I’ve frequently wondered about the course of “substances” over the history of western culture, and specifically the USA where I live. We have some drugs which can be purchased over the counter, some where I have to sign a log to affirm my purchase, and others only with prescription. Some are illicit, while others are… licit. What prompts these distinctions?
Recently more has come to light about this topic in that the Drug War as we know it was not originally a public health initiative according to people involved in President Nixon era politics – it was actually about targeting hippies and blacks.
I’ve also talked previously about how prohibition proves to be the least effective method for managing drugs – after all we still drink alcohol. We should have known from that effort that it was a fools approach. And it is easily observable the drug war has been practically non-effectual despite having spent untold billions of dollars; drug usage stays relatively level over time or rise despite our having crammed thousands upon thousands of people into jails at great tax payer expense for non-violent crimes.
Today, of course, some drugs are legal and others aren’t. Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and pharmaceuticals are all legal. You probably already know what’s not. But why are certain drugs legal in the United States and others not? The answer isn’t really science or public health research, but rather historical precedent and racism.
The facts are that Black Americans (16% of the national population) represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of all persons arrested for drug possession. And when we’re looking at drug arrests, it’s a huge number of people. Between 1993 and 2011 there were 30 million arrests for drug crimes in the United States, and 24 million of those were for possession of drugs, not selling them.
What if we consider our approach as a public health effort if addiction were our concern, rather than being punitive because we disapprove.
So, as this Altered State episode details, what if all drugs were legal? Where would we conceivably be?