This series of blog posts will be discussing the social aspects of drug use. It’s taken in the main from Jock Young’s 1971 seminal work The Drugtakers: The Social Meaning of Drug Use. Each post will cover questions commonly encountered whilst campaigning for drug law reform, hopefully it’ll be useful for when you yourself are out talking to people. This post’s question is: “Won’t drug use increase if we legalise drugs?”
Now, we could argue the merits of the term “legalise drugs”, that wouldn’t address the concerns of the people posing the question. The majority of people believe that the current drug policies do stop people from using drugs, and that any attempt at “legalising” or “liberalising” drug-users would result in increased drug use. We can quote countries with punitive drug laws and high drug-use such as the
An underlying issue of the posed question is that drug use is seen in a negative light. Trying to overcome 50 years of prejudice is a difficult task, and will take more work than the few minutes you get to talk to someone. But what is commonly ignored is the extent to which drug policies or our approaches towards drugs may actually encourage use.
Last time I discussed how people of different values and cultures use different drugs for effects that are more appropriate to those factors. For those who support prohibition, it is these values and cultures that are considered so removed from social acceptability that criminal sanctions are deemed necessary. To justify such actions prohibitionists highlight these values of the drug user. By doing this they place the values they deem negative not just on the user, but also on the drug in question in an attempt to deter people from its use.
To some extent this does work, many people do not use certain drugs because they view them in a negative way or because of the punitive law surrounding them. Indeed, I know a number of people who no longer use certain drugs because of the risk of prosecution. However, this isn’t what happens in every case, for the drug user these values are, unsurprisingly, not seen as negative but actually as superior to those values to which the mainstream mass media push as socially acceptable.
In the face of society’s disfavour, the drug user may increase use of their drug of choice as a way of reaffirming their values. Some drugs may also be seen as attractive to people who wish to adopt or develop these values. Adolescents, who are at a stage of their development where experimentation with personality is common, are particularly likely to be interested in the values and cultures of drug use. The individuals who view drugs so negatively are unwittingly creating the environment to which drug use becomes appealing.