Structural Violence, Human Dignity, Drugs, Energy Policy
In An Age of Dangerous Substances
by Sunil Aggarwal on Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 2:52am
I wrote the following message to the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility board back in Nov. 2007
I now share the manifesto here.
With regards to our discussion at last week’s board meeting about the possibility of having a WPSR quarterly meeting next year focusing on the relationship of the work of the Energy and Peace Committee and the socially responsible need for a less restrictive cannabis hemp utilization policy, I offer for the board’s consideration the following thoughts.
Laura said that the Seattle P-I considered our organization “too lefty” for them to officially sponsor foreign desk editor Larry Johnson’s accompaniment on Syrian Refugee Camp citizen diplomacy delegation if the delegation was officially sponsored by WPSR rather than the presumably “less lefty” UN Association of Seattle. It is my understanding that the Seattle P-I did officially sponsor Larry Johnson’s accompaniment on the 1999 trip to Iraq with a WPSR-sponsored delegation that led to the award-winning journalistic coverage of the health effects of the US-led economic sanctions there. Yet, now we are perceived as too lefty. Is it not possible that we have actually just continued on our own self-evolving course, and it is the P-I that has moved rightward over the years so that now we appear too left to them? If that is the case, should we follow them in this rightward shift? Do we want to set our own agenda or be beholden to the political winds that shift newspaper boards’ politics? I think this is part of what being part of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization is about: we set our own agenda.
Over a million forgotten individuals are incarcerated for drugs in the United States today. I submit to you that all such drug prisoners are really prisoners of war and in fact are political prisoners of a massively violent, inhumane, misguided, and misinformed policy implemented by a drug-industrial complex that has gone virtually unchallenged for decades. If we are going to be an organization that says NO to violence as an instrument of social policy, and if we really mean it when we say that we wish to create a healthy, peaceful, and sustainable world, then we cannot address some acts of governmental violence and neglect others. We cannot seek to end just some of the wars that our country is involved in and sideline others, no matter how ordinary or commonplace they seem. For the truth of the matter is that we must be comprehensive in our violence-prevention mission because any source of unrecognized structural violence is bound to generate more violence, thereby thwarting our other violence prevention efforts. I believe that the pervasiveness and persistence of the drug war policy in the United States has only served to create a culture of violence, lawlessness, and disregard for public health and human rights. This is a major root cause of violence.
“The Drug War has arguably been the single most devastating, dysfunctional social policy since slavery.”
–Chief Norm Stamper, Seattle Police Dept. (ret.)
I submit to you that the war on drugs is a real war, and that acknowledging its violence requires neither a left-leaning nor right-leaning political stance. There are body counts, “collateral damage”, massive budget allocations of tens of billions of dollars annually, para/militarization, and widespread human rights violations. For example, reports show that police use SWAT teams to conduct raids as often as 40,000 times per year, often for low-level drug enforcement. There is trauma, psychological scarring, denial of medical services, separation of parents from children, sowing of the seeds of discontent, neighbor-pitted-and-neighbor, dissolution of social support bonds, environmental degradation, and every indicia of poor health, discord, and unsustainability. The war has gone on perpetually for the better part of the twentieth century, and can be referred to as “low-intensity deadly conflict”. I could share with you many people’s stories so you could see on an individual level just how devastating, dehumanizing, and unrelenting the structural violence of the drug war is. I tried to get into the news media just one story about a disabled army veteran who was dragged across the US-Canada border with a urinary catheter still attached for his involvement in medical marijuana back in 2005, which some of you may remember. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
What makes this war different from the ongoing American military campaigns in Asia is that this war is fought globally in the name of medicine and public health! Physicians and health care workers, the ones who would be most able to intervene and introduce reason, sanity, and reform, and whose social responsibility it is to do so, are virtually silent, either by choice or by fear of reprisal. That silence is violence. Who else is left to “speak truth to power with love” on these issues? Working with Rick Turner, I recently put a film and panel discussion together at the Wallingford Meaningful Movies on the topic of the American Drug War. We had a crowd of 160 there, which is the largest they have had in quite some time. There is clearly a yearning in the community for a redress of grievances around this violent policy.
“Why do you think the war on drugs is our archetypal battle right now?
The template of the war on drugs is what rules our society — certainly it rules our foreign policy. What is Iraq but a drug bust template? You go in, you kick the door down, you grab the people, you throw ‘em in jail, you take all their shit. They resist, you drop bombs on ‘em, you have helicopters everywhere. This thing has worked so well for ‘em against us, the pot-smokers. The only progressive thing happening right now is the medical marijuana movement.”
–John Sinclair, interviewed by Dean Kupiers in 2006 (John Lennon wrote a song about John Sinclair, you might recall—“…ten for two…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZzgxdccX5k )
I have already presented WPSR board members and others in the wider PSR community with ample evidence that documents the links between the massive underground economy of the drugs trade (as much as 10% of all global trade) and transnational organized crime, theatrical large-scale acts of violence, and high homicide rates (see also the recent cover story in the influential Foreign Policy magazine: “Think Again: Drugs”).
The national PSR social justice committee was compelled to include this topic as an area of PSR social justice concern on their website as a direct result of my bringing this information forward.
The evidence I have presented is drawn from numerous highly reputable sources (both governmental and non-governmental agencies have documented this). In addition, we have discussed how disease prevention and treatment is also undermined by this war. Every day that we further dehumanize the injection-drug (usually street heroin-, cocaine-, or methamphetamine-) using population by denying them basic HIV prevention services that have been scientifically shown to be effective is another day of more body counts, another day in which we say that some people deserve more protection from HIV than others (N.B. 25% of all HIV cases outside of Sub-Saharan Africa are spread through contaminated injection equipment). Every day we as a society forcefully deny the scientifically proven medical uses of marijuana (now recommended by nearly 8,000 American physicians to their patients), we undermine the medical science that links on a molecular level the chemicals produced in the flowers of the 37 million years old cannabis plant with the human body’s cannabinoid signaling system that itself evolved 600 million years ago in biological systems.
How we can take a stand against the drug war: The role of PSR in an age of dangerous substances that must move beyond oil
Practically speaking, two ways come to mind as to how WPSR can take a stand against the drug war given our current programmatic work: first, by strengthening our call to eliminate and contain substances that pose a grave threat to humanity by contrasting the falsely dangerous with the truly dangerous, and second by recognizing hempenomics as an essential component to the neo-green revolution.
The truly dangerous substances:
Consider the role of PSR in an age of “dangerous substances.” The American military-industrial-Congressional complex went to war in Iraq presumably based on the lie that they had or were developing weapons of mass destruction. We all know where the true WMDs are and which country is the greatest purveyor of them. One of our organization’s main missions is to educate the public about the substances that pose the greatest dangers to human health and the future of the planet. I’ll make a short, off-the cuff list:
1. Weapons of mass destruction: weapons-grade fissile nuclear material (reprocessed plutonium or yellowcake uranium), biological weapons (e.g. Ebola, Fusarium)
2. Chemical Toxins: lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), NOx emissions, fine particulate matter, PBTs such as PCBs and PBDEs, mixed radioactive nuclear waste
3. Greenhouse Gas emissions: CO2, CH4, H2O(g)
These are the substances and chemicals that, for the sake of a healthy, peaceful, and sustainable world, we would like to see policies implemented heavily curtail, reduce and/or abolish their production and use.
What can obscure and retard these goals are public policies that attempt to control/eradicate substances that are treated as if they were nuclear fissile materials or virulent contagions. “Drugs” are one set of substances that get in the way of these goals due to the influence of powerful interest groups who persist in claiming that drugs require massive curtailment, reduction, and total eradication. This rhetoric, while sounding totally normal and familiar due to its oft-repetition, is not based on science or reason. Drug-taking is a normal and ordinary aspect of human culture that has appeared universally cross-culturally and throughout recorded history and prehistory. Not everyone is satisfied with the national “un-drug” drug alcohol, and it is chauvinistic to force people to be so.
Allow me to quote from a manuscript by a Canadian drug policy analyst that is about the debunked mythology of the Marijuana Gateway:
We also need to learn to accept the reality that mental health is as important as physical health. The Vedas are believed to be among the oldest, if not the oldest, religious scriptures extant. One of them, the Rig Veda, specifically focuses on the worship of a psycho-active substance that opens the doors to intense spiritual experience. A number of other scriptures, from various religions, seem to cover the same ground, although usually in a more disguised form. Even the Bible has numerous entries that could plausibly be references to cannabis and powerful psychedelics.
The need to explore human consciousness is as vital as the need to eat or sleep. Since time immemorial and until the end of time, humans have been, and will be, using drugs or plants that seem to facilitate interesting or productive explorations and, without the opportunity to use them under supervised conditions, many people will inevitably be misusing them as long as their dominant cultures, to which they’re pressured to conform, continue to insist that these substances have no legitimate use.
Some psychopharmacologists have described this acquired human drive to psychoactivate as “the fourth drive.” Thus, taking it into account is essential for a full understanding of human health.
The ‘war on drugs’ or ‘drug abuse prevention and control’ is therefore more appropriately seen as a low-grade, persistent, prisoner-taking war on the acquired human drive to psychoactivate steeped in an ideology of pharmacologicalism in which some substances are allowed and encouraged for psychoactivation (e.g, tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, cacao, “better than well” mood brighteners) and others are morally forbidden.
Pharmacologicalism is a matrix of centralized powers and discursive practices whose object is to reinforce an essentialism of drugs, of angel drug and demon drugs.
Take a peek into the racist, morally panicked and drug scare history. Former Congressman, Spanish-American War hero, and prohibition propagandist Richmond P. Hobson issued the following national radio broadcast in 1928 during the “Narcotic Education Week”:
Heroin addiction can be likened to a contagion. Suppose it were announced that there were more than a million lepers among our people. Think what a shock the announcement would produce! Yet drug addiction is far more incurable than leprosy, far more tragic to its victims, and is spreading like a moral and physical scourge.
There are symptoms breaking out all over our country and now breaking out in many parts of Europe which show that individual nations and the whole world is menaced by this appalling foe…marching…to the capture and destruction of the whole world.
Most of the daylight robberies, daring holdups, cruel murders and similar crimes of violence are now known to be committed chiefly by drug addicts, who constitute the primary cause of our alarming crime wave.
Drug addiction is more communicable and less curable than leprosy. Drug addicts are the principle carriers of vice diseases, and with their lowered resistance are incubators and carriers of the streptococcus, pneumococcus, the germ of flu, of tuberculosis, and other diseases.
Upon the issue hangs the perpetuation of civilization, the destiny of the world and the future of the human race.
(quoted in The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control by Dr. David Musto, Yale Professor and UW Medical School graduate)
My main point is that psychoactivity is not the same as dangerous toxicity, despite the histrionic ranting of Mr. Hobson! Despite this, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration/Agency maintains over 78 offices in 56 countries outside the US, reflecting the hegemonic status that the United States has enjoyed since the early 20th century in matters related to international drug control. This is total insanity. When are we going to separate the effects of drug prohibition from drug use? Why do we not strengthen our call for the eradication of dangerous substances by pointing out the violence and irrationality of spending approximately 100 billion dollars a year on curtailing naturally occurring seeds which mature into plants that satisfy the natural human drive to psychoactivate? Let’s advocate for the public-health backed policy of harm reduction and strengthen our credibility on speaking up for the truly dangerous substances.
True hemp, which is the oldest English language word for the Cannabis sativa plant, has been a valuable crop throughout human history for food, fiber, fuel, and ‘farmacy’. Carl Sagan and others have intelligently argued that hemp was the first plant domesticated by human civilization. Thanks to an orchestrated effort to greatly restrict cannabis hemp in trade in the second and third decades of the twentieth century based on racism, imperialism, and junk science, most people in 2007 have virtually forgotten about the mighty hemp plant. All that is left to remind us of this history are archeological and genealogical remnants in our country. We have towns with names such as “Hempstead” and family surnames such as “Hemphill” which point to this historical import that stretches back to the early seventeenth century. The restoration of hemp into our industrial culture is, I believe, an essential component of our new greening revolution.
Consider this basic argoeconomic science: The hemp stalk after it is grown, harvested, and dried is broken down into two parts: long, strong thread-like bast fibers and wood-like bits of “hurd”, or pulp. The hurds are 77-85% cellulose and can be made into tree-free, dioxin-free paper, non-toxic paints and sealants, construction materials, plastics, and much more. Most importantly, hemp is one of the best energy crops; the biomass from the stalk can be used to make methanol, charcoal, and even gasoline. The most important product is methanol. With an estimated yield of 10 (and perhaps as high as 18) tons of biomass per acre of hemp grown, and through pyrolysis an expected yield of 100 gallons of methanol per ton, there is a potential to produce 1000 gallons of methanol per acre of hemp.
A fully mature crop can be grown four times per year.
The reason that hemp needs a boost from a group such as ours is that it is the only alternative energy source whose implementation is retarded on extremist ideological grounds that have become codified into law. Wind, geothermal, tidal, hydrogen, solar, cellulosic corn/soy/etc are theoretically implementable (and should be implemented much much more so) because, at root, no one owns the sun, the wind, the oceans, soybean seeds, the hydrogen molecule, and so on.
These natural resources are part of the global commons that we all share.
Cannabis hemp seeds (genetic resources), however, have been robbed from the global commons through a US-led international monopoly-ownership ban by world governments that was formally implemented in 1961 (Single Convention on Narcotic drugs, even though cannabis is not a narcotic).
The ban in the US went into effect in 1937 due some argue to the undue power and influence of WR Hearst paper interests, DuPont Petrochemical interests (makers of nylon and patent-holder of the process to convert wood-pulp into paper, the leading cause of dioxin pollution in the environment for decades), and other post-Prohibition bureaucratic interests.
There was, however, a militarist hemp promotion effort by the USDA in the 1940’s during WWII war effort (“Hemp for Victory” campaign). Despite the fact that hemp can yield 18 tons of biomass per acre in only 4 months (more per four month period then sugarcane, maize, napier, kanaf and other); despite the fact that it is low-moisture and does not exhaust soil fertility; despite the fact that it solves the food/energy crop dilemma by providing both in one (methanol from pyrolysis of the cellulose and highly nutritious food from the seeds), a single plant of it cannot be legally grown in the United States of America.
They own the germplasm.
One single sample of the germplasm of cannabis, if allowed to be cultivated and propagated by agriculturalists and chemurgic specialists, would bring about nothing short of a green revolution.
Those are my thoughts on this issue.
I welcome your feedback and reactions.