12 Feb Do not pick that mushroom – it is illegal!
Psilocybin mushroom, a plant illegal in many countries
This post was published by the two Swedish newspapers Sydsvenskan and Helsingborgs Dagblad. Click here to read it in Swedish in Sydsvenskan.
The Ayahuasca plant I wrote about in the previous post is illegal in many countries, but for instance still legal in Peru where I did the ceremony. I am trying not to push any ideology on this blog, so now I am taking a risk. But my intention is to be objectively investigating something I have found strange after travelling between countries with different drug policies. I do not know what is right and wrong, but I believe a free debate is always healthy.
Over many decades, most Western countries have engaged in something that politicians directly express as the “war on drugs”. The main weapon is the statutory prohibition, with controlling entities enforced by customs, police and secret services.
When I write “drugs” I mean substances that in any way alter our minds and that are also illegal. In this article, I have no intention to take a position for or against drugs, it is rather the regulatory impact on society I investigate. But in order to create a common ground to stand on, I hope we can all agree that some people seem to suffer both physically and psychologically from using drugs. Simultaneously, there are also people who think drugs give them something positive; otherwise they would of course not use them. In many western countries today there are hundreds of substances and also natural plants that are listed as illegal, and the lists are getting longer as chemists come up with new variations. These substances have very different effects on the user. To simplify the reasoning here I will only argue about the natural plant cannabis, still being illegal in most western countries. But the arguments can be used on other plants too.
As far as I can see it those who advocate a ban on cannabis base this on two arguments (please comment below if you can come up with more arguments for a ban):
- 1) A prohibition decreases usage of cannabis
- 2) Use of cannabis can be a gateway to “heavier drugs”
Even if both these assumptions were true, they are based on the assumption that the use of cannabis and drugs among the general population is predominantly negative. Once again I will try to not go into that debate. But what is interesting here is that it is far from certain that a prohibition decreases the usage of a drug. The European average is 6.8% cannabis users out of the whole population. In Holland, where cannabis is in principle legal, 5.4% of the population use cannabis and in Portugal, which also legalized, the figure is 3.1%. [Wikipedia]
Let’s look at the disadvantages of a ban, compared to if cannabis was legal. As I see it these are all logical arguments, but I am open for me being wrong somewhere:
- 1) Making cannabis illegal leads to loss of tax revenue
- 2) Major costs to enforce the laws. Customs, police and judiciary, both chasing sellers and buyers
- 3) Alternative drugs, often very dangerous, which are not yet illegal, are being produced. A nurse I know says that daily, young people come into her emergency room and some even die after using synthetic drugs bought on the internet
- 4) Individual people who would otherwise run legal and tax-paying businesses are now instead criminals. They end up outside of society, some being in prison at great cost and reasonably, the step to other criminal acts is considerably smaller because the risk to go to jail is already there
- 5) Organised crime is increasing since their market is getting bigger
- 6) The behaviour of the user is made illegal. Millions of people who would otherwise be lawful are now also criminals. Perhaps this erodes the trust in the law. If we break one law, we might as well break another one
- 7) The individual is deprived of the right to decide over her own body
- 8) The unnatural consequence that us humans make nature, i.e. naturally occurring plants, illegal
We have tried to ban and make a war on drugs for a long time. Is it working? Personally I believe more in informing objectively, not only about the negative impact of drugs, because then people will not believe the information. Wikipedia has a quite good balance between pros and cons I would say. Then I believe in giving every individual the right to control their own life and all the huge resources released by dropping the prohibition can be used to rehabilitate and support those that are suffering from addictions. These misusers seem to have no problem to get hold on drugs regardless of them being legal or not.
Why is alcohol often legal and cannabis illegal? I have heard about an experiment where they had two control groups, one was smoking cannabis and the other were getting drunk. Then they asked the test subjects to throw a plate into a wall to make it crash. Over 80% of the drunk people did it, whereas a majority of the cannabis smokers did not do it. Instead they asked: “Why?” I think it is quite fun, but also a good point. Alcohol tend to make us more easy to control by numbing the mind, whereas cannabis more often makes us question both life and authorities. But I love red wine and am not trying to say alcohol is wrong and of course you get slow in you head if you smoke weed every day.
Another interesting aspect is that many of the plants that are now illegal have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Ayahuasca is one of them and also cannabis and mushrooms have been used, and is today being used, as medicine. However no multinational cooperation can get a patent on these plants, perhaps that is why these big companies prefer us to use their chemical substances when we are depressed or cannot sleep. Why are they legal and natural plants such as mushrooms growing in the forest illegal? Could money be a parameter here?
I believe in freedom and information, rather than control, prohibition and the accompanying crime. Again, I also find it a bit strange to make Mother Nature with her plants illegal, that could be a sign our society with extensive regulations is not so natural. Most western countries are moving in the direction of less regulation and control in this question, but others are controlling more. It is not a simple question of course, here is an article in the Economist digging deeper in the subject. What do you believe in?