Drug education doesn’t work well, here’s part of the solution

Last year I wrote a paper (“A Flawed Solution, a Persistent Problem”) about a concrete solution to the War on Drugs, painting it as a failed solution to a legitimate problem, that we need to solve in a better, more humane way. Beyond the policy mechanics is the education schools and parents provide to kids about drug addiction and safety.

Writing for Vox, German Lopez states that current drug education for teens is bad, and has been bad for a long time. Put simply, D.A.R.E is scaremongering pseudoscience, and I’ve never personally met a person in my age cohort that took it the slightest bit seriously. With marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado, and several other states on the same path, we are moving from a paradigm where adult pot use was common, to now one where it is also accepted and part of above-the-board society. Drug policy is finally liberalizing, and the end result for anti-drug groups is pretty difficult. If whole states are making pot legal, why are government-funded groups like D.A.R.E say that the drug is dangerous and has all sorts of serious short and long-term effects?

What teen education groups have long done is discredit themselves on soft drugs, so anything they say about hard drugs like cocaine and heroin is treated with suspicion. If you’re willing to lie and say, as some groups have, that pot can lead to insanity, why would already skeptical teens believe all the (totally true) dangers of heroin?

Education should mirror the policy ideas I suggest. The main thing is a strategic retreat from pot education, particularly any education that isn’t rooted in hard science and can reconcile with the teens, who sometime smoke it and definitely know at least a couple people who do. Programs should deal with the consequences of drug use, but also drug policy. With so many non-violent drug offenders in prison, things need to move beyond the simple scare warning (“Do you want to end up in prison?”) but acknowledge that demonization of drug use impacts families and may drive addicts away from treatment.

Some of the more over-the-top teen ed programs really remind me of bible-thumping evangelical education. Both talk about the immense punishment one will receive for certain acts, often minor ones that outsiders wouldn’t view as a big deal. The thing is that even if teens are super-smart themselves, social media and the Internet allow for a counter-narrative to form, coming from people that teens may trust more than an anti-drug teacher.

Drug abuse is a problem, but the drug trafficking born of making drugs illegal has killed tens of thousands. Drug ed, and public policy, should focus on personal cost. A ironclad anti-drug policy may seem like a way to a better society, but the raping and murdering of Mexican women by the hundreds comes from criminalizing so many drugs. Drugs kill people, but making drugs illegal kill more. The people who die from drugs still die under the War, but the collateral damage of trafficking and distributing drugs is massive.

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O grand charioteers!


O grand charioteers!
souls who hitch onto Mars,
ride his endless fury
above sun-baked mountains
to sacred acres where
mortals seldom tread free

across the many skies
scorched by stern suns, until
a motherly moon heals
lets stout heroes stand tall;
only true explorers
see nature’s gift – complete

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Like oil

Sound rolls forward
as a rogue wave,
hear war-chants
dusted off, their meter
steeped in the old way,

new purpose flows forth
like oil over all
that stand in opposition.

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A history of outside agitation: the role of UUs

Marker for Viola Liuzzo, murdered by the Klan, March 25, 1965. Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail

Marker for Viola Liuzzo, murdered by the Klan, March 25, 1965.
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer; with it, a chance to reflect on the history of outsider agitators. That term gained currency in reaction to movements like the Freedom Rides and the Summer, where northerners of all races came to break down segregation and Jim Crow. This was portrayed as dangerous, much like the old antebellum South and its fears of slave insurrection. In March,1965 a UU minister, James Reeb was killed while working with Dr. King, Jr. Two weeks later, another UU named Viola Liuzzo was murdered by Klan thugs. In every way they were different than the communities and people they were trying to help, but their sacrifice was important. That is because they were agitators, and agitators help justice triumph- no matter is they were ‘outside’ or not.

Marker remembering Rev. James Reeb, murdered March 9, 1965.

Marker remembering Rev. James Reeb, died March 11, 1965.


The role of outside forces, especially white leftist activists, has been hotly debated. I’ve shared some discussion on the matter. What we have is an old quandary- how can you help, without making things worse? The sandpit that makes outside agitators difficult, and even dangerous, is one of selfishness. If outside forces pour into Ferguson, or Sanford, Florida, or indeed Mississippi and Alabama fifty years ago, their level of self-interest helps determine their use. Put bluntly, joining a protest in St. Louis and throwing rocks at the police is a great way to get on TV. That kind of behavior sabotages local efforts to press for change, and draws attention to a small minority, to the detriment of larger grievances.

Though there are moral principles at stake here, the question those who wish to help need to ask is “if we can, how can we help you?” versus “I know what can help you.” Respect for autonomy, whether in the black community, or indigenous peoples fighting Chevron and mining companies, or whatever group is engaged in struggle, is important. Part of the Freedom Summer was allowing the oppressed to gain political tools to use against their oppressors. Supplying power to others, not using your own power in their name.

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A thousand rainbow colors

Stained glass in Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, British Columbia. Taken by Andrew Mackay

Stained glass in Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, British Columbia.
Taken by Andrew Mackay

A single shard
tells a tale
far beyond the
buoyant embrace
words supply

traced in toil
imbued with life
awoken from a crumbling tomb
to searing light
a collage of a thousand
rainbow colors!

day breaks -
rushing tide
clarity no soul
can live without

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California’s drought: how long until this is the new standard?

The drought marches on.

Though I’m hardly an old sourdough, I have been through resource crises. In third grade we often had to switch to writing or going on early recess because the rolling blackouts didn’t allow fancy-pants pedagogy. Yet the energy crisis was relatively short-lived. This drought period- far from the first for older Californians- is serious and has no end in sight. People are running out of tap water. All of California is growing taller because of the lack of heavy water to press it down.

One cannot overstate the importance of water. Not only do humans need to drink it, it comprises a majority of our body mass. Down to the cellular level, water-based chemistry is all there is. Those extremophile bacteria that can resist heat, cold, radiation, can’t live in an environment with no water. An old trope is that cockroaches will be the only ones left after a nuclear war. Cockroaches couldn’t survive a waterless Earth.

Collectively, we must deal with resource anxiety. Many resources globally may be running out, or becoming scarce and expensive. With California, my anxiety is fundamental: how many more droughts do we have before it’s just the new state of climate? Put simply, is drought the current reality, or is also transitioning into the reality in my state.

When climate change worsens, every event connects to the split between temporary and a new standard. Temporary droughts, hurricane seasons, heat waves etc. give people some chance to make right. Even if they don’t cut carbon emissions, you can build a new infrastructure to mitigate future disasters. Yet at some point, time runs out. California should have built a larger water storage system. It should have set up fines for excessive water use. It should have yelled at Homeowners’ Associations until they allowed drought-resistant landscaping. It should have invested in more reclamation and grey-water usage. But infrastructure built in reaction to something is never as good as infrastructure built in expectation of something.

This drought has knocked an existential fear into many citizens and officials alike. But fear must be made into policy; future action may be more difficult and expensive. We are procrastinating on a project, and the project is the future of the planet.

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For the not yet dead

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, B.C. Photo by Andrew Mackay

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, B.C.
Photo by Andrew Mackay

The man who builds
immense walls may
protect himself
all manner of
harm, the shadows’ tide
breaks upon stone seawalls
immense, eternal

every castle
a seat of
temporal might
a tomb, also
for the not yet

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