Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use


The nationally syndicated columnist and Reason magazine editor presents a damning portrait of how politicized government agencies, antidrug activists, and a naïve national media have exaggerated the public's fears of the harmful effects of recreational drugs.

Jacob Sullum goes beyond the debate on legalization or the proper way to win the "war on drugs," to the heart of a social and individual defense of using drugs. Saying Yes argues that the all-or-nothing thinking that has ...

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Saying Yes

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The nationally syndicated columnist and Reason magazine editor presents a damning portrait of how politicized government agencies, antidrug activists, and a naïve national media have exaggerated the public's fears of the harmful effects of recreational drugs.

Jacob Sullum goes beyond the debate on legalization or the proper way to win the "war on drugs," to the heart of a social and individual defense of using drugs. Saying Yes argues that the all-or-nothing thinking that has long dominated discussions of illegal drug use should give way to a wiser, subtler approach exemplified by the tradition of moderate drinking. Saying Yes further contends that the conventional understanding of addiction, portraying it as a kind of chemical slavery in which the user's values and wishes do not matter, is also fundamentally misleading.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Jacob Sullum dismantles the antidrug messages." —The New Yorker

"A welcome departure from the choreographed war on drugs." —The Washington Post

The Washington Post
Sullum grants that prohibitionists could still mount a case against decriminalizing drug use, but he maintains that they must alter their arguments to reflect the key point that drug users are themselves the "silent majority" in the controversy. "Honest supporters of the drug laws have to acknowledge that the case for prohibition rests on a morally questionable premise: that it's acceptable to punish one group of people for the sins of another -- in this case, that the majority of drug users, who do not harm others, or even themselves, should suffer because of a minority's failure to exercise self-control." Regardless of whether you accept Sullum's conclusions, that call for honesty is by itself a welcome departure from the choreographed outrage of the War on Drugs. — Chris Lehmann
The New Yorker
This is the doctrine of the true church on the subject of opium," Thomas De Quincey wrote, "of which church I acknowledge myself to be the only member." Many lonely worshippers congregate in Under The Influence: The Literature of Addiction, an anthology from Modern Library edited by Rebecca Shannonhouse that collects examples of almost two centuries of drug literature -- from De Quincey's early-eighteenth-century memoir, "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater," to the anonymous 2001 Granta essay "Confessions of a Middle-Aged Ecstasy Eater." Drugs may lie at the book's heart, but compulsions related to gambling, food, and sex are also represented.

Missing from the collection is one of De Quincey's most devoted readers and a fellow opium fiend, Charles Baudelaire, who counselled readers to be drunk continually, "on wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish." But he also thought drugs were a perversion of man's taste for the infinite and that great minds could furnish their own intoxicants. In On Wine and Hashish, translated from the French by Andrew Brown, Baudelaire argues that the great poets can "by the pure and free exercise of their will reach a state in which they are at once cause and effect, subject and object, hypnotist and sleepwalker."

In Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, Jacob Sullum dismantles the antidrug messages -- the comic figure of the slothful pothead, the spectre of the acid flashback. Sullum believes that the "silent majority" of illegal drug users indulge only moderately while still leading successful, productive lives. Once this group begins to speak up, he hopes, the myths of the drug wars "will be impossible to sustain."

(Kate Taylor)
Publishers Weekly
Opponents of the "war on drugs" have long focused on the distinction between drug use and drug abuse; that distinction is at the heart of Sullum's provocative and impeccably reasoned new title. Our expensive and ineffectual drug war, Sullum says, is predicated on a fundamental misconception that drugs are inherently "bad." Politicians and the media perpetuate the stereotype of the desperate, violent druggie, while the average user looks nothing like that, Sullum says-just as the typical drinker bears little resemblance to a wino passed out in the gutter. "We see the drug users who get hauled away by police, who nod off in doorways and on park benches, who beg on the street or break into cars," Sullum writes. "We do not see the drug users who hold down a job, pay the rent or the mortgage, and support a family." He describes the billionaire insurance executive who's also a "functioning pothead," the neuroscientist who enjoys MDMA at social events and the woman who likes a bit of heroin before cleaning house. Most people understand that alcohol can be dangerous if used to excess, but alcohol in and of itself does not "compel immoral behavior." Why, Sullum asks, is that not the case for marijuana, cocaine and heroin? He labels the vilification of certain drugs over others (like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine) "voodoo pharmacology." A senior editor at the libertarian journal Reason, Sullum rejects the frequent moralizing that clouds the drug debate, and frames much of his case as part of the greater argument against so-called "consensual" crime, which asks why an act by consenting adults that doesn't hurt anyone should be illegal. As with his last title, For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health, Sullum proves he's not afraid to take on entrenched public policies that he sees as fundamentally wrongheaded. Never preachy, his volume presents its heavily annotated arguments in clear, conversational tone that's refreshing for a book of this kind. (May 8) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his second book, journalist Sullum (For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health) takes two tacks in his defense of drug use. First, he methodically dismantles conventional antidrug rhetoric; then he takes a more philosophical strand as he delves into the relevant moral issues. As the title hints, Sullum is strongly in favor of individual choice over governmental regulation. He advances politically incorrect views about drug use, but he substantiates them with research and evidence-something he repeatedly claims that antidrug propaganda lacks. The jacket copy notes that Sullum's style is "provocative," and to some extent it is: but while his provocative, substantiated content is to be commended, the provocative writing style may cause some readers to turn off and tune out. But what Sullum has to say should be heard, and this book represents an effort to get readers to think about facts rather than rhetoric, to examine the historical evolution of American public response to drugs, and to consider viewpoints that receive little mainstream ink or airtime. This thoughtful, engaging analysis is sure to spark discussion. Recommended for public, academic, and high school libraries.-Audrey Snowden, GSLIS (student), Simmons Coll., Boston Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sense of balance and perspective informs this critique of drug-use policy from syndicated columnist Sullum (For Your Own Good, 1998). Frank Zappa neatly encapsulated the menace of drugs: "The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole." It is, writes Sullum, a question of use vs. abuse, excess vs. self-control: for every example of the berserk crackhead, there are far, far more examples of functioning citizens of the republic who enjoy the temperate use of psychoactive substances. Can drug use end in harm, disruption, anguish? Of course, as can excessive consumption of water. Are drug users lazy, stupid, irresponsible, even murderous, given to sloth, madness, lust, wrath, and gluttony? No more so than other members of society, suggests Sullum, if their intake is considered and suitable to their personal capacities. The recreational use of drugs to elevate mood and cheer the heart is ages old and unstoppable, he writes; the mudslinging and black-and-white condemnation of the anti-drug crowd will find no more resonance than do attacks on alcohol and caffeine. There is scant evidence, let alone proof, that drug use will make any one individual dangerous or lead to a life of addiction and debasement. Indeed, there is more evidence (as in actual numbers) to show that people tend to instinctively steer clear of more pungent drugs such as heroin, and that even in heroin’s case the drug can be used in a moderate fashion. Sullum easily pokes holes in the blatherings of a William Bennett and perceptively points out that many drugs are associated with outsiders and the disenfranchised, seen as theyever were as threats to the political and economic status quo. Only those with an agenda will find fault with this compelling and judicious argument to allow for the temperate use of drugs by adults.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585423187
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/6/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.59 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Jacob Sullum is the author of For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health. He is a senior editor at Reason and a syndicated columnist with Creator's Syndicate. Sullum's weekly column appears in newspapers across the country. His work has also appeared in Cigar Aficionado, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 1
Author's Note 3
Introduction: The Silent Majority 7
Ch. 1 Chemical Reactions 31
Ch. 2 Strong Drink 54
Ch. 3 Going Nowhere 100
Ch. 4 Crazy, Man 136
Ch. 5 Random Sex Acts 168
Ch. 6 Killer Drugs 192
Ch. 7 Too Good 221
Ch. 8 Body and Soul 249
Conclusion: Managing Moderation 271
Notes 285
Bibliography 319
Index 333
About the Author 339
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  • Posted October 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Lucid writing, intelligently pieced together!!!

    Great book. Intelligent perspective. Solid thoughts. Open minded. I've really enjoyed reading it. It was good from cover to cover.

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