Shulgin Denounces War on Drugs



It has become increasingly evident to anyone with a brain that the so-called “War on Drugs” is an abysmal failure. In a world where drug offenders often face stiffer penalties than pedophiles, something is definitely amiss. Add to that Harper’s omnibus crime bill which seeks to criminalize drug users even further by imposing mandatory minimum sentencing, and the overall picture looks truly disturbing. The following is an excerpt from a lecture given by Alexander Shulgin to students at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1980’s. What Sasha says about the growing presence of an increasingly powerful police state while giving up more of one’s rights and freedoms, all in the name of curbing illegal drug use is chillingly relevant, thirty something odd years later. Take heed and listen to the wise words of this erudite scholar, and then wonder, how come they haven’t killed this man yet. Source: “E for Ecstasy” by Nicholas Saunders.


Alexander Shulgin

How severe is the illegal drug problem, really? If you go down through the generalized statistics, and search out the hard facts, it is not very large. From the point of view of public health, it is vanishingly small.

Just the two major legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol are together directly responsible for over 500,000 deaths a year in this country.  Deaths associated with prescription drugs are an additional 100,000 a year. The combined deaths associated with all the illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and PCP, may increase this total by another 5,000. In other words, if all illegal drug use were to be curtailed by some stroke of a magic wand, the drug-related deaths in the country would decrease by 1 percent. The remaining 99% remain just as dead, but dead by legal, and thus socially acceptable means.

The drug problem may not be the size we are being told it is, but it is large enough for concern. What are some of its causes?  There is a feeling of helplessness in much of our poor population, particularly among young Black and Hispanic males. There is a total absence of any sense of self-worth in most of the residents of the inner cities. There is extensive homelessness, and an increasing state of alienation between the middle-to-upper and the lowest classes. On one side, there is a growing attitude of “I’ve got mine, and the hell with you,” and on the other, “I’ve got nothing to lose, so screw you.”

There is a shameful public health problem of massive proportions (AIDS, teen-age pregnancies, rising infant mortality and the abandonment of any serious effort to help those with debilitating mental illnesses). There are children who have no families, no food, no education, and no hope. There is near anarchy in the streets of our big cities, matched by a loss of community integrity in the rural areas. All of this is blamed on the “drug problem,” although the use of drugs has nothing to do with it. Drug use is not the cause of any of these terrible problems. It may certainly be one of the results, but it is not the cause. Nonetheless, a major national effort is being made to convince the American people that winning the “War on Drugs” will indeed cure us of all ailments, if we would but relinquish a few more individual rights in the pursuit of victory.

This war cannot be won. And we will only lose more and more of our freedoms in a futile effort to win it. Our efforts must be directed towards the causes, not just the consequences of drug misuse. But, in the meantime things are going downhill at a rapid rate. People will tell me I am a defeatist to suggest the obvious answer, which is to legalize the use of drugs by adults who choose to use them.

I have been accused of giving the message that drug use is okay. Remove the laws, they say, and the nation will be plunged overnight into an orgy of unbridled drug use. I answer that we are already awash in illegal drugs, available to anyone who is able to pay, and their illegality has spawned a rash of criminal organizations and territorial blood-lettings, the likes of which have not been since the glory days of Prohibition.


Yes it ‘s possible that with the removal of drug laws a few timid Presbyterians will venture a snort of cocaine, but in the main, drug abuse will be no worse than it is now, and – after some initial experimentation – things will return to a natural balance. There is no “Middle America” sitting out there, ready to go Whoopee! with the repeal of the drug laws. The majority of the population will, however, benefit from the return of the criminal justice system’s attention to theft, rape, and murder, the crimes against society for which we need prisons. Pot smoking, remember, is not intrinsically antisocial. Let me ask each of you this simple question. What indicators would you accept as a definition of a police state, if it were to quietly materialize about you? I mean, a state that you could not tolerate. A state in which there is a decrease in drug use, but in which your behaviour was increasingly being dictated by those in power?

Each of you, personally and privately, please draw an imaginary line in front of you, a line that indicates up to here, okay, but beyond here, no way! Let me suggest some thoughts to use as guides. What about a requirement for an observed urination into a plastic cup for drug analysis before getting a welfare check, or to qualify for or maintain a job at the local MacDonald’s, or to allow your child enrolment in the public schools? Would any of these convince you that our nation was in trouble? More and more companies are requiring pre-employment urine testing, and insisting upon random analyses during working hours. Not just bus drivers and policemen, but furniture salesmen and grocery store clerks. Some local school districts are requiring random urine tests on 7th graders, but as of the present time they are still requesting a parent’s permission. Recipients of public housing, of university loans, or of academic grants must give assurance that they will maintain a drug-free environment. Today, verbal assurance is acceptable, but what about tomorrow? What about the daily shaving of the head and body so that no hair sample can be seized to provide evidence against you of past drug-use? There are increasingly strong moves to seize and assay hair samples in connection with legitimate arrests, as a potential source of incriminating evidence of past illegal drug use. What if you had to make a formal request to the government, and get written permission, to take more than $300 out of the country for a week’s vacation in Holland? Or $200? There used to be no limit, then the limit dropped to the current level of $10,000, but this number will certainly continue to drop as legislation becomes more severe with regard to the laundering of drug money. 

A lot of what I have been talking about has to do with the “other guy,” not you. It is your drug-using neighbor who will have to live in fear, not you. It is easy to dismiss these invasions of personal rights when they don’t affect you directly. But let me ask you a not-quite-so-simple question, the answer to which is very important to you, indeed: where are your own personal limits? To what extent do you feel that it is justifiable for someone else to control your personal behaviour, if it contributes to the public’s benefit? Let me presume that the idea of urine tests for cocaine use is okay with you. You probably don’t use cocaine. Would you allow demands upon you for random urine tests for tobacco use? What about alcohol use? The use of coffee? To what extent would you allow the authorities into your private life? Let us presume that, having committed no crime, you would permit a policeman, who is visiting you officially, into your home without a warrant. But what about officials entering your home in your absence? Would you still proclaim, “I don’t mind; I’ve got nothing to hide!” I doubt that there are many of you who feel disturbed about the existence of a national computerized fingerprint file. But how about a national genetic marker file? What about police cards for domestic travel? How would you react to a law that says you must provide hair samples upon re-entering the country from abroad? How would you feel about the automatic opening and reading of first class mail? Any and all of these things could be rationalized as being effective tools in the war against drugs. Where would you personally draw the line? 

Each of us must carefully draw that line for himself or herself. It is an exquisitely personal decision, just where your stick is to enter the ground to mark that boundary. This far, and no further. There is a second and equally important decision to be made. Let’s ease into it by recapitulation. The first requirement is to establish a line, up to which you will allow the erosions of liberties and freedoms, all in the good cause of winning the drug war. The second requirement is to decide, ahead of time, exactly what you will do, if and when your personal line has been breached. The point at which you say, “This has gone too far. It is time for me to do such-and-such.” Decide what such-and-such really is. You must figure it out beforehand. And beware. It is so easy to say, “Well, my line has been exceeded, but everything else seems benign and non-threatening, so perhaps I will relocate my line from right here to over there.” This is the seductive rationalizing that cost millions of innocent people their lives under the Nazi occupation in Europe.

If you can move your line, then your line was not honestly positioned in the first place. Where is your line? And if your limits are exceeded, what will you do? Stay continuously aware of where things are, politically, and in what direction they seem to be heading. Think your plans out ahead of time, while doing everything in your power to prevent further dismantling of what rights and freedoms are left the citizens of your country. Do not give away your rights simply to make the police enforcement of criminal law easier. Yes, easier enforcement will catch more criminals, but it will become an increasing threat to you, as well. The policemen’s task should not be easy; the founders of this country made that clear. A policeman’s task is always difficult in a free country. A society of free people will always have crime, violence and social disruption. It will never be completely safe. The alternative is a police state. A police state can give you safe streets, but only at the price of your human spirit.





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