Thursday, September 30, 2004

Drugs, Crime and Christianity

Evidently there is a movement afoot to legalize psychadelics for medical use. According to Wired News:

Psychedelic drugs are inching their way slowly but surely toward prescription status in the United States, thanks to a group of persistent scientists who believe drugs like ecstasy and psilocybin can help people with terminal cancer, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name just a few.

The Heffter Research Institute, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and others have managed to persuade the Food and Drug Administration to approve a handful of clinical trials using psychedelics. The movement seems to be gaining ground in recent years. Since 2001, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have given the go-ahead to three clinical trials testing psychedelics on symptomatic patients, and several more are on deck.

Doctors who saw their patients benefit from psychedelic drugs back when they were legal are dedicated to jumping through bureaucratic hoops and diminishing the drugs' party stigma to get psychedelics in patients' hands, and brains.


At first blush, it seems like an uphill battle more challenging than the one medical-marijuana advocates have been facing. MDMA has been vilified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and in news stories, making it seem unlikely that federal agencies will ever allow the legal use of psychedelics.

But it might actually be easier to get psychedelics through the approval process than marijuana, according to Rick Doblin, founder and president of MAPS. The roadblock with marijuana has centered on supply. A government-controlled crop in Mississippi is the only marijuana the government will allow in clinical trials. But the supply of psychedelics is decentralized, and the researchers have control of much of it.


"I'm very optimistic for the future," Grob said. "I think these compounds have tremendous untapped potential to be utilized within medicine and psychology. I think they need to be demystified, and safety parameters need to be established and studied. But with good controls, I think they can be used safely and effectively."

I usually don't have much patience for the "medical use" arguments for currently illegal drugs because I don't acknowledge that regulating such things is a proper governmental function in the first place. The market can do a much better job of determining what risks people are willing to assume and the moral aspects of drug abuse are better left to churches and/or secular advocacy groups. (Although I think the latter are mostly full of crap.) The relation of criminal activity to drug use is a valid concern, but punishing criminals, regardless of their motivations or influences, is a more reasonable approach than preventatively criminalizing drug use.

My conservative friends often ask me, when this subject comes up, whether I would also be in favor of legalizing prostitution. The idea in their minds seems to be that if one immoral activity should be legal, why not all of them? But this argument doesn't wash because there is simply no biblical reason to suppose that drug use is immoral. The nearest analogy in the bible is with alcohol and, while drunkenness is certainly condemned, drinking as such is not. In fact, Deuteronomy 14:26 positively commands it: "and thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee; and thou shalt eat there before Jehovah thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thy household." The whole episode of Prohibition ought to have taught us what happens when we try to be more righteous than God in condemning what he has made.

Of course, I realize that with public opinion focused (rightly) on the War on Terror there is not much chance of such laws being repealed any time soon. I could actually make a case that, since some of the money that finances terror comes from drug sales (think of the opium fields in Afghanistan) that undercutting the market would actually be helpful to winning the war. But I am realistic enough to understand that this meme isn't going to get much attention. So, in the meantime, I look at developments such as the article cited above as minor steps in the right direction, even if their fundamental logic is still flawed.

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