Anyway, all the hoo-hah had me thinking about this post I made 2 years ago, in which I quoted Bite The Hand That Feeds and explained my stance on drugs, why I feel that way and what I plan to do about it.
Well, now I have some history of institutional learning. Three months after that post was made, I started university. I realised that the things I need to know and the information I need to access are most readily available through the university system, along with the funding I'll need to do research, and the credibility that letters after my name bring. I chose Social Policy and Criminology to focus on, because these seemed closest to my goal.
What have I learned, 2 years and 5 courses down the track??
1. A whole lot of stuff about society and politics and how it all fits together - this is mostly background information.
2. The nature of the relationship between drugs and crime. As can be expected, it's nowhere near as simple as politicians would have us believe. Drugs do not cause crime. Anyone who tells you different is talking through a hole in their head, and is oversimplifying things to the point where you need to be suspicious of their agenda.
3. Quite a lot about the construction of knowledge, and the power relationships that set up the frame for the debate about drugs. Who decides what kind of issue it is? How did they come to be the ones to decide? How does this affect the way drugs are seen when talking about policy and law? Inside this, my research about how LSD came to be internationally classified under Schedule 1 gave me some insight into the yawning gulf between the evidence-based argument and the morality-based argument, and the difficulties that arise when the people involved in the debate are not well-informed of both.
4. How much I don't know yet.
During that time, two of my tribe have finished PhDs, and I'm witnessing first hand the way such a thing affects your standing in your field of choice. It's not necessarily even the piece of paper, it seems to be more about the connections made while doing it, and the way in which people who are familiar with your work will introduce you to other people, and what kind of impression you make on them. This is happening for me already within the university system - I seem to have picked a university in which the study of drugs is quite strong, and I've got myself noticed by being a loudmouth that gets As. So I believe this was a good choice. PhD topics present themselves to me regularly, I'll be spoilt for choice when the time comes.
I'm also happy to be taking a break for a couple of months. The blog I started a couple of years ago for this topic, tenchinage, has been pretty quiet lately, partly because of the study keeping me busy and partly because things have been quiet in New Zealand, drug-issues-wise. I'd like to focus back on that, and on another project that's still in the drawing-board stage, which is to do with my assertion two years ago that there are more drug users out there who don't have any problems than there are folks who do, but that only the ones with problems get noticed, because everyone else is hiding. I think this brings about seriously skewed statistics about drug-related harm, and those skewed statistics are driving policy in a self-perpetuating clusterfuck of misinformation.
I also think it's time that changed.
Anyway, what else has happened? I've spent some time working as a research assistant, conducting interviews with users of BZP through the time in which is was made illegal, and liaising with the researcher on this. I learned a lot about others' views on recreational substance use at a very real-life level - it made an interesting and educational contrast to the somewhat removed study of populations that happens at university, and cemented the view in the paragraph above.
I've become more aware of the harms related to using drugs, both the real ones and those attributed to drugs that are actually a product of a multitude of contributing factors in society, none of which will be fixed by maintaining prohibition. I acknowledge that drug-related harms exist.
I've attended a talk in parliament in which research was presented that showed that drug addiction, which affects between 3 and 15% of drug users depending on who you listen to, can actually be linked to changes in the brain that happen in some people but not others. I had criticisms of the talk at the time and I still do, but it crystallised my thinking on the nature of drug misuse as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. My study of prisons in this year's Criminology reinforced this viewpoint.
As part of that talk, I also learned the level of ignorance about drugs within our own government. There was actually someone there, a minister, who thought that P and E were the same thing. I am now much more aware of what I'm up against.
The Misuse of Drugs Act was reviewed and a new Drugs Policy was released that is virtually no different from the old one. The classification system has had a Class D added, which allows for restriction of new substances while their effects are researched. I see this as a good thing, because my study of the history of various drugs (LSD, MDMA, BZP) has revealed a pattern that goes something like this:
Drug developed --> small numbers of people get benefit --> drug becomes public knowledge --> free-for-all ensues, along with idiots being idiots with said drug --> moral panic exacerbated by selective reporting --> BANHAMMER!
I think that allowing research to inform regulation before the free-for-all is a damn good idea in terms of addressing concerns and preventing the moral panics caused by unregulated use of new substances. However, the parliamentary select committee's response to BZP submissions gives me no faith that our government will be more receptive to evidence-based advice than the British one has been.
I am surrounded by people who are making their mark on the world in their own ways - in climate change, in artificial intelligence research, in music, you name it. Pretty much everyone I know is working hard to bring about their vision of how the future should look. I am sometimes overawed by this, because my field is one that's seen as frivolous and not important, and other people are frying much bigger fish. But then I think about the hypocrisy surrounding drugs, and the way that the misinformed framing of drugs as a criminal issue has forced me to live a lie, and the way that governments are producing information that causes those who are vulnerable to experience more harm from drugs than they otherwise would, the way people are dying because of the war on drugs, and I think maybe it's not such a small fish.
I believe that change is happening, slowly. There are things happening worldwide, in England (despite the current setback they have a very progressive group of people informing their debate), in the UN (review of the convention on psychotropic substances coming up), in Portugal (decriminalisation of all drugs now producing evidence of changes to usage, crime and harm rates), in America (the medical marijuana issue). I plan to be part of that, and by my calculations by the time I finish my studies, there'll be a wave happening that I plan to be on the crest of, waving my credentials and going "Listen to meeeee!"
And just as a plug for my standpoint of recreational drug use as a legitimate pastime that can be integrated into a normal life by intelligent, informed people, without unnecessary harm (and indeed with significant benefit if approached sensibly), here's a list of drugs that I've taken in that two years while all this has been going on:
(It's not illegal to take any of these substances, by the way. It's illegal to possess them, to sell them and to produce them (except the last 3 which are unscheduled) - but there is no law preventing people from taking these)
I keep a check on myself for signs of getting into difficulties. Some people are aware that I'm currently experiencing a period of stress due to external life stuff, and I've made the decision to not alter my mindstate artificially till I'm out the other side of that, because my judgement isn't its best at the moment and I have no desire to increase the risks to myself by engaging in unnecessarily risky behaviour. I acknowledge the risks in taking drugs, because that's what you do when you know what the risks are, for real.
I've also maintained an A average at university, rocked at my job, paid all my bills, retained good health, travelled, started and maintained a healthy relationship, and am raising a son who everyone says is 'a good kid'.
This last, I'm aware can be a problem. The fact that I'm an advocate for responsible drug use is no secret, and I am raising my son to be aware of that. I am acting according to my beliefs and making sure that when the time comes for him to decide about drugs (I'd be stupid to think it won't happen if it hasn't already), he will be able to make that decision based on knowledge and understanding, not on ignorance and propaganda. I believe he has a better chance of coming out the other end of it alive that way.
I'm painfully aware that the law doesn't agree with me. I have no doubt that public exposure of my advocacy for responsible drug use could cause problems for The Kid should it turn into a legal issue. He's 14, nearly an adult. He's seen irresponsible drug use and how that affects families. He's seen responsible drug use and how that doesn't affect families. I think that if I were to suffer legal ramifications for my stance on drugs, that'd definitely affect my family but I also think it would be very obvious that it wasn't the drugs that did it, it was the government response to drugs. And I think I could still hold my head up in that situation.
So, am I still prepared to bite the hand that feeds?