What would be the best way to solve addiction in this country? You don’t know the answer? Or do you have the wrong answer? You are not alone. The architects of the “War on Drugs” are equally ignorant. A century ago we decided that drug addiction is a crime. Which is an odd – and unique – way to treat a disease. So why did we do it?


Early 20th century white Americans saw the drug problem as one of minority licentiousness. Marijuana was viewed as a tool used by the the darker hued to seduce the flower of impressionable white maidenhood into unspeakable acts. Earlier, in San Francisco, it was the Chinese that threatened morality with opium.

Once this characterization of drugs was etched into consciousness, then illegal drugs were viewed as evil because they were illegal. They had to be banned because they were bad. And we knew they were bad because they were banned.

Unfortunately, while criminalizing drugs made us feel like we were doing something – “your tax dollars at work” if you will – the effect of these policies is ephemeral, at least in reducing drug use. Forty-seven years of the War on Drugs – at a cost of over $2 trillion – and not a dent in drug consumption.

The reason is obvious. Jail does not cure addiction. Nor does the threat of jail time prevent drug use. And if the results of the drug war do not convince you, then look no further than Prohibition.

With that in mind, let’s ask this question: Why is alcohol different from pot? For that matter why is alcohol different from crack? It isn’t. And why do we view alcoholics differently from heroin addicts?

Hallucinogenics have a long history in religious observance. They don’t even have to be fermented, much less distilled. Pot is just dried plant leaves. How many people can’t get going without a cup of coffee? Another botanical marvel.

And if, as an evangelical, your conscience is troubled the Bible will ease your mind – Genesis 1:29 “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” You might argue that it doesn’t specifically permit smoking – but it is clear that pot brownies pass divine muster.

We live in a world of easy access to addictive substances – and addictive behaviors for that matter. So let’s ask this question – who is more likely to produce successful strategies for tackling addiction, people with education and experience in the field or politicians? If the answer isn’t coming to you, ask yourself who is better equipped to treat cancer – an oncologist or Mitch McConnell.

In 2000 Portugal decriminalized the possession all drugs. Drug use, HIV rates and drug deaths declined. Mainly because the Portuguese took some of the money saved in prosecuting users and diverted it to rehabilitation, job training, and other measures that reintegrated the user into the community.

There is a growing belief among addiction specialists that addiction is not as much a product of chemical dependency as was once believed. That addiction’s seduction lies in the psychological life of the addict. Consider this mordant observation: The biggest problem with quitting drugs is that you are reintroduced to the person that caused you to start taking drugs in the first place.

Soldiers returning from Vietnam give credence to this idea of psychological dependence. An estimated 20% of Americans serving in that war abused heroin in Vietnam. However, the vast majority stopped using as soon as they returned home. No rehab. No withdrawal. No special care.

Addiction professionals will keep working on solutions to addiction. But it is safe to say that the criminal justice route is useless and a complete waste of money.






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