Julian Buchanan

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DRUGO the only dragon to be noticed and demonised?

by Julian Buchanan Wednesday 27th August 2014

Drugo, drugs, alcohol, decriminalisation, GCDP, legalisation, prohibition, reform

Does this video perpetuate the myth that drugs are only the illegal substances?

This is a thought provoking animation. It Illustrates well that prohibition, incarceration and fierce law enforcement have failed to deter illegal drugs (depicted by DRUGO the Dragon).  Indeed prohibition has caused more collateral damage than the illicit drugs would ever posed [see]. But while the analogy in this animation is thought provoking and challenges the folly of prohibition, it is also somewhat misleading and rooted in some of the myths that have helped sustain the War on illegal Drugs.

While DRUGO, the outlawed and persecuted dragon in the animation is demonised, the many unspoken relatives of DRUGO (who we are led to believe are not part of the dragon family), better known as LEGALO (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, pharmaceutical drugs, food drugs etc) – have been living like royalty in the kingdom, fully accommodated, promoted, integrated and supported by Kings and Queens across the nations, and enjoyed by the masses. But the LEGALO dragons have been airbrushed out of the animation as if they were not brothers and sisters of DRUGO.

The animation suggests a life without DRUGO might be a desirable utopia (really?) but concludes pragmatically it might be better to learn to live with DRUGO. As if somehow a world without those drugs that have been criminalised (cannabis, opiates, LSD, cocaine etc) might in some way be desirable? This is a seriously misleading inference. Illegal drugs have never been the main problem – it’s drug policies and cultures that have resulted in the main problems.

In contrast to his relatives LEGALO, DRUGO is presented as dangerous beast that might cause less harm if we manage him better yet the animation is ominously silent about the legal and cultural accommodation and privilege enjoyed by the LEGALO dragons and in doing so, this video feeds into the distorted dominant discourses on what we have come to see and understand as ‘drugs’. It perpetuates the bifurcation between illicit and legal drugs and misleading concerning the relative inherent harms between these substances.

The Global Commission of Drug Policy have 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 loves drugs and uses them liberally. What we have is a war against a particular drug dragon (DRUGO). Not only have the other drug dragons (LEGALO) more powerful and dangerous, they have been privileged and are not even recognised as drug dragons. The video suggests there is only one threat and one dragon.

So this animation sidesteps the crux of the problem – the fiercely imposed drug apartheid upheld by myths, misinformation and at times barbaric treatment of illicit drugs and indeed illicit drug users. If we are to tackle the drug apartheid we need to acknowledge and address the institutionalised 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 sitting very nicely with us wherever we go and whatever we do readily supplying and encouraging (legal) drug use. But then people using LEGALO like those in this video aren’t taking dangerous 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 current laws, policies and attitudes towards those substances (and their users) that have been outlawed. A debate that stops ignoring legal substances which are often more dangerous than illicit drugs and wrongly excluded from any drugs discourse.

Let the debate begin soon.

Julian Buchanan
Julian Buchanan is Associate Professor at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

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