That’s what you’d be saying if you said “don’t do drugs.” On the back of toothpaste tubes in bold letters are the words “drug facts.” Yes, they are declaring that their toothpaste has drugs. Don’t do drugs. Don’t use toothpaste.
Of course that is all silly semantics. Or is it. The toothpaste I must use requires a prescription because it has 1.1% sodium fluoride. Apparently one could overdose on fluoride toothpaste so it needs to be controlled, in this country. And the prescription toothpaste does not have “drug fact” highlighted as does the over-the-counter toothpaste. I doubt that too many of us pay attention to the drugs in toothpaste. Or the drugs in lots of other stuff. But lots of other drugs we do pay attention to.
And we all have opinions and perspectives about drugs in general. We have legal drugs we can buy almost anywhere without permission, legal drugs we need a medical professional’s permission to buy, and illegal drugs. The ones deemed legal are easily available. But the ones deemed illegal are also available — but at a substantial price to our society.
Most of the drugs manufactured and available from the medical community have been a godsend for many of us. The pharmaceutical industries provide an important value to our society (notes Thomas Pogge). The system may not work so well, but it’s a net positive if we were to think of life without drugs.
Are medical drugs abused? That’s a rhetorical question. But at least they are legal. In other words, legal, controlled drugs are used both responsibly and irresponsibly. My neighbor is a fine example of the latter. I rarely see her but when I do she is a little slurry of voice. Her husband showed me pictures of their medicine cabinet and it indeed looks like a pharmacy. She has (developed) psychological problems and sees about 4 or 5 different doctors, each of whom gives her prescriptions. She takes them all and throws in a glass of wine or two. The result? For part of the day, a not-well-functioning human with two small children. Where is this repeated? All over the country in varying degrees.
Non-medical drugs is another story. We call them “recreational” drugs; like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, mescaline, etc. Most of them come from plants. How we as a society have come to legislating the legality of growing plants is crazy. And our laws of making those drugs illegal has been super costly and spawned dangerous international mafia organizations.
The last time I was in Colombia, I hopped into a taxi and the driver asked if I spoke English (ok so I stick out). When I said I did, he proudly spoke with me in English and then told me he used to live in New York for about 15 years. But then he was deported. When I asked why, he told me he was in prison for five years for cocaine possession. He said the cocaine he had at the time of his arrest wasn’t much. I asked him how much “wasn’t much” and he told me 7.5 kilos. I say, “dude, if you think that’s not much, then you were dealing in quantity. It may not be the right law, but it’s a law nonetheless so you got what you deserved.” He agreed.
We’ve had a couple of U.S. Presidents who have admitted to having smoked marijuana. If it is illegal, why do potential presidents puff the forbidden weed? Could it be that the law is not smart? The answer: no, it’s not smart if it’s so common that we accept that even our leaders will admit to sneaking an illegal toke.
We tried to make alcohol illegal years ago and that didn’t work out well. Making plant based drugs illegal hasn’t been working out well either. If people want to have a couple of drinks, why shouldn’t they be able to? If those same people want to smoke marijuana or snort cocaine, why shouldn’t they be able to? And what is the difference? Or have we simply drawn a line in the proverbial sand and said “this mind altering substance is ok but that mind altering substance is not?”
Anyone who throws out the argument “legalized marijuana will lead to stronger drugs” is looking the wrong way. I know a couple of guys who have been casual weed smokers for decades and are more responsible than others I know who don’t.
Last week I stopped in Amsterdam where they have legal marijuana and hash bars — not medical shops, but open to the public cafes. Much like going into a bar and ordering a fine malted scotch, you can pick different grades of hash to smoke. Holland doesn’t appear that it has gone off the deep end with heroine junkies lying in the street.
Bottom line, if someone wants to mess with their body, why would we let them do that with certain stuff and not with other stuff? Worse, with the stuff we say they can’t (by-products from natural plants), we’ve created a huge downside problem for society.
A couple of decades ago, the U.S. spent billions in Peru and Bolivia trying to eradicate cocaine. It all moved to Colombia. We then spent billions in Colombia. It moved back down to Peru and Bolivia. (ballon effect, wsj). We are attacking the enemy from the wrong side, and we are not winning. We are shooting at the supply side which is an ever moving and non-stop target. We need to attack the root-cause of the demand side.
Proposal: Legalize all known recreational drugs. But control them much as we do medical drugs, some with prescriptions, others nonprescription, like marijuana and cocaine. BUT, do the following two things:
1) EDUCATE. Take half of the billions of dollars we spend enforcing illegal drugs and the resulting crime and develop a superb educational program about the risks and detriments of taking drugs. We have nothing like that in existence now. Billions of dollars could buy that and we’d have billions left over.
We need programs which we use in schools showing kids how drinking alcohol, smoking anything, taking drugs actually negatively affects our bodies over time. We can show how this negatively affects performance, how it kills brain and other cells, how we become less effective as human machines. With billions of dollars, we could develop very smart and effective educational programs to drive home why living a life free of substance abuse is smart.
2) PENALIZE. Make penalties for abusing or hurting any fellow human under the influence of any drugs so stiff that it hurts. You act reckless by drinking and driving, then your license gets taken away and you go directly to jail for a couple of months. Same with any other drug if it’s the cause of recklessness. Point is, if you want to abuse your own health, then go ahead. We should have that right. But don’t dare do it at the detriment of someone else. The minute you irresponsibly endanger someone else, the hammer comes down hard.
We are trying to destroy poppy fields in Afghanistan and cocaine fields in Peru and Colombia when all we need to do is make those drugs legal. Once that’s done, the black market goes away. The rug is pulled out from under those we are using so many resources to fight. And in the meantime, we divert a portion of the vast funds we use fighting drugs to develop educational programs aimed at how to live healthier lives. It could be done.
And by all means, do do drugs. And do brush your teeth, even if you need prescription toothpaste.