Cognitive freedom: a human rights issue: Examining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Part four – Goals 12 & 16

UN Sustainable Development Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies, states, “Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”. What was the real agenda when Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon announced the so-called “War on Drugs”? Was it a genuinely altruistic attempt to free addicts from the shackles of addiction? Or did it have a covert agenda to stimulate the arms trade, bolster the power of unsavoury dictators allied to US interests and stimulate the criminal justice system to imprison millions of people (disproportionately African-American men) in order to boost the private prison industry? If we are to judge by the results then there can be no doubt that it was the second, whether deliberately or inadvertently. This blanket declaration of war had many extremely negative externalities, a huge rise in violent crime being the most glaringly obvious. It necessitated criminals to acquire guns for protection from each other and the police. Consequently, the police and armed services then required a greater level of lethal force which created a feedback loop of ever increasing levels of force, a negative externality of the illegality of the drugs trade if ever there was one, thus cementing the power and influence of the arms lobby over money politics. Political expediency, economic interests and prejudice, these are the primary driving forces of the War on Drugs.

Ordinary people; casual pot-smokers, occasional ravers, students requiring study stimulants, long distance lorry drivers needing ‘uppers’ to stay awake, were criminalised on a mass scale and forced to associate with hard-core criminals when they otherwise wouldn’t have. But the desire to get high in one manner or another is a basic human drive similar to the sex drive, and, like the sex drive, it needs to be handled with intelligence, great care, joy, passion and sensitivity. Herein lies the heart of the matter; the contextual nature of drugs and the ‘get-high’ drive can be used by individuals and societies as a way to relax, socialise, enjoy themselves, manage stress and/or discover who they are. Although it is unlikely that there will ever be a zero level of harm caused by drugs, evidence from Holland, Portugal and Dr David Nutt in the UK suggests approaches which are based on criminal justice cause the most harm while legalisation/decriminalisation cause least harm. We humans either need The Right to Cognitive Freedom, explicitly stated in UN Sustainable Development Goal 3, 12 or 16 or we need an 18th goal. But this right must be stated explicitly.

When drugs are outlawed by the state, often under the influence of special interest groups with an agenda rather than evidence, to be used primarily as a means of control but also to create profits for arms dealers and companies supplying the police with equipment and/or building prisons there can be no “peaceful and inclusive societies…provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels”. Why? Illegality breeds corruption.Moreover, quality control of product is often very limited or simply does not occur and many people are forced into destructive behaviour, in order to attain money to feed their habit, such as theft and prostitution.

Let me state now and for the record, before anyone accuses me of promoting mass indiscriminate drug use, I do not recommend ingesting large quantities, or even moderate quantities for that matter, of LSD (Lysergic Acid), MDMA/MDA (Ecstasy), Magic (Psilocybin) Mushrooms or N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), as part of some sort of tripped-out-spazzy-free-for-all. At the same time, nor do I recommend adult humans to not experiment with these psychoactive fungi, cacti, plants and chemicals. An informed adult human should be able to make her or his own informed choices about ingesting, or not, psychoactive substances and altering his / her Consciousness within a safe protected environment, free from governmental or societal interference. The sovereign right of well-informed Conscious free-thinking adult humans to choose whether or not to ingest psychoactive substances and alter their consciousness is fundamentally a human rights issue. Care is always needed as context and dosage can be the difference between a meeting with Jesus or (metaphorically) visiting Guantanamo Bay. Just say know to drugs

Fundamentally, the right to choose to experiment with changing one’s own consciousness through ingesting narcotics of one sort or another is a human rights issue. Just as consenting adult homosexuals once had their human rights curtailed, so too do long-term psychonauts, casual/occasional users and those who experiment once or twice in their lives, have their human-rights curtailed and trampled upon. If adult humans have apprised themselves of the requisite information, spoken with people who have experience of the substance in question and set up a safe environment at a particular time and location, why should they not experiment with LSD, magic mushrooms, Ayahuasca, peyote, opium or cannabis, for example? It is a matter of historical record that alcohol prohibition in 1920s America was an abject failure and, indeed, so has the ongoing so-called war on drugs been. But narcotics do require some form of regulation as ‘tripped-out-spazzy-free-for-alls’ being carried out willy-nilly can lead to some very negative consequences.

Although any substance can become habit-forming some, opiates being the most obvious, are intrinsically addictive and need extreme care if one is not to become an addict. Psychoactive substances, such as LSD, if taken too frequently by people suffering with unaddressed emotional or mental health problems, can lead to temporary, or sometimes long-term, psychosis. Victims of a consumerist approach to sacred medicine. On this issue the indigenous shamanic cultures of the non-Western world and their lineage of ingestion within a safe, protected and guided environment are far ahead of the Western Cultures where Shamanism was totally wiped out or assimilated by the emergent Catholic Church[i]. Societies still exist today that practise shamanism with entheogens and they have done so within a safe and protected manner for thousands of years. The western consumerist approach has much to learn from them.

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, states, “Sustainable consumption and production is about promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty. Sustainable consumption and production  aims at “doing more and better with less,” increasing net welfare gains from economic activities by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole lifecycle, while increasing quality of life. It involves different stakeholders, including business, consumers, policy makers, researchers, scientists, retailers, media, and development cooperation agencies, among others. It also requires a systemic approach and cooperation among actors operating in the supply chain, from producer to final consumer. It involves engaging consumers through awareness-raising and education on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, providing consumers with adequate information through standards and labels and engaging in sustainable public procurement, among others.”

Sustainability of manufacturing a particular drug is also worth considering, since the production of cocaine & crack from the coca leaf requires the clearing of rainforest and the poisoning of the environment. In other words, while there could conceivably be ‘fair-trade Cannabis’ or ‘fair-trade opium’, there can never be ‘fair-trade cocaine’; it simply is not possible to produce it in a non-polluting environmentally friendly manner. So while there is a case for legalising / decriminalising / regulating the trade in coca-leaf or pharmaceutical amphetamine sulphate, as an ‘upper’ alternative, there can be no credible case for legalising cocaine or crack, under current cultivation methods, within a postcapitalist sustainable system.

[i] See Breaking Open the Head by Daniel Pinchbeck

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