US Anti-Drug Laws Aren’t Scientific — They’re Colonialist and Racist
Video by : Big Think – 2016.05.07
American anti-drug laws need serious reevaluation, both because of how they came to be and because of how they affect drug users. Perhaps there is no better authority on the issue than Maia Szalavitz, a journalist fluent in the most recent neuroscientific research and herself a former drug addict. Understanding scientific research as she does, Szalavitz says American drug laws have little to do with science and everything to do with prevailing social attitudes, which have been at times colonialist and, more recently, institutionally racist. Szalavitz’s latest book is « Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction ».
Transcript – Our drug policy has really been traditionally based on racism and moralizing. The reason that the currently illegal drugs are illegal has nothing to do with a scientific evaluation of the relative risks and benefits, otherwise you could never come up with a situation where marijuana is illegal and tobacco is legal. We cannot make a rational argument for that. That comes from racism and colonialism. The drug laws were made in explicitly racist circumstances for explicitly racist reasons. For example, the first anti-cocaine laws were made because cocaine supposedly made black men impervious to bullets and prone to getting involved with white women. This is complete nonsense where there is no science to it whatsoever and yet it was published in the New York Times in the early 1900s. So this is where our laws come from and we have to be honest about that and we have to stop pretending that there is some kind of rational basis for the laws that we currently have.
Then what we need to do is realize that you can’t make policy based on I think it’s bad for you to have unearned pleasure. You have to make policy based on does this hurt you? Does this hurt other people? And that’s where harm reduction comes from. The basic idea of harm reduction is what policy will most reduce the harm related to drugs? And once you start to focus on harm you have to look not only at harm associated with drugs but harm associated with drug policy. And this is why so many harm reduction people rapidly become legalizers because the harm associated with drug prohibition has not produced the results that people would like. It does not stop addiction. It does not prevent kids from using drugs. It makes the kids who use drugs be at higher risk of dying from them. It doesn’t save society’s productivity by like keeping people from taking substances that will make them not work; it just doesn’t work. And when you think about it, if addiction is defined as compulsive behavior despite negative consequences and you’re trying to use negative consequences in order to stop it, something is seriously wrong there. So our drug policy has to acknowledge the reality that punishment doesn’t fix addiction and that putting drug users in cages does nothing but worsen the problem and it doesn’t deter kids. This idea that like oh if we just really stigmatize this and make everybody hate drug users then kids will never use drugs. Kids are going to do stupid risky things. You want to reduce the chances that those things will kill them. The idea that we can prevent adolescents from having sex or prevent adolescents from doing some kind of risky behavior is just absurd. This comes out before humans even evolved..
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