Sunday, June 04, 2006

Ten Things I Know About Drugs

Tony Newman writes on Alternet about the failed "War On Drugs":

I know a lot about drugs and the drug war, both personally and professionally. Drugs have had a positive and a detrimental impact on my life. I have laughed, played and found inspiration while intoxicated. I have also struggled, fought and cried because of my addiction to drugs.

Drugs don't just mean crack and heroin. People have self-medicated with drugs forever: the rush you get from eating a lot of sugar is a drug trip. Chocolate is a drug. Tea and coffee and tobacco and alcohol are all drugs. One cup of tea or coffee a day is all it takes to get a mild addiction, complete with withdrawal symptoms.

Not all drugs are as mild as caffeine. Any drug that can be used can be abused. The more powerful drugs, whether addictive or not, should be controlled: the average person should no more self-medicate with LSD than they should do brain surgery without training. (And, in a sense, LSD is brain surgery, through chemical means rather than a steel scalpel.)

But the puritanical, expensive, hopeless War On Drugs has been a failure. Rather than turning people into honest, law-abiding citizens, it has turned ordinary men and women into criminals. It has utterly failed to keep drugs off the streets. It has made the drug problem worse, not better: while drugs are illegal, there is no quality control, so innocent people die from adulterated drugs; worse, there is no legal avenue of dispute resolution for suppliers, so they turn to illegal violence.

Worse, it leads to the most wicked hypocrisies and double-standards: Jeb Bush, brother to the US President and governor of Florida, was happy to go public and declare his pride at being intolerant, unforgiving and uncompassionate when it came to drug users. But when his own daughter Noelle was caught forging prescriptions for Xanax, things were different: daddy stood by her, she served less than two weeks in jail, and she got all the rehabilitation she could want.

Not that this changed Jeb Bush's mind about treating drug use as a crime, not for everybody else. It is only his family and friends who deserve rehabilitation: he continued to oppose proposed Florida legislation that would send 10,000 first-time non-violent drug offenders to treatment instead of jail.

If America's drug laws were applied fairly, Jeb Bush and his family would have been thrown out of their publicly-funded home, just as other people living in public housing can be evicted from their home if any household member or guest is found using drugs -- even in cases where the drug use happened somewhere else.

But any suggestion that America's laws are applied fairly is a joke. Black Americans make up only 13% of the country's illegal drug users but 55% of those convicted of possession, and a shocking 74% of those sent to jail for possession. That means that black users are more than five and a half times more likely to be sent to jail for possession than white users.

Let the punishment suit the skin colour.

Likewise the hypocritical Rush Limbaugh, who was going on public radio and television for years, blasting drug users and declaring they should go to jail:

...if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.

And all the while he himself was addicted to painkillers, including OxyContin, the so-called "heroin of the trailer park". When he got caught out, Limbaugh begged for the understanding and charity which he had denied millions of others -- and, because he was white and rich and powerful, he got it. No jail for Rush.

The American so-called "War on Drugs" leads to absurdities like the case of Richard Paey, a paraplegic with constant pain following a botched operation. Paey was jailed for using too many legal prescription drugs and jailed for a mandatory 25 years in maximum security prison, where the Florida state now pays for a direct IV pump of morphine, far stronger than the drugs he was jailed for using, directly into his back.

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