Drug Prohibition as Censorship

censorship censored government logo icon sign state movie film book drugs policy prohibition

“A government that is permitted to set punishments for drug ‘offences’ in which a person has done nothing more than grow, manufacture, distribute, or use, the psychoactive agents which have been denoted as “controlled substances,” participates in an even more pernicious form of censorship – a censorship of consciousness itself – by choosing to punish people for no other crime than choosing to experience or enable particular states of mind.”

–  Richard Glen Boire

What is censorship? Censorship is any attempt to control the circulation of ideas or information within a given society. Given that psychedelic drugs can manipulate psychological states, and some of these states have a propensity to cause people to “learn valuable lessons” and “gain meaningful insights”, some drugs can be understood as ‘information communicators’ in themselves.

If this holds, then it must follow that any attempt to control such compounds is a form of censorship. Whether or not censorship is the primary aim is an open question, but in the case of LSD there are clear indications (see here) that the early attempts at controlling the substance were motivated by the desire to control certain political dynamics that were emerging (in part, because of LSD?) in America at the time.

Whatever LSD showed people, it seemed to encourage “dropping out” on some fundamental level from the mainstream of society. Many of the clichés of the hippy movement signify fundamental value changes: “free love”, “peace”, “going with the flow” etc. I have heard it said that when LSD was tested on soldiers, the thing that worried the army superiors the most was that the subjects didn’t want to go and kill people any more.

In this day and age we are quite wary of censorship, whatever its form, and whether or not it is merely tacit. Censorship is an explicit attempt to control the minds and actions of a population, it is the invisible propaganda. As Boire says, the war on drugs is “the censorship of consciousness itself”, or, in plain speaking, mind-control.

Censorship is seen by most of us as inherently sinister: paternalistic at “best”. When we look at governments of decades past and their attempts at film and book censorship they always seem so quaint and puritanical, and we should note that any attempt at censorship usually caused an increase of exposure to whatever book or film it was.

When a book or a film is censored it is, in its simplest terms, a censorship of certain experiences. Are psychedelic drugs different?

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