I’m an Icelandic male in my early thirties. I’ve been married two years and my wife and I rent an apartment in central Reykjavík. I graduated from a well-known design institution in a major European city. I used to work in advertising but I’ve recently started working for a start-up. I usually score somewhere around 130 on online IQ tests, which translates to ‘gifted’. I’m in good shape; I go to the gym regularly and am an avid cyclist.
I like taking drugs occasionally. Especially alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and magic mushrooms. I don’t do drugs very often but I’ll give an honest estimate of just how much:
3x a week (3–6 drinks 1x, 1–2 drinks 2x)
1x a week (half to one joint)
4–6x a year (one pill/100–200 mg)
4x a year (a few lines/150–250 mg)
2x a year (full palm of dried mushrooms)
This has been going on for about six years, only I drink considerably less now than I used to. I have never missed a day of work due to drug use and none of my personal, professional, romantic or familial relationships have suffered. I have never gotten into a fistfight. I have not had suicidal thoughts or lapses of depression. I have not developed a dependency on any of these drugs (I don’t ‘crave’ them and dry spells (common on this island) don’t upset me). And I have definitely not tried to chew off my face.
Drugs Vs. Horseback Riding
So people like me exist. And I’m not alone. I have many friends whose patterns of drug use are similar. Like me, they’re intelligent and successful. They’re entrepreneurs, programmers, up-and-coming politicians, government or municipal workers, bankers, artists and advertising or TV folk. Drugs haven’t seized our life, we just like getting high sometimes.
When I went to university in Europe, I would hardly go to parties where people weren’t smoking weed and guests wouldn’t be shy to suggest popping a pill and heading to a club. But the discourse in Iceland doesn’t acknowledge us. An interview with a casual MDMA user published in the supplement Monitor a few months ago caused a stir because discussing the drug in any other way than detailing its potentially harmful effects is unacceptable.
Interestingly enough, this is despite the most detailed and far-reaching study ever to have been published on the subject (in the journal Addiction, Feb 2011) revealing that MDMA does not cause brain damage. It is not considered addictive. Its consumption is considered less of a health risk than alcohol consumption. And what is defined as “acute harm” to an MDMA user occurs in about 1 in every 10,000 users whereas the same statistic, applied to horse riding, is 350 in every 10,000 riders. This comparison, made by Prof. David Nutt, the former chair of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, helped him lose his job—not because it’s untrue, but because it’s counter to policy. In other words, the truth is secondary to maintaining the illusion of harm. Why don’t we approach the question of drugs scientifically instead of clinging to myths and rumours?
Now, I know that the drugs I take aren’t exactly healthy. But the harm, science has demonstrated, is (with the exception of cocaine) no more than the harm the legally available drugs, alcohol and tobacco, can do. Why do we prioritise a drug that makes us aggressive, sleepy, and gives us awful hangovers? Personally, I much prefer the all-enveloping feeling of love that comes with ecstasy or the amplification of one’s senses when stoned. If all options are equally harmful/harmless, why don’t I have a choice?
Of course I acknowledge the drug related tragedies out there. I know that I am fortunate to lead a happy and stable life with a job and people who love and support me. I realise that for less fortunate people, drugs might become a type of escape. I also realise that some are for whatever physical or psychological reasons more prone to substance dependency than I am. But regardless of what is legal these groups will find their ‘drug’ of choice. It will probably be alcohol and cigarettes, but it might be anything: Ritalin, promiscuous sex, sugar, abusive relationships or something comparatively healthy like religion or sports. Only when the drug has been proven to induce massive dependency in the user should we blame the substance itself. In other cases, we should focus on the underlying social and psychological factors and try to battle them.
In countries that have legalised or decriminalised drugs, the money accumulated from taxing the sale of these substances and/or the money saved in the police and penal institutions from not having to enforce drug laws and incarcerate offenders is usually rerouted into the health sector to help people deal with addictions and to educate young people on the potential dangers of drug use. In Portugal, for example, this has resulted in less drug use than before and fewer addicts. This must be our end goal.
Safer Drugs—More Tax Money
Unfortunately, my habit has helped line the pockets of violent criminals. The government could easily, overnight almost, take over their business and pocket heaps of tax money. The local cannabis market alone is worth billions of krónur. Legalising drugs would both erode the foundation of organised crime in Iceland and help bridge the gaps in the State’s budget. And this is not counting the profits that could be made from exporting marijuana. Sceptics should note that weed farming is already a billion-dollar industry in the US and Canada.
Moreover, regulating the production of drugs would help make them safer. THC levels in cannabis could be capped and minimum CBD levels required (both alkaloids are found in the cannabis plant; THC is thought be responsible for negative side-effects of marijuana such as memory impairment, whereas CBD is believed to combat these effects). Traces of harmful compounds regularly found in street drugs due to poor production circumstances would be eliminated, making drugs safer. The potency would be printed along with warnings on the packaging, greatly reducing the risk of accidental overdosing.
Humans like intoxication. We always have. With regard to alcohol and tobacco, we have understood this and put in place a system that regulates the production, sale and distribution of these drugs. Illegal drugs aren’t going anywhere and the current weapons employed against abuse aren’t working. The World Health Organization has declared the ‘War on Drugs’ a failure and suggested decriminalisation, Portugal and Holland have decriminalised drugs, some US states have legalised marijuana, in other parts of North America it’s criminality is not enforced, and Uruguay has fully legalised weed. Even Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the President of Iceland, echoed these sentiments during a panel on drug policy a year ago. Let’s just hope that the government gets creative and follows suit as soon as possible.
P.S. I write this letter anonymously for two reasons: First, because I detail drug use above that is, after all, illegal. Publishing the letter under my name could incriminate me. Second, and more importantly, because drug use is heavily stigmatised. In the current climate, these confessions could cost me my job and future career opportunities, harm relations with certain friends, cause my family much inconvenience and so forth.
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