Reason Writers Around Town: Jacob Sullum on the Responsible Use of Psychoactive Drugs


At Cato Unbound, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum debates responsible drug use, temperance, and prohibition with Earth and Fire Erowid, Jonathan Caulkins, and Mark Kleiman.

Read all about it here. 

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  1. I met Earth and Fire Erowid at Burning Man. Nice people, and they had the printed out “vaults of Erowid” with them. It’s just a shame psychoactive drug use so often gives way to solipsism, NPD, and psychoses. “Once you’ve heard the message, hang up” is a little-heeded warning.

  2. “Are you telling me I can dodge the DEA?”

    “When you’re ready, you won’t have to.”

  3. Drug use is dangerous, unhealthy and immoral. No good can come from drug use, ever. People are certainly not their most productive when high. How about the traffic accidents, children using drugs. Legal drugs send the wrong message to America’s children. That is why they are illegal. They have been illegal a long time and they are going to stay that way. The American people have spoken through their democratically elected representatives. Grow up and get used to it, and obey the law.


    That is an excellent column. Outstanding work Jacob. I tip my hat to you sir. That is so much stronger than the ubiquitous “While I agree that a single puff of marijuana will cause your dick to fall off, it is not the governments blah blah blah” we always get.

  5. “Are you telling me I can dodge the DEA?”

    “When you’re ready, you won’t have to.”


  6. Finally, proof that the real reason for the War on Drugs is to prevent people from discovering that we are in the Matrix! Exposed!

    And of course:

    Drug use by informed consenting adults is a victimless crime. Drugs should be legalized and individuals of age should be free to decide whether or not to take them and which ones to take. The individual is in a better position to determine whether the benefits are worth the risk of self-harm, and the government should not protect adults from their own decisions by depriving them of the freedom to make those decisions.

    Its also false to claim that drug use is always irresponsible or always ruins the life of the user. Props to Sulllum for calling bullshit on this fallacy.

  7. It is unclear whether the responsible decision is always to obey the law, however, if we take the Erowids’ approach to drugs, and decide whether and how to use them based on a rational assessment of their risks and benefits, as opposed to blindly heeding the arbitrary distinctions enshrined in our drug laws.

    Always question authority. Restricting freedom to choose ones own vices is that well paved road to hell.

    Last week I witnwssed the local cops carry a drug crazed man out of the library. He was screaming nonsense at the top of his lungs and I just shook my head. Some people should just not take some drugs. But I’m not wise enough to decide which people and which drugs.

    There are those who can drink a fifth a day and cause no harm to anybody but themselves. There are others who have two drinks and get into a fight for no reason at all. I’ve tried drugs that were not for me, but undoubtably give pleasure to others without significant adverse affects. I’ve also regularly used other drugs with only positive effects that others find a bane.

    I’m not the one to tell others what to do with their own body. Nor is the government, MADD or the medical establishment. None of us can ever know what is best for you.

    Doubting your own infallibility is a fine place to start.

  8. Jacob Sullum does a very nice job (and is much more polite than I was) in taking on Caulkin’s embarrassing response to the Erowid piece.

    The Erowid article was a responsible and thoughtful look at the realities of drug use, something that is right up Jacob’s alley. (Those of you who have not yet read Sullum’s “Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use” should run out and buy a copy.)

  9. “Jacob is fighting Caulkins!”

    (everyone scrambles to watch and “Leave Your Fear Behind” by Lunatic Calm starts)

  10. Is that real-John or a ghost? I would expect him to be a little better than “Drugs are bad! Bad! Bad! Stay away!”

  11. Dear Mrs. Erowid,

    Why did you name you children Earth and Fire? Where you on drugs?



  12. Many people would agree that drug culture reform is needed, but we must recognize that “the drug culture” now includes everyone.

    on a serious note this is a brilliant point in its simplicity.

    and that’s before getting into arguments about involvement in the war on drugs via taxes, etc.

  13. @John:

    Are you for real? Do you even have any idea about the federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in California and the pot initiative in Denver where, as you say, the “people have spoken through their democratically elected representatives”?

    If a law is unjust – and the drug laws in this country most certainly are – then it is the duty of the people to stand up and speak out against it.

  14. Warty,
    It’s just one of Juanita’s many nom de troll.

  15. The drug culture includes “2 Americas.”

    Rich & politically-connected? You get treatment and keep your rights.

    Poor & not politically connected? You get put in a cage.

    Party doesn’t matter one bit, either. Gore’s brat gets away with the same kind of thing Jeb Bush’s brat gets away with, and the hypocrites HATE it when you point out the drug war’s racist roots & obvious continued racist effects. At least when prohibition began, racists were honest about their hate & intent, instead of the subtle BS we see from the same haters today…

  16. Is that real-John or a ghost?

    It’s not the ‘regular’ John – he’s anti-drug war.

  17. don’t feed the troll….

  18. John @ 11:49 am sounds like “Johnita” to me.

  19. The ‘fourth drive’ theory is an interesting one. While I don’t think it’s necessary to show that there is a universal drive to use psychoactives in order to protest drug prohibition (i.e., if even 1 person wanted to use psychoactives, they should still have that inviolable right), it’s a nice place to start breaking down the ridiculous demonization of drugs.

    However, the ‘it’s only natural’ line of reasoning hasn’t seemed to have a huge effect on the war on sex (i.e., censorship of pornography, bans on prostitution, etc).

  20. Drug prohibition – under whose authority? The government has as much right to prohibit what I put into my body as to prohibit what I read. Those Nazi bastards can kiss my ass.

  21. The great thing about prohibitionists like “John” is that they were probably the same ones with the “change the laws, then, hippie!” argument back in the ’70s. So the ‘hippies’ change the state laws, and then the ‘conservatives’ show just how much ACTUAL respect they have for the 9th & 10th Amendments. 0. Goose-egg. Nada. None. Zip.

  22. John | September 12, 2008, 11:49am has a different E-mail address than the enticing captivating Juanita. I can tell when the real Juanita posts. That is the power of true love.

  23. I’ve posted this before but late in an articles life so I’ll do it again. True belivers and those pushing their version of morality can just skip it, Stalin had a word for you, the fact is you are just a tool fo rthe use of the powwerful.

    With regards to “Learning the Lessons of Prohibition”

    It is amazing how many of you just don’t get it. The lesson WAS learned, and it sunk in deep and hard and will likely never be forgotten. It’s just not the lesson you are thinking about.

    The real lesson was that prohibition is the true path to real power. The kind of “knock on the door in the middle of the night” power that was forbidden to the government by the people in the drafting of the constitution. It’s the kind of power you only get when you declare a war. It’s no holds barred, must win at all costs time.

    This lesson, learned by the people who desired real power, constitutionally prohibited power, has been refined and applied again and again. The war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terrorism. It’s all the same rhetoric, for the same reason. Once war has been declared the people have been conditioned to accept that the constitution and the people rights and freedoms have to give way in the quest for victory.

    The war against booze showed the way. It was repealed because it almost led to the downfall of the government. It was too good to just let go of, after all, there were so many true believers in support of it, and so incremental restrictions took its place.

    The true lessons it taught, however, have been applied time and again. We now have wars that can never be won, and will never end. No amount of reasoning or logic will ever end the war on drugs, for example. It has proven to be the most successful path to power ever invented to convince a once independent people to tolerate the creation of a police state. It is so successful that governments all over the world, ever disdainful of the American way in so many other things, have all chosen to emulate it. The people who desire and hold this kind of power will never willingly give it up. Just listen to any of our “Top Cops” or “Drug Czars” trying to justify it. In between the lines they all say the same thing, “we don’t care what you think, and we are not giving it up.”

    Being able to enact and then enforce unreasonable, arbitrary laws without any true restraint, bound to no rules except those fashioned by themselves, answerable only to themselves or people appointed by themselves, this is the very essence of power.

    Good luck trying to change any of that.

  24. Good luck trying to change any of that.

    I maintain that just one city in the industrialized world, with a legal drug trade would collapse the WOD within six months. Of course I take your point that we’d invade any city that was foolish enough to actually try such a thing, and put an end to it.

  25. “In between the lines they all say the same thing, ‘we don’t care what you think, and we are not giving it up.'”

    So the prohibitionists are echoing the cry of the junkie throughout the ages.

  26. If the War on Drugs were a corporation, it would be in the Fortune 50. It has simply gotten Too Big To Fail(TM), and it will not be allowed to.

  27. So the prohibitionists are echoing the cry of the junkie throughout the ages

    Except that the junkie holds the gun up to his/her own head, the prohibitonist holds his gun up to everybody else’s head.

    The modern drug warrior is more than willing to kill you to “save you” from the evils of drug use, usually while smoking a cigar and drinking a bottle of scotch.

    The junkie just wants to get high. Its a problem that effect the user mostly, and then possibly their close family. Pretty much all the other negative social problems stem from the drug war. If we wanted to, we could give every junkie all the heroin they wanted for free, no need to rob anybody to afford a habit. No need to make them out to be depraved criminals that everybody can shit on, people who have forefited their rights because they have made an unpopular life choice.

    A good solution? I don’t know but it sure would beat the hell out of the way we handle things right now.

  28. Is that you, John?

    “No good can come from drug use, ever.”

    Have you never gotten high or drunk? If you are serious, I feel sorry for you.

  29. Ok, I’m an idiot. Clearly not John.

    Sorry, Dude.

    Also: Juanita, you are worthless troll.

  30. I agree with me’s point that power is more addictive, and a greater menace to society, than any drug.

    However, I disagree that the War on Drugs is in the same category as the War on Poverty or the War on Terrorism.

    What constitutionally prohibited power did the government assume in the course of the War on Poverty? They already had the power to tax.

    It is true that the government has assumed illegitimate power for the War on Terrorism. But the solution to this problem is different than with the War on Drugs.

    The right response for drugs involves legalizing adult drug use. The right response for terrorism is not to legalize acts of terrorism – but rather to impose strict limits on the tactics the government is allowed to use in combating it.

  31. Two comments:

    1. Does anyone know what the “red pill” really was (i.e., what Fishburne was really holding out in his hand)? From the picture it looks like a Hot Tamale candy. I’d choose it just on that basis alone.

    2. BG wrote, “The right response for terrorism is not to legalize acts of terrorism – but rather to impose strict limits on the tactics the government is allowed to use in combating it.” I agree, but add that we must also impose strict limits on the ability of government to adopt and pursue policies that inspire terrorist blowback. In my opinion, that is the more significant term in the political equation. Simply put, a powerful empire must always be leaning on somebody, and eventually those somebodies fight back by any means necessary: usually some form of terrorism. The key question to ask is, can we get what wwe want — prosperity, freedom, and a modicum of safety, for example — without maintaining a powerful empire? If not, then what we WILL get will, like the matrix, only be an incredible simulation, which will inevitably fail, along with the empire. Going along and getting along with empire is definitely the blue pill.

  32. good article!

  33. Except that the junkie holds the gun up to his/her own head…

    The junkie just wants to get high.

    I think that part of the point of Sullum’s piece is that all, or even most, drug use is not an act of self-violence. The desire to pursue altered states of consciousness does not always (or usually) produce a junkie.

    That line of thinking does not diminish the very good points made about the rights of adults to do what they wish with their bodies. It’s just another way of thinking about drug use that doesn’t immediately conflate use with abuse, and isn’t based on ‘othering’* the exotic, dangerous drug user.

    *My apologies. My social science degree is showing.

  34. The prohibition lobby is addicted. To money. Legal drugs would mean getting a real job instead of the corruption they now enjoy.

  35. “In between the lines they all say the same thing, ‘we don’t care what you think, and we are not giving it up.'”

    So the prohibitionists are echoing the cry of the junkie throughout the ages.

    Sure they are, they want to keep their cushy, high paying, high perk jobs and will do anything to keep them, including, lying, cheating, breaking the law just to feather their own nests and be comfortable. They are just like the junkie, who wants to get high and will lie, cheat and break the law to get his fix and be comfortably numb.

    “The prohibition lobby is addicted. To money. Legal drugs would mean getting a real job instead of the corruption they now enjoy.”

    Bears repeating.

  36. “drug culture” is an oxymoron, morons!

  37. You gotta love it when someone’s handle is a violation of joe’z law!.

    Yeah, I’m looking at you, “ceasar” @4:13 p.m.

  38. Pls. ignore the extra punctuation in my invocation of joe’z law.

  39. Drug use made me a better person. Just wanted to get that out there.

    Great article, Jacob. Thanks.

  40. Jacob Sullum on the Responsible Use of Psychoactive Drugs

    As opposed to the irresponsible use of psychoactive drugs? Because the term “responsible” screams for a definition of what “responsible” really means, and where does the definition place the threshold into “irresponsibility”.

    Me? I refrain from using such vague and totally subjective labels, because they lead to irrationality. I do not care just how much or how little a person poisons himself, as long as he does it to himself and not others.

  41. Mr. Calkin writes:

    “I am no constitutional scholar, but I do not believe access to a recreational activity or substance is a constitutionally protected right that forbids passage of laws designed to protect people from their own poor choices, particularly when sometimes the choices can harm others.”

    Mr. Calkin, indeed, is obviously no constitutional scholar. Except for that clause, this is a ludicrous statement; unfortunately, I believe it may be shared by many of our fellow citizens. Mr. Calkin must learn that the consititution exists to protect citizens from governmental AND majoritarian interference with peaceful individual choices. We are not a democracy, we are not SUPPOSED to be.

    Perhaps Mr. Calkin would recommend the federal government be responsible for distributing the food it thinks we should cook and serve our families, because sometimes meals put on a household’s table do not conform to an “ideally balanced” food profile, which failure could, in some cases, lead to a slightly less healthy population, i.e., have the potential to sometimes harm others.

  42. Because the term “responsible” screams for a definition of what “responsible” really means, and where does the definition place the threshold into “irresponsibility”

    the erowid folks outline that pretty durn solidly in their piece; it’s in the right hand sidebar.

  43. Drug prohibition – under whose authority? The government has as much right to prohibit what I put into my body as to prohibit what I read.

    I’m afraid you have not been paying attention.

    Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

    The feds are authorized (by the constitution) to exercise a very narrow range of powers, with exceptions to those authorizations clearly laid out as “shall not be infringed”, “shall make no law”, “shall not be violated”, “nor be deprived”, and so on.

    How it actually works today is the feds exercise any power they damned well want to, and you and I have absolutely no say in the matter. The only reason that amendments three and seven remain unviolated (as far as I know) is because the government has no interest in violating them. Every other amendment has been directly violated, not to mention other parts of the constitution such as the state and federal prohibition against ex post facto laws, the inversion of the commerce clause, the judicial usurpation of the power of amendment, and so on.

    The summary is: They’re operating illegally because they have not been authorized to do many (most) of the things they do; the constitution is, as Bush is reported to have said, “just a piece of paper.” They’re no different than any other group of royalty; we are ruled by 545 people with no limits whatsoever upon their power other than what they decide are the limits of the day.

    You know why we’re even allowed to make statements like yours and mine? It is certainly not to protect the tattered remains of the first amendment; No, it is so we can vent and feel like we’ve done something, when in fact, we have not. Because citizens actually doing something that would restrict the government to its actual authorized limits is not useful to the government.

    We are in the situation of someone being whipped because our pain is amusing to the wielder of the whip, complaining to them that “it hurts.” The most interactive, empathetic response we can reasonably expect is, “Really?”

  44. The WOD is turning Mexico into a police state.

    I live in a war zone. Not a metaphorical war zone, an actual one. Armed soldiers patrol my street daily in full combat gear with loaded weapons. The squads have fully automatic rifles and a fifty caliber machine gun mounted on one of their Hummers. There have been over 900 war-related deaths in this city alone this year, but I do not live in the Middle East. I live two miles from the U.S. Border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The war is the war on drugs.

    Juarez is on the other side of the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. It has half the area of El Paso, but twice the population. Even though El Paso is the fourth poorest city in the U.S., Juarez workers (including the police) make about twenty five percent of what their counterparts north of the border make. The enormous profits from the drugs going north and the guns coming south are simply too much of a temptation for many of the law-enforcement officers and other otherwise honest people to resist.

    The most recent surge in violence started about a year ago when Mexican President Felipe Calderon signed a deal with President Bush called the Merida Initiative (or Plan Mexico) to step up enforcement in the border area. Bush committed to provide 1.4 billion dollars in military aid to Mexico and Calderon started stepping up the pressure on the cartels and the corrupt local cops. There were early successes, but then all hell started to break loose.

    The problem was that as the local group known as La Linea started to loose it’s grip, another cartel from Sinaloa started moving in to fill the void. President Calderon’s troops unintentionally were aiding one side in a war between two criminal organizations. Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the local boss, hired a group of ex-military mercenaries–known as the Zetas–to help him maintain control. The Zetas brutally gunned down many police officers who were formerly on Carrillo’s payroll for suspected disloyalty and defection to the Sinaloa cartel headed by Joaqun Guzman Loera, known as “el Chapo” (Shorty). The fact that many of them did not defect–but were rather just prevented from aiding Carrillo by the Army and the other Federales–made no difference. Most of the cops that weren’t killed resigned or were fired for failing lie-detector and other “trustworthiness” tests. With almost no cops left, the streets started running red with blood.

    Living in a war zone is not fun. The cost of living is low in terms of money but high in terms of risk. I am stuck here until I can get a visa for my wife, a Mexican national. The house across the street from us was raided by the cops a year ago, but no drugs were found. The owners fled, but the looters took everything, including the front door. It was a really nice house with trees and a pool. Now the place is abandoned and decaying. Gang signs are spray painted all over it.

    The Mexican Army that was brought in has so far been relatively free from corruption although they have made no noticeable impact on the amount of violence or the quantity of drugs running through the area. There have been growing reports of human rights violations from soldiers, who are simply a poor substitute for civilian police. A scandal broke out when it was revealed that the U.S. military was teaching them torture techniques to obtain information. The random warrantless searches and checkpoints make me nervous. We are not allowed to photograph or film them. I don’t think they are winning this war because they only operate during daylight hours (as far as I’ve seen) and they often look scared. How long they can resist being corrupted themselves on a $500/month salary is the question I wonder about.

    Obviously, all this could be avoided if drugs were legalized in the U.S. and guns were legalized in Mexico. Sure, addictions may increase but that would be less of a problem if the drugs were more affordable. At least addicts wouldn’t have to prostitute themselves, steal or rob to get high. The U.S. would have at least 1.4 billion more dollars to help addicts if we didn’t have to give the aid to Mexico. Honest Mexicans could defend themselves rather than relying on the now almost non-existent police force.

    The capper is that Many of the Zetas, the ex-military mercenaries responsible for a lot of the murders, were trained by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency before they switched sides to make more money. Your tax dollars at work, folks.

  45. I have recently seen a lot of people suffer as a result of the drug war, I think that they should remain illegal for obvious reasons

  46. I have recently seen a lot of people suffer as a result of the drug war, I think that they should remain illegal for obvious reasons

    You want to continue a war that you yourself admit has caused a lot of people to suffer?

    Help me out here, because the only “obvious reason” for this would be that you are a sadist who wants even more people to suffer.

  47. Obvious reasons?????????????

    There are fucking men with machine guns on the same street where my kids ride bicycles. AT THE SAME TIME my kids are playing there.

    We are stuck here because “free trade” doesn’t include free trade in labor or guns or drugs. We may not be in the cross-hairs, but that doesn’t mean we are safe from the crossfire.

  48. I meant to say that “free trade” doesn’t include free trade in labor ANYMORE than it includes guns or drugs.

    I am having trouble getting a visa for my wife. I am not involved in any smuggling, nor do I even personally know anyone who is.

    The last thing I need is for some FEDERALE goons busting in the front door because they read the comments section of Reason.

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