicts

In addition, there were some dissenting voices. Read their comments here:

intellectuals support legalization 1

William F. Buckley, Jr.

From Wikipedia (numbers cite references on Wikipedia page)

Buckley was an advocate for the legalization of marijuana and some drug legalization as early as his 1965 candidacy for mayor of New York City.[121][122] He wrote a pointed pro-marijuana legalization piece for National Review in 2004 where he calls for conservatives to change their views on legalization, stating, “We’re not going to find someone running for president who advocates reform of those laws. What is required is a genuine republican groundswell. It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans […] believe ‘the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children.'”[123]

Here is an interview on Buckley’s thoughts.

Click if video below does not play.

10 years

I became interested in the problem of the drug war after being disaffected with life, incapable of studying, reading, or being interested in society for about 10 years. Then I saw Judge James P. Gray on a talk show. Instantly my imagination and not incapable brain caught fire with an idea, the idea that the war on drugs was morally wrong. Then I read Gray’s book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs, (you can get the older edition on for a penny + shipping).

“Judge Gray’s thorough and scholarly work, based as it is on his personal experience, should help considerably to improve our impossible drug laws. [His] book drives a stake through the heart of the failed War on Drugs and gives us options to hope for in the battles to come” – Walter Cronkite

Then I knew part of the reason why America was failing as a country, why it was not exceptional, or the new kingdom of God, or fair, just, righteous and deserving a pass for international and local peccadillos. At its core it justified the control and eradication of individuals that didn’t fit its stereotypes, the stereotypes of the American dream. It believed that its version of purity was what God wanted and approved. It believed that its status quo was the high moral ground. So racism, sexism, and prejudice of every variety continued to be lauded and written into law, and the subjects of America’s ire were rendered, sent to jail, quietly allowed to be killed, and in the extraordinary circumstance killed them. All the while, America claimed to be exceptional, and shrugged off criticism without a second thought.

It took me about five years to study, analyze, and understand the drug war, its proponents and detractors, the science, the law, the practice. Then I started the Marijuana Memo, this site. In it, I attempted to vent my outrage and give reasons why the drug war was not only a bad idea, but it was immoral, unjust, and prejudicial. It was all these things without reason, justification, or science. All the drug war had going for it was socio-moral disgust whipped up into a frenzy of politicking, funding, and law writing, denigration of the Bill of Rights, militarization of the police force, and an entirely irrational “cure by incarceration.”

See this video on YouTube. This is a start. “The first step to solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”

After you’ve taken the video break, let me resume with a few recommendations that persist after 10 years of my initial assessments in 2005 and 2006.

  • Restore the Bill of Rights to its rightful place as a preventative of overweening federal power over our private lives.
  • Hold the authorities accountable for their deception, lying, outright abuse of power.
  • We need to let the non-violent prisoners out of jail, those who were wrestled up into the failed drug war, many of them spending more time in jail than their raping, murdering, and otherwise violent cohorts.
  • Allow any adult over 21 who wishes to use marijuana, to do so under a fair regime of laws and taxes that will not foster the continuation of the black or even gray market.
  • Allow doctors in every state to prescribe marijuana in its variety of forms for whatever reason they wish, without any more legal hocus pocus than that which is required for non-opioid pain relievers.
  • Do modern science, and take away from the profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies the exclusive ownership of drugs derived from marijuana. Marijuana is a publicly available plant that grows in a wide variety of climates.
  • Allow anyone to grow marijuana for medical or non-medical use, with the stipulation that none of it be distributed to those below the legal age.
  • Allow all the academic and corporate studies of the drug, whose sole purpose was not to justify the ludicrous federal policy, to be available publicly, and make them the basis of any rubric of drug laws. Many of the studies were publicly funded, and so the public should be able to have access to them as a ground of law.
  • Restore the redacted parts of the US pharmacopeia that dealt with marijuana and use it as the beginning of a better one.
  • Keep in place all the regulations that bring sanctions against people for violence, or reckless endangerment. That is, there are laws against violence of a variety of kinds. Don’t make the arrest about the drugs, even as the arrest for vehicular manslaughter is not (or should not be) about the alcohol.

There are dozens of more recommendations I could make to move the US toward a more just, consistent, a kinder society. Something of our violence has to do with our insecurity. Nietzsche said it (with some complexity, but the point is sharp.)

But most of all the attempt, ever more determined, to fix a price for every offense, and thus to dissociate, up to a certain point, the offender from his offense—these are the traits which characterize with increasing clarity the development of penal law. Whenever a community gains in power and pride, its penal code becomes more lenient, while the moment it is weakened or endangered the harsher methods of the past are revived.1

On these grounds America has become increasingly weak over the past 50 years. It has become a badge of pride or the gorilla beating his chest for the US to come down on drug users. It is politically expedient, and good for political fundraising to participate in the War on Drugs.

The harsher methods, ones that many of us are familiar with, the dramatic rise in incarceration, the persistent violence of the death penalty even in the face of fair and strong criticism of its lack of usefulness and persistent injustice, the contemporary militarization of the police with its attendant “shoot and coverup” mentality, show how true Nietzsche’s criticism was. The tendency, of course, is to cover up Nietzsche’s criticism instead of addressing the inherent insecurity that has ensued from fair mistrust of governmental authority. In the contemporary movie, Suffragettes the protagonist says to the policeman who is interrogating her, “Give us laws that are respectful and we will respect the laws.” Admitting you are wrong amounts to losing your job in the vicious business and political climate, becoming the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, all in the interest of maintaining the high moral appearance of authorities.

This all looks so grubby and medieval. But, “shouldn’t the local lord be able to kill whoever he thinks needs it to secure his power and maintain his hegemony?” Of course he shouldn’t be able to do that any more than a husband has some supposed right to beat or kill his wife if she displeases him.

To leave this on a much lighter note, I quote from Mitch Earleywine’s Understanding Marijuana, “Individuals are no more aggressive [than they were] after smoking marijuana.”2

1Fredrich Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, ch 2 section X.
2Mitch Earleywine, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002), 272.