Changing Attitude Toward Drugs

Bill Landefeld

This weekend, the Seahawks and the Broncos are getting together a Super Bowl, pun intended. By this, I mean both Washington and Colorado are the first two states to legalize marijuana, an example of how the nation’s attitude toward pot is changing.

Not only have their football teams produced favorable results, the legalization of pot in these two states has led other states to push initiatives to legalize marijuana, including Oregon, California and Alaska. While the legalization of marijuana changes the game for pot users who would otherwise have been jailed, the biggest change is the shifting attitude toward pot and other drugs around the country: a slow change, but a change nonetheless. While the legalization of pot in Washington and Colorado creates tax revenue rather than drug cartel revenue, creates local businesses and keeps pot users out of jail, the most important feat of pot legalization is its potential to slowly change the rest of the nation’s attitude toward pot and drug use in general.

By ending the prohibition, the voters of Washington and Colorado demonstrated that the war on pot was flawed. Whether or not pot is legal, people of all ages, races and classes will continue to use pot. Rather than spending millions of dollars on enforcing laws that made pot illegal, they decided to legalize its use and sale. This keeps people out of jail, takes money from the cartels, creates tax revenue and boosts the local economy. This changing attitude toward the war on drugs shows that our attitude toward drugs needs to be either radically restructured or abandoned entirely. Rather than trying to prevent their use, the state should understand that people are going to use drugs and, in turn, help to regulate drug use to ensure that drugs are used safely. I understand there are problems with using drugs, including addiction and mental health, but we should focus on learning about these issues and treating them rather than resorting to condemning drugs. This means regulating their use rather than trying to stop their use and allowing legitimate businesses to sell them rather than horrible cartels. This will allow responsible citizens to make their own choices, as long as they do not harm others. It’s a more individualist approach.

The changing attitude toward pot shows promising prospects for the way society views other drugs. Currently, the federal government is already allowing the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies to do research on the effects of MDMA on PTSD patients, as well as on other illegal drugs. This association is pioneering medical and psychological studies on drugs, which are similar to the research that has been done on pot. So far, the results of MDMA research are positive, and these results could radically change society’s outlook on MDMA use, since they would show there are medical benefits to using MDMA. This progression is similar to the progression pot took to become a fully legal medically-issued drug, rather than an illegal street drug, and it will change society’s view of MDMA.

For this change to happen, we must begin to see drug addiction as a public health issue rather than as a criminal issue. The fact that many people use drugs––for instance, President Obama and many techs in Silicon Valley use pot––shows that drug users are not the scum of the earth. Rather, crime and drug addiction stem from issues, such as mental health issues, that can be treated. Rather than identifying drug users as criminals and locking them up, we should treat drug abuse as a mental health issue and get the users the right care. This will eliminate costs on law enforcement and on the prison system. As it is, putting someone in a rehabilitation center costs one third of the amount it would cost to put that person in prison.  Additionally, if we focused on rehabilitation, we would avoid condemning drug abusers as criminals, a label that is hard, if not impossible, to recover from. To quote Bill Hicks on drug addicts, “These people are sick, not criminals.” When people are labeled criminals, they are subject to lower citizenship both in the eyes of the government and in the eyes of society. Many countries, such as Portugal, have had drug problems and actually fixed them by legalizing and regulating drug use rather than throwing their drug users in jail. After all, nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs, yet it is legal, and its use dropped dramatically once people learned about the harms of tobacco.

While I do not think change will happen overnight, I think society is slowly changing its view on drugs. As clinical research on drugs comes out, the public opinion on drugs changes and the government’s response reflects these results. I think the condemnation of drugs by society is coming to an end.