by Julian Buchanan Wednesday 27th August 2014
This is a thought-provoking animation.
It Illustrates well that prohibition, incarceration and fierce law enforcement have failed to deter the supply or use of banned drugs (depicted by DRUGO the dragon). However, prohibition has succeeded in causing more collateral damage than banned drugs ever could [see]. While the analogy in this animation helpfully exposes the failure of prohibition to prevent banned drug use, it is also somewhat misleading. The analogy adopts and sustains some of the fundamental myths underpinning the war on ‘drugs’.
DRUGO, the outlawed and persecuted dragon in the animation is demonized, shunned and presented as the only dragon that exists. However, DRUGO’s ex-partner, better known as LEGALO the dragon (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, pharmaceutical drugs, food drugs etc) – has been living like royalty in the kingdom, fully accommodated, promoted, integrated and supported by Kings and Queens across the nations. Indeed, LEGALO the dragon, has been so favoured among the people that they have forgotten LEGALO is actually a dragon! LEGALO has been airbrushed out of the animation as if DRUGO & LEGALO were never partners as if LEGALO never existed or somehow isn’t a dragon like DRUGO.
Worryingly the animation goes on to suggest a world without DRUGO would be a desirable utopia (seriously?), then pragmatically concedes it might be better to learn to live with DRUGO as we can’t eliminate him. Suggesting a world without cannabis, opiates, LSD, cocaine etc., might in some way be desirable is disturbing and worrying. The health and social benefits of those substances listed by the UN in the 1960s as dangerous are significant and widespread, and the world would suffer considerably without them. Imagine people dying of cancer denied the painkilling benefits of opioids. Also, to suggest that these drugs are the inherent problem is a seriously misleading inference. Banned drugs have never been the main cause of the problem – it is drug policies and cultures that have caused the main problems.
“Banned drugs have never been the main cause of the problem – it is drug policies and cultures that have caused the main problems.”
By contrast to the privileged LEGALO, DRUGO is presented as a dangerous beast that causes harm but might cause less harm if we manage him better. However, the animation is ominously silent about the cultural accommodation and privilege enjoyed by LEGALO and this feeds into the distorted dominant discourses on what we have come to see and understand as ‘drugs’. It perpetuates the unscientific bifurcation between illicit and legal drugs. It unhelpfully supports the social construct of ‘drugs’ as banned substances, rather than psycho-active substances. Misleadingly, it presents all banned drugs as inherently dangerous and by omission hides the risks posed by legally approved drugs.
The Global Commission of Drug Policy has made a remarkable and helpful contribution to promoting drug reform and I applaud them, however, while this animation is made with good intentions and will no doubt encourage many positive outcomes in terms of beginning a debate – if genuine and lasting drug policy reform is to occur we need to acknowledge and indeed address, the propaganda, misinformation and lies at the heart of the problem.
There has never been a war on the drugs, society depends on drugs and uses them liberally. What we have is a war against a particular drug dragon (DRUGO). This is somewhat ironic when the other drug dragon (LEGALO) is more powerful and dangerous and goes unrecognized as a dragon. The video suggests there is only one threat and only one dragon.
“Misleadingly, it presents all banned drugs as inherently dangerous and by omission hides the risks posed by legally approved drugs.”
So this animation sidesteps the crux of the problem – the fiercely imposed drug apartheid that accommodates LEGALO and seeks to destroy DRUGO. It is a system upheld by propaganda, myths and misinformation, that results in a hostile and irrational rejection of illicit drugs and indeed illicit drug users. If we are to tackle the drug apartheid we must acknowledge and address the institutionalized inequalities, the abuse of power and the false assumption that have created this untenable bifurcation of substances.
It’s ironic too because the animation suggests society is hostile to drugs and needs to learn to be more tolerant and accommodating of drugs. When in reality society is probably more pro-drugs and using more substances now than it’s ever done with BigPharma and BigLegalDrugsBusiness readily supplying and encouraging (legal) drug use at every available occasion possible. But then we are led to believe that people using LEGALO like those in this video aren’t taking drugs – are they?
There is a need for a more honest, mature and informed discussion on what we call ‘drugs’. A debate that acknowledges the oppressive, discriminatory and hypocritical position of drug laws, policies. A debate that includes legal substances – which are often more dangerous than illicit drugs. A debate that is rooted in science, reason, evidence, and research. A debate that exposes and challenges the flawed and misinformed prohibition discourse, rather than accommodate it.
Let that debate begin soon.Julian Buchanan
Julian Buchanan is Associate Professor at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.