Caty Simon and the Virtues of Vice (part two)

Oh, LOL.  Sike.  Before I go, I present the conclusion of my email interview with the one and only Ms. Caty Simon. Part one is here.

Why do you think people on all sides of the issues involved have such strong feelings about Natalie Dyan and the choices she makes/made about how to make money and what to do with her own body?  I’ve heard people argue that her exploitation of the patriarchal concept of virginity serves to increase/strengthen virginity’s cultural currency rather than undermine it and thus is problematic from a feminist standpoint (shockingly, this is not my take on it.) Thoughts?

Do you think you could just post a link to my N Dylan piece? I feel like I’ve said all I have to say about that. [Yes, you can read said piece here]

As you know, I’m in favor of decriminalizing prostitution and all drugs.  Some people in the sex workers rights/decrim movement seem to distance themselves from drugs–which is understandable given the stereotype of sex workers as drug addicts, but also problematic as plenty of sex workers (like plenty of the population in general) do use illegal drugs. I noticed some local NYC harm reduction trainings recently by sex workers orgs.  Do you think there’s a shift happening, that sex workers rights organizers are moving towards addressing drug use (in a non-paternalistic way) rather than trying to run from it?  How do you see criminalized sex work and criminalized drug use as being intertwined?  Do they intersect strategically?

Short answer: I do see a shift happening, but not nearly enough of one and not soon enough.

I do understand the political distancing, because we did want to get away from the agency-less TV movie image of the low income (when most of us are actually middle class ), exploited & abused (when most of us are independent workers & thus have no one to exploit or abuse us, or work with people we trust), STI infected (when most of us have safer sex than the general population), and horrendously, obsessively drug addicted (when–although there’s no real statistical evidence, because all of the evidence we have comes from abolitionists with an agenda that study the most downtrodden in jail, not a representative population, and most of those of us caught in that position tell researchers what they want to hear in order to cope and survive–it seems, like  we are not more likely to use drugs than the general population, only excepting the two facts that many young, middle class or affluent people use drugs of some kind–in fact, this population uses the most drugs in this country, contrary to popular belief; and the fact that black markets often intersect.) The crack ho walking around with sores and track marks and disease is unfortunately still the image that comes to mind when many mainstream people think of the word “prostitute”. So I do understand the initial tactic of distancing–what I don’t understand is the contempt. I remember excitedly receiving every issue of $pread I ever got, only to see sex workers who were interviewed say dismissive awful things about girls working to support habits and self-righteously differentiating themselves from them.  I remember reading a blog by a prominent sex worker’s rights activist which haughtily stated that there was obviously a difference between decriminalization of drugs and decriminalization of sex work, without even deigning to mention what that difference was .  Callgirl, by Jeanette Angell, a woman I very much admire and a text I think is incisive and sophisticated, just fell back on the disease model of addiction to understand her friend’s problems with crack, without using any of the anthropological insight and nuance that shone throughout the rest of the book on that topic.

Even now it feels like the attention being paid to drug using sex workers is an us vs. them thing–the poor ignorant them who don’t know any better, a sort of noblesse oblige.  The white, middle class, educated sex workers that, let’s face it, dominate the movement, believe that the harm reduction services they offer at places like St James’ infirmary are for powerless street workers, not for their own drug use.

It’s a shame because I do believe these two issues are intrinsically connected. It’s all about Puritanical criminalization of the ownership of one’s body ( a major tenant of feminism and the reproductive rights movement) and the right to take risks with it–sex workers take on the risk of stigma, STIs, and most of all, meeting strange men in a male-dominated society in which sex and violence are constantly intertwined and confused. Yet, they make our jobs more dangerous by criminalizing us instead of allowing us to go to the police for our safety.

Drug users take risks with their bodies as well–but most of these risks are either magnified and turned into bogeymen by the media and drug enforcement or exacerbated by criminalization. People die of cigarette habits eventually from lung cancer, but although the physiological addiction is as strong as that of heroin or tranquilizers, nobody ever has their basic day to day life patterns disrupted because of nicotine addiction, b/c cigarettes aren’t subject to ridiculously inflated black market prices so that one has to spend an inordinate amount of time earning money for them. Heroin and opiates, my drug of choice, are seen as the most deadly, pernicious drugs–yet they really have no long term health risks involved with them besides addiction and overdose that aren’t caused directly by criminalization, inflated black market prices and the poverty they bring about, and lack of clean needles and harm reduction education. Even addiction and overdose could be risks that were minimized in a decriminalized environment—a pure supply would ensure the easy calculation of one’s tolerance and dose, preventing overdose, and widespread harm reduction education would allow people to understand the timing of doses necessary, to prevent physiological addiction.

This culture is in fact truly absurd in its mores around mind altering substances. The pharmacopoeia that we know of as illicit drugs has been with mankind for thousands of years, and, for example, before the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914, cocaine and heroin were available over the counter and did not cause any major social upheaval. In fact, most users of opiates were middle class women and doctors, and many among those two groups distinguished themselves while having active habits . In contrast, the pharmacopoeia that Big Pharma shills us to cure the every new ill of our psyches they invent by the year is not truly tested, since, as congressional committees are finding out around now, most of the research trials and the journal articles written about them are directly financially linked to the companies which sell them. Lately, interoffice documents have been discovered by mad movement groups that prove without doubt that the makers of drugs like Zyprexa and Prozac knew about serious side effects of their products such as adult onset diabetes and common suicidality and even homocidality among children and teens that took their products, but hid them from the general public. Class action suits are now in progress. Sometimes, this strange ambivalent attitude about mind altering drugs reaches ridiculous heights when drugs that are scheduled and criminalized without prescription are legitimized and prescribed at high doses under the auspices of psychiatrists—the fact that we demonize speed users and yet prescribe children with amphetamines (without even giving them a choice, in their status as minors) is frankly crazy, especially in light of recent finding that such “treatment” stunts their growth and makes them extremely emotionally volatile.

As for the argument that drug users hurt others because of drug related crime, the only drug with a statistically significant correlation to violence is alcohol, and the vast majority of other drug related crime is based around black market turf wars in a market that has no other way to mediate itself but violence, a market that the prohibitionists themselves have made lucrative enough to kill for by making it illegal and therefore highly profitable because of monetary compensation for the risk. Decriminalize, and just like the gangland violence around liquor disappeared when  the Prohibition of the 1920’s ended, so would this violence. As for the small proportion of violence that remains that is caused by altering one’s mind with these substances, the crime should be in the act itself, not in the ingestion of the drug. We teach people to drink responsibly even though alcohol is the most volatile, physiologically addicting and damaging drug there is. There are certainly ways to use other drugs responsibly, as the fact that statistically it seems that most users of addictive drugs are not, in fact, addicts, attests.

Just like sex workers, drug users are criminalized for a non violent act that truly only has to do with themselves and their bodies–except that drug users are punished much more harshly, serving sentences that can be much longer than those of murderers and rapists under mandatory minimum sentencing drug laws. In fact, our drug laws are one of THE major reasons that our prison industrial complex is the most highly populated in the world. And just like sex workers, drug users are seen as agency-less, except that, instead of being exploited women or loose nymphomaniacal tramps, they are seen as the helpless against evil compulsions–physiological addiction is seen as the demon possession of our age, as if drug users were incapable of making moral decisions or any decisions that valued anything else above their drug of choice. And finally, just like sex workers, there are those who feel they are being liberal and benign towards us by advocating programs that force us to transition away from our current lifestyle–to medicalize rather than criminalize the problem, force us into treatment, the way sex workers in newly Communist China were forced to learn factory skills. These factions may be more well meaning than those that favor criminalization, but again, they’re about denying us our own ability to choose.

Both sex workers and drug users are subject to the policing of their own bodies, coercion, and criminalization. Perhaps in the short term sex workers might be wary of taking on the other group’s stigma, but in the long run, we’ll be stronger in political unity–strength in numbers seems like obvious political strategy to me. I’d like to see sex worker’s movements, as the more established groups, stop making derogatory references to drug users, run informative stories about drug decrim in their publications, fight ALL the injustices of the prison industrial complex and not just stick with their single issue, and acknowledge the fact that drug use is classless.

Finally, like all of mainstream America, we need to stop seeing drug use as always destructive. It’s all about set, setting, and situation, not the drugs themselves–context.  Almost any drug, used in a particular way in a particular circumstance, can be a spiritual journey, can be therapeutic, can even be a healthy way to cope in the short term, can be good clean fun–cleaner than alcohol or cigarettes and even coffee, for the most part. No drug should be “angelicized” or demonized totally–they’re just inert substances, it’s our relationship to them that matters. Richard De Grandpre writes a brilliant and readable thesis about this topic in his book The Cult of Pharmacology, which I urge you all to read.

Taking these issues to a global level–do you see the drug war as intersecting with the war on The Sex Trade and/or “trafficking”?  How does the criminalizing of drug use and prostitution in/by the US negatively effect the global “victims” of both trades?Taking these issues to a global level–do you see the drug war as intersecting with the war on The Sex Trade and/or “trafficking”?  How does the criminalizing of drug use and prostitution in/by the US negatively effect the global “victims” of both trades?

Globally, I see the same outlook towards Third World people making their way in both black markets—they need to be shown the errors of their ways and rescued by the First World, as if they were childlike and could not take responsibility for the considered choices they make. Thailand’s EMPOWER sex worker’s rights organization recently issued a demand from Cambodian migrant sex workers—STOP RESCUING US! The raids in which they are “rescued” and deported back to Cambodia (much like many similar raids throughout the world), are violent, abusive and economically crippling. The workers must then spend money and time to find their way across the border again. Similarly, when the crops of coca or poppy farmers are sprayed from the air by the US with substances that poison their soil and then condescendingly told to a grow a food crop they won’t even break even on, the same sort of violence to their livelihood is done. These people are making rational economic choices in the context of their environments, and yet, they’re treated like misbehaving and/or lost children.


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59 comments for “Caty Simon and the Virtues of Vice (part two)

  1. bellareve
    September 6, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    “I do understand the political distancing, because we did want to get away from the agency-less TV movie image of the low income (when most of us are actually middle class )”

    Hmm. By “we,” do you mean sex workers in general or sex worker’s rights activists?

    Because I’m not sure most sex workers are middle-class. I used to do sex work (pro-domme & stripping), I occasionally still do, and I happen to be middle-class, white, and educated, but I DON’T think the majority of sex workers globally fits that profile.

    In discussions like these I really have to keep my privilege in mind and remember that I’m probably NOT representative of most sex workers. And frankly, because my privilege affords me a certain amount of social support, my needs are quite different from the needs of others in the sex industry.

    (Sorry if I misunderstood what you meant)

  2. September 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Decriminalization is a worthwhile argument to make. Stating that heroin is “good clean fun?” Don’t think so.

    I’m a former sex worker and believe wholeheartedly in sex workers rights. One of those rights is to have negative externalities of participating in a vulnerable position in a troubled industry taken seriously.

    I know smart people who thought their “good clean fun” was “pure” as well, and though they were being smart about dosing etc. Guess what? One is dead now, the other will never be the same. On a feminist website, let’s not write off these women’s suffering because of the fear of dissent.

  3. September 6, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Just like sex workers, drug users are criminalized for a non violent act that truly only has to do with themselves and their bodies

    No. Drugs never just impact those who take them. Drugs impact their children, their families, and themselves. It is not a non violent act, never has been and never will be. I have no idea who this person is or what her story is. But I’ve seen 15 years of the best of the crack epidemic ravage people with no safety nets and send their kids into the same fucked up downward spiral they wished they could escape. And those are just the parts I was alive for.

    Frankly, I’m kind of amazed at the logic employed here. I can’t bend my head around this argument at all, and I’m not sure if its because I grew up in DC in the 80s, if it’s because I grew up black and lower class, or maybe it’s because I’m pissed off that I know what the chemical residue of crack smells like and I hate when I walk past a kid and smell it on them.

    African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by the sentencing laws mentioned above and our neighborhoods and communities are constantly under assault. And when you go to community centers and talk to people, you’ll hear a lot of folks talking about decriminalizing/legalizing weed. But you never hear of requests to do the same for dealing and possession of the harder stuff, particularly because the slide into addiction is not as easy of a dodge as this person argues above. Do people get addicted to all kinds of things? Legal drugs, alcohol, cigarettes? Of course they do. But that doesn’t make addiction any easier on a family.

  4. Constintina
    September 7, 2009 at 12:15 am

    LaToya and Octogalore,

    I’m not speaking for Caty, but I want to bring up the question of the role criminalization plays in the ways different drug addictions disproportionately effect different communities. I’m not an expert on this, by any means, but my limited understanding is that the the criminalization of, say, crack, had everything to do with the crack addiction epidemic of the 80s. My understanding is that criminalization worsened this problem.

    There may not be a shared understanding among all of us of the difference between drug use–whether of legal or illegal substances–and drug addiction. I don’t know that the line is always clear, and I certainly don’t want to make light of the damage done by drug addiction, to the addicted individual or those around them. But I do want to call into question what the motives behind the criminalization of certain drugs is, while other potentially equally dangerous drugs are legally pushed, and how any of this ameliorates the real and awful costs of addiction. Because I don’t see that it does.

  5. September 7, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Constintina — per the first sentence of my comment, I don’t dispute that there are good arguments for decrim. I also don’t dispute that the decisions as to penalties for various drugs are suspect. That’s not the substance of my comment, though.

    The strong issues I have with the interview responses are the way they make light of hard drug use. Statements about drugs being “healthy ways to cope” are intensely privileged and highly inaccurate, as well as dangerous.

    And, as Latoya pointed out, the statements about the limited sphere of influence of hard drugs reveals a high level of ignorance about the network of family and others affected, especially in poor communities.

    Interpreting such critiques as simply being about crim vs decrim is pretty far off the mark, IMO.

  6. Constintina
    September 7, 2009 at 1:37 am

    @ Octogalore

    Interpreting such critiques as simply being about crim vs decrim is pretty far off the mark, IMO.

    I’m not trying to reduce the substance of your comments, I was trying to tease out the difference between use and addiction, and the arbitrary (so far as health is concerned) distinction between legal and illegal drugs, which seemed relevant to your comment. I wasn’t attempting to address the entirety of your comment.

  7. September 7, 2009 at 7:02 am

    WHOAH, I’m chiming in as someone who is totally appalled at the defense of heroin. I’m sorry, but the interviewee seems to be living in a fantasy world of denial. Are there any studies that can back up her defense? Obviously not. It’s all just based on anecdote. I have plenty of opposing anecdotes myself.

    “Alcohol is bad and is legal while heroin is illegal” is a crappy defense of heroin. It’s arguing an entirely different point. It’s like saying “Alcohol is bad and is legal while riding jet skis in national parks is illegal”. Or “Alcohol is bad and is legal while riding pink unicorns is awesome”. Nonsensical. I would be OK with decriminalization of heroin but it should always be controlled tightly because the potential for addiction is so incredibly strong.

    I’d also like to call b.s. on the “sex workers aren’t more likely to be addicted to drugs” statement. Again… studies? I used to work in a strip club, a fairly upscale one, and there was massive amounts of hard drug use by about half the strippers. People who work in restaurants and bars tend to use a lot of drugs anyway, but at the strip club, it was definitely on a higher level.

    Lastly, as someone who is deeply involved in the foster care system, I have to echo Latoya’s point about the children. It’s not just something you can rationalize away. Parents addicted to hard drugs will often feed their habit before they feed their children. They will SELL their children.

    This isn’t about decriminalization (which I support in both areas). It’s about denial and trying to rationalize a destructive lifestyle…. destructive to the individual and destructive to the community.

  8. September 7, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Oh yes, and the “it’s all about context” statement is also nonsensical. Is there anything in this world — anything — that ISN’T about context?

    I agree that if we lived in a magical sugar candy land without poverty and police and money and capitalism and corporations and racism and nobody was mean to each other ever… then, sure, I guess heroin addiction wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I read a lot of science fiction so I can certainly imagine such a world. But it’s not the one I actually live in.

  9. September 7, 2009 at 7:23 am

    People use marijuana, hashish, and pot casually, no one uses heroine for fun; it’s addictive qualities ensure that. There is a reason that the decriminalization movement does not push for harder drugs. Also any form of drug use like marijuana, hashish. alcohol etc is a matter of self medicating, few ever acknowledge it for what it is. When you come home from work, feeling stressed because you have had a shit day and reach for a bottle, that is self medicating. I don’t believe in having fantasy conversations about drugs because they have ruined far too many lives. My unhusband is the child of an alcoholic and I have seen the ways in which this has damaged him. I believe that it is highly irresponsible in any space to act as though drugs do not have consequence, especially drugs like heroine. It’s not pure good clean fun.

  10. Constintina
    September 7, 2009 at 8:19 am

    @Octogalore

    I replied to your reply late last night and don’t think I was as clear and specific as I’d like to have been.

    I know smart people who thought their “good clean fun” was “pure” as well, and though they were being smart about dosing etc. Guess what? One is dead now, the other will never be the same.

    I know many people who have been deeply damaged by drug addiction, including but not limited to heroin, either their own addiction or that of a family member. I can understand why the language in Caty’s responses could sound insensitive and unrealistic, and I want to be careful in my response here because, as I said, I don’t and can’t speak for her, nor does she speak for me. I wanted to draw attention back to what I saw as being the takeaway from her comments, which is that the criminalization of drugs–and let’s talk specifically about heroin here–is directly linked to how physically dangerous they are, on a number of levels, including purity of product on a simple, literal level. I saw her argument as being that addiction and overdoes would be decreased if people knew what exactly they were buying, which is not the case with the drug black market as we know it. To what degree is that true? I don’t know, but it seemed like that point was getting lost.

  11. September 7, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Constintina — I appreciate the diplomacy, but no, that point isn’t getting lost. I’ll say for the third time now, there are some good arguments to decriminalization, such as whether the black market increases the risk. That point is not “getting lost.”

    However, the “takeaway” is not just the good points she made, which again, I acknowledged. The takeaway includes the numerous issues that are posed above, eg in #s 2, 3 and 7. This is a feminist website, and although we feel solidarity with one another, that doesn’t mean refusing to offer critique where it’s merited. Renee’s choice of “irresponsible” nails it — that’s why the “fun” language can’t and shouldn’t be ignored here.

  12. September 7, 2009 at 9:15 am

    “I’m not an expert on this, by any means, but my limited understanding is that the the criminalization of, say, crack, had everything to do with the crack addiction epidemic of the 80s. My understanding is that criminalization worsened this problem.”

    Crack is a violently addictive drug that destroys people, their families, and their communities. As someone else stated, there is nothing non-violent about it. Decriminalizing crack will not change the physical, psychological, and spiritual impact that smoking that heinous drug has on any individual. I’ve witnessed multiple people succumb to crack addiction. “Crack kills” is not just an amusing pun. The same goes for heroin.

  13. September 7, 2009 at 9:21 am

    “had everything to do with the crack addiction epidemic of the 80s.”

    One other thing, there are just as many people addicted to crack now as in the 80s. The crack epidemic just got more press in the ’80s. I promise you there is no lack of availability of crack, or a lack of people out there smoking as much of it as they can get their hands on right now as we “speak”.

  14. September 7, 2009 at 10:25 am

    @Constantina –

    I’m not an expert on this, by any means, but my limited understanding is that the the criminalization of, say, crack, had everything to do with the crack addiction epidemic of the 80s. My understanding is that criminalization worsened this problem.

    I’m an anti-racist activist, and an accidental/unwilling expert on crack addiction. Mandatory minimum sentencing which is a racist policy, is what you are referring to, characterized as:

    As a result of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Congress set forth different mandatory penalties for cocaine and crack cocaine, with significantly higher punishments for crack cocaine offenses. There is a 5-year minimum prison penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine or 500 grams or more of powder cocaine and a 10-year mandatory minimum penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine or 5,000 grams or more of powder cocaine.

    Cocaine is for the rich and the white, crack is for the poor and the black. No ambiguity there. Even the Supreme Court acknowledges that this is an issue and it helps to contribute to the disproportionate numbers of minorities in prison.

    HOWEVER.

    As I mentioned above, you won’t find too many people on the block advocating to decriminalize crack/heroin they way they will marijuana. And there are many reasons for that.

    You can argue about purity of product but that shit can kill you just as fast as a stepped on product. And your friend’s analysis only works in a completely selfish context, where said user has no family ties, has not lost “control” over their habit, has no dependents and is more or less functional.

    (By the way, I suggest you start reading some tales from people who are incarcerated. One of the most interesting common themes is how, for some, going to jail is a relief. For one thing, jail provides health care, which most people never have. And two, a lot of drug addicts can get access and care in prison, which allows them to be functional. Once they leave the gates, it’s too easy to fall back into a drug habit. That is not to say that drugs cannot be found in prison, but most of the people in there only have enough capital to afford cigarettes.)

    How many children are wards of the state because of a parent’s drug addiction?

    How many children suffered malnutrition and physical abuse because of a parent’s addiction?

    How many children suffered sexual abuse because of a parent’s addiction?

    Did you think about that? A lot of people argue that drugs aren’t the problem, it’s the environment around drugs, it’s the mixing of hard and soft users, its the violence over turf because it isn’t regulated. But that’s bullshit. It is drugs that make all this possible, and even if you remove all the other factors you, as a drug user in an altered state of mind can still harm (or ingest, as the graphic story I linked to demonstrates) people you come in contact with.

    I’ll cosign Renee and Faith here as well – addiction is nothing to joke or play around with. I made sure, while adding in these comments, to leave out all personal discussions of what I have witnessed happening due to the drug use of other people. But I have them for days. And the problem, is that most of my friends have their own stories.

    If you haven’t seen or felt the effects of the crack epidemic, then you are blessed. But this entire thought exercise enrages me because you have effectively minimized the impact of drug use on the most vulnerable members of our society.

  15. squirrely
    September 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I think when you live and move in a specific community that has a high amount of drug use (I worked in theater/film/TV and was astounded by the prevalence of cocaine at first) it can skew your definition of what’s “average”. When I stopped working in this field, I thought everyone I met was just really boring and vanilla. Turns out, they are “average” and I was living in a hyped-up world.

    Young, middle class white folks may use more drugs than any other demographic, but to say that the level of drug use in the sex industry is no more than in any other young middle class demo seems to be an anecdotal extension of the idea “well, most everyone I know uses drugs, even if they’re not sex workers, so I think the levels of use are the same.” It’s just anecdote, not fact, and it normalizes hard drug use, something that should be considered very dangerous at the least, for all of the reasons the posters above have mentioned.

  16. September 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I’m interested in the possible alliance of people criminalised for using drugs and selling sex, which has begun to happen in the Harm Reduction movement. Here’s a report in English from an evening in Porto last summer: http://inpud.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/sex-workers-junkies-network-in-porto/

    In some contexts, like Sweden, the alliance makes good sense. Both drug users and sex sellers ask for more, if not perfect, autonomy, more control over their bodies.

    Laura Agustin
    Border Thinking http://www.nodo50.org/Laura_Agustin

  17. Medea
    September 7, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Finally, like all of mainstream America, we need to stop seeing drug use as always destructive. It’s all about set, setting, and situation, not the drugs themselves–context. Almost any drug, used in a particular way in a particular circumstance, can be a spiritual journey, can be therapeutic, can even be a healthy way to cope in the short term, can be good clean fun

    I don’t see the problem with this statement. The people responding to this post seem to be equating drug use with drug addiction, but Caty Simon never claimed that crack addiction was good clean fun. A particular way, a particular circumstance–that sounds pretty specific. It’s possible to use heroin once and never again, and if it is used again and again, that’s not because of the inherent evil of the drug. It’s human weakness, or deliberate choice.

    I am kind of skeptical about the claim that little or no health damage results from long-term heroin use. Actually, I’m not skeptical, I just don’t believe it. Where are the studies backing that up?

  18. September 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    “It’s possible to use heroin once and never again, and if it is used again and again, that’s not because of the inherent evil of the drug.”

    Sure. When my daughter or younger friend suggests to me she’s going to do heroin just once for good clean fun, I’ll tell her exactly that. We all should. Hey, the drug isn’t inherently evil and we’ve all got smart kids and friends, so I’m sure that they’ll find the perfect “set, setting and situation” to do it in a spiritual, therapeutic way. Right?

  19. September 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    “he people responding to this post seem to be equating drug use with drug addiction, but Caty Simon never claimed that crack addiction was good clean fun.A particular way, a particular circumstance–that sounds pretty specific. It’s possible to use heroin once and never again, and if it is used again and again, that’s not because of the inherent evil of the drug.”

    Yes, it’s so common for people to just do one hit of crack and never smoke it ever again. Or to simply buy one bundle of smack, inject it once, and go “damn, that was sooo spiritual, but I’m just never going to do that again!” It happens all the time. Oh, wait….

    If there is anything on this planet that is inherently evil, it very much is crack cocaine. There is virtually nothing else on this planet that has such an overwhelmingly powerful effect on its users. The simple thought of smoking crack is enough to make even recovered users run for the bathroom to vomit. Just the -thought-. I’ve witnessed it myself. I’ve held people in my arms while they fought off the “jones”…shaking and crying and ready to slit their wrists open. I will not sit back and allow anyone to minimize the harms of drug use. The risks are simply too damn high.

  20. September 7, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    “It’s possible to use heroin once and never again, and if it is used again and again, that’s not because of the inherent evil of the drug.”

    And, btw, what happens when the first hit of heroin kills the person? Well, I guess then you would be right, huh…

  21. Constintina
    September 7, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    @LaToya

    Sorry this going to be quick because I don’t have much time at a computer.

    I appreciate the issues you’re raising and I actually agree with you to a large extent.

    I’m familiar with racist mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine sentencing, I was actually talking about broader issues–the way the blackmarket breeds violence, makes criminals out of people with health issues, etc. I know some people find jail a relief, which to me is a comment on problems we have that are bigger than drugs. It may well be that decriminalizing crack and/or other “hard” drugs would create all kinds of new, worse problems without wider societal/political reforms that I would prioritize–health care, for example. Ending poverty and other such projects that seem absolutely impossible. I can understand how discussing decriminalization of crack outside of that context could be enraging and seen as minimizing the devestating effect the drug has had, and I’m sorry if my comments have done that.

    But that’s bullshit. It is drugs that make all this possible,

    I’m not arguing that crack is fine, that it’s not dangerous, that I’d want my kids smoking crack. I’m arguing that crack and other drugs are not going to be eraticated, so what makes sense to do about that, how can we reduce harm. Do you think that crack use should be a criminal offense? Coming out of seeing the havoc wrecked by the war on drugs, my feeling is no, it shouldn’t. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I’m not coming from and ignorant, purely theoretical bubble here, either. I’m open to discussing that, and everything you’re raising should be a part of that discussion.

  22. Constintina
    September 7, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    @Octogalore

    his is a feminist website, and although we feel solidarity with one another, that doesn’t mean refusing to offer critique where it’s merited.

    Of course, and critique away. I felt that your initial comment misrepresented a piece of the interview, obviously you disagree, I don’t see any reason to continue going back and forth on that point.

  23. September 7, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    I’m arguing that crack and other drugs are not going to be eraticated, so what makes sense to do about that, how can we reduce harm.

    Well, murder and thievery don’t seem to be losing popularity but they are still illegal. Where there is a will to get high, there is a way, and people have found ways to huff glue, tamper with medicine, and tinker with cough syrup. This is why now, in some areas, cold medicine is kept locked up, to help reduce harm in areas where it is susceptible to abuse.

    Reducing harm does not mean letting people run rampant with what they want to do.

    It may well be that decriminalizing crack and/or other “hard” drugs would create all kinds of new, worse problems without wider societal/political reforms that I would prioritize–health care, for example.

    Much worse. I just think it’s interesting that we are meshing a libertarian ideal (People should be able to do as they please as long as they don’t harm anyone else) with more humanist ideals (that those who fall through the cracks are entitled to care and treatment.) I don’t see those two reconciling.

    In addition, the appeal of hard drugs is escape in some form or fashion. That’s what makes them so dangerous. The people who can ill-afford the consequences are the ones who end up paying the price.

    There is also a big difference between the war on drugs and keeping dangerous substances illegal. The WOD introduced things like zero tolerance and three strikes and has more or less become a political tool for politicians looking for an easy score. But some things have earned the right to be labeled dangerous and illegal because the vast majority of people cannot use them without becoming addicted. There isn’t a way to game around this, though most people would like to think they are the exception. So I am pro keeping it criminalized. It shouldn’t be available, it shouldn’t be around, it shouldn’t be accessible, but FAILING this, failing those who are determined to be on a path to self-destruction and the children of addicts who fall into the same cycle, the answer is not decriminalization.

    The answer, I would argue, is giving people something to live for. Creating a world where people want to engage and not escape. And providing more outlets for people to seek help psychological help so they don’t need to keep trying to self-medicate, which is the purpose drugs serve.

  24. Constintina
    September 7, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I just think it’s interesting that we are meshing a libertarian ideal (People should be able to do as they please as long as they don’t harm anyone else) with more humanist ideals (that those who fall through the cracks are entitled to care and treatment.)

    Well, my politics could be described as libertarian socialist, so there you go. Libertarian in the older sense of the word, not as in the Libertarian Party, at all.

    The answer, I would argue, is giving people something to live for. Creating a world where people want to engage and not escape. And providing more outlets for people to seek help psychological help so they don’t need to keep trying to self-medicate, which is the purpose drugs serve.

    I certainly wholeheartedly agree with this.

  25. Medea
    September 8, 2009 at 1:39 am

    @ Octogalore

    I guess it depends on how much you trust your daughter (well, when she’s older). You can tell her whatever you want. It would be safer for all daughters if heroin production was regulated and subject to quality control.

  26. September 8, 2009 at 6:56 am

    “It would be safer for all daughters if heroin production was regulated and subject to quality control.”

    It would be safer for all our daughters if we taught them to never use heroin. There is -no- such thing as safe heroin.

  27. September 8, 2009 at 7:06 am

    “I’m arguing that crack and other drugs are not going to be eraticated, so what makes sense to do about that, how can we reduce harm. ”

    I’m also not at all a fan of the “well, it’s not going away so you might as well make it safer” argument. By that logic we’d have to make a whole host of harmful things that are currently illegal legal. And while I do support decriminalization of sex work, I am ultimately anti-sex work (I’m anti-capitalist, actually. I do not support the buying and selling of anything for profit). But I absolutely loathe the “well, it’s not going away” argument in reference to sex work as well. That’s just a plain shitty argument for continuing to allow the wholesale destruction of women and children through the sex trade. Arguing that we should legalize hard drugs instead of working to help people find a way to live their lives without feeling the need to drug themselves to the gills is just as crappy an argument. Drugs are not the answer. Creating a society in which all have a reasonable possibility to thrive and to live in peace and harmony is the answer.

  28. Constintina
    September 8, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Yay, my last post here immediately derailed into a total pile on. Yay. critique is great, critical discussion is even better, some people here have raised relevant and important issues, I wish they could be woven into a more constructive discussion. Off the top of my head and for your consideration:

    The success of drug decriminalization in Portugal

  29. September 8, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Constintina — a pile-on involves criticism of people, not ideas, and also involves ad homs and rudeness. You seem to feel that “constructive” means “assenting.” In fact, the comments above are polite, professional, and some even agree on various points re decriminalization. But, many of them disagree strongly with the OP. If it’s sincere and reasoned disagreement, which it appears to be, why isn’t that constructive?

  30. Anna
    September 8, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Arguing that we should legalize hard drugs instead of working to help people find a way to live their lives without feeling the need to drug themselves to the gills is just as crappy an argument.

    Is that the argument being made here, though? It seems like Constintina is advocating the decriminalization of drugs and strategies to help people attain more fulfillment in life. Not either/or, but both/and.

  31. September 8, 2009 at 11:51 am

    “Is that the argument being made here, though? ”

    Decriminalizing drugs will make drugs more available. This will make people more likely to use them, not less likely. One of the biggest factors in whether or not an addict can recover often has much to do with whether or not they can avoid the drug itself and the lifestyle. Decriminalizing drugs will just shove them even more in people’s face and normalize the activity even more.

    And while Constintina may feel that drugs are harmful, the interviewee in this post certainly does not really seem to feel that it is. The post is riddled with outright inaccuracies and lies about illegal drugs and their impact.

  32. September 8, 2009 at 11:57 am

    “Yay, my last post here immediately derailed into a total pile on.”

    All of the comments have been on topic with the post as far as I can tell. I fail to see where the derail is. What you have here is simply a bunch of people voicing dissent with some of the ideas being presented. No one has been rude. No one has been attacked.

    If you post something on the internet with an open comment thread, people are going to comment. Creating discussion is sorta the point of blogging for many people.

  33. Constintina
    September 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t feel that the direction of the discussion has really engaged with the ideas in the original post very much, beyond people’s offense at what they saw as the interviewee’s making light of drug addiction. If people have issue about the way she spoke about it, fine, but let’s at least discuss what she actually said. She never said “drugs aren’t harmful”. She said:

    Drug users take risks with their bodies as well–but most of these risks are either magnified and turned into bogeymen by the media and drug enforcement or exacerbated by criminalization.

    She also said that no drug is good and evil in and of itself, it is an inert substance, and it is what is done with it that brings about good or bad.

    One can disagree or critique either of these points, as I believe happened in some cases on this thread. but somewhere along the line these more nuanced statements were reduced to, to paraphrase, “drugs are not harmful”, which isn’t actually what the interviewee is saying, but is very easy and probably satisfying to rail against.

    The post is riddled with outright inaccuracies and lies about illegal drugs and their impact.

    I would guess, given my experience with her work, that Caty can back up her assertions. Then, maybe different people could debate the validity of the sources, maybe bring conflicting sources to the table, but she’s not just pulling this all out of her ass.

    I feel that the forest has been lost for the trees on this comment thread. That’s probably my fault for splitting this piece into two sections, because it was long and because I happened to get replies to the first half first. I didn’t know what direction Caty was gonna take her answers here, but I could have guessed that, especially without the context of her discussions on other matters and intro to herself, all that would get discussed is inflamatory quotes on heroin, and the like.

    Decriminalizing drugs will make drugs more available. This will make people more likely to use them, not less likely. One of the biggest factors in whether or not an addict can recover often has much to do with whether or not they can avoid the drug itself and the lifestyle. Decriminalizing drugs will just shove them even more in people’s face and normalize the activity even more.

    I linked a recent article above that contradicts this claim, one of an increasing body of work demonstrating such.

    One of the reasons I wanted to talk to Caty as part of my guest blogging here is because she often makes me rethink my assumptions, examine where my feeling and biases are coming from, whether it’s about pimps in general (“bad”, says my knee jerk reaction) or IV drug use (“no one should do it” says my knee jerk reponse) but where are these reactions coming from and should they dictate public policy? I find it useful, towards understanding how to have a humane and effective drug policy, to try to see all the pieces clearly and not just through “common sense”, which held at an earlier time that “weed makes you crazy”. Reefer madness is kitsch now, but the logic behind it is still public policy, and many once embraced enormously inaccurate depictions of the physical and mental effects of Marijuana as Science Fact.

    As I’ve said before, I’ve had experiences with people close to me suffering from long term heroin addiction, or suffering because of the heroin addiction of family members. I also know more people who have used heroin for a time, never became addicted to it, and stopped using it when they wanted to. Were they all lucky? Maybe. Is this anecdata? Absolutely. Would these people and society in general be better off if they were in jail (or forced treatment, for that matter)? I don’t think so. One could argue that my experience is highly unusual, but I’d also guess most of us probably know more functional users of “hard” drugs than they realize. The stigma makes it such that people keep it to themselves unless they’re with people they feel will not judge them, and it only becomes apparent to others if things start spiraling out of their control ie. they become an addict.

    We can absolutely discuss the dangers of heroin, and if people feel Caty downplayed them, that’s a valid thing to say. I’ve certainly had friends who talked a good game about the mastery they had over the potentials of heroin use and how the stigma is bullshit who then succumbed to really ugly addictions, so I empathize with the red flags raised. But does bringing in stories of people who had limbs amputated because of their heroin as representative as the inevitable outcome of heroin use productively refocus the conversation?

    Various people have commented on this thread about the need to change broader conditions that lead to drug abuse. I cannot state emphatically enough that I could not agree more. I’m an anti-capitalist, I see a lot of the drug-related horrors discussed on this comment thread as being logical outgrowth of a white supremecist capitalist system. All about dismantling that. Also all about not waiting til after the revolution to try to reduce harm and respect individual liberties.

  34. September 8, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    @Constintina

    Drug users take risks with their bodies as well–but most of these risks are either magnified and turned into bogeymen by the media and drug enforcement or exacerbated by criminalization.

    Since you feel that people took commentary out of context let’s just just examine the above statement. I firmly disagree that these risks are exacerbated by the media. People who use heroin are not productive members of society. They spend their lives seeking the next fix and this is exactly what is portrayed in the media. Would you prefer if they avoided showing people strong out, unkept, and ill because this is exactly what a heroin user looks like.

    I don’t agree that users should be imprisoned because clearly they have a sickness but I do believe that those that sell hard drugs should absolutely serve hard time. Each time they hook someone on this terrible drug they are robbing society of a valuable person.

    No matter how you spin this or how nuanced your commentary is, it still amounts to a defense of hard drug use and it is this that makes people disagree. I would further point out that this has not been a pile on. We have not been rude, many simply disagree with the assertions of the post. Unless you want an echo chamber, this is to be expected.

  35. Constintina
    September 8, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    @ Renee

    I don’t want an echo chamber, I certainly wouldn’t have posted something like this expecting one. As I’ve stated before, of course people can disagree.

    I don’t have any problem with you comment here, if you’re arguing that it is a defense of hard drug use–yes, you’re right. But there’s a difference between saying someone should have the right to use and saying that hard drug use is harmless, which is what I felt some commenters here misrepresented the interview answers to mean. Other people may not feel that that is a worthwhile distinction.

    Nor do I want the media-or anyone else–to ignore the real costs of drug addiction, to heroin or anything else. Beyond that, I really think I’ve said everything I have to say in my last and other comments here.

  36. Emily
    September 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    “And your friend’s analysis only works in a completely selfish context, where said user has no family ties, has not lost “control” over their habit, has no dependents and is more or less functional.”

    That is Caty’s context…so that is her analysis. SHE doesn’t have children or family to hurt, SHE doesn’t have an abusive pimp, SHE doesn’t have an addiction (any more), so she can’t understand others who do. In her mind, therefore, SHE must be the “normal” sex worker/drug user, and the stereotypes must be inherently incorrect.

    I admit that we’re all guily of similar biases in our logic and thought, but I don’t think Caty’s analysis adds much to the topic of sex work or drug decriminalization. It’s obvious that she has learned to justify her sex work and her drug use to herself, but that just doesn’t translate into a compelling public policy argument for decriminalization.

  37. September 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    “She also said that no drug is good and evil in and of itself, it is an inert substance, and it is what is done with it that brings about good or bad.”

    But that’s a nonsensical argument! How is it any different from saying “guns don’t kill people, people kill people?” “This AK-47 isn’t inherently bad, so I should be allowed to bring it with me to my kid’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese?” You could use the same stupid argument about any highly dangerous substance, item, machine or act. She seems to be arguing against some naive strawman that believes a little Satan hides inside heroin. I am not a Platonist, I do not believe in inherent good or evil, but I still think heroin is insanely dangerous and should not be used recreationally in any shape or form.

    “I would guess, given my experience with her work, that Caty can back up her assertions. Then, maybe different people could debate the validity of the sources, maybe bring conflicting sources to the table, but she’s not just pulling this all out of her ass.”

    I did not see a single non-ass source listed in the interview. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. And I think “heroin can be used responsibly” is a huge whopper of an extraordinary claim. The only reference to studies was an argument that studies don’t count because they’re done by biased researchers. And you can use that argument to support any insane conspiracy theory. E.g. AIDs denialism… “AIDS is not caused by HIV”. The conspiracists claim all the evidence to the contrary is faked by biased people.

  38. rozele
    September 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    it seems to me that in the u.s. we’ve got a pretty good example of what happens when a drug that’s – accurately – considered amazingly harmful, socially and individually, in all the ways that have been raised here, goes across the line of criminalization a few times.

    i’m somewhat predictably talking about alcohol. i come from a family that’s been seriously disrupted by alcohol addiction in the past, though not in my lifetime; i’m from a community – queer and gender-deviant folks – and work in an industry – theater – that are disproportionately affected by alcohol addiction. and alcohol is one of my drugs of choice. these things may be related.

    why the example of alcohol seems to me relevant here is that everything that i’ve read here so far about heroin and crack as addictive substances has been said, with equal accuracy, about alcohol. the individual and social destructiveness of certain patterns of use; the difficulties of limited use; the impact of drug purity on use; the disproportionate effects of addiction in already-oppressed communities and on already-vulnerable/targeted members of communities; &c.

    the difference is that we have the experience of criminalization and decriminalization of alcohol to work with as we think through how to deal with alcohol use and addiction. my bias, like constintina’s, is towards doing that thinking and dealing outside of an inherently oppressive legal/prison system, but even trying to take my bias into account, i believe that the case of alcohol is one of the best pieces of evidence supporting my preference.

    i want to be clear: alcohol addiction is still an impressively destructive force in our communities, and more so in communities that are already under attack. but it is orders of magnitude less so than when it was criminalized. and it is even less so in many places in the world where the culture around alcohol use has not been shaped by wholesale criminalization (and the use of alcohol as part of an attempted genocide).

    the argument that caty simon seems to me to be making is that we can reasonably expect a similar experience from the decriminalization of other drugs. not a unicorns-and-rainbows utopia, but a far less destructive web of effects that these drugs have on our communities. an elimination of the harms that result directly from criminalization (which always affects already-oppressed communities and individuals far more destructively than those who’re otherwise privileged); a huge reduction in the harms caused indirectly by criminalization (through the shadow economy it breeds, in particular); a noticeable reduction of the harms caused more directly by addiction; and a far greater freedom of action for our communities to deal effectively with those harms in all their complexity.

    speedily and in our days.

  39. September 9, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    except – alcohol even as a “safely” regulated substance IS harmful to the human brain and body, unlike opiates for instance. So the legalization of alcohol on that front is not actually helpful.

    And I’m not sure what you base the assertion on that the destructive force of alcohol is magnitudes less now than when it was criminalized? For whom? The 3 out of 4 victims of spousal abuse where alcohol played a role in the abuser’s attack? The 43% of Americans who’ve been exposed to alcoholism in their families? The person killed every 30 minutes in the US in an alcohol-related traffic accident?

  40. September 9, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I actually think that possession of small amounts of heroin should be decriminalized (though very tightly regulated and unavailable without a prescription).

    But that’s separate from the jaw-dropping argument that heroin can be used responsibly, recreationally.

    I know I’m not going to get any studies supporting that argument. But just for the heck of it, here are some studies proving the obvious opposite.

    http://www.pslgroup.com/dg/1FB4AA.htm
    “BETHESDA, MD — May 16, 2001 — After following a cohort of heroin addicts for more than 33 years, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Drug Abuse Research Center found that nearly half of the original group of 581 men first interviewed in 1964 had died by 1997, when they would have been between 50 and 60 years of age. […]–Cause of death: Among the 284 confirmed deaths over the 33-year follow-up period, the most common cause of death (21.6 percent) was drug overdose. The next most common causes of death were chronic liver disease (15.2 percent), cancer (11.7 percent), and cardiovascular diseases (11.7 percent). Fifty-five deaths (19.5 percent) were due to homicide, suicide, or accident. Three subjects died of AIDS.”

    http://pb.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/12/450
    This study examined the 20-year outcome of 55 women who were pregnant and using opiates in 1985 and were attending the Drug Treatment Centre and Advisory Board, Dublin. We established outcome across a number of variables, including mortality, psychiatric and physical morbidity, psychosocial functioning, ongoing drug misuse and outcome of offspring. […] At 20-year follow-up 29 women (53%) were deceased. HIV was the commonest cause of death, accounting for 17 deaths (59%). Those who were alive at follow-up displayed high rates of unemployment (84%), illicit substance misuse (74%) and most were dependent on state-subsidised accommodation (78%).

    http://pb.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/12/450
    In the present study, mortality rates and prevalence of abstinence from illicit drugs among persons with a history of addiction to heroin, cocaine, and/or amphetamines were estimated along the drug-using career time scale. Follow-up data on drug use and vital status were analyzed for participants in the Amsterdam Cohort Study among Drug Users (n = 899; 1985–2002). Participants in the study were primarily recruited at low-threshold methadone outposts. It was estimated that at least 27% of drug users had died within 20 years after starting regular drug use; for half, death had been due to causes unrelated to human immunodeficiency virus. A favorable trend towards abstinence with increasing time since initiation of regular use was observed. However, among those alive, the estimated prevalence of abstinence for at least 4 months from the above drugs and methadone was only 27% at 20 years since initiation. A higher age at initiation, a calendar year of initiation before 1980, and a Western European ethnic origin were associated with higher prevalence of abstinence. These results indicate that the concept of “maturing out” to a drug-free state does not apply to the majority of drug users.

  41. September 9, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Actually, statistically, MOST drugs are bought by one time or occasional users, not addicts. Just like most drinkers are not alcoholics. I argue that those drugs we demonize–amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, etc–all of which have been proven to be much less dangerous than alcohol all things being equal–in a decriminalized society could be used in helpful manners as they have been throughout history. I emphasize with the chaos that impure supply, no harm reduction education, criminalization, black market violence, artificially inflated prices etc do to neighborhoods and people, but these are not things inherent to the drugs, but to criminalization. (Drug prohibition is a relatively new concept , and it was instituted for a variety of racist and capitalist reasons–study your history.)

  42. September 9, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    & yes, we are arguing both/and. Many opportunities for voluntary treatment AND decriminalization.
    There are plenty of studies about the long term lack of health detriment re: heroin, one of which I LINKED.
    Heroin WAS used responsibly and recreationally by an upper middle class in the nineteenth century. You can find many accounts of leading surgeons who worked functionally. It is not an instantly addictive drug, no matter what the drug enforcement hype says.
    But this is not a pro-heroin or pro-any drug argument, it is an argument against black and white thinking around substance use. I don’t condone the use of any drug, neither do I condemn it. I revile criminalization and what it has done to communities, much of which many commenters graphically describe and ascribe to the drugs themselves.
    If it is the drugs that cause the problems, not the context, why do we prescribe our children amphetamines and lock people up for unprescribed speed use?

  43. September 9, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    & actually, I use heroin fairly regularly–while avoiding a physiological addiction b/c I do have harm reduction education to do that now. & my partner would still prob. be legally defined as a pimp. You don’t know where I come from, please don’t resort to the sloppy ad hominem argument.

  44. September 9, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    You are in denial, and enabling other addicts to be in denial.

    Harm reduction isn’t a magic shield against addiction. Neither is decriminalization.

  45. September 9, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    “You are in denial, and enabling other addicts to be in denial.”

    Thank you.

    I don’t know Caty, but I do know this. Addicts will use any means to justify their use. Most drug users will not admit that they have a problem until they hit rock bottom.

    The argument that heroin can be used responsibly is just plain irresponsible.

  46. September 10, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Atlasien, thanks from me too. That basically sums it up.

  47. rozele
    September 10, 2009 at 10:57 am

    @Joan Kelley:

    i’m agnostic on any comparisons of harm to body & brain, given how little we actually know about how the brain works, and given the huge differences in how different bodies respond to different chemicals. but my argument isn’t about the relative merits of different drugs – it’s about what happens when drugs which can and do cause serious individual and societal harm go across the boundary of criminalization. in this country there’s only one example of a drug moving in both directions, so, imperfect as it may be, the experience of criminalizing and decriminalizing alcohol is something we need to look at closely when we’re talking about the legal status of other drugs.

    as for your second paragraph:

    it’d be nice if you read what i wrote, which repeatedly acknowledged that alcohol addiction and use cause harm in our communities (in the examples you give, that harm is magnified by, respectively, widespread acceptance of abuse in relationships and violence against women, as well as the feminist movement’s dismantling of its autonomous support structures for women escaping or resisting violence; children’s legal status as their parents’ property; and the absence of any significant public transportation system in the u.s.).

    more to the point, perhaps, you could take a look at any history of the u.s. in the prohibition years if you’d like to get a sense of the harms caused by criminalization. for starters, though, here are a few of the most direct:

    – the deaths of those killed in conflicts between bootleggers, and between bootleggers and police;
    – the arrest and imprisonment of poor & working-class (i assume disproportionately immigrants and folks of color) folks for possession and distribution of alcohol (while the wealthy and white went largely unaffected);
    – all the various harms caused by the power of the shadow economy centered on alcohol (which echo for a long time: as a bostonian, i have to point out that joe kennedy sr. made his first fortune as a bootlegger, and given old joe and his sons’ roles in enabling mccarthy’s rise to power, and JFK’s creation of the viet nam war, much of the worst of u.s. mid-20th-century politics could be considered lingering effects of prohibition);
    – the development of the christian right as a political force in the u.s. through its success in pushing the volstead act through congress (not unlike our more recent experiences of the christian right’s increase in strength following its victories around restrictions on reproductive rights);
    – and, of course, the creation of the modern corporate structure for alcohol production and marketing is a direct result of the destruction of the many small brewers and distilleries through criminalization (including individuals making their own alcohol for personal use, arguably the production scheme least likely to lead to harmful uses of any drug).

  48. September 10, 2009 at 11:45 am

    rozele, I did read what you wrote, I simply disagreed with it. The fact that a lot of harm comes from the criminalization of any given substance is a separate topic from the harms of addiction/alcoholism. I personally am in favor of decriminalizing all drugs precisely because I don’t think people should be punished for harming themselves, nor should they be for drinking/getting high in ways that do not harm themselves or others. I don’t see the illegality of hard drugs right now stopping any addicts from using, neither do I think the legality of alcohol itself causes alcoholism. I just do not agree that the destructive force of alcohol is magnitudes less now than during prohibition, which is the part of your statement I disagreed with.

    As for comparisons and differences between individuals – alcohol is a poison to the human body when used addictively, no matter how pure it may be, whereas opiates are not, when pure, poisonous. That’s a fact. Junkies don’t get junkie-brain, and none of us having even close to an understanding of how the brain works has never saved a drunk from getting wet brain. Or ruining their livers, stomachs, etc.

  49. September 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Denial, huh? I love it when people use AA dogma and ad hominem attacks instead of arguments. A real example of lazy thinking. While we’re talking source material, people should look up the success rate of Twelve Step groups in fostering abstinence.
    Then, Joan, & many of you, I think we’re basically in agreement about my main pt, which is decrim, and simply in disagreement about the continuum of effects of drug use. As for sources–study opium use in China before the British began inflating the prices and using it to exploit Chinese workers. Study morphine & heroin use in nineteenth century America. Study the high success rate in terms of the functionality of addicts in gov. funded heroin or morphine therapy in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Canada. The way opiates & crack & crystal meth are being used in this society is tragic & destructive, & I’ve seen my share of friends and lovers die of overdoses or have their lives destroyed, but from my experience and reading I firmly believe this is the result of criminalization, not of the drugs themselves. (Oh, and whoever made the analogy between my argument & “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” was totally wrongheaded b/c guns are DESIGNED TO KILL PEOPLE, that is their purpose. Drugs are made to alter the mind in certain ways, and merely have harmful side effects that can be controlled. The comparison is specious.)
    I’m not saying that all things being equal drug use is not risky. It is. But like any risky endeavor, it has benefits, and an environment should be set up in which people could make an informed choice about these benefits and risks while harming others and themselves as little as possible. We don’t criminalize skydiving or professional subbing…
    For further reading on this topic, I’d tell everyone to pick up _The Cult of Pharmacology_ by Richard Degrandpre & _Just Say Yes_ by Jacob Sullum, as well as _Cocaine: A Biography_, before dismissing everything I’m saying as utter shit.

  50. September 10, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Wow, and I just read the link Lara Agustin pointed out–more great links between sex workers and drug users:
    *”Like us, sex workers struggle to make their own unique voices heard above those of the professionals who seek to ‘represent’ them.”
    *Both drug users and sex workers attempting to divorce themselves from victim/pariah identity
    *”Interestingly, sex workers also struggle with the sense of community. The term ‘sex work‘ covers prostitution, stripping, sex call centre workers, porn actors etc and the different groups have varying levels of comfort with the term sex worker. Many groups fear being viewed as prostitutes who are seen as the lowest class of sex workers. The parallels with the internal discourse between different groups of people who use drugs is clear.”
    Thanks, Lara.

  51. Li
    September 14, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I am horrified by this discussion thread. I can’t possibly address all of the things that distress me in it but:

    @atlasien:

    It is absolutely, ABSOLUTELY, not ok to diagnose someone that you do not know with a drug addiction over the internet on the basis of political and personal arguments they are making. It is absolutely not ok to tell them that, on the basis of your diagnosis of them, they are enabling other addicts. That you would consider it acceptable behaviour to do so causes me, as a person whose primary political work lately has been the creation of safer spaces, more distress than I can possibly articulate.

    @faith

    “I don’t know caty, but I do know this.”

    No, you do not. It is absolutely not ok to… etc.

  52. Emily
    September 14, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Most people seem to agree that there should be some limits placed by the government upon certain objects (guns, drugs, etc.). For example, most people seem to accept that preventing persons convicted of violent crimes from owning guns is a good thing. So it seems to come down to a matter of where you draw the line. Even atlasien stated that she would like to see small amounts of heroine decriminalized and available by prescription. Some people think all drugs should be illegal (and they would include alcohol in the word drugs) other people, like Caty, think that all drugs should be legal. I think most people fall in the middle – so the problem is where to draw the line. For the record, I think most things should be available by prescription (even sex work as part of any comprehensive sex therapy).

    Caty’s argument loses a lot of its credibility because she is a confessed past addict and present user. For a present user to argue that the thing they want should be easier to access makes it difficult to believe that any argument is more than self-serving rhetoric.

    Everyone has their own beliefs about what should be legal and what should be illegal, i.e. where they would draw the line between permitted and prohibited behavior. If you’re going to get a majority of people to agree that drugs and sex work should be legal, then you really need to be arguing liberatarian values that nothing should be illegal. Otherwise, unregulated prostitution and unfettered access to heroin is on most lists of behavior that should be prohibited.

  53. September 15, 2009 at 6:54 am

    “No, you do not. It is absolutely not ok to… etc.”

    It is absolutely ok for me to speak of my experiences with drug users and addicts. I am fully entitled to do exactly that just as Caty is allowed to speak her piece.

    I have a tremendous amount of experience with drug users and addicts, which is precisely why I’m so passionate about this subject. While I can understand some of the arguments for decriminalization (whether I agree with them or not), the idea that we should accept heroin use as responsible is just a vile argument that absolutely will and does enable addicts.

  54. September 15, 2009 at 8:52 am

    @Li: who died and made you God of the internet? “Nobody gets to judge anyone except me. It is ABSOLUTELY not OK blarg blarg blarg”.

    I’ll judge as I see fit, based on reason, logic, and my own experience with drugs. Of which I have a fair amount. If someone on the internet OR in person says they’re doing something stupid, I’m going to tell them it’s stupid. This includes anything from home trepanation, vaccination refusal, quote-unquote responsible heroin use or trying to smoke banana peels.

  55. Emily
    September 16, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Why is there a “HUGE difference” between regulating the supply of drugs and human beings? All criminal statutes are intended to regulate human behavior regardless of whether the prohition is on the item or the behavior. I don’t think that’s a disingenuous argument, please explain why you do.

    Also, of course a dialogue on drug use should include the voice of users. My point was that a rhetorical argument for decriminalization coming from a past addict and present user is easily dismissed as that: rhetoric. Especially when her argument seems to be based almost entirely upon the idea that any heroine use, even having it available for recreational use, is not harmful to the individual or society.

  56. September 16, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Emily – I’m not sure why this whole thread is horrifying to anybody, but I do agree that attacking the person (a couple of people saying “you’re in denial!”) is… I don’t know what’s the word, unhelpful at the least? People have a right to their opinions, but Caty’s denial or lack thereof, of her relationship to drugs, is not anyone’s business, unlike what Caty may say about drugs in general, which is up for discussion in this thread.

    I didn’t see Caty argue, though, that any heroin use is harmless – she does acknowledge addiction and associated harms. She just doesn’t think a) that she’s addicted or b) that decriminalizing drugs would make more people addicted. I don’t think a) is something other people can really know for sure, but b) is predictably a heated topic.

  57. brit
    September 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

    “Wow. I’m stunned and horrified by this thread.”

    That.

  58. September 17, 2009 at 6:35 am

    Good luck policing that.

  59. September 21, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    atlasien – I’m not sure if that’s directed at my last comment? If it is, just wanted to say – I don’t think it’s possible or desirable to police any of this conversation. I just felt like – the original objections to this post were about something specific, and they were/are criticisms I sometimes agreed with. To have it turn in the end to “you’re an addict in denial!” – I’m not saying that’s even incorrect (I’m not, myself, making that call), I’m just saying it felt to me like “I’m mad at some things Caty said and won’t bend on, and while I’m at it here’s a potential weak spot of hers *personally*, and since it may be related, it’s fair game.” Whereas I didn’t feel like it was fair game, true or untrue.

    If we’re in Caty’s life and we’re her family and friends and decide we think she’s in trouble and we’re going to do an intervention – okay, it’s on topic. But the topic (and what angered people or evoked criticism) was not “is that darn Caty an addict in denial?!” So going there with it felt unfair to me, that’s all.

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