By James Collins
You’ve probably read that Uruguay is currently going through the legislative process to legalize and regulate the recreational consumption of cannabis. If you haven’t heard, now you know. They are positioned to become the first nation on Earth with full legal, recreational cannabis use. While Colorado and Washington State in the U.S. both have state laws allowing for this, the struggle for states’ rights continues with the federal government and the outcome is not yet clear.
It seems like a pretty big step for such a small country. Then again, being such a small nation, they don’t have the resources to continue their part in the War on Drugs. While drug trafficking is a major issue in the northern hemisphere, in countries like Uruguay the power of the drug cartels threatens the state itself. Look at the state of affairs in Mexico, is prohibition helping or hurting the government there?
The answer should be self-explanatory every time you see a headline about gunmen assassinating public officials in broad daylight. Prohibition empowers some very terrible people.
In response, and likely because of pressure from the U.S. State Department, the U.N. is trying to intimidate the government of Uruguay, reminding them that cannabis prohibition is an element of international law. They are being told, granted by one of the most impotent institutions in the world, to fall in line with the War on Drugs. In short, those that stand against legal cannabis are so stalwart in their position that they are willing to challenge the sovereignty of nations in order to maintain the status quo.
As a brief aside, I would like to make it clear I do not object to the United Nations in principle. I think the idea of a governing body that oversees issues of international scope is quite promising theoretically. In practice the United Nations as we have it seems to have become a platform to legitimize the bullying of small economies by the G20.
The argument made by the U.N. largely revolves around “public health”, warning that legal cannabis use will somehow adversely affect the health of the public. Will it? If you can say that is the case you can say it is already happening. While cannabis may be illegal in Uruguay right now, the same is true around the globe, and you the reader probably know a few cannabis users even if you yourself are not one. Whatever impact cannabis has on society it is already having, prohibition is an epic failure in every way.
To be clear, I do not think cannabis is a threat to public health. I use it medicinally myself to treat both PTSD and a number of physical injuries I have that now cause me chronic pain. I am merely addressing the argument on its face, and within the context of their own statements I believe the U.N. fails to meet any rational burden of proof in making the public health claim.
I find it telling that United Nations wants to make a big deal about this. We have an international convention on human rights. You might have heard of it. It is a vacant set of platitudes outlined by signing nations with absolutely no intention of upholding the standard. Is the U.N. putting pressure on China to allow free speech? Are they challenging the militant theocracy that rules over Saudi Arabia to push the envelope on gender equality? Both of these states maintain a dismal standard of human rights, so where is the outrage?
As if the U.N. had not already drifted into complete irrelevance, they are now proving their mandate is not to improve the standard of living for people around the globe, but rather to maintain things exactly the way they are. Prohibition doesn’t make anybody healthier, or safer, or happier, nor does it do much of anything other than guarantee narco-traffickers continue to enjoy all the benefits of an illegal drug market.
You may be aware that traditionally illegal drugs have been used to fund all kinds of shady operations by intelligence agencies and military organizations around the world. During the Vietnam War the CIA infamously got caught trafficking in heroin in order to pay for “black bag” operations. Those are the sorts of activities which congress can’t openly approve, but which the executive branch still feels are prudent. If you want to raise the money to assassinate some North Vietnamese tax collectors, heroin is a good way to raise the money quickly, quietly and without consequence.
Prohibition is not about public health. There are drug addicts all over the place, many of them suffering horribly. Few governments (by “few” I really mean “none”) want to put billions into providing rehabilitation services for these desperate people. They are willing to spend billions maintaining a hopeless “war on drugs”. Why is that? Drug money is the primary source of revenue for illegal military operations. If we solved the problem by ending prohibition and putting the resources into social programs, how would the CIA buy mercenaries to fight secret wars in places they aren’t supposed to be?
The argument is made, most hypocritically, that drugs fund terrorism and so we have to wipe out drugs. Clearly the goal of a drug-free world is manifestly insane. It won’t happen. There have been drugs since there were living things to consume them. Check out your pet cat with a bag of catnip – the cat is clearly stoned and loves every minute of it. We’re no different than that stoned cat, because we like to feel good.
Since we can’t actually wipe out intoxication, we should probably address other ways to defund the terrorists. Hey, I have a wild idea, let’s sell the drugs ourselves! People are already using, there is a clear market demand, so let us provide for the demand and put that revenue into better things like social programs.
Ending prohibition defunds all the awful things we are told we are supporting every time we light up a spliff. By taking those revenue streams away from criminal organizations and utilizing them for public good, we kill two birds with one stone. Terrorists have to get all their money from Saudi princes and the CIA will just have to throw a bake sale or something. At the same time, the shortfalls being used to excuse cutback on essential public services will be met, and then some.
The end of cannabis prohibition could well mean a new phase of prosperity and growth for many nations struggling to invent new revenue streams. Taxed cannabis could mean schools for children, food for the poor, jobs for the unemployed and new businesses to pay corporate taxes that pay for it all.
If you want to address the problem of public health and drug abuse, you need to attack the underlying causes. Untreated mental health problems, endemic poverty and suffering in some parts of the world, the pressures of a modern life that we as a species haven’t evolved to catch up with yet. We have many real problems that some extra revenue from drug sales could go towards helping. Not everyone who uses drugs is an addict, but for those who are facilities where one can seek help are sparse, overused and often ineffective due to lack of proper funding.
Drug use isn’t the problem, and abusive consumption of intoxicating compounds can be seen a symptom of larger social ails. Hopeful, happy, productive people who are secure in their future and that of their children don’t use a lot of drugs. They have no pains to medicate. They have no woes to escape from. Drug abuse is evidence of social discord, not evidence that there are too many drugs.
We don’t have a drug problem – we have a problem with social decay. While some people might be medicating the pains of that decay, taking away the medication will not cure the disease. Prohibition is an attempt to cure the common cold by outlawing the act of coughing.
The fight isn’t over, sadly. President Jose Mujica of Uruguay is being called out on the tiles to explain his country’s sudden departure from the ranks of obedient small economies. I’m hard pressed to imagine the Pauper President, who gives away most of his salary to the poor and drives around in an old wreck of a car, is about to buckle to pressure. He seems to be a man of principle. What will that mean for Uruguay, the United Nations, and probation itself? Will one humble man with the will of a titan stand firm against the juggernaut of international corruption?
One man stands for us today. Just one man of integrity, honor and conviction like no other who holds public office in these shallow and corrupt times before the goliath of the United Nations. We all owe him our support. A single person can’t change the world, but he can certainly light the spark that starts the fires of change.
James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.