Drug Use Choice As a Human Right

For a long time people have been getting high by ingesting little bits of things that might kill them if they used a lot.

Governments and religions say – and sometimes insist – that people use one thing or another to become intoxicated, while the government or religion next door or down the street prohibits the very same substance – sometimes on pain of death.

In the U.S. alcohol is the only stuff with which it is legally and socially permissible to become intoxicated. There are places in the Middle East where alcohol and tobacco are prohibited but hashish is tolerated.

As any medical person knows, different people can respond differently to the exact same dose of the exact same drug. The same range of individual responses happens with legal and illegal drugs. You’ve got happy drunks and angry drunks. And, then, you’ve got angry, violent drunks.

Each individual should have the right to decide what is best for them to ingest. Their choice should be judged based on their external behavior – what comes out of them – rather than what went into them.


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A Good Movie & Excellent Litmus Test

The movie is Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams, a 2006 present-day drama of the Balkans that shows films can be searing and bleak at the same time. A winner of the prestigious Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, the film’s about the aftermath of war and war crimes on a single mother in the Grbavica neighborhood of Sarajevo. The mother is desperate to obtain 200 euros so she can pay for a school trip and spare her adolescent daughter (SPOILER ALERT!!) from finding out she is the result of systematized rape as an act of war.

It’s long after the conflict, but every man in the film looks like a criminal. These men can surprisingly gentle and reasonable with our heroine, except when they dismiss her as unimportant or lash out in sudden violence upon each other.

The cars are crap, the buildings need paint and nobody seems to have a job that doesn’t involve victimizing somebody. And they all smoke like fiends.


They smoke in restaurants, in cars, in offices, even with children present. The adult babysitter comes over and she smokes in front of the child. By the end of the film, the child has taken a few puffs herself.

So here’s the litmus test:

Show a non-smoking friend Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams. If your friend bemoans the dreary horror of this woman’s existence and thanks the lord or lady in charge they have been spared such, then this is a person whose sense of proportion is in proportion.

If the friend says, “Wasn’t it terrible when people used to smoke like that here?” and then tells a lurid story about enduring a heavy smoker in a closed automobile,” their proportionality — not so much.

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Poor, Poor Anti-Smoking Zealots

At first, a lot of people smoked because someone had told them to smoke (Marlboro Man, WWII, 9 out of 10 doctors, etc.) So, when the anti-smoking zealots told them to stop, they stopped.

Then a bunch of other people listened to the growing evidence of the harms of smoking — scientific and anecdotal (hawking-wheezing-smelly-relatives) — and, being intelligent and prudent, they stopped smoking.

And, the zealots had reason to rejoice, as tens of millions abandoned their nasty smoking habit in not much more than a decade. The zealots felt they were excellent at getting people to stop smoking! But their joy was short-lived. The numbers of people giving up smoking slowed and then stalled.

For the zealots had finally come up against the people who do the exact opposite of what they’re told, as a kind of philosophy. The more these smokers were told to stop smoking – being contrary —  the more they wanted to smoke.

And the zealots also came up against those smokers who get very positive physical and mental effects – effects that they like or need or both. The schizophrenic, the seriously bored and oral-personality types are three examples.

The zealots think non-quitting smokers don’t understand the danger to their health. They feel smokers need be persuaded more emphatically. If smokers understood, the zealots reason, surely they would stop smoking. They don’t understand how smokers can claim to know the dangers and keep on smoking anyway..

The zealots don’t understand that for the smokers compelled to act contrary, danger is part of the appeal, pumping out the dopamine just like driving fast, taking hard drugs or having unprotected sex.

And the smokers who get a strong positive mental/physical boost (like seriously bored, schizophrenic oral personality types) may have already done the risk/reward ratio and had their math come down on the side of smoking.

I once had a mayor who, when you disagreed with him insisted that “you didn’t understand.” Then he would continue to try and persuade you. I always wanted to tell him. “I do understand. I just don’t agree.”

But many of the 20 percent or so of Americans adults who still smoke do understand the scientific evidence and have witnessed the anecdotal effects first hand. More emphatic versions of the same messages won’t help them quit. They understand. They just don’t agree.

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Bike Accidents and Secondhand Smoke

I love bicyclists. I loved them in Amsterdam, where they sometimes make up the majority of traffic and even after a few close calls added new white hairs to one clueless American pedestrian’s beard.

I love cyclists in the U.S., too. I try to give them the right of way and the benefit of the doubt. Out of love, of course. But also out of fear and worry.

I know how much my car weighs and how much damage could be done if my vehicle hits their “vehicle.” Some statistics from my neck of the woods show an acceptable number of fatalities (if such a thing is possible) but an alarming number of accidents. In a nutshell, about 5 percent of bike riders are injured in any given year.

This seems believable, because of anecdotal evidence. It doesn’t take a large group to hear a juicy bike crash story from at least one member. But at least among my cycling friends, reciting the above statistic provokes hostile denial. Fine. People love their children and dogs, even if they bark or get arrested.

I can’t help but compare their relative complacency with the same folks’ insistence that any exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke carries unacceptable risk. This in the face of very little anecdotal evidence to warrant such fear.

The way public health folks respond to the threat from secondhand smoke? It’s as if the public safety folks banned bike riding from all larger roads, since larger roads with fast-moving traffic are the most dangerous for cyclists. And, as if many wanted bicycles banned completely.

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