We are not sick and we are not criminals, we are consumers

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All governments in the globe are about to tackle a very delicate problem, especially after the absolute and resounding failure of the war on drugs they declared a good few years ago. That war, as we have explained a number of times, has only achieved an increase of violence, the criminalization of consumers, hundreds of thousands of deaths for no reason and a brutal economic expense that has proven useless.

In these troubled times, many voices claim for a radical change in drugs policies globally, asking for the decriminalization of drugs, and the end of repressive and prohibitionist policies.

Amongst the last ones to openly express these views is the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama. Speaking in a summit on drug abuse held in Alabama, Obama said the drug addiction problem is “a health problem, not a crime problem”. President Obama claimed the most important thing “is to reduce the demand for drugs. And the only way to reach this is to offer treatment to drug users, and to address the problem as a public health and not a crime matter”.

Of course he’s right on that one. It seems clearer everyday that many substances should be reclassified once their therapeutic use and their benefits to public health have been proven. We have heard this message several times over the last months coming from different politicians and experts from all over the globe. It sounds positive when first heard, but I believe it has a second reading, which would not be so nice.

It is very laudable that Governments across the world consider the possibility of decriminalizing drugs, or even regulating and supervising the drug market with the noble intention of eliminating drug-trafficking networks.

But the main problem with this approach is the possibility of stigmatizing the consumers even more. “We are not criminals, and we don’t deserve to go to prison. But we are indeed sick, and we need treatment to stop consuming”. This is the patronizing message hidden behind the progressive shiny façade of the regulatory urge of worldwide governments.

Prisons will lose inmates, but institutional therapists and the pharmaceutical industry will see their future secured thanks to this approach. Please excuse my inclination for conspiracy theories, but those people are probably drooling over this.

At first, everybody (including me) was dazzled by the possibility of a different future, more tolerant and understanding towards the “illegal” drugs consumers. But the reality is we are facing again a wrong approach to the situation, one that is sure to mean a new and crushing failure for the new drug policies established after UNGASS.

There may be other options for partly solving the drug “problem” and obtaining better results. The first that comes to my mind is EDUCATION. Many problems, like abusive or problematic consumption, might be solved if states bothered to form and educate all individuals from a young age, offering true information about drugs and their consequences. Instead they are trying to control people and send them in the direction that the Governments have decided must be followed.

Another option, maybe a little redundant after the first one, would be to reinforce the Damage Reduction programs associated to drug use. In these programs, again, information is of vital importance. It can save lives.

Of course we are facing a problem here. Governments are not interested in ordinary folk being cultivated, instructed and intelligent. We would be less manageable and ultimately more problematic, because we would know how to better use our resources, we could decide our future, demand it and fight for it. That, obviously, does not suit them.

Finally, something obvious, that I still think is worth pointing out. We would improve a lot if adult people were respected, their options and choices as well, as long as they don’t hurt their neighbor. Ultimately, we are grown ups, we enjoy freedom of choice to some extent, and we own our bodies and our lives, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like we do. As that magnificent anonymous line said (quoted by master Escohotado in his book General History of Drugs: “from the skin inwards my exclusive jurisdiction begins. I choose what can or cannot cross that border. I am a sovereign State, and the frontiers of my skin are to me holier than the political boundaries of any country”.

We will see where the story leads. Soon we will know where all this leads. In the end, the drug “problem” is only a matter of politics and interests. While we wait, I repeat this advice that you have already heard, but it is worth reminding; “If you don’t want to be like them, read”.

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