Copyright © 1993 Dave Gross
Contact Dave Gross for reprint permission.

Why I Continue to Break the Law

by Dave Gross

High Times magazine, July 1994

There are enough troubling aspects to drug intoxication that one could easily make the argument that inebriation in general is too dangerous to be an allowable state for John or Jane Q. Public to be in, and that our government, established in part to "ensure domestic tranquillity" should, with this mandate in mind, prohibit drug intoxication outright.

When intoxicated, some people insist on driving or operating firearms or engaging in some other activity that has no small danger even for the sober, often with tragic consequences due to the impairment of coördination brought on by many drugs. Furthermore, some people suffer such damaged judgment under the influence of intoxicating drugs that they commit illegal or immoral acts which they would otherwise avoid (or, perhaps less generously, they use their intoxication as an excuse to follow their normally subdued inclinations toward wrongdoing). In addition, some people take addictive drugs and lose their free will in the process, becoming a slave to drugs in the way that the rest of us are slaves to oxygen, water, and food -- never able to step out of the intoxicated state long enough to find an exit.

Most people who use intoxicating drugs, even if you do not include such drugs as caffeine and nicotine (as I will not) in that category, are not troublemakers of the kind described above. Nonetheless, an argument could be made that even though those who behave irresponsibly when intoxicated may be in the minority, that minority is so damaging to the "domestic tranquillity" that nobody should be allowed to roll the dice and see whether or not they are a member.

The opposite view is held by those who say the government's mandate really arises from an earlier document in which "the pursuit of happiness" was held as an inalienable right of all people. Intoxication, these people would argue, certainly falls under the category "pursuit of happiness," even if the pursuit is not always fruitful, and even if some people stumble during the pursuit. If a person can use an intoxicant without interfering with the pursuit of her neighbor's happiness -- let her be. If a person interferes with another person's rights -- whether or not the transgressor is intoxicated -- throw the book at 'em!

Somewhere in-between these views are attempts at compromises - Allow drug intoxication only under strict medical supervision; Find out which drugs are most safe or least addictive, and allow people to become intoxicated on those drugs only; Only allow trained supervisors to administer intoxicating drugs; etc.

But the strangest compromise of all is the one we seem to be stuck with. Allow people to become grossly inebriated on alcohol, so long as they don't do it too openly and don't drive around, but prohibit everything else. So intoxication itself is allowed (indeed, it is a huge national industry), but the method is restricted to alcohol.

On the list of addictive and non-addictive intoxicants, alcohol certainly is parked firmly in the former camp. So it is not for this reason that alcohol is the permitted intoxicant. You probably don't need me to show you the statistics showing that alcohol in no way makes its minority of abusers less dangerous than those of other drugs. Drunk driving, despite draconian legal penalties, continues to take a regular and terrible toll. Drunken fights at bars and football games come with the territory; violence both in and out of the home is often preceded by drinking in excess.

And if I may be so bold, let me compare and contrast the alcohol "high" with that of a few other drugs. I have not tried anywhere near the entire zoo of chemicals humans have used to get a buzz during their centuries on this planet, but I've tried a few. And while I've never been falling-down, puking drunk on alcohol, I have once or twice imbibed sufficiently to get a large taste of what alcohol has to offer.

In comparison to other drugs I've taken, which include at this writing marijuana, LSD, lysergic acid amide, psilocybin/psilocin and ayahuasca, I find the "high" of alcohol to be far inferior to all but the last on the list (and this almost certainly only because the ayahuasca was prepared incorrectly). Rarely does alcohol make me more than boisterous and slightly more stupid than usual. In contrast, most of the other drugs on that list not only aid my "pursuit of happiness" but much more in addition.

Perhaps this is not true for everybody. The rubayyat of Omar Khayyam, for instance, are mostly concerned with praising alcohol intoxication with the same sort of respect and admiration that I feel for my favorite intoxicants. Perhaps Omar would be unimpressed with psychedelics, finding wine more agreeable to his constitution.

I suspect, though, that I am not just in a freakish metabolic minority in my preferences for intoxicants, but that it has been tradition, more than anything else, which has placed alcohol on the "allowed" and my favorites on the "disallowed" list.

It is really an accident of history that shaped our country's legal attitude toward intoxication. We have for the most part taken to heart the argument I presented at the beginning of this article -- that intoxication is itself wrong. We have tried to enforce this at different times in our nation's history by banning groups of drugs -- somehow never bringing all of them under the "forbidden" banner at one time, but allowing each intoxicant its years of legal banishment.

Having retreated only from the ban on alcohol (due to the number of, and higher social status of its users at the time), we are left now with intoxication de facto legalized, but only with one of the more inferior vehicles known to man. Alcohol depresses, stupefies, decreases coördination and judgment, causes vomiting at high doses, and leaves the user with painful and lingering side effects. It's lethal overdose level is uncomfortably close to the level needed for intoxication. And, furthermore, it is physically addictive.

Compare this to a drug like LSD. When I take LSD, I am hardly depressed or stupefied. I am absolutely propelled. While I am certainly in no condition to drive, my coördination and judgment are not so disturbed that I would have trouble preparing lunch, talking with friends or doing chores. I suffer no disturbing physical side effects (some people I know have reported mild nausea or sometimes headaches), and I wake up the next morning without a trace of a hangover. And the lethal dose of LSD is so enormous compared to the intoxicating dose that I seriously doubt that I will ever actually see enough of the substance collected together at one time sufficient to cause death to a human being. And did I mention that it's completely non-addictive?

So the law gives its imprimatur to my getting completely hammered -- just so long as I do it with the officially sanctioned drug. A drug which I find inferior not only because of the unsatisfactory high, but because of the troubling physical side effects and potential for physical addiction. And so I continue to break the law, not because I don't respect the law, but because -- for the reasons I have just explained -- I cannot respect this law.

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