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Clements: The War on Drugs is a War on Humanity

June 20, 2011

The Global Commission on Drug Policy recently released a report condemning the global War on Drugs as an abysmal failure. Usually, whenever leftist pot heads start parading on weed marches or 420, the general public tends to roll their eyes thinking to themselves “well if we legalize it, we’re just going to have people like this stoned all day long”. Well, it seems that this debate has moved past simple stoner protest to something much bigger, but the question remains, will we listen? Some of the important people who participated in the release of this report and who are members of the commission include former Presidents of Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, a former Secretary of State for the United States, as well as Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Virgin CEO Richard Branson among others. The executive summary of the report calls on nations, most importantly the United States to “end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do not harm others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence”.

The report is detailed in its plea for international justice, arguing that current policies “directed at [drug] consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use.” This sounds a lot more comprehensive than simply another “tough on crime” agenda. The report also calls for massive experimentation with decriminalization policies as well as experiments with regulating the use of marijuana similar to that of tobacco and alcohol. This is in stark contrast to the stated goals of the powers that be in both Canada and the United States. However, before we focus too heavily on the present situation, it is important for Canadians to understand the history of prohibition in this country and understand that prohibition began not out of reasoned scientific evidence documenting the specific chemical harm associated with these drugs. Rather, fear, racism and inequality created our current prohibition.

Canada’s ‘drug’ prohibition began with the 1908 Opium Act during a time of intense moral reform. Then Deputy Minister of Labour, William Lyon Mackenzie King, in petitioning the government of Canada argued that the sale, manufacturing and distribution of opium was such an evil that Canada was obligated to “assist in a world movement which has for its object the freeing of a people from a bondage which is worse than slavery”. (Wow, the opium trade worse than slavery….really?) Before King would present his report to parliament many other factors would contribute to his call for prohibition. First among the issues which led to prohibition was the importation of cheap, mainly Chinese labour during the late 19th century to build Canada’s cross country railroad. As you can imagine, the white workers demanding much more money were unhappy to see their economic prospects short-changed by a bunch of foreign, opium smoking labourers. This coincided with an international movement to end the opium trade because of China’s utter ruin due to the series of opium wars the country experienced.

Not only international pressure, but police officers, church groups and wealthy Chinese intellectuals lobbied the government for the criminalization of opium. Granted, opium had many detrimental effects, addiction being one of them. However, the drive for opium prohibition commenced after an investigation into race riots in, you guessed it, Vancouver. About 10,000 members of the Asiatic Exclusion League got together in the morning of September 7th, 1907, listened to raving anti-Asian speeches and proceeded to inflict thousands of dollars worth of damage to both Japanese and Chinese shops. You might call it Canada’s ‘kristallnacht;’ that being the equivalent to the night that Nazi’s destroyed and vandalized countless Jewish owned and operated stores.

Two opium manufacturers, operating legally at the time, petitioned the government of Canada for grievance because of the damage. Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier sent the young Mackenzie King out to investigate the claims of the recently vandalized shops. This was a crucial turning point. Objectively, one might suspect that King would compensate the opium manufacturers for their loss because of the race riots as well as introduce debate on what to do about the problem of opium in the west. Instead of discussing the store owners grievances, he introduced a “Report on the Need for the Suppression of the Opium Traffic in Canada” not even addressing the original reason he went to British Columbia, to compensate citizens who were terrified for both their lives and economic well-being. Interestingly, the rest of Canada must have agreed with King’s sentiment, because parliament chose to not debate the Opium Act of 1908.  Also interesting, it occurred very close to an era where Canada had adopted a $500 head tax in 1904 on every migrant Chinese worker entering the country.

They also chose not to debate the 1911 Opium and Narcotics Act, where a host of other substances were added to the illegal schedule, including cocaine. Some members of parliament even debated instituting the lash as an appropriate punishment to possession of opium. Notably, this second act was also the moment Canada decided that police should have special powers in hunting drug offenders, which included the reverse onus on those caught with possession, as well as a refusal to grant writs of certiorari, meaning drug offenders could not get off on technicalities, but murderers still could.

Most importantly, the Act stipulated that the government would have the power, at any time, to add other substances deemed dangerous to the schedule without debate, or parliamentary legislation (which still exists to this day). All that was needed was regulatory approval, meaning substances did not have to be researched, debated or even made publicly aware. Thus Canada’s War on Drugs was created because, as Mackenzie King mentioned at the end of his report, “to be indifferent to the growth of such an evil in Canada would be inconsistent with those principles of morality which ought to govern the conduct of a Christian nation.”

Since the time of grand morality based on Christian principles, the War on Drugs, as it would be coined by President Nixon in the 1970’s has become a gruesome, blood filled failing effort which threatens to undermine the sovereignty of many South American countries, most notably Mexico. Conservative figures post the death toll since Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon’s 2006 pledge to toughen his countries War on Drugs from34, 600 to 40,000. With mass graves being found on a seemingly daily basis, the death toll could be larger.

However and most importantly, the War on Drugs threatens humanities ability to progress medically. For example, a recent study led by Travis Dunckley who works for the Arizona Alzheimer’s Research Consortium has found that some beta-carbolines, which are naturally occurring hallucinogenic alkaloids, specifically harmine, actually may have the superior ability to “therapeutically alter the onset progression of tau pathology in Alzheimers disease,” or put simply, a hallucinogenic compound may be integral to preventing or treating that debilitating neurological disease. For those who are unfamiliar with beta-carbolines, they are members of the indole family of alkaloids which includes the highly illegal drugs such as Psilocybin, DMT, Bufotenin and Ibogaine. They also share structural similarities to the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Granted, I have no medical basis to state that any of the other substances are a help to Alzheimer’s, or any other neurological disease. That will remain impossible if we maintain the same fear mongering beliefs of drugs which have brought us to the point we are at today. Although little research has been done on any of the illegal substances, the fact that a known hallucinogenic alkaloid may have the potential to help cure neurodegenerative diseases should make one think twice before automatically dismissing hallucinogenic substances as dire threats to the stability of a society. As I digress for a moment, I want to include that I have watched my grandmother slowly lose touch with reality, her children and ultimately her own identification as a conscious human being due to Alzheimer’s. If any other indole alkaloid can help with this disease or simply other beta-carbolines, then it is our responsibility to exhaustively research all potential treatment methods, no matter the stigma attached to the substance.

For example, if we take a moment and step out of our cultural shell and examine the shamanistic traditions of the native Brazilian Amazon tribes, we see that the use of ayahuasca (a hallucinogen) is used as spiritual healing guides. Many individuals seek out these shamans as ways to overcome depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and yet the Western world has little to no scientific explanation of how these substances work to cure some of the most debilitating mental disorders. See this BBC clip.

The prohibition of illegal drugs is arbitrary and needless especially considering the largest addiction problem in the United States is to prescription medicine, the ones a lot of people are making a lot of money off of. Well guess what, a lot of criminals are making a lot of money off of the profit margins involved with the illegal drug world. Drug cartels are undermining the sovereignty of Mexico and the illegality of drugs causes addicts to seek out any way possible of attaining their fix, instead of seeking help for their addiction. If we truly want to take care of our citizens, we should realize that mandatory minimums only create criminals. Plant alkaloids have existed as long as humanity has and their prohibition was founded based off of fear and racism and has created false impressions of drug use which continues to tear apart our global society.

It’s about time that we seriously re-evaluate the way in which we view these substances, especially if medical research can help to cure Alzheimer’s, what many researchers believe will be a pandemic in the next 20 years if a cure or effective treatments are not found. We need to take seriously the fact that we have been lied to repeatedly by governments about the true nature of drugs and we, as a human race, have been robbed of the ability to research the potentially beneficial medical aspects of naturally occurring plants. My goal is not to advocate for the use of all drugs by all people, but in the words of the Global Commission report, it is to “replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights…break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.”

All information regarding founding of Canada’s Drug Laws can be found in: P.J Giffen et al. Panic and Indifference: The Politics of Canada’s Drug Laws: A Study in the Sociology of Law, 1991.

Amendments to the Article: The Death toll in Mexico is now debated from a minimum of 34,600 to 40,000

LSD is an Ergoline alkaloid, not an indole alkaloid.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2011 10:03 pm

    I would write a lengthy argument about this topic, but I, as many other drug users, am lazy and don’t contribute well to society, or politic discussions for that matter.

    The idea of using hallucinogenic substances as any sort of treatment or preventative measure is overlooking a very serious issue of substance abuse in Canada. According to the CCSA, 75 000 – 125 000 people in Canada use injection drugs, and incur 75% of new Hepatitis C cases, Approximately 50% of substance abusers suffer from mental illness and generally are under the age of 35.

    The steadily rising use of marijuana, by youths, has been directly linked to causing schizophrenia, more than 30 studies have been published. Younger people (18-29), who, in theory, contribute more to society than the eldery (65+, where the highest/only occurences of Alzheimers happen), should take a higher priority.

    You should see that you are replacing one mental health issue with two.

    • June 22, 2011 12:22 pm

      Your points are well noted and welcome. I’m not specifically talking about injection drugs in back allies, I’m talking about scientific experiments done on specific compounds, such as harmine which was recently published as a potential therapeutic. Furthermore, we should not overlook the overwhelming evidence that some substances, for people of all faiths, religions, etc. experience as life changing events, such as psiloycibin http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/06/confirmation-bias-and-magic-mushrooms even msnbc is covering it http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25464338/ns/health-health_care/t/magic-mushrooms-have-long-lasting-benefits/. I agree that marijuana smoking by youth should be discouraged, I actually believe no one should smoke weed. It should only be administered by vaporizer or ingestion via cookies etc. It would be absurd for me to say smoking it is good, but the benefits of thc and cbd have been documented in a variety of cases. If people are going to do heroin, which they will no matter how much we wish it away, what is wrong with providing safe injection sites as well as providing information on addiction, help lines, support staff, methadone clinics, etc. As well, I think schizophrenia is mistreated in our society, if you will take a leap with me I wish to redefine what schizophrenia really is. I think there is something intrinsic in the experience of the mind that western society has simply given up on, a study of shamanism tends to have more logical answers than bathing the brain in drugs *which have side effects which include etc etc etc* We are going about the whole process wrong, we need to treat the mind as a scientific object negotiated through individual experience, but I digress and my points are certainly open to dispute, but this video is an interesting take on schizophrenia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEglHjd_gUQ .

  2. CanNurse permalink
    June 21, 2011 10:54 pm

    @anonymous – Your facts, thought primarily true, still don’t support any argument for the Drug War. ALL the research has shown that the Drug War creates more addicts, siphons enormous profits into organized crime, primarily gangs, also increases violence & crime in society. And that locking up people for drug use never works. Stopping the official Drug War does not mean making drugs legal! It means focusing resources on treatment, prevention & rehabilitation & healing of addictions – instead of punishment. No society has addressed the Causes of drug use, nor directed resources toward treatment & rehab. (Btw, I’d bet big time thatyou aren’t any addict, from your post.)

  3. June 21, 2011 11:09 pm

    We can take incremental steps too without fully ending the war outright, if it means saving us from a public outcry over the perception of drugs “winning” the war. The safe injection sites are a great start, as is decriminalizing minor possession of the recreational drugs we see most common. As well, better education and an emphasis on rehabilitating youth offenders rather than tossing them into juvenile hall would go a long way.

  4. anonymous permalink
    June 22, 2011 11:54 am

    @CanNurse: I don’t beleive you have looked into this on an international level, where we have seen significant decreases in drug use and production in Southeast Asian countries since inacting stricter penalties for possession: including the death penalty.
    Please link me: “ALL the research has shown that the Drug War creates more addicts, siphons enormous profits into organized crime, primarily gangs, also increases violence & crime in society.”

    The CCSA’s (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse) main priority is to rehabilitate, prevent and heal, not punish, they are an effort put forth by society, to address this issue.

    My point was not that i beleive we should be war-ing on drugs, but to present an alternative way to look at the situation, in that i would present more facts and less opinion to the discussion. I never voiced an oppinion on my veiws for the war on drugs and would prefer that you DO NOT say my agrument was in support of the war on drugs.

    (For your information, addicts come in many forms, we aren’t all just meth junkies)

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