Perhaps one of the most compelling discussions on the drug war took place last month at TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, where Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance unleashed a dose of unforgettable insight into the crooked spine of prohibition, calling the global war on drugs an “international projection of a domestic psychosis.”
Throughout the lecture, Nadelmann touched on a number of interesting thoughts, one of which questioned the historical existence of a sober society. “There’s probably never been a drug-free society,” he said. “Virtually every society has ingested psychoactive substances to deal with pain, increase our energy, socialize, even commune with God.”
“Our desire to alter our consciousness, maybe, is fundamental as our desires for food, companionship and sex,” he continued. “So, our true challenge is to learn how to live with drugs so they cause the least possible harm, and in some cases, the greatest possible benefit.”
The concept of illegal drugs, according to Nadelmann, only exists so the federal government can continue to exploit downtrodden populations. “The reason some drugs are legal and others are not has nothing to do with science or health or the risk of drugs, and everything to do with who uses, and is perceived to use, certain drugs,” he said. “If the principle smokers of cocaine were affluent older white men and the principal users of Viagra were young black men, using Viagra would land you time behind bars.”
Interestingly, he points out that during the late 19th century, most of the drugs that are illegal today were sold legally in drug stores all across the country. It was not until hundreds of thousands of opium smoking Chinese railroad workers started showing up in America that prohibition laws began to rear its ugly head. This was brought on by fears that immigrants were going to transform wholesome white women into dope fiends and sex slaves – a ridiculous display of racism that has resulted in the majority of prohibition laws.
These days, Nadelmann said, racial fears have shifted and now the majority of the weight rests heavy on the children, which seems to keep us from making significant changes to drug policy. “Sometimes it seems like the entire war on drugs gets justified as one great big child protection act,” he said, adding that he does not want kids to use drugs, but if they do, their safety is of the utmost importance.
“I’ve dedicated my life to building an organization and a movement of people who believe we have no choice but to turn our back on the failed prohibitions of the past and embrace new drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights,” said Nadelmann. ”We come from across the political spectrum and almost every other spectrum as well. We’re people who love drugs, people who hate drugs, and people who don’t give a damn about drugs, but every one of us believe that this war on drugs — this heartless and disastrous war on drugs — has got to end.”
Watch the TEDGlobal 2014 Ethan Nadelmann video