Our Right to Drugs

When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Our Right to Drugs is one of my sources.

The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.

If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.


What is it about drugs that make us more scared about them than chainsaws, bleach, and gasoline? Thomas Szasz writes, with a historical and psychiatric perspective, about what can produce a holy utopia where parents will send their children to prison, and children their parents.

p. xv

“Why do we want drugs? Basically, for the same reasons we want other goods. We want drugs to relieve our pains, cure our diseases, enhance our endurance, change our moods, put us to sleep, or simply make us feel better—just as we want bicycles and cars, trucks and tractors, ladders and chain saws, skis and hang gliders, to make our lives more productive and more pleasant. Each year, tens of thousands of people are injured and killed as a result of accidents associated with the use of such artifacts. Why do we not speak of “ski abuse” or a “chain saw problem”? Because we expect people who use such equipment to familiarize themselves with their use, and avoid injuring themselves or others. If they hurt themselves, we assume they did so accidentally and we try to heal their injuries. If they hurt others negligently, we punish them by both civil and criminal sanctions.… However, after generations of living under medical tutelage that provides us with protection (albeit illusory) against dangerous drugs, we have failed to cultivate the self-reliance and self-discipline we must possess as competent adults surrounded by the fruits of our pharmacological-technological age.”

p. 57-58

“The War on Drugs is a moral crusade wearing a medical mask. Our previous moral crusades targeted people who were giving themselves sexual relief and pleasure (the drives against pornography and masturbation). Our current moral crusade targets people who are giving themselves pharmaceutical relief and pleasure (the drive against illicit drugs and self-medication).”

p. 58

“It is this longing for a holy utopia that leads to the fateful obliteration of the distinction between vice and crime, and the tragic transformation of the virtue of temperance into the vice of prohibition.”

p. 60

“Plenty of real dangers are always present. No doubt the water in fourteenth century Europe was a persistent health hazard, but… it became a public preoccupation only when it seemed plausible to accuse Jews of poisoning the wells.”—Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, Risk and Culture, p. 7

“Suppose a social historian in the days when it was popular to accuse Jews of poisoning wells decided to study that phenomenon. Surely, it would have been a mistake for him to assume that the wells were, in fact, poisoned; that the culprits were invariably Jews; and that, in order to advise the authorities about how best to reform Jew-control policies, he would have to examine the “physiological and psychological effects” of the poisoned waters.”

p. 78

“For whatever ugliness was committed in the name of drugs by President Reagan’s predecessors, it was the Reagans who, through the repetition of a moronic anti-drug slogan, taught American children to spy on their parents and denounce them to the police.”

August 1986—Deanna Young, Jr. High Student, CA

CA, Aug-Oct 1986, seven children did this. Sept 1989, an 8-yr-old turned in his mom, and her friend, for cocaine and marijuana.

p. 83

1990 USA Today poll: 25% would report their children to police if selling cocaine;

p. 116

USA Today study; 1988: Blacks are 12.7% of population; 12% of illegal drug users; 38% of illegal drug charge arrests.

NIDA: 12% of illegal drug users black; 44% of arrestees for ‘simple possession’, and 57% of arrestees for ‘sales’.

Pregnant women ‘delivering’ drugs to fetus: 15% of both black and white women used drugs; black women 10 times as likely as whites to be reported to authorities. (Kolata, G., Racial bias seen on pregnant addicts,” New York Times, January 11, 1991

p. 145

“The War on Drugs has had many undesirable consequences, not least among them the mass production of experts on drug abuse.”