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May 4, 2014 | by  | in Opinion |
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Bigotry survives

It’s difficult to comprehend the hatred of the past. We live in a country where religious oppression has been consigned to NCEA History examinations and Amnesty International mailing lists. That your most personal beliefs could be subject to the purview of the masses is beyond abhorrent – it’s ridiculous. If our government attempted to tell us whether we should believe in a higher power or practice certain rituals, we would laugh before we would cry. Our right to control our own minds is entrenched so deeply within our political psyche that understanding the horror of majoritarian persecution is impossible.

Unless, of course, you take drugs.

To stigmatise the drugged is to stigmatise those exploring their spirituality as they see fit. Yes, we can mock the stumbling profundities of pot-heads or the existential traipsing of trippers. But we cannot forget that, for many, drugs provide insight that sobriety does not. Sometimes it takes a distorted lens to magnify what matters. And whether it’s an early-morning toke or dropping a Sunday-arvo tab, drugs provide the rituals that our secular world has forgotten. It’s pretty easy to shout about addiction. It’s less easy to recognise the value of the moments by which we pace our lives, the worth of the breaks amid the chaos.

Drug criminalisation is as much religious discrimination as the 16th-century criminalisation of Catholicism, as much as the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar or Buddhists in Tibet.

And yet we are silent. Sure, our public health professionals understand that our drug laws are broken. Studiously they compose Select Committee submissions on the need for “harm-minimisation” and the merits of a decriminalised regime. But they will be ignored until they realise that our laws are based not on compassion but on bigotry. We don’t ban drugs to minimise their use. We ban to send a message: drug use is a social deviance beyond toleration. There’s an arrogance in having our lifestyle enshrined as the lifestyle that is worthy, in being told our conception of the good life is the one that is correct. To legalise drugs is to sanction the idea that there is more than one way to flourish. That is never an idea that the bigots will accept.

As long as moralising is an acceptable basis of law, we will not change a thing. The drugs we consume should be a choice we own as deeply as the god to whom we pray and the temple at which we crouch. Just as we forbid religious persecution on the basis of health outcomes (no, we don’t force pig-valve transplants on Muslims or blood transfusions on Jehovah’s Witnesses), the health outcomes of drugs are irrelevant. Rights are not contingent on medical-bureaucracy guidelines.

When we fight to change our drug laws, let’s not fight over the efficacy of paternalist regimes. In this secular world, drugs are the religion of the masses. It’s time to fight for the notion that religious freedom matters.

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