Thursday, January 15, 2004

Drugs and Activism

[This is a draft essay on why drugs are an enemy of progressive activism.]


A lot of people (far too many) associate activism with drug use. This comes out of the whole "counter-culture" and "rebellion" modes that most of the attention getting forms of activism are wrapped up in.

Drugs have been (wrongfully) associated with rebelliousness because of the extreme measures taken to prohibit their use.

One consequence of this is that many who seek to be rebellious mistakenly turn to drugs as a mechanism for acting out their rebellion and trying to gain a feeling of being part of the "culture of rebellion".

This plays right into the interests of the dominant powers, the governments, the corporations, the oppressors.

Drugs are one of the most effective tools of oppression available:
  • Pimps get young girls and women hooked on drugs to create dependancy and make them more open to exploitation.

  • Governments ship drugs into ghettoized neighborhoods to maintain a lower class and/or to destabilize communities that are threatening the status quo (such as the U.S. government's shipping of drugs into black communities).

  • Drugs are deliberately associated with 'alternative' cultures to convert communities' revolutionary energies into self-indulgent, individualist disconnection. Former CIA researcher Timothy Leary's famous line "Tune in, turn on and drop out" can be understood as a call for the revolutionary movements of the 60's to stop focusing on community and society, withdraw from engagement, and stop trying to improve the world for anyone but yourself.

Drugs bring a person's focus onto themselves and their own experience. They are a deeply anti-social activity. While many drug users would argue that they socialize through their drug use with others, the experience typically does not foster any real social development. No communities are built from drug use. No systems of social support come out of the application of drugs. There is no benefit to community or society.


Let me make clear that I am not a prohibitionist—experience has shown that that approach simply does not work. Regardless of what laws (including death penalties) are in place, people will use drugs. The only purpose criminalization serves is increasing criminal activity in the form of the organized crime that thrives on the illegality of drugs.

A far more practical approach is to regulate and license drug use. Providing safe, regulated, spaces for drug users will reduce negative health impacts (and not just for the users) and the socially destructive activities that surround drug use in a criminal culture. It also provides more opportunities for treatment of addicts and drug use prevention.

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