The word “drugs” is a fear-based label used to avoid and discourage any critical thought about the class of substances involved. It brings to mind a host of terrible images and words that are associated with it. Prohibitionists-mainly people who’ve never tried a “drug” in their lives and have no idea what they’re talking about-hear the word “drugs” and immediately think of any given character from “Requiem for a Dream”; dirty, shaky, sallow addicts with dark circles under their eyes shooting heroin or snorting cocaine in an abandoned building or under an overpass somewhere. The vice-like grip of fear it has on people’s minds is quite possibly the primary reason it’s taking so long to end prohibition. People hear the word “drugs” and they immediately think very bad things about it.
Part of the problem, here, is that I have a different idea of what constitutes a “drug”. When I think of the word “drugs” I think of something that is A.) highly addictive and B.) very bad for one’s health. For decades now, the scientific consensus has been that marijuana is neither of those things, but we’re not interested in facts, are we? Every time there’s a government inquiry commissioned to determine just how dangerous marijuana is, in America or around the world, they always come back with the same result. They always come to the conclusion that marijuana is about as dangerous as coffee and the laws against it create more problems than they solve. Unfortunately, the typical course of action is to ignore these objective scientific results. That’s how powerful the word “drugs” is. The fear of “drugs” trumps the objective science almost every time.
I’m also familiar enough with the drug culture to know that many other “drugs” are not nearly as hazardous and addictive as prohibitionists would have us believe. I’ve seen the diagrams showing that alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medication kill literally hundreds of times more people every year than the “drugs” we’re all suppose to be afraid of. Don’t get me wrong; I know there are some drugs out there that are legitimately dangerous and should be avoided. Heroin, cocaine, crack, meth; basically anything that comes in a white powder. These would all be things to avoid.
I guess what I’m saying here is that we desperately NEED to start making a distinction between “Hard Drugs” and “Soft Drugs”. Prohibitionists don’t see any difference between drug use and drug abuse. Also-for reasons I’LL never understand-they don’t classify alcohol and tobacco under the “drugs” heading. Technically, caffeine is a drug, too. One of the most popular arguments against ending marijuana prohibition is that it’s a “gateway-drug”. This is a variation on the Slippery-Slope argument. There are a few different reasons why this argument is false, but the one worth mentioning here is that there’s no reason to believe that the “slippery-slope” starts with pot. I’m willing to bet that most of the hard-core drug addicts drank alcohol or coffee before they ever touched a joint or a needle. Why isn’t alcohol the gateway drug? Or coffee? Surely it was their coffee habits that led them to drink alcohol which introduced them to pot which sent them on a downward spiral toward crack, right? Maybe we should arrest Juan Valdez and throw him in a cell with Al Capone and Pablo Escobar.
The point is that we need to change either the word “drugs” or the language and images that come to mind when people hear it. I don’t like the word because it’s normally used in a negative context by people who’ve never tried any. Unfortunately, there’s not really any other word for them and I think most of the people who are really good at manipulating language are prohibitionists. Maybe instead of trying to change the way people think about drugs, we should point out the hypocrisy of condemning drug users with a beer in your hand.