Most people see drug legalization as a fight with two sides: one side consisting of strongly anti-drug people who would support another prohibition, the other consisting of a bunch of stoners who treat drugs like a way of life. This amounts to a less buzzwordy version of the pro-choicers and pro-lifers: two sides who vehemently defend their positions more for emotional reasons than logical. When was the last time you heard a proper debate on drug legalization? I realize that most drugs have physiological effects in common with the orgasm, but we don't need to treat drugs with as much emotion as we treat sex.

In fact, even though I actually agree with the pro-drug side, their side's proponents are the worse in this regard. The stoner argument, as I'll call it, has four points:

1) Weed isn't addictive.
Our entire perception of self is regulated by a variety of chemicals called neurotransmitters -- some of these are fairly well-known, such as dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine specifically is the neurotransmitter most associated with physiological addiction, as it creates a "numb" feeling in the body that the nervous system can become dependent on. In fact, dopamine is released during orgasm and food consumption as a way to make us addicted to these activities (which, biologically, are pretty important).

Technically, cannabis (the botanical name for the marijuana plant) does not cause the body to release an abnormal level of dopamine nor any other chemical that would make the nervous system dependent on the drug. Physiologically, marijuana pretty much just makes you blissful. So yes, it's technically true that weed isn't addictive; however, I think the stoner argument's use of this technical truth is intentionally misleading.

Stoners scoff at it, but I think most people would agree that habituation is just another form of addiction. There are lots of things in life that don't affect our body's basic chemical signals at all, but which we still think of as addictive -- the internet, for example. If I quit the internet cold turkey, it's true that I wouldn't get any physical withdrawal symptoms, but it would still affect me mentally. Marijuana is a substance capable of being abused, and anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves.

2) Weed is 100% safe and impossible to overdose on.
This one's actually pretty much true, as marijuana has been proven time and time again to be a fairly safe drug. You can still hurt yourself if you smoke a lot, though; maybe not as much in the long term, but passing out, throwing up, and going into the fetal position while quivering with pain are still a pretty big buzzkill. Don't be an idiot. Even drinking too much water is bad for you, and THC is a potent psychoactive chemical that you're flooding your body with -- not really something to take lightly.

3) Weed doesn't give you cancer.
Yes it does. Well, it does if you smoke it. It's true that cannabis in and of itself doesn't seem to have much of a negative effect (though there have been tentative links with schizophrenia in some test groups), but there's still the, y'know, smoke involved in this whole smoking business. Smoke itself contains carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes that will damage your lungs, esophagus, and teeth; it can lead to lung cancer no matter what you're smoking.

The one way to get high without damaging your lungs is to turn the marijuana into cannabutter and eat it. Fact of the matter is, hardly anyone does that. I know of at least one pro-marijuana song that claims that weed doesn't give cancer while also talking about lighters. For all intents and purposes, while smoking marijuana may be better for you than smoking tobacco (which adds its own toxic fumes to the smoke), you're still going to hurt your lungs with any form of smoking. This whole thing is a misleading argument.

4) Weed is a lifestyle that everyone should worship.
I'm not going to criticize people who do consider themselves part of a drug subculture (or whatever), but they need to stop acting like they're enlightened. There's a reason I wrote a short story in which a serial killer claims that drugs have made him "better". Shouting that weed should be legal because it's "like, the best" is turning drugs into a religion. It's a dangerous mindset to be in. Seriously.

By now you're probably wondering why this node is even called "keeping drugs illegal is a terrible idea" if I'm just going to shoot down all the pro-legalization arguments. Well, all appearances to the contrary aside, I actually do support the legalization of marijuana -- I just also happen to be a person with a low bullshit quota. Drug regulation, to me, has a lot in common with arguments about choice and sexuality, in that people are always too busy focusing on junk that doesn't matter instead of making reasoned arguments.

After all, while the pro-legalization argument may be fallacious, the anti-legalization argument is usually just "drugs are bad because I said so". So both sides comprise their fair share of dumbasses, really.

To me, the very concept of banning a natural substance seems a bit absurd. If you can literally grow something in your backyard, you kind of have a right to do whatever you want with it; the fact that a plant can be dangerous has never been an argument for making it illegal. Lots of plants have nothing but negative effects on humans (poison ivy, for example), and we don't make them illegal for people to have. People have a right to hurt themselves, unfortunately. That's part of being free.

Even the synthetic drugs -- completely made in labs, probably even more dangerous than the synthetic foods we eat -- can't really be made illegal. I mean, the argument that they should be illegal could be convincing in their case, but you still have to face the practicality of the matter:

People want to do drugs, and you will never stop them with police officers.

I'll let lawmakers and everyone else who still has faith in the legal system in on a little secret: laws, in and of themselves, accomplish very little. If you made a law tomorrow that made clothes illegal, everyone would keep wearing clothes and you would be powerless to stop them. I think drugs are in a similar position. There are many reasons that people choose not to do drugs:

  • They're stigmatized in society; people look down on drugs and the people who use them.
  • Drugs can be expensive or hard to find.
  • A fear of becoming addicted in some way.

There are probably more reasons than that, but really, the main thing that stops people from doing drugs is internal, social pressures, not the law.

Some people are just really lawful and follow authority blindly, but those aren't the kind of people we should be encouraging. I think the fact that people disobey laws is a good thing; just another way of keeping the government in check. The government is supposed to serve us, after all. Anything that sticks control in the hands of the people and out of the hands of the plutocracy is a step in the right direction.

People hurt themselves with drugs all the time -- especially with the ones that are seriously addictive, like heroin and crack cocaine. Still, the main reason people don't do heroin and crack is because they're heroin and crack. The fact that they're illegal is almost totally irrelevant to the fact that no one likes them. They're dangerous for their own sake: let's focus on not doing them because they're bad, not because big brother told us not to.

Keeping drugs illegal is a terrible idea because it makes dangerous drugs even more dangerous. This isn't such a problem with lighter drugs like cannabis, but heroin purity can be as low as 15% in the black market. That means as much as 85% of the heroin someone is using can be some other substance that just looks a bit like heroin -- some seriously-dangerous poison that will kill them instantly, for example. Not to mention obvious problems with the black market that surrounds heavy drugs: violence, smuggling, robbery, grand theft auto. If you're a fugitive, you might as well go all in.

I'm not trying to say that heroin isn't dangerous, but the fact that it's illegal makes it even more incredibly dangerous. You could argue that this gives people an extra incentive not to do heroin, which is a fair point, but I think the pros of legalization outweigh the cons. If heroin were legalized, we would get something even better than increased safety for heroin abusers: we'd get taxation. Legal products can be regulated by the government and taxed like everything else -- the tax can then be used for rehabilitation centres to stop the heroin abusers. It could work.

The fact that some drugs are inherently bad is undeniable, I think -- but fighting a perpetual fight to make these drugs stop existing is just a futile waste of resources that does more harm than good. Did prohibition teach us nothing?

Looking at it from another side: cigarettes are crap, but we can't stop them because they've already been legal for too long. Yet the number of people who smoke cigarettes regularly is steadily declining in Canada. There have been various laws passed over the years about smoking in public areas and whatnot, but I think the key reason that less people are smoking cigarettes nowadays is how the cultural view of them is changing. Anti-smoking demonstrations in schools are making people say no (children being easy to manipulate, I suppose), and more and more people are dropping the habit because it's a stupid habit. Cigarettes don't even get you high, after all.

Should marijuana be legal? Yes. As far as drugs go, it's way safer than alcohol and tobacco. I think the pros of the drug outweigh the cons, and it probably does more good than harm in the long run; there's the potential for abuse, obviously, but it doesn't seem like as much of a big deal for this one. I don't think you can make a reasonable argument for keeping weed illegal without also arguing to make alcohol and tobacco illegal.

Should other, harder drugs be legal? Probably. The black market is the most dangerous part of any drug, legalization wouldn't cause more people to do drugs, the regulation inherent in legalization would make them less dangerous in the first place, and the sales tax could be used to get help for the victims. It's something worth thinking about.

In the end, when you push aside all the emotional baggage this issue is stuck with, you get one question: Do you want to fight to destroy all drugs on the planet, or try to make the best of it and move on?

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