Drug Legalization

Hamilton Morris Is Changing the Way We Talk About Drugs

The host of Hamilton's Pharmacopeia is exploring what a post-prohibition world will look like.


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What will American drug culture look like once prohibition is finally over and we can start to use more drugs in more settings?

No one is better situated to start that conversation than Hamilton Morris, the 32-year-old host of Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, a show that explores what sorts of drugs are available, how they work, and how we might best use them to fulfill our hopes and dreams. 

In one early episode, Morris confounds the conventional wisdom by telling "a positive story about PCP," a drug that even legalizers typically have nothing good to say about. He visits with Timothy Wyllie, an artist and visionary who uses the drug as part of his creative process. In another, he travels to the Brazilian Amazon, where locals get high on a drug taken from frogs. In a third, he gains access to an abandoned laboratory in a volcano that was once central to the production of MDMA.

Morris also does laboratory work at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, where he and his collaborators create new drugs for testing and research trials. He sat down with Reason to talk how the drug war has warped the discussion about legal and illegal drugs and what the post-prohibition landscape will look like.

To listen to an audio podcast version of this interview, go here.

Edited by Mark McDaniel and Alexis Garcia. Cameras by Jim Epstein.

Photo credit: Everett Collection/Newscom

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  1. I really like this guy– especially because of his skepticism over “medicalizing” drugs and drug use. Good interview, Nick.

  2. Sorry, I can’t listen at work, but I wonder if changes to the tort system are addressed.

    A path to legalized drugs (including PCP) will fall apart if trial lawyers can pull a repeat their litigation against the tobacco companies.

    1. The short term solution would be to sell most as simple chemicals or biological samples – with all liability (including handling, storage, and disposal) assumed by the purchaser.

      Much like packing your own parachute, if you cannot safely determine, and then measure your own dose then maybe you shouldn’t be playing.

      Longer term I could see some safe harbors for people creating pre-packaged convenience dosing. But the trade off would be some degree of regulation (if only the self regulation of proving that your product labelling is accurate ) to gain that additional legal protection.

      1. “with all liability assumed by the purchaser”

        And that’s the trick. Getting the tort system there is probably more difficult than legalizing drugs.

        And if we can’t get there, Smith et. al. vs. United PCP Manufacturers, Inc. is going to be a slam dunk win for the plantiffs when discovery produces a bunch of internal memos from UPM’s QA and Marketing department about how to boost purity and strength levels to create a more intense customer experience.

        And then we’ll be back to the black market.

        1. It’s there already for most chemicals not already recognized as drugs or drug precursors.

          If I call up Allied and ask to buy glacial acetic acid the only questions are what grade, how much, and how fast do you want it?

          1. And I’m not sure how to respond to ‘purity and strength level” as that is almost entirely redundant.

            The difference between laboratory grade dextroamphetamine and dextroamphetamine USP is not physiologically significant at ordinary dosages. The idea that you could somehow ‘juice’ your product above and beyond 95%+ purity is just not realistic from an economic standpoint. Yes, you can do it, but your costs will exceed your return. Either that or you are going be grossly mislabeling your product (either in terms of stated content, or by adding other chemicals as potentiators) and, that being fraud, should expose you to whatever liability entails.

            1. As an example of what I am suggesting – take PCP.

              From a chemical standpoint phencyclidine is what it is. If I sell 95% pure phencyclidine (and the other 5% are stated, identified inert excipients) then what you do with it should be entirely upon you. If you choose to consume measured doses (for whatever goal), and also consume a renal alkalizer (to inhibit excretion and potentiate the effect) that is still all on you.

              Should I choose to sell a product containing both PCP and that alkalizer, then I assuming greater liability because the product I am selling has a very obvious – and known to be dangerous – specific use.

    2. The authoritarian bandwagon has been barreling down the road to illegaliing tobacco for fifty years, and Big Pharma continues to foot the gas bill.

  3. Great interview.

    I particularly enjoyed the forceful argument against a black market due to straight up safety and effectiveness arguments – since “safety” is the primary argument made by those who have created the need for a black market.

  4. Drugs cause mental illness. Fill your boots.

    1. Drugs can certainly harm the body. And the brain is part of the body.

      Then again full contact sports can harm the body.

      1. If you are going to mess around with psychoactives it helps to be as smart and as knowledgeable as a guy like Morris (or Alexander Shulgin.)

        But the photo attached to this story conveys an added message. It is a fact that every bit of knowledge about the safety or dangers of consuming mushrooms (every single one of them) was learned the hard way. There is no substitute for experience.

  5. “What will American drug culture look like once prohibition is finally over and we can start to use more drugs in more settings?”

    Not a whole lot different than it has always looked–pathetic losers with dead brain cells who can’t hold a job more complex than assistant fry cook at McDonalds, sitting on their couches in a stupor, waiting to be laid off in favor of their robot replacement.

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