DrugSense Weekly April 14, 2000 #146

DrugSense Weekly April 14, 2000 #146
Posted by FoM on April 14, 2000 at 14:05:39 PT
Values and The Drug War By Rev. J. McRee Elrod
Source: DrugSense
Often, I think, we fail to make a basic distinction between our more basic values and our more transitory opinions. Values are usually formed early in life, and usually remain fairly constant. While formed early, values may not be considered or articulated until later, if ever. 
Opinions evolve. If you have the same opinions as five years ago, and still hold the same ones five years hence, you are perhaps inactive from the ears up!My values had to be formed, and articulated, by the time I was 19. I was almost expelled from university for supporting the application of a Black student for admission. I was in a room with the Dean of my College, the Minister of by Church, the Judge of the County Supreme Court all telling me I was wrong. I knew I was right. (Probably the beginning of my pigheadedness. Let me attempt to state those values. You will notice some similarity to the Unitarian statement of principles, which gave me new ways of saying that to which I already adhered. The ultimate value is the self aware human personality. That which damages it is evil; that which helps it is good.Human personalities are to be respected and their rights protected regardless of colour, religion, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation. Human personalities develop best in at atmosphere of intellectual artistic, economic, and political freedom. They require a society which guarantees their basic material needs.The philosopher who has most influenced me is J.S. Mill, particularly his "On Liberty". While human personality is the supreme good, that personality exists in a society, and that society exists in a natural world. Humankind is part of the interwoven web of existence. Humankind should not wantonly cause unnecessary pain to any living creature, or wantonly destroy any species or part of nature. These are the basic values by which I have attempted to live for some years. My opinions, on the other hand, evolve and change, often as the result of discussions and experience.Before attempting to relate the values I have outlined to the question of drugs (about which my opinions are in flux) perhaps a statement of personal experience with them is in order. As those of you who know me are aware, I need no artificial assistance in lowering my level of inhibitions. In fact, a handy dandy drug which raised them a tad might be in order. So it is not moral strength but lack of need which explains the fact that I have never in my life smoked nicotine or pot, or used alcohol beyond wine or cider with a meal. My abhorrence of needles, if nothing else, would keep me away from injected drugs. Do you remember the scene in "Days of Wine and Roses" in which the heroine Lee Remick is descending the elevator gobbling a chocolate bar? It was a harbinger of her susceptibility to becoming addicted. It that's any indication, not to mention my ongoing affair with DQ milkshakes, it's just as well I've not been tempted. Of my six children, one has had difficulty with drug abuse. Among my friends, more have suffered from muggings and robberies to pay for another's habit, than have suffered from the ill effects of drug use themselves.The question for me is, what approach to the ill effects of drugs would be most in accord with the values outlined earlier? There is no question in my mind that the use of drugs is not good for the user in most instances, although there is little correlation between the harm and the legal status of the drug, and the harm created by moderate recreational use is far less damaging than the legal consequences of being caught doing so. There are exceptions of course: the terminally ill cancer patient among them. My six children have suffered far more from their use of nicotine and alcohol than their use of pot. What methods, between the legality of nicotine and illegality of pot, would best discourage their use, and best reduce the accompanying damage to society? The argument that pot is a "gateway drug" has no validity in my view. Not only do most later coke users drink Coco-Cola first, but the primary reason pot serves as a gateway drug is that it does not have the ill effects predicted, and users have already become accustomed to disregarding and disbelieving the law. In terms of "sending the wrong message to youth" is concerned, my son points out that his daughters are quite capable of understanding why they are only allowed a sip of wine, while their parents may drink a glass.He also points out that hard drugs are easier for his children to obtain in a school yard than nicotine or alcohol, because the former is outside rational regulation. The same can be said for availability in prisons.Currently the success of authorities in intercepting hard drug shipments is actually measured in the increase of street price, and the resultant increase in house break-ins, sometimes resulting in the violent death of elderly residents. Other societies, and ours in the 19th century, showed that drug addicts could be maintained in their habits while functioning in society. The 20th century change in our treatment of drugs some have attributed to racial prejudice: anti Chinese in the case of heroin, and anti Mexican in the case of pot. My experiences lead me to favour the repeal of all criminal drug laws, and the treatment of drug addiction as a social and medical problem. This is not an advocacy of drug use, whether it be overindulgence in alcohol, any use of nicotine, some form of hemp, or the hard drugs. It is a judgment of what might be the most effective way of reducing drug addiction, and even more importantly, reducing the harm done to society by drug addiction. Drug use is a victimless crime, until that drug addict turns to violence to support the habit. That violence is a law created phenomenon. Half, I think it is now, of all prisoners are there because of drug offences. Over half of muggings, house break-ins, and store hold-ups are to support expensive drug habits, habits which are expensive because of the laws against them. Over half the ill effects of drugs, and most of their ill effects on society, would be solved by decriminalizing them, and treating their abuse as a social and medical problem. We seemed to have learned nothing from the failure of prohibition, which among other things created the organized crime system in the United States.Among the strongest opponents of drug decriminalization are the drug producers and dealers. Their profit, and motive for hooking new users, would vanish.I suspect there will always by a percentage among us who because of physical, chemical, psychological, or personality difficulties, will turn to drugs. Our task as a society, it seems to me, is to determine what methods will do most to minimize the damage to them and to society of drug use.Our task as Unitarians is to attempt to bring rational and value related discussion to this vexed question.Note: Delivered at several Unitarian Churches in British ColumbiaClick the link to read all of DrugSense Weekly's Update News.DrugSense Weekly, April 14, 2000 #146 MapInc. Archives: DrugSense & Map Inc. News Articles:
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Comment #3 posted by J Christen-Mitchell on April 15, 2000 at 06:40:54 PT:
Vices Are Not Crimes
Vices Are Not Crimes, A Vindication of Moral Liberty by Lysander Spooner 1875........Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. ......Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another                                                       .....Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own .happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference .with their persons or property. .....In vices, the very essence of crime - that is, the design to injure the person or          .property of another - is wanting. ....It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that .is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another. But no one ever .practises a vice with any such criminal intent. He practices his vice for his own .happiness solely, and not from any malice toward others. ...Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by .the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property, .and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own .person and property. ...For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an .attempt to falsify the very nature of things. It is as absurd as it would be to declare .truth to be falsehood, or falsehood truth. 
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Comment #2 posted by Mark Tide on April 14, 2000 at 16:37:21 PT:
Here's Hoping Influence / Action with Unitarians
Spiritually vital, and culturally responsible, organizations like Unitarians and similar religious groups play an important social role in this advocacy. I'll contact the relevant Unitarian congregation (and those analogous) in my vicinity and politely suggest that it (they) too might speak out on this topic.As a Director of local ACLU Chapter, and Chair of its Drug Policy Committee, I'll put it on next week's formal agenda. Anyone so inclined might do similar action.Many Thanks again to for fostering the common (spiritual) conduit.
Arcata Journal
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Comment #1 posted by observer on April 14, 2000 at 15:38:25 PT
re: On Liberty by J.S. Mill
The philosopher who has most influenced me is J.S. Mill, particularly his "On Liberty".ON LIBERTY by JOHN STUART MILL ``There is a class of persons (happily not quite so numerous as formerly) who think it enough if a person assents undoubtingly to what they think true, though he has no knowl edge whatever of the grounds of the opinion, and could not make a tenable defence of it against the most superficial objections. Such persons, if they can once get their creed taught from authority, naturally think that no good, and some harm, comes of its being allowed to be questioned.''
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