Drugs, do crime or legalization?

Among the many images that are shared on social networks, recently called me powerfully the attention, the one attached below. For rude and crude as that may be to the image, or rather, the confrontation of two images, representing rapidly one of the great paradoxes about the “war on drugs”. As is known, the power of many images to convey an idea more immediate than if I were to explain it with words.

Drogas ¿delito o legalización?

At first glance, you might think that what I try to do here with this image, it is a plea in favor of the legalization of drugs. Before such a thing, I should make clear that it is not an answer to the question in favor of the drug?, to which my answer is resoundingly NO, it is more of reflect the answer that would to do in favor of the legalization of drugs?

Before answering this complex question —a taboo in the political circles, and controversial in almost all parts of the social spectrum, where there is debate—, it is appropriate to take the attitude foucaltiana of trying to uncover the interests and the hidden power of discursive practices maintained. If you mean by addiction, according to the American Psychiatric Association as “a pattern ill-suited for abuse of a substance that produces disorders or physical difficulties important”, we can deduce that the two images that face up, they both represent cases of addiction; the first, addiction to food and alcohol; the second, addiction to a specific drug is considered to be illegal. Excuse the redundancy here, if we stick to the ambiguous definition that the World Health Organization provides of the drug: “any substance that, introduced into the body by any route of administration, can alter in any way the central nervous system of the individual who consumes”, it would be obvious that in the first image we would be also in a case of drug addiction. And it is precisely the dilemma of the definition of drugs, what substance is considered a drug and what is not, what is at the core of the paradox is presented here, and that makes us wonder: why do we criminalize some addictions and not others?, why some drugs are considered legal and others illegal?, what is the criterion that is normalized as a crime to the consumption of some substances and not others?.

To put it another way, we can follow the distinction that makes Marc Caellas (2010: 167-168) between vice and crime. The vice is an act by which an individual harms himself. The crime is that act by which one individual harms another or other individuals. There is a certain tendency to confuse deliberately the two concepts, and justify social policies based on false premises. It is a huge mistake to treat addiction as a crime and not as what it is, a public health problem, as it can be obesity (food addiction), pathological gambling (gambling addiction) or alcoholism (alcohol addiction). In his text, Caellas appointment in a timely manner to Lynsander Spooner (1875):

No one practice is never a vice with… criminal intent. Practice your vice only for his own enjoyment, and not for bad will toward others. Except that the laws embody and to recognize this clear distinction between vices and crimes, may not be in the earth such things as individual right, liberty, or property; or things as the right of a man to control his own person and property, nor the corresponding and coequivalentes rights of another man to the control of his own person and liberty.

As I say, before giving an answer, immediately conditioned by the moral imperatives that we have taken each one on the desirability of banning, or not, the drugs, it is necessary to consider more in depth the drug problem, the reason for its criminalization. It is necessary to listen to many other discourses different from the dominant one that remains hidden. In short, before you punish, without more, it is necessary to try to see and analyze all sides of the problem. Because the drug problem is not an object of study that has a flat shape, but that is kaleidoscopic, it is much more complex and requires metapuntos of view to be able to discern with less possibility of error. Already tells us Edgar Morin (2001: 44-45):

We must know that the pursuit of truth requires the search for and the development of metapuntos of view that allow the reflexibilidad, involving above all the integration of the observer-conceptualizador in the observation-conception and the greening of the observation-conception in the context of mental and cultural.

The dominant discourse on any social problem —in this case, the drug− tends to be characterized by the adhesion of the majority. It is the consensual view of the world from the paradigm of positivism; that is to say, it is stressed that there is a consensus in the society about a single reality where the fundamental conflict of values and interests are crushed by the hegemonic discourse. Thought so, the drug is the victim of a deviant behavior caused by a socialization insufficient. “The stroke of a pen, eliminates the ethical issues with respect to the current order, and of the reaction against the deviant, and the humanitarian task of the expert becomes to reintegrate the heretic into the fold of consensus” (Taylor; Walton and Young, 1973: 51). Is generated, then, a discourse is institutionalized that would criminalize the consumption of drugs and points it out as the public enemy. The drugs become the scapegoat that concentrates all kinds of hatreds and fears, but at the same time, it diverts attention from other risks and dangers of our “civilized world”. For example, in the speeches analyzed on “the crusade anti-smoking”, Susana Rodríguez (2011: 309) tells us: “In a secularized world, the need to distinguish between the good and evil in absolute terms not only persists, but is something which is characteristic of a culture that is obsessed with safety and hygiene. The devil, then, takes on new forms, like that of a dangerous cigarette that releases pollutants”.

I insist, this is not desproblematizar the issue of consumption of drugs, and much less its abuse. I have already affirmed with Marc Caellas (2010) that the drug addiction should be addressed as a public health problem rather than as criminal conduct. What this is about is to discover the predominant mechanisms by which stigmatized and made victims that condense what is feared and hated.

A large part of this process of victimization on the addiction is due to the massive media of communication, and to provide attitudes and interpretations previously organized, built, in large measure, a look determined about the reality. Since these are practically the only channel of communication between the political system and citizenship, are effective instruments for the preservation —or change— the established order through its repetition —or alteration— of opinions and attitudes. Thus, the greater part of the process of victimization and stigmatization runs through the discourses espoused by the mass media and the reproduction of these same resources in the collective imaginary of citizenship. It is necessary, then, to analyse these discourses and try to understand what are the interests that are behind them. In this sense, and as rightly tells us Susana Rodriguez (2011: 18-19) regarding the stigmatization of the habit of smoking:

… you have to take into account the relations of power require the production and circulation of discourses; that is, the power produces and transmits effects of truth that, in turn, reproduce. The dominant discourses seek to hide that reality is not something pre-existing or discovered, but is a result of a social construction. In relation to tobacco, it is intended to impose a story about its uses and effects, relying on the scientific evidence, and hiding, to present this as true without more, that the scientific discourse is a social construction and silencing other discourses that are marginalized and degraded. (…) to reform the citizenship behavior have not been sufficient to provide information, but that it has resorted to the deformation, thus, ensure a greater degree of persuasion and legitimize the use of force by the State, which puts in place measures that reduce the freedom of the citizens.

Therefore, the processes of construction of power must be seen from two perspectives: on the one hand, they can acquire positions of structural dominance; on the other hand, there are also processes of resistance to power, motivated by the interests and values of excluded programs dominant (Castells, 2009: 78). It is the second perspective, precisely, that we attempt to describe here.

In the series The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008), the problem of drugs is the cross-cutting theme that runs through the five seasons. The “war on drugs” is not only a struggle between police and drug traffickers, but that transcends with important consequences to other areas such as politics, the economy, the school and the press. According to David Simon, the creator of the series, a good part of the social critique that aims at The Wire is an indictment of deliberate of drug prohibition in the U.S., “a War of Thirty Years that figure between failures, curious and global that are recorded in the history of this nation” (David Simon, 2009: 21). The series shows brilliantly how “the crusade against drugs” in the U.S. has been transformed into a brutal repression against the most disadvantaged social classes in the slums.

For Marc Caellas (2010: 165), The Wire moves to the television, some of the theses that Thomas Szasz exposes in her book Our right to drugs, namely:

1. The right to chew or smoke a plant that grows wild in nature, such as hemp (marijuana), is prior to and more basic than the right to vote.

2. A limited government, such as the united States, lacks the political legitimacy to deprive competent adults of the right to use the substances they choose, whatever they may be.

3. The limitations on the power of the federal government, as set out in the Constitution, have been eroded by the medical profession monopoly that administers a system of laws on prescription that, in effect, has retired from the free market many of the drugs desired by the people.

4. Here it is futile to discuss whether it should be a climbing or a desescalada in the War against Drugs, without first engagement with the complex mental popular, medical and political on the drug trade, generated during almost a century of prohibitions on drugs.

(Thomas Szasz, 2001: 27-28)

Our right to drugs is an essay, first of all, about rights, responsibilities, and general principles of law. Antonio Escohotado, translator, and author of the foreword of the book by Thomas Szasz, tells us that this essay is a culminating reflection initiated by their earlier work, Drugs and ritual (Szasz, 1990), “There highlighted the extent to which the crusade against drugs, lacks scientific basis, and is only intelligible as the specific delirium popular of our time, redefined as an initiative therapeutic” (Szasz, 2001: 7).

Wrapped up in the motto of Samuel Butler, of not write only when you create the wrong opinion of those who enjoy public faith, Thomas Szasz writes about our laws, and our disobedience to the laws that pertain to those substances that we have chosen to call “drugs”.

Voting is an important marker, emblematic of our role as citizens. But eating and drinking are acts much more important. If we are given to choose between the freedom to choose what we eat and to what politician we vote for, few (if any) they would choose the latter. In reality, why would it be someone so foolish as to sell his birthright natural to consume what you want to change the dish of lentils is allowed to register his preference for a political candidate? All in all, such is precisely the treatment that we have done with our government: the more voting rights useless for unless personal rights are decisive. The result is that we consider the fiction of self-government as a political law sacred and the reality of self-medication as a disease, damn.

In 1890 less than half of the adult american had the right to vote. Since then, one class after another of persons previously ineligible to have seen guaranteed their right to vote. (…) During this period all of us —regardless of age, education, or competence— we have been deprived of our right to substances that the government has decided to call “dangerous drugs”. Ironically, however, many americans suffer from the belief —erroneous— that now enjoy many rights that previously had only a few (partial truth to blacks and women), and is still completely ignoring the rights that were lost. Even more so, having got accustomed already to live in a society that wages a relentless War against Drugs, we have also lost the vocabulary able to make intelligible, and properly analyze, the disastrous social consequences of our own political behavior-economic front to the drugs. Mesmerized by the mortal dangers of new diseases that are fictitious, such as “chemical dependency” and “substance abuse”, we have reached to avert our attention from the political dangers of our efforts totalitarian-therapeutic-oriented self-defense collective.

Where is our “drug problem”? According to Szasz, lies in that many of the drugs that we desire are those that we can’t trade —neither beat nor buy—. “Why don’t we do these things? —asks Szasz— Because the drugs that we are literally illegal, making its possession a criminal offence (for example, heroin, and marijuana); or because they are medically illegal and require a prescription from a doctor (for example, steroids and Valium)”.

… we have tried to solve our drug problem by banning the drug “problem”; jailing the people who trade, sell, or use such drugs; defining the use of such drugs as diseases; and forcing its consumers to be subjected to a treatment (remains need for coercion because drug users want drugs, not treatment). None of these measures has worked. Some suspect that these measures have aggravated the problem. I’m sure of it. There was No other remedy, because our concept about the nature of the problem is wrong, because our methods of response are coercive and because the language with which we treat you is misleading. I propose that trading, selling, and using drugs are actions, not diseases. The authorities can be tightened up in its illusory claim that (ab)use of a drug is a disease, but it will remain an illusion.

In sum, the “drug problem”, according to Szasz, is “a complex group of interrelated phenomena, caused by temptation, choice, and personal responsibility, combined with a set of laws and social policies generated by our reluctance to face this fact in a forthright manner and direct”. Almost everything you think and do the american government, the law, medicine, the media and the majority of the american people on the subject of drugs is a colossal mistake and costly.

… if the desire to read Ulysses cannot be cured with a pill anti-Ulysses, nor can you heal the desire to use alcohol, heroin or any other drug or food by contradrogas (for example, Antabuse against alcohol, methadone against heroin), or through the so-called programs of drug treatment (that are coercion masked as cures).

However, Thomas Szasz, against all naivety, you know that the idea of selling cocaine as sold cucumbers is absurd: “while our laws on prescription restrict the sale of penicillin”. Therefore, we are not sufficiently prepared to fight against the profound paternalism, and the dangerous consequences of the antimercado of the drugs.

The result of our long-term protectionist policy with regard to drugs is that now it is impossible for us relegalizar drugs; we lack both the will of the people to do so as the infrastructure, policy and legal indispensable to support that act. We decided long ago that it is morally objectionable to treat the drug as a commodity (especially drugs derived from plants and alien). If we are satisfied with this state of the matter and its consequences, so be it. But I think that we should consider the possibility that a free market in drugs is not only imaginable in principle, but that —given the necessary personal motivation of a people is just as practical and beneficial as a free market in other goods. Agree with this, I support a free market in drugs not because I think that it is —at this time, in the united States — a practical policy, but because I think that is a right, and because I believe that —in the long term, in the united States— the straight policy can also be a practical policy.

Thomas Szasz has exercised a notable influence on the philosopher and Spanish sociologist Antonio Escohotado. A good part of his work revolves around the “drug problem”. In his best known book, a general History of drugs, Escohotado (1989) has worked in a critical theory about what he calls a modern crusade against the drug and proposes a model of responsible consumption and informed. Escohotado proposes not so much the legalization as the “repeal of prohibition”, as it is this that, in his opinion, generates the adulteration, poisoning, drug trafficking, the control of the individual and the chaos of drug.

It is not necessary to change from day to night, moving from zero tolerance to a tolerance of infinite. Roads graded, reversible, differentiated for different types of substances and all kind of prudent measures are certainly desirable. The essential thing is to move on from a policy obscurantist policy of enlightenment, guided by the principle that knowledge is power and that the destiny of men is in the knowledge.

(Escohotado, 1989)

We can say that the criminalization of drugs has not solved the problem, on the contrary, it has worsened. Drugs as a public health problem is still there (or the best of the projects positivists have managed to reintegrate the lost sheep), and among the unwanted effects is the above-mentioned increase in the stigmatization and exclusion of the drug user. After years of prohibition, the illegalization of drugs has come hand in hand with other types of even more serious problems, namely, that as the illegal merchandise has allowed the emergence of many criminal organizations that control your traffic. This has been done in the so-called “war on drugs”, apart from the goal hygienist to eradicate their consumption, has joined a front, eradicate your traffic, and the battle of the bands for their control. This second front requires the police to devote most of their time and resources to arrest drug dealers, instead of applying these energies to ensure the coexistence of citizenship (Caellas, 2010: 169). But there is a third front, that of corruption of the highest institutions to the beat of bribes or donations by criminal organizations. Because as long as drugs remain illegal there are many money that goes and comes, that today is black (in the corners where it is sold) and tomorrow is white (for the donations that drug trafficking organizations contributing to certain political campaigns, or by the channeling of that dirty money to large real estate transactions and urban planning).

Drogas ¿delito o legalización?

The Wire. it represents in a real way the collateral damage that has occurred (and continues to produce) the “crusade against drugs”. In the third season, Major Howard Colvin, Chief of Police of the Western District of Baltimore, on one side, pressured by their superiors (these at the same time pressured by the town Hall) with the goal of reducing the number of homicides; on the other hand, tired of arresting young people traffickers who again and again return to the corners to continue the illegal activity, and in order to recover the dignity and the safety of their neighborhoods, decides to perform a risky experiment on your own. Designates in his district three free zones for the sale and consumption of drugs. Little by little, with the promise not to arrest anybody, does that traffickers focus on those places in which they begin to referred to as “Hamsterdam”. In this way, it returns the life -not a criminal – and into the streets, and reduces the rate of homicides and other crimes. But when it is discovered in the higher echelons of the police and the policy form a great stir. The Greater Colvin has hit against the wall of what is considered politically correct. Though Colvin knew that sooner or later would have to be accountable, you try to win the maximum possible time to prove that your experiment would reduce the damage colatarales the outlawing of the sale and consumption of drugs in the corners, that is, the reduction of shootings by the wars of bands, the disminuación of homicides by adjustments of accounts, and the recovery of a more secure environment for the rest of the community neighborhood. But Colvin, in his daring experiment, he forgets that his obsession with reducing crime statistics through the legalization of the consumption and sale of drugs are confused with the hygiene, that is to say, move the fuck to another place, creating an artificial sense of security.

However, the mayor, at the beginning scandalized because an employee of yours may have legalized the drug in various areas of the city, no doubt and then assess “that this act morally reprehensible, has led to a reduction of 14% of the crimes, has allowed the social services to intervene —changes of needles, blood tests in situ, distribution of condoms— and has improved the quality of life of its citizens to disappear the violence associated with the traffic. “There must be a way to continue with this without calling it for what it really is,” says the mayor to his advisors. How to sell it? How do you explain it?” (Caellas, 2010: 172). A politician can and will it is worth to say that crimes have gone down 14%, but you can’t say that the cause of this has been the legalization of drugs in certain areas of the city.

In the video below you can see the scene in which Bubbles, a drug that does no harm to anyone, accompanied by his friend going to make a turn to find scrap metal (which is then sold to be able to continue to consume) in the debris of the dismantled “Hamsterdam”. There Bubbles is found with the Highest Colvin and maintain a conversation that offers us one of the best lessons of the experiment “Hamsterdam”: the drug “does not jodían neither the police nor the traffickers”.

It is precisely through the character of Bubbles with which The Wire offers another vision of the reality of the world of drugs, the consumer of drugs, the paradigm hygienist is sick. The speech Bubbles is the one that remains hidden, is not known. This is why —as I said above— before giving a response light to the question do you favor the legalization of drugs?, it is necessary to put ourselves in the place of the consumer, the central element of the problem; not only as a victim of the label of deviant social, but as a victim of the worst consequence that has brought the war institutionalized against drugs.

Another series, created also by David Simon, which can be very practical to know the world a little bit of drugs from within, is The Corner (The Corner). It is a mini-series of the HBO (6 episodes) that tells the life of a family, of Baltimore, middle-class, sunk in the misery and addiction to heroin. I leave the scene introductory series where a guy sums it up very synthetic how is the life in the corners of the most degraded of the city of Baltimore.

But this is not just happening in Baltimore, it could also be many other cities in post-industrial our so-called advanced societies. Deserves special attention the fact that, thirty years ago in the state of Maryland only had 5 penitentiary institutions, today there are 28. What has been achieved so far in the “war against drugs”?


Ruben Crespo
January 3, 2013



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CASTELLS, Manuel. 2009: Communication and power. Madrid. Alliance.

ESCOHOTADO, Antonio. [1983] 1989: general History of the drug. Alliance.

MORIN, Edgar. [1999] 2001: seven complex lessons in education for the future. Madrid. Paidós.

RODRIGUEZ DIAZ, Susana. 2011: The crusade for smoke-free view by the infidels. Malaga, Stethoscope Tubing Suction Tubing.

SIMON, David. 2009: “Introduction”, in: VV.AA. (2010): The Wire. 10 doses of the best television series. Madrid. Errata Naruae.

SPOONER, Lynsander. 1875: Vices are not crimes. cited in: Marc Caellas (2010): “blacks, drugs, rights and freedoms”, in: VV.AA. 2010: The Wire. 10 doses of the best television series. Madrid. Errata Naruae.

SZASZ, Thomas. [1975] 1990: Drug and ritual. Mexico. Fund of Economic Culture.

SZASZ, Thomas. [1992] 2001: Our right to drugs. Barcelona, Anagram.

TAYLOR, Ian, Paul WALTON and Jock YOUNG. [1973] 2007: The new criminology: a contribution to a social theory of deviant behavior. 3rd Ed. (Spanish). Buenos Aires. Amorrortu.

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