Between Politics and Reason
Chapter 1. Introduction
Erich Goode State University of New York, Stony Brook
In a predawn raid, a dozen Miami police officers crowd around
the front door of a house in a poor, dilapidated neighborhood;
three officers station themselves on the back porch. Announcing
their presence, they break down the door and storm the house,
awakening two startled occupants. The pair is led away, dazed,
in handcuffs, to a nearby police van. In a modest working-class
Los Angeles community, a former heroin addict enters a small,
unobtrusive clinic. She signs a form and is handed a small paper
cup containing an orange liquid, and she drinks it down. After
exchanging pleasantries with the receptionist, she leaves the
clinic and walks outside. In an affluent Long Island suburb, a
police officer stops a car with a defective taillight. Peering
inside, he sees two teenagers squirming nervously on the front
seat. A distinctive, unmistakable odor fills the car. Without
asking permission, he searches the glove compartment and finds
two marijuana cigarettes. He gives them a lecture, drives them
home, and informs their parents about the incident. In Amsterdam,
an 18-year-old walks into a "hash" shop and looks around.
She sees a dozen teenagers getting high and chatting amiably.
She walks to the counter, purchases a small packet of hashish,
and puts it into her pocket; nodding to an acquaintance, she leaves.
In Iran, a drug dealer is executed. In Colombia, a judge who has
sentenced drug dealers to long terms is assassinated by a drug
henchman. In Central Asia, an official is handed an envelope filled
with American dollars; a caravan of opium passes through his jurisdiction,
unimpeded. In a state capitol, the legislature votes to increase
the penalty for the sale of 650 grams of cocaine to life imprisonment.
The American military invades Panama, engages in a small war,
captures its leader, arrests him, and brings him to trial in the
United States; he is convicted of drug selling and sentenced to
a long prison term. A U.S. senator calls for an expansion of methadone
treatment programs; another calls for cutbacks for treatment programs,
harsher penalties, and less judicial discretion for cases involving
drug possession and sale. The mayor of Baltimore calls for the
legalization of all psychoactive drugs. The San Francisco city
council bans smoking in all its public restaurants. A newborn
baby tests positive for the presence of cocaine; its mother is
arrested for "delivering a controlled substance to a minor,"
and the baby is placed in a foster home. In Malaysia, an American
is apprehended with a substantial quantity of marijuana; over
the objections of the president of the United States, he is hanged.
It has become something of a cliché among many observers
that our current punitive policy of arrest and imprisonment for
drug offenders "hasn't worked." Drug abuse is a medical
matter, not a criminal matter, we are toldor, alternatively,
that it is "none of the government's business." The
United States is excoriated as a nation whose politicians are
engaged in "pushing wars on drugs and locking people up"
(Molotch, 1994, p.221), as if that were a self-evidently unjust
and counterproductive policy. But if "locking people up"
were so self-evidently ineffective, why is this not blatantly
obvious to all who would examine the evidence? Are some of us
incapable of seeing the truth because of our biases and
prejudices? Or is it, perhaps, the fact that some of us profit
from this ineffective, unjust policy, and we aren't willing
to admit its failure? Does our failed policy serve certain functions
for portions of the populationsay, political, economic,
ideological, moral, or religious functionsthat some of us are
reluctant to give up? For instance, do some of us have a need
to punish transgressorsin this case, drug offenders, those
who have crossed a moral boundary and violated the norms of our
society? Or does drug control carve out a domain or an empire
for the powers that be that a radically different policy would
deprive them of? Do drug offenders serve as a handy scapegoat
for the major social problems we can't solve? Or is it possible
that the punitive policy doesn't work quite so badly as some critics
charge? Or, perhaps, do some of us support a failed drug policy
because, although we know our current system of drug control
is working badly, we fear what may replace it?
The question of drug policy has become one of the burning issues
of our day. What do we do about drugs? And what do we do about
which drugs? What should our drug laws look like? Should
the possession and sale of drugs be against the law? And should
we imprison all drug violators? Or is treatment for all addicts
and abusers a wiser policy? Should anyone above a certain age
be permitted to purchase drugs legally in commercial and state-controlled
establishments much the way we can now purchase alcoholic beverages?
Should all drugs be administered by medical prescription? What
is our drug policy to be? Should we continue to criminalize? Or
Last semester, I put questions on what the drug laws ought to
be to the 200 students enrolled in my "Alcoholism and Drug
Abuse" course. Just over half the members of the class (51
percent) said that the possession, and four out of 10 (39
percent) said that the sale, of marijuana should be legalized.
But between 80 and 90 percent said that both the possession and
the sale of the harder drugsamphetamine, LSD, cocaine, and
heroinshould remain a crime.
In this book, I intend to examine several variations on the legalization
proposal and the debate they have stirred up. In so doing, I will
also contrast the current system of control with these proposals,
as well as consider alternatives to both outright legalization
and our current more-or-less punitive or punishment-oriented system.
Most people have an opinion about what is the wisest legal policy
to pursue on drug control. And yet, not everyone has access to
the relevant facts. True, no conceivable quantity of facts could
possibly settle the question in everyone's mind. At the same time,
facts are relevant to the case; we have no right to close
our mind off to information that bears on the question of drug
legalization versus criminalization. And while a simple accumulation
of the facts will not definitively decide how most of us feel
on the issue, the facts should rule out some of the less
realistic policies. Still, when all is said and done, for many
of us, the question of drug policy boils down to what symbolic
message one or another policy conveys. Regardless of whether
it reduces crime or not, does endorsing methadone maintenance
clinics for all addicts who wish to enroll tell you the society
is too "soft" on drugs? Do needle exchange programs
seem to encourage drug use? Regardless of whether it reduces drug
abuse or not, does permitting the police to break down doors and
roust residents on mere suspicion strike you as unjust? Does it
strike you as too much like a military dictatorship? Does the
term "legalization" sound like an endorsement of drug
use to you? Does locking up street junkies sound harsh and inhumane?
The balancing act between ideology and fact will continue to dog
us throughout any exploration of the issue of drug policy.
And yet, we must decidesomeone will decidewhat drug
policy we will have. Drug suspects will be arrestedor they
will not. Drug laws will be passedor defeated. Needles will
be exchanged with government support and approvalor they will
not. Methadone clinics will continue to function, increase in
numberor be closed down. Drug education programs will be fundedor
zeroed out. Decisions like these will be made at the federal,
state, and local levels all around the countryand throughout
the world as well, for we now live in a "global village,"
an international community, all of whose lives are affected by
what happens continents away. And regardless of what we think,
others are making, and will continue to make, decisions concerning
what to do about drugs. Do we really want to remain aloof from
the issue? Can we afford to?
The issue of whether or not to legalize the production, sale,
and possession of the currently illegal drugs has become one of
the more hotly debated topics within the larger question of drug
policy. It may have cooled off a bit since the early 1990s, but
it remains a fiercely contested bone of contention. At present,
the likelihood that any major jurisdiction of the United States
will sanction full legalization for any of the presently illegal
drugs is next to nil. Some observers claim that this makes the
question of legalization a trivial, marginal issue. Not so. Legalization
is not an all-or-nothing proposition; there are different degrees
and aspects of legalization. Its proponents have offered
certain specific reforms that do have some hope of implementation.
Our present system of attempting to control drug abuse through
the criminal law is vulnerable to criticism; it isn't working
well, it costs a great deal of money, it has harmful side effects,
and it is badly in need of repair. It is possible that some of
the criticisms offered by the legalizers will be adoptedin
a watered-down versionby advocates of more-mainstream positions.
It could be that bits and pieces of the proposals offered by the
legalizers will eventually be approved in one or another jurisdiction.
It is possible that the legalizers are laying the foundation for
a climate of opinion that will bear legislative fruit sometime
in the twenty-first century. In any case, the legalization debate
has enriched the discourse on the topic of drug policy and reform.
And, to a sociologist, the debate itself is also fascinating for
what the advocates of both sides are saying and for what that
reveals about both their location in the society and, more generally,
the nature of the society in which we live.
In considering the feasibility of one proposal on public policy
versus another, it is absolutely crucial to pay attention to the
sociological concept of unanticipated consequences. As
Robert Merton reminds us, we must distinguish between the conscious
motivations for social behavior and objective or concrete
consequences (1957, pp.60-61). Legislators, experts, reformers,
and the general public can have the most noble and idealistic
intentions imaginable for supporting and enacting a given policy,
but ideals are not the same thing as results. All
too often, a convergence of real-life forces works to undo what
planners and reformers had in mind. We cannot anticipate exactly
how a policy will unfold when it is put into practice; often,
it has the opposite consequences from those that were intended.
When American and Peruvian officials attempted to eradicate cocaine
from the highlands of Peru, could they have anticipated that this
would assist a terrorist organization, Sendero Luminoso, which
was aimed at bringing down the Peruvian state and fomenting a
worldwide Maoist revolution, by creating a "power vacuum"
in the region (Gonzales, 1992)? In the 1970s and 1980s, when the
United States backed Afghan rebels in their fight against the
then-Soviet Union, could they have known that this would help
finance a terrorist organization involved in illegal opium production
and dedicated to the destruction of the United States (Weaver,
1995; Weiner, 1994)?
Once we become aware of the yawning gulf between intention and
consequence, we begin to ask questions we didn't think about before.
Does the punishment of convicted criminals rehabilitate themor
intensify their commitment to crime? Does criminalizing drugs
discourage people from using themor increase their price and
make them profitable to sell? Would reform of the present drug
laws have the consequences we intend? Or will unanticipated consequences
rear its ugly head here, too? Will needle exchanges inadvertently
stimulate use? Will legalization announce to the members of the
society that it is acceptable to use drugs? Will taxes on cigarettes
encourage smuggling and illegal sale? We can't assume we know
the answers in advance; these are empirical questions which demand
evidence. The point is, drug policies shouldn't just look good
on papershouldn't, that is, simply sound good or make
sense to intelligent observers. A lot of policies that "sound
good" or "make sense" turn out to be disastrous
when put into effect. When we keep the notion of unanticipated
consequences in mind, we will be forever inoculated from a foolish
optimism that will dupe us into thinking we have the perfect solution
to America's drug problem. While the concept of unanticipated
consequences has often been applied to the ironic and undesired
impact of drug criminalization (Reinarman, 1994; Steinberg,
1994), far less often has such systematic discussion
been devoted to how it would play out under legalization.
IDEOLOGY AND MORALITY
As more than one observer has pointed out (Grasmick et al., 1992;
MacCoun, 1993,p.508;), much of the American public's
support for retribution against or punishment of the criminal
(the drug offender included) transcends the rational or
deterrent effect. That is, regardless of whether or not a given
law and its enforcement discourage crime, the very fact that
a punishment is called for is extremely important for a substantial
proportion of Americans. As I said earlier, the law has a strong
symbolic function. For instance, most Americans cast their
support for the death penalty in deterrence termsthat
is, they claim it discourages murder. But most who support it
are actually impervious to evidence which shows that execution
does not deter murder more effectively than life imprisonment
does. This is because the retributive or revenge function of punishing
the offender is far more important to them than the deterrence
function (MacCoun, 1993, p.508). It is almost certain that the
same prevails for drug offenses. Regardless of its utilitarian
effect, the legalization of the currently illegal drugs "would
send a message"a symbolic messagethat many Americans
find completely unacceptable. Somehow, many observers reason,
it legitimates drug abuse. To the extent that this is so,
much of the evidence that supports or undermines the legalization
position is beside the point. Still, such empirical evidence has
a rhetorical functionit is wielded as a weapon in the
debate. And some observers are convinced by it, one way
or another. (I know I have been.) While evidence may not be decisive
for manyperhaps mostobservers of the drug scene, it cannot
be ignored, either.
The nonempirical or symbolic factor operates in both directions,
of course. The legalizers, too, raise some issues that are largely
beyond the reach of empirical documentation. As a number of observers
have remarked (Kleiman and Saiger, 1990, pp.532-533; Moore, l990a,
p.l5) advocates of legalization are making two very different
argumentsthe first, utilitarian or consequentialist,
and the second, moral. The utilitarian side
of the argument says that legalization will improve the society
in a direct, concrete, real-world fashion by reducing some of
the pathologies associated with drug abuse: drug-related violence,
medical illness and death, moneymaking crimes, bloated criminal
justice budgets, overcrowded prisons, and so on. Although we cannot
directly or definitively prove or disprove this aspect of the
argument with evidence, there is abundant evidence to address
it. But on the other hand, the moral side of the argument
is quite beyond the reach of empirical evidence. It says that
enforcing a law against the possession and sale of illegal substances,
which may be less harmful than substances that are legal, is inherently
unjustregardless of its practical or utilitarian consequences.
And, they say, society has no right to pass or enforce
laws against behavior that is harmful to no one except the individual
who engages in it (McWilliams, 1993; Szasz, 1992). Such laws are,
by their very nature, unjust and unfair they do not deserve
to exist. Legalization promotes the good society, its advocates
would say, because it would represent the repeal of a law that
is inherently in violation of a major feature of the good
society. There is no empirical or factual evidence that could
possibly be gathered that would test or even address this aspect
of the legalization argument; one is free to accept or ignore
it according to one's personal taste.
The moral argument is not insignificant. However, this book is
a sociological essay on the legalization debate; hence,
the practical, utilitarian, or consequentialist argument will
be weighed more heavily than the moral argument. Given what we
know about drug use in America at the present time, what is likely
to happen if the presently illegal drugs were to be legalized?
What are the costs of legalization likely to be, compared with
the costs we now suffer with the current system? What alternatives
to legalization do we have at our disposal?
Nonempirical ideological and moral values operate at a second
level as well. Not only do different drug policies represent or
symbolize different values to different observers; in addition,
as we'll see, different policies produce a different and unique
package of consequences. And choosing among those consequences
entails choosing one value over another, not applying some objective
scientific or medical measuring rod. Says Mark Kleiman, during
Prohibition, hundreds of Americans died in gangland "beer
wars," and 8,400 died of cirrhosis of the liver; after the
repeal of Prohibition, the "beer wars" were gone, along
with their murders, but 2,500 more Americans died of cirrhosis
of the liver during a comparable period of time. Asks Kleiman:
"Was that an improvement?" (1992b, p.17). He implies
that the answer to this question is far from obvious. If cocaine
were to be legalized, warfare among rival drug gangs would probably
end. "But how many more would die from taking cocaine?"
he asks (p.17). How do we measure one harm against another? What
if a change in the drug laws results in fewer deaths and more
addicts? Less crime and more drug use? What if our policy helps
one social category but harms another? Too often, observers assume
that their solution to the existing problems will produce nothing
but positive results. But how do they juggle a mixture of positive
and negative results? These questions are neither trivial nor
facetious, nor is the answer to them self-evident. Again, choosing
one value over another never represents a simple application of
a scientific or medical principle. Morality and ideology always
play a central role in matters of legal and public policy.
DRUG LAWS: AN INTRODUCTION
Humans have been ingesting psychoactive or psychotropicmind-influencing
or mind-alteringsubstances for well over 10,000
years, but not until the last few hundred have people attempted
to control the distribution of such substances through the criminal
law. Not all these attempts have been successful; it is entirely
possible that there have been at least as many failures as successes.
In the 1600s, after Europeans brought tobacco products back from
the Western Hemisphere, rulers from England to Japan banned the
sale and consumption of tobacco. These efforts failed everywhere
and were quickly abandoned (Blum, 1969).
Between 1841 and 1855, in North America, 13 of the United States
and two provinces of Canada banned the sale of alcoholic beverages
in less than a decade, the legislatures of these jurisdictions
repealed their laws, modified them to allow liquor sales, or permitted
them to languish unenforced (Lender and Martin, 1987).
In 1875, a city ordinance was passed in San Francisco forbidding
opium smoking; within a half-dozen years, similar laws were enacted
from coast to coast.
In December 1914, the Harrison Act required all persons who produced
or sold cocaine and opium products (heroin and morphine included)
to register with the government and keep records of the manufacture
and sale of these drugs.
In 1920, national alcohol prohibition became the law of the land
in the United States; in 1933, widely regarded as a disastrous
failure, it was repealed.
During the 1920s, Canada passed a series of anti-opium laws which
seemed to target specifically Chinese immigrants.
During the 1920s, half the states of the United States had passed
a law outlawing the possession and sale of marijuana; by 1937,
every state in the Union had passed such a law, and during that
year, a federal law, the Marihuana Tax Act, was enacted.
In the 1980s, two conservative American presidents, Ronald Reagan
and George Bush, waged a "War on Drugs." Congress passed
a series of harsh penalties for a wide range of drug violations.
This figurative war even became a literal one: The military was
enlisted, for surveillance, apprehension, and search-and-destroy
missions. By the late 1980s, it was clear that this war had failed;
heroin and cocaine were cheaper, purer, and more abundant than
ever, and, according to several key indicators, abuse of these
two dangerous drugs had actually increased during this period.
Long before any drug policy is put in place, its merits and demerits
are debatedin the media; by intellectuals and academics; by
the medical fraternity and scientific researchers; by officials,
politicians, and agents of social control; and by the general
On the one hand, there are a number of questions for which the
disciplines that study drug use have a fairly reliable and valid
answer. For instance, pharmacology, the field that studies drug
effects, has learned a great deal about how drugs get users highthey
know, that is, about the various drugs' mechanism of action
(Goldstein, 1994). For each drug currently in use, we can
predict the short-term and long-term effects that are likely to
take place and at which dosage levels these effects occur. Epidemiologists,
medical scientists who study the distribution of diseases (including,
by extension, drug abuse and addiction) in the population, have
shown which drugs users are more likely to become dependent on,
and for which drugs that potential is low. They have also found
out that some drugs carry a higher than average risk of death
by overdose and that, for others, that likelihood is relatively
low. Sociologists and other social scientists have determined
what percentage of the population, as well as which categories
in the population, are more likely to use which drugs, and which
ones use them less.
On the other hand, the answers to some other issues are not nearly
so clear-cut; they remain controversial. The question of drug
policy is one of these controversial issues. How do we deal with
or control substances that affect the mind? The possession and
sale of which substances should be controlled by the criminal
law? Should the public be permitted legal access to certain psychoactive
drugs? Do the drug laws do more harm than good? How do we measure
the effectiveness of one policy against another? What should the
government do about use, possession, and sale of substances that
affect the mind? Change the present drug laws? Make the penalties
for violations harsher or more lenient? Leave the laws on the
books as they are? Enforce them more vigorouslyor less? Use
more judicial discretion in sentencingor less?
Over the last decade, the legalization of the currently illegal
drugs has been seriously proposed by a wide range of observers,
commentators, and critics. The details vary from one specific
proposal to another, and we'll look at several momentarily. One
expert has referred to legalization as "a frustratingly vague
and often confused term which means very different things to different
interpreters" (Currie, 1993, p.l64). Still, the broad outlines
of all legalization proposals are essentially the same: the removal
of one or more criminal penalties from the possession and sale
of one or more currently illegal psychoactive substances. In turn,
such proposals have been met with a range of responses from observers
in different quarters.
DEFINITIONS: WHAT IS A DRUG?
Even before we tackle the issue of drug policy, it might
be a good idea to address the question of what a drug is in
the first place. There are many ways to define drugsat the
very least, as medical substances, as illegal or controlled substances,
as publicly defined substances, as substances taken for a certain
effect. Some definitions even rely on a subjective criterion:
A drug is what the members of a society say or think it
is. There is no single definition that is definitive or correct
for all contexts. At the same time, some definitions are a great
deal more useful for certain purposes than others. And some definitions
actually prevent us from reaching a sound understanding of drug
use and what the most productive policy toward drugs might be.
The first distinction we should make is between definitions of
drugs that are based on the legal status of a substance
and those based on psychoactivity. Some definitions rely
on whether substances are legal or illegal. In contrast,
a definition based on psychoactivity refers to the fact
that some substances influence the workings of the mind. Let's
look at these two definitions of drugs, one based on legal status
and one based on psychoactivity, in a bit of detail.
Once again, a legalistic definition holds that drugs are
defined by the law. For instance, it is the policy of the federal
government that the drug problem is made up only of the
illegal drugs. The consumption of alcohol and cigarettes
may be a problem in themselves, but since alcohol and cigarettes
are not illegal, to the legalistic definition, they are not
drugs therefore, the problems caused by them are not part
of "the drug problem." By wrapping a definition of a
drug up in its legal status, one is judging alcoholism and the
addiction to tobacco cigarettes to be irrelevant to the
drug problembeside the point. The legalist seems to
be saying that the drug problem is defined by a violation of the
law, not by harm to the society. In effect, according to
the legalistic definition, the user of an illegal drug
is seen as engaging in "a species of treason" (Zimring
and Hawkins, 1992, p.9); he or she becomes "a declared enemy
of the state" (p.9). What seems to concern the legalist "is
the threat that illegal drugs represent to the established order
and political authority structure. In this view, it is the consumption
of the prohibited substance rather than any secondary consequences
that might ensue that is the heart of the matter. The taking of
drugs prohibited by the government is an act of rebellion, of
defiance of lawful authority, that threatens the social fabric"
The legalistic approachwhich focuses on illegal but
ignores legal psychoactive substances as drugsprovides
the foundation-stone for the campaign funded by the Partnership
for a Drug-Free America, which accepts millions of dollars from
legal drug manufacturers but overlooks the harm caused by alcohol,
tobacco, and pills (Cotts, 1992). It was behind the then-First
Lady Nancy Reagan's 1986 statement that "Drug use is a repudiation
of everything that America is," and her 1988 declaration
that the casual drug user is an "accomplice to murder."
Like the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Nancy Reagan does
not regard the legal psychoactive substances as drugs at
all, in spite of their impact on the mind and the harm their use
causes. The legalistic definition is behind the federal government's
policy statement, the National Drug Control Strategy (issued
in 1989), which it regards as the nation's blueprint for controlling
drug abuse. In it, we are told that "drugs represent the
gravest present threat to our national well-being," that
"there is no such thing as innocent drug use," that
"more police" and "more prisons" are needed
in the War on Drugsbut, again, alcohol and tobacco are excluded.
(Indeed, the concept "drug" is not defined anywhere
in this crucial document's 150 pages!)
The legalistic definition is based on a double standard from
the point of pharmacology, the study of drug effects; it is a
definition that is based on ideology and morality, not
on the effects of drugs themselves. By excluding the legal substances
from a definition of drugs, the legalist emphasizes that what
matters in the issue of drug control is not what a drug does to
the body or mind but how a drug is classified by the law. Says
Mark Kleiman, any drug policy that omits alcohol and tobacco from
consideration "is about as useful as a... naval strategy"
that omits the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans (1992b, p.7). I
agree. I believe that the legalistic definition of drugs represents
a barrier to our understanding of the drug legalization debate.
In effect, the legalistic definition closes off the debate
on legalization. If the currently illegal drugs were legalized,
would that mean that, overnightaccording to this definitionthey
would magically cease to be drugs? This is what the legalization
definition would be forced to say. In contrast, many observers
feel, it is more useful to think of the legal status and psychoactive
properties of substances as distinct qualities that overlap but
are not dependent on one another.
One of the most commonly promulgated definitions of what a drug
isand the one I've used from the very beginning of this discussionis:
any and all substances that influence or alter the workings
of the human mind. What I have been referring to as "drugs"
are psychoactive (or psychotropic) substances, that is,
substances that influence mood, emotion, feeling, sensation, perception,
and thinking. This does not mean that substances that are
not psychoactive are not drugs in some other essential
or concrete way. In fact, definitions are neither wrong nor right
in some abstract, objective sense; a "correct" definition
is one that is both widely adopted and useful. When I say that
we will agree that psychoactivity defines what drugs are, I mean
that this definition is the one that is most relevant for
an understanding of what the most viable and workable drug policy
is. Other definitions may be perfectly valid in other contexts.
Thus, penicillin and antibiotics, which are not psychoactive but
are used in medical therapy, will not be discussed as drugs in
this discussion, but alcohol and tobacco will be. According to
the definition of psychoactivity, any substance that influences
the workings of the human mind in a significant way must be considered
a drug; anything that does not should not be considered
a drug and, hence, will not enter into our discussion at
all, except, perhaps, by way of comparison.
Of course, psychoactivity is a matter of degree. Some drugs influence
the mind in significant and profound ways, while others are far
milder. Coffee is an extremely mild psychoactive agent;
LSD is an extremely potent one. In addition, some substances generate
a psychic or emotional state that causes a dependency that is
very hard to break; here, cigarettes provide an excellent example.
In contrast, other substances are given up extremely readily.
Our interest here will be focused on the substances that cause
significant transformations of the mind that, in turn, produce
behavior that some of the members of the society wish to control.
The psychoactivity of drugs is important to us because it is often
at the root of social policy: Because some of us get high or become
dependent on such substances, others want to step in and prevent
our use of them. It is from this starting point that our story
Thus, alcohol can produce an intoxication at moderate doses; hence,
it is a drug. Tobacco produces a dependency; hence, it is a drug.
(The same is true of alcohol.) In addition, tobacco produces a
sensation of well-being which one drug expert has dubbed "a
low-key high" (Goldstein, 1994, p. 111). Users take marijuana,
cocaine, and heroin to get high; hence, they are drugs. Psychoactivity
influences use and abuse in crucial ways; and how drugs are used
and abused, in turn, influences why they are, whether they can
be, and whether they should be, legally controlled. But let's
be clear about this: The distinction between legal and illegal
drugs is an artificial or humanly fabricated distinction.
The law does not decide what effects drugs have, or what
their dangers are (although the law may influence how and
under what circumstances drugs are taken and, therefore, can influence
how harmful they become). There is absolutely no natural
or pharmacological distinction between alcohol and nicotine on
the one hand and the illegal drugs, viewed as a whole. All influence
the workings of the mind, all can produce a dependency or addiction,
and all can be dangerous. Thinking that alcohol and tobacco are
not illegal and, therefore, are not drugs implies that they are
perfectly safe, while only the illegal "drugs" are dangerous
(Goldstein, 1994, p.2); this is a monumental fallacy. It is entirely
possible, for instance, that public policy has been too lenient
toward the legal drugs and too harsh toward those that
are illegal. These are issues that need to be explored here.