Legalization of Stimulation
Written by: Samantha Shriber
For one Illinois senior, it always felt that vulnerability was the price to pay for a spectacularness.
Between dancing barefoot and allowing impulsivity to pour over her, she’d ponder the concept of hollowness.
She believed she was existing in a mini-infinity, one where everyone wore sequin bikinis and sipped on mimosas until sunrise.
But it was equally devastated by an inability to surrender. She said she experienced numbness each time she wanted to wedge her free spirit into the dirt. Hiding behind heart shaped sunglasses and Lollapalooza wristbands, she could never allow herself to cry like a cloudburst or fall in love under a flawless sky.
She first tried lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) at Electric Forest Festival 2017 in Rothbury, Mich. She devoted the four-day affair to “Raving, raging, never behaving and everything that makes life amazing,” (according to an Instagram account that will remain anonymous).
She was making bracelets with pony beads and repositioning her fishnets when her friend said, “you wanted me to grab you a tab, right?”
Later that night, after DJ Dillon Francis’s set, she goggled at the stars with dilated pupils mirroring the scene above her. The stars reminded her of Peter Pan’s Neverland. She imagined the feelings, specifically those she kept locked away, lifting her up like specks of pixie dust.
The experience submerged her mind with innocence; it was an innocence to trust the simplicity of her intuition, love with the same spontaneity she lived under and to allow herself to cry.
In 2020, she most definitely expressed being an advocate for the federal decriminalization of all drugs. When asked if she’d allow her name to be used in this article, she had to say no.
Jobs and Drugs: a Controversial Contradiction
“I don’t know that there is a way to safely avoid stigma,” said Kristin Tencza, the NextGen Michigan Organizer at Central Michigan University.
From September 2017 to 2018, Tencza served as a communication specialist for Wild Bill’s Tobacco, specifically serving their medicinal marijuana company Oasis Wellness Centers (now known as Green Buddha).
Through lobbying, her principal duty was to exist as a link between Michigan constituents and municipal policymakers. She aided in constructing ordinances under the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act of 2016, which inaugurated the standards for medical marijuana.
Although medical legalization has been passed in Michigan since 2008 and recreational legalization since 2018, marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) via the federal government.
“You just have to change the narrative and show them why that stigma shouldn’t exist. I think stigma is often perpetuated by ignorance, misinformation and lack of education,” Tencza said. “We have to lead by example with our activism and in that sense we can begin dismantling stigmas.”
Who is the Real Enemy in the War on Drugs?
President Richard Nixon launched the “War on Drugs” in 1969, following a claim that the nation’s most infamous enemy was drug use.
In the aftermath of this declaration, the United States has exceeded $2.5 trillion in their investment, spending more $51 billion.
But despite this economic significance, there are still 19.9 million drug users currently recording in the country.
According to Tencza, the War on Drugs was less about the wellbeing of people and more about control, oppression and greed.
“I think the primary thing to note is that people who do drugs often belong to vulnerable populations and are impoverished or have mental health conditions or are minorities,” she said.
This aligns with 2016 Harper’s Magazine article “Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs” by Dan Baum, a senior researcher and editor for Human Rights Watch.
In the piece, Baum interviewed John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former domestic policy advisor.
Ehrlichman is quoted saying:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”
Tencza said she “can’t see any cons in decriminalization,” as it would offer a platform for individuals to receive more efficient rehabilitation if needed.
“The government might see it as a con. Because instead of just incarcerating the aforementioned vulnerable populations, they actually have to create programs and services that help them instead of just imprisoning them.”
What exactly do they mean by decriminalization?
On their website, the Drug Policy Alliance recorded the War on Drugs contributed to:
1,654,282 arrests for U.S. drug law violations in 2018 (46.9 percent being Black or Latino)
663,367 people arrested for marijuana law violations in 2018
More than 200,000 students losing federal financial aid eligibility in light of a drug conviction
68,000 individuals dying from an accidental drug overdose in 2018
In 2017, federal inmates cost $30,619 to keep contained. Such records mean the government easily spent more than $450 billion just on prison maintenance for those sentenced under drug-related circumstances.
However, decriminalization of use and possession of drugs like cocaine, LSD, heroin and other illicit street drugs does not come without flaws, according to April 2018 article from Foundations Recovery Network.
“Pros and Cons of Decriminalizing Drug Addiction '' warn the biggest risk is the fears and circumstances circling a cultural shift the country is not yet mentally prepared for. It's list of cons feature:
Decriminalization might expand drug supplies, making costs less expensive and experimentation more available
Those with biological tendencies of addiction may feel more urged to experiment with drugs if they are not fearing prosecution
The country’s existing resources for rehabilitation are not at all large enough to properly serve an influx “of millions of new addicts from the legal system.”
Decriminalization opens a narrative for legalization in cases
In Tencza’s case, decriminalization may inspire more advance intentions to realize the medical and emotional benefits of certain drugs.
Her contributions to the movement are tied to how medical marijuana has aided her individually, despite its status as a Schedule I drug indicating it “has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” according to DEA resources.
“When my dad passed away I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with chronic (post-traumatic stress disorder), sleep disorder, panic disorder, anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder,” she said, explaining her trials with antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, sleeping medication and night terror medication.
After relying on these prescriptions for nearly a month, she said her “body began shutting down,” morphing into something separate from who she was.
“Medical marijuana helps me deal with all of my conditions in a way that also allows me to function at high capacity in my everyday life,” she said. “Medicinal marijuana has impacted my life in such a positive way...and it inevitably ignited a very deep passion within me to fight for my fellow community of patients who just want to be seen, heard and treated as real patients with real conditions.”
A New Perspective
For Livonia sophomore Gabby Harter, she admitted once feeling the War on Drugs had heroic causes.
As a high schooler, the enemy was the tombstones floating over the decomposing bodies of both her grandfathers, elevated by a desperation deluge life in smears of alcohol. It was obituaries of siblings who she’ll never see again and eulogies bandaged onto year books for classmates who’ll never graduate.
“In another light, I’ve had a lot of friends experiment with psychedelics and it terrified me,” Harter said. “I was incredibly judgmental towards people that would indulge in drug use because I only saw the negative consequences that came along with it. After I started to become more educated on use and abuse, I realized that users all have different purposes for use of their drug of choice, but the majority use them for self-medication.”
After arriving at Central to study psychology and enrolling in programs centered on leadership and substance use education, Harter soon realized the biggest threat to humanity was a lack of empathy.
“Before I became a college student, I wanted nothing to do with anyone that had experimented with substances. That being said, a year and a half later it is what I passionately study,” she said. “Educating myself on this topic has caused me to find the positives even in the worst of situations and has genuinely caused me to be a more accepting and loving human.”
In Psychedelics and Psychology, a CMU course) she learned about research on MDMA-assisted therapy possibly being used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. This is due to its capacity to advance sociability. In addition, the characteristics of psilocybin, the fungus for hallucinogenic mushrooms are also being sought out as a cure for depression.
Through her studying, Harter came familiar with how the importance of mindset and external environment can be directly influenced in order to reduce harm and elevate a psychedelic experience.
“Psychedelic therapy is a growing industry, but slowly progressing due to drug scheduling and the negative stereotype that remains on these substances that was placed back in the ‘60s.”
As science and ethics tackle one another, a question remains: what would a post-War on Drugs world look like?
For Harter, it “includes recognizing that drug use, abuse and/or addiction can happen to anyone. With that, it is also important to acknowledge the word ‘drug’ as an umbrella term that has a wide variety of uses.”