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December 2007
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Letting go of prohibition propaganda

In the course of my wandering across the net searching for interesting things to share with you, I occasionally come upon some minor thing that strikes me, maybe in comments somewhere. That happened with this post at a site I had not visited before. It was a nice post about legalization and the incredible LEAP video that I’ve mentioned here several times.
What struck me was the first comment from reader Vic DeMize:

Wow, this is one of those topics about which I’m really ambivalent. On the one hand, as a child of the late 60’s/early 70s I was outraged that The Man was so intent on depriving me of the recreation of my choice. I wasn’t hurting anyone and th effects made me a more mellow individual as opposed to the aggressive behavior brought on by alcohol (which, incidentally, no one was bothered by). Furthermore, I found the cost of drug enforcement in terms of both tax dollars wasted and lives destroyed (either by a prison sentence or a bullet) appalling.

So far, so good. All true. All important. But then…

On the other hand, being older and (hopefully) wiser now I see the cost of addiction to the likes of crack and meth not only to the addict but in terms of the collateral damage suffered by the victims of that addict’s pursuit of pleasure. And anyone who would compare giving up smoking to giving up horse is just an idiot. Quitting smoking isn’t even in the same league as the DTs.

See how it veers off into this other field — and it’s a bizarre, but common, disconnect. The only model this person knows firsthand is prohibition, and it’s within this model that he has seen the ravages of addiction. Yet that somehow does not make it easier for him to even consider a different model — it makes it harder. The propaganda has been so strong for so long, beating people over the head with the mantra that drug problems are solved with prohibition. Even when that is an obvious lie — when it is obvious that prohibition has failed to achieve any value in reducing the problems of drug use while adding enormous costs — even intelligent people have a hard time blocking out the propaganda.
He goes on…

Even a proposition such as decriminalization of marijuana doesn’t have the same appeal as it did when I was younger. Although I feel the current penalties for possession are way too harsh, I can’t help wondering where I personally might be today if I, as a young man, had invested as much time and effort into my studies / career path / future as I did into pursuing my next buzz.

See it happen again? He intellectually knows that the penalties are too harsh. He still knows that criminalization is wrong, yet… Despite the fact that harsh penalties do not deter marijuana use, and even harsher penalties when he was younger would not have done so, he has this propaganda-driven romanticized notion that somehow if penalties were harsher he wouldn’t have smoked pot and then would have become something more than a communications installer.
I don’t mean to pick on Vic. I don’t know him and I apologize is he’s upset by this post. This isn’t about Vic. This is about thousands more like him out there.
These are the people we need to reach. Smart, average citizens who have had years of propaganda about the drug war shoved down their throat until it’s become part of their cell structure. They see that prohibition is bad, and yet, somehow know that it must be kept going. And it always comes back to the same thing — the damage done by drug users to themselves and those around them. It dominates their vision and prevents them from seeing…

  1. That prohibition doesn’t solve that problem.
  2. That prohibition causes other problems.

Propaganda has a strong and long-lasting subconscious impact. That’s why the government likes to use it.
An example: I was fascinated by this recent comment from a teacher (and I’ve heard others like it):

I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq’s attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I’ve had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn’t be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed “the Iraq’s” to attack us on 9/11.
The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don’t just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.

And that’s from only a few years of propaganda. When it comes to the drug war, we’re faced with generations of propaganda.
We’ve got the facts, and the majority of the people are intellectually ready to agree with us to a large extent regarding drug policy reform. But we’ll have to help them let go of that comfortable railing of prohibition propaganda before they can take the next step.

Sometimes helping people release the propaganda is a tough job. I tried to explain to someone about the economics of the black market and got this response:

There aren’t any “economic principles dealing with black markets” if there were principles, they wouldn’t be black markets.

Sigh.

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