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The Drug Legalization Debate


by Thomas L. Wayburn, PhD

Summary of My 1989 Paper and Some Retractions


In Chapter 6 of Drug Policy 1989-1990 (1), I made two important points: (1) according to strict logic, drugs are already legal; i.e., the laws against drugs are unconstitutional, and (2) prohibited drugs have many valid uses and do not constitute a threat to society. The laws against drugs violate the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as retained by the people in accordance with the Ninth Amendment and they violate the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment because: (i) taking or not taking drugs is a moral choice and moral choices are religious choices and (ii) taking drugs can be construed to be a religious ritual. The idea that the illegal drugs have no legitimate uses and are a threat to society is an unstated assumption of prevention and treatment proponents. Even if it is stated, it is incorrect and invalidates arguments based upon it, as shown in my 1990 paper (2).

In the 1989 paper, I impugned the motives of some of the anti-drug crowd, I enumerated some of the lies told by drug prevention people, and I expressed skepticism of treatment programs. I pointed out that psychiatrists, psychiatric assistants, psychologists, social workers, counselors, therapists, etc. have a great deal to lose if the drug problem goes away.


But, some of my ideas on the drug problem have evolved over the past years. I no longer believe that the government should be entrusted with the task of disseminating information or educating the public on drugs. Look what government has done with the public schools, where teachers and prevention specialists tell terrible lies about drugs and promulgate biased political, economic, and metaphysical views of life (2). The job of informing can be handled adequately by private groups of drug users who are in a position to teach the responsible, safe, and rewarding uses of drugs, to warn of the dangers of drugs, and to counteract the propaganda of other private organizations who wish to limit freedom. Also, whereas I said that the repeal of prohibition "would return many talented people to the workplace", I am now convinced that the workplace will have to change substantially, creating opportunities for all kinds of people rather than exclusively for clones of the "ideal worker", before talented people possessed of genuine individuality will return.

In 1989, I said that people must be allowed to take drugs "in the privacy of their own homes or in other places set aside for that purpose". Many people labor under the incorrect assumption that people use drugs merely to get high, whereas, in many cases, they use drugs to achieve an important goal. I now believe the using of drugs must be facilitated nearly everywhere (so long as the rights of nonsmokers are protected), particularly in workplaces, schools, concert halls, museums, etc. Isn't it a little hypocritical to enjoy, in a place where drugs are prohibited, the works of people who took drugs to produce art!

The Defeat of Prevention and Treatment Proponents at the 1990 Meeting of the Drug Policy Foundation

Alex Stuart (3) wants to re-instill moral values but couldn't name one. His arguments that drugs are morally wrong were refuted soundly by a young Harvard student. Christina Johns (4), Raymond Brown (5), Jerri Husch (6), and Ellen Luff (7) pointed out, independently, that most prevention and treatment efforts divert much needed attention from festering social problems that result in anomie, as Art Hilgart (8) termed it. (Anomie is the breakdown of social norms due to the incapacity of people to meet them.) This view was supported to a certain extent by Clark Hosmer (9) as well. Rufus King declared "drug abuse" to be a "nonproblem".

Behavior modification and other authoritarian methods advocated by Ray Jeffery (10), Patricia Ritter (11), and Ronald Farrell (11) were not accepted by the audience, whereas the papers by Wayburn (2) and Luff (7) could not be refuted. Farrell himself expressed serious doubts about what he is doing. The "cult of ibogaine" as represented by Howard Lotsof (12) is discussed below. One of Lotsof's "cured" "drug addicts" interrupted the meeting repeatedly to protest that the "cure" had been found and all further discussion was unwarranted. I didn't get a chance to tell her that not everyone wants to be "cured". The cult-like behavior of the "cured" person probably harmed Lotsof's case more than it helped it.

The public-health model gained some credibility from the independent remarks of Steve Jonas and Mary Lynn Mathre (13), but it is clear that many disease theorists intend to pose as public-health workers. Henry Blansfield (14) claimed that there is some scientific evidence that the use of drugs causes irreversible physiological changes. I pointed out that, even if "drug abuse" were a disease, and it's not at all clear that it is, the etiology might belong to medicine, but the treatment not, particularly if there is none, due to the irreversible nature of the damage. On the other hand, if science can supply us with a work-around drug, i.e., a drug that provides a new mechanism for the body to achieve whatever it could not previously achieve because of the irreversible damage, we will take it, but first let's see the drug. In the meantime, any doctor who claimed to be reversing an irreversible condition, i.e., curing "drug addiction", was a quack.

The political-economic-social system of the U.S. creates ghastly conflicts in living. Every quack, grifter, and flim-flam artist wants a piece of the action. Granted, a few sincere and generous souls, free of the desire for private gain, wish to help, but political problems don't have long-range personal or psychological solutions. Of course, those who are able to ignore the general suffering might improve their own lot marginally.

Bruce Alexander (15) and Jeffrey Schaler (16) completed the rout of the disease theory of "drug addiction", while Robert Goodman (17) called into question the concept of "addiction" itself. If there is a gene for "drug addiction", let's find it quickly so that those of us who don't carry it can use drugs without worrying about "getting hooked".

Thus, in the 1990 meeting of the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF), advocates of prevention by authoritarian means rather than by transforming society and advocates of treatment were fairly well defeated in debate by those who don't accept the popular notion that drug use is a problem that needs to be prevented or an illness that needs to be treated. Therefore, the DPF should abandon its policy of advocating prevention and treatment as an alternative to law enforcement. One of the plenary speakers actually addressed the problem of the limits of what a political person can say publicly. I would have liked to ask, "Are these talks (the plenary talks), then, to be taken as true or false? I mean, do you people really believe what you're saying or are you saying what is merely politically expedient?"

I believe that the important thing is to produce a body of statements that have meaning and to approach the truth (the congruence of statements with events) as closely as possible. This, then, will be disseminated into the collective consciousness of humanity and affect the way people think and act. When enough people think and act appropriately, appropriate change will be inevitable. We must always refer to an ideal to know what to think and do. It doesn't help to create a politics with no philosophical basis. Being "realistic" is just an excuse for being wrong. We need to understand without worrying about what is "acceptable" and what is not. Then, we need to find a felicitous way to speak the truth recognizing that we are fallible.

Instead of accepting the monopoly of the control of drugs by the medical profession, we should say we will never accept such a state of affairs and would rather see no change in national policy until that eventuality is swept out of the collective mind. In the meantime, we can lend our own personal aid to those who are the most abused in the most acute ways by the status quo, whether our help lies inside or outside the law. Presumably, what some members of the ACLU are doing renders aid within the law as far as it can be rendered in case a person's liberty be violated.

My Seven-Point Plan

My new plan for post-prohibition society consists of the following: (1) an equal-rights amendment for drug users, (2) teaching people how to live with drugs, to choose them wisely, and to use them properly (to get the most out of them and to prevent accidents, disease, and unpleasant side-effects), (3) new opportunities for drug users, heteroclites, and other people who are "different" to make contributions to society in appropriate nonstandard settings including settings where one can work while using drugs, (4) during the transition, reparations for victims of the laws against drugs amounting to whatever they need to live abundantly, and (5) free informal counseling for troubled or troublesome drug users by drug users.

Since, it must be admitted, some people who are taking drugs might like to stop - even in a normalized society, I propose two additional "points": (6) institutions like commercial hotels that cost no more than hotels and that have all the amenities of hotels and more, e.g, VCRs and videotape libraries and books, except that the (voluntary) guest may not leave for a fixed period of time agreed upon in advance (by the guest) nor indulge in certain drugs beyond agreed upon limits, which might be monotonically decreasing. Rural locations might provide better settings with lower real estate costs offset by higher transportation costs. Only one "medical" "professional" per shift would be needed, namely, to dispense medicine. I can say truthfully that I would trust any drug dealer I have known to perform that job - except for one, who was generous to a fault. Vouchers could be provided for those who can't pay. And, finally, (7) new drugs that prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings may be used (voluntarily), if they exist. Such claims have been made lately for the drug ibogaine (12), but, unless the costs are reduced or borne by the state, it will not be widely used. Also, the claims may not be true - or not true in an acceptable mode; i.e., the effectiveness of ibogaine may depend on "religious" faith, which might diminish the humanity of the patient. Moreover, those who have been "cured" by ibogaine may have merely transferred their allegiance to a new drug, which, in the case of ibogaine, is long lasting (six months or longer) - at first, but which, after repeated doses, might "need" to be used more frequently. Lately, similar effects have been ascribed to the South American drug yage or one of its derivatives. Actually, the possibility of switching to a new drug is included under points (2) and (5) above.

Houston, Texas

May 28, 1991


1. Wayburn, Thomas L., "No One Has a Right To Impose an Arbitrary System of Morals on Others" in Drug Policy 1889-1990, A Reformer's Catalogue, Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese, Eds., The Drug Policy Foundation, Washington, D.C. (1989). (Abbreviated DPFC)

2. Wayburn, Thomas L., "Fallacies and Unstated Assumptions in Prevention and Treatment" in The Great Issues of Drug Policy, Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese, Eds., The Drug Policy Foundation, Washington, D.C. (1990). (Abbreviated GIDP)

3. Stuart, A. J., "Character and Drug Policy," Paper read at 1990 DPF Conference, Preprint available from National Character Laboratory, Inc., 4635 Leeds Ave., El Paso, TX 79903.

4. Johns, Christina Jacqueline, "Legalization at any Cost" in GIDP.

5. Brown, Ray M., "The Black Community and the "War on Drugs"" in GIDP.

6. Husch, Jerri, "Of Work and Drugs: Notes on Prevention" in DPFC.

7. Luff, Ellen, "Political Implications of Drug/Alcohol Treatment Program Ideologies" in GIDP.

8. Hilgart, Art, "The Real Drug Menace Is George Bush" in GIDP.

9. Hosmer, Clark, "Does Calling Illegal Drugs Evil Become a Trap" in GIDP.

10. Jeffery, C. Ray, "A Research Program for the Early Identification and Treatment of Drug/Alcohol Addiction" in GIDP.

11. Farrell, Ronald A., Patricia Ritter, and Randall G. Shelden, "Notes on a Proposed Substance Abuse Prevention Program for High-Risk Youth" in GIDP.

12. Lotsof, Howard, "Ibogaine: An Open Letter," Truth Seeker, Vol.117, No.5 (1990).

13. Mathre, Mary Lynn, "New Treatment Options after Repeal: Variety and Availability of Treatment for Clients" in DPFC.

14. Blansfield, Henry N. and Jane M., "Addiction: Crime or Disease" in GIDP.

15. Alexander, B. K., and L. S. Wong, "Adverse Effects of Cocaine on the Heart: A Critical Review" in GIDP.

16. Schaler, Jeffrey, "Drugs and Free Will," Accepted for publication in Society.

  1. Goodman, Robert, "Addiction?" in GIDP.

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