Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Medicalization of Legalization

Punish the crime, treat the disorder.

The alcoholic in A.A. and the cocaine addict on the street share a common appetite. This shared appetite, and the behaviors that come with it, are played out in a larger social context. For a practicing addict, the world is filled with risks, and some of these risks are invariably connected with the web of prohibitive laws and legislation governing the sale and use of addictive drugs. The movement for drug legalization, which began to coalesce about twenty years ago, is a collection of public voices spanning a variety of political and cultural points of view. Many prominent voices in the ranks of the legalization movement are public officials who have become disillusioned with the current state of affairs, and are now convinced that the present system is doing more harm than good.

The essential argument against legalization is that some drugs are not bad because they are illegal—they are illegal because they are bad. If alcohol and tobacco are legal, and we are only now beginning to come to terms with the health implications of that historical decision, it is insane to add heroin and marijuana and everything else to the list.

Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles, a specialist in working with children, holds that legalization would be tantamount to a “moral surrender of far-reaching implications about the way we treat each other.” Such an act, Coles believes, would signal an acceptance of the pursuit of hedonism for its own sake.

However, the medicalization of addiction requires people to consider the possibility that drug abuse is less of a problem than drug crime--and that drug crime can be attacked differently. Very few of legalization’s adherents can be considered “pro-drug.”

Drug prohibition itself is a major part of the reason why the more potent and problematic refinements of plant drugs keep taking center stage. Since crack cocaine is more potent, more profitable, and more difficult to detect in transit, it replaces powdered cocaine, which, in its turn, replaced the chewing of cocoa leaves. Similarly, in the old days bootleggers switched from beer to hard liquor, just as modern international drug dealers switch from cannabis to cocaine whenever the U.S. enforcement engine lumbers off in the direction of marijuana interdiction and eradication. Is there anyone prepared to argue that the gruesome scenes along the Mexican border, as rival militias battle it out for control of the drug trade and the U.S. tries to interdict it, is somehow helping alcoholics and other drug addicts find their way to abstinence?

While the fact of addiction may be beyond the individual addict’s control, addicts nonetheless have a responsibility to do something about their disorder. What would we think of a diagnosed diabetic who told us there was no point in trying to treat his disease; it was all genetic and physical and therefore a waste of time to treat, and impossible to overcome? We would think they were nuts.

From a legal point of view, the biochemical model of addiction does not change the basic proposition that, with few exceptions, people must be held responsible for the crimes they commit in connection with drug or alcohol use. But simple possession should rarely be one of those crimes.

In time, it may be possible to separate out the criminals suffering from concrete biochemical abnormalities, so that they can receive medical treatment in addition to, or in lieu of, a prison sentence.

Punish the crime, treat the disorder.

Adapted from The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction.

Photo Credit: NIDA


420Crew said...

Outright legalization is they way to go, and in fact is already a birthright of every human on earth (and in space). I have sovereignty of my body. Cannabis, shrooms, organically grown tobacco, and refined entheogens deserve a refined understanding from the mainstream so we can all get beyond the sound bite distortions of reality and think more about how we can benefit from responsible consciousness modulation. Education, compassionate addiction alleviation methods, rise of the shaman and sitter, are coalescing into more sustainable and humane approaches to substance engagement. Humans in cages, narcs with guns and drug sniffing dogs, are signs of a vestigial ignorance and general frustration of the human spirit. But we can direct this frustration into positive creation, learn from "mistakes", and enjoy more deep, sensual, and mindful lives with a more open understanding of the vast ways to masterfully unlock cerebral pathways and scratch our dendritic itches.

Anonymous said...

"While the fact of addiction may be beyond the individual addict’s control, addicts nonetheless have a responsibility to do something about their disorder. What would we think of a diagnosed diabetic who told us there was no point in trying to treat his disease; it was all genetic and physical and therefore a waste of time to treat, and impossible to overcome? We would think they were nuts. "

In a free society, do you really think it wise to 'force' someone to take treatment, whether for addiction or diabetes? As long as someone's behaviour does not threaten others, it is (at least in my view) immoral & impractical to force someone to do something they do not want to do.

I believe that the abysmally low success rates of addiction treatment programs has a lot to do with forcing people to take treatment, with the alternative being incarceration.

Dirk Hanson said...

Not sure where you got the idea that I want to "force" anyone into anything. I don't. I'm against most forms of mandatory treatment, as a matter of fact.

Antinomian said...

Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One needn’t travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. God didn’t screw up. Canadian Marc Emery implements the American policy of demand reduction for Mexican product. His seeds enable American farmers to poach cartel customers with superior domestic product. Mr. Emery should get a parade, not prison.

The constitutionality of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) derives from an interstate commerce clause. This clause is invoked to finance organized crime, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Official policy is to eradicate, not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land. America rejected prohibition, but it’s back. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

Nixon promised the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research. Marijuana has no medical use, period.

The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes free exercise of religious liberty.

Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

Common-law must hold that adults own their bodies. The Founding Fathers decreed that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.

Simple majorities in each house could repeal the CSA. The books have ample law without it. The usual caveats remain in effect. You are liable for damages when you screw up. Strong medicine requires prescription. Employees can be fired for poor job performance. No harm, no foul; and no excuse, either. Replace the war on drugs with a frugal, constitutional, science-based drugs policy.

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