Lessons of History - Introduction

The occurrence of mind-altering drug use is not new. It has existed in almost every society in history. People have always wanted to change their perspective, ease physical and emotional pain, and increase pleasure.

For most of human history, even under conditions of ready access to the most potent of drugs, people and societies have regulated their drug use without requiring massive education or facts about drug abuse problems, legal, and interdiction campaigns. (David Musto, The History of Legislative Control over Opium, Cocaine, and their Derivatives.)

Prior to 1900, opium and alcohol were both used rather widely, sometimes abused, in Europe and America. It was recognized that alcohol caused far more social and health problems than opium, but it was never considered viable to prohibit the use of either substance.

Native Americans used tobacco, marijuana, and hallucinogenic mushrooms in spiritual rituals. There is no history of them abusing these substances. This is because the drugs were accepted and neither prohibited nor glorified.

Drug use has never been as damaging to individuals as the drug civil war has been to individuals, our urban areas, and the people of the world.

It has only become a serious social problem in the later part of this century. The truth is that drugs never posed a significant problem to any society until they were made illegal. The stronger laws and enforcement tactics have become, the worse drug related problems have become.

Our drug control paradigm has been based on scare tactics, exaggeration, moral judgment, hypocrisy, and force. Any strategy built on such a foundation will fail.

We do not say that a different approach would rid society of drug abuse and addiction. What we do say is that drugs are here to stay and we have to learn to deal with them more effectively. Human beings are compulsive and we have to learn to help them. Trying to stop the use of drugs through force is wrong-minded and creates an atmosphere of violence and intolerance.

When we look at drugs through the murky smoke-screen of crime, we cannot see the phenomenon clearly.

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