Ever since Head published “Heroin Reconsidered: The Twentieth Century Scapegoat” (November 1977), by Jonathan Ott, the mail has been pouring in. The vast majority of the letters have congratulated us on being the only publication in America to have the courage to write about this controversial issue. Even some of our advertisers in the drug ‘ paraphernalia industry were a little freaked-out by an article on heroin, but we felt that we had an obligation to you, the readers, that we couldn’t ignore.
What most people don’t realize is that the laws against heroin, just like the laws against marijuana and cocaine, are not based upon scientific or medical evidence that the drug is harmful. The laws that were passed against marijuana and cocaine in the early 1930s reflected widespread racist stereotypes in this country about the Mexicans and blacks who used those drugs. Headlines were common in those days that read, “Mexican Smokes Marijuana – Kills Family” or “Cocaine-Crazed Negro Rapes White Woman.” Similarly, in the early 1900s, laws were passed against opium (from which heroin is derived) because opium was popular among Chinese immigrants and was supposedly related to crime and immorality among the Chinese. As recently as the 1960s, we saw how the government cracked down on marijuana use because of a reaction by Middle America against the unorthodox new lifestyles and political beliefs of many marijuana smokers and not because there were any new scientific or medical findings that pot was harmful. Those findings were manufactured later to try to justify the enforcement of the laws against marijuana.
In addition to the racist origin of this country’s drug laws, other factors have been at work as well. As scholar Thomas Szaz points out, every society tries to find a group of people that it can use as “scapegoats” for all its troubles. To the people in Salem, “witches” were the scapegoats. To the Nazis, the Jews were the scapegoats. To Joseph McCarthy, the presence of “communists” underneath every bed explained away our troubles. Today, “junkies” and “pushers” are simply our contemporary political scapegoats.
Another non-medical reason for the laws against drugs, including heroin, is politics. Voters like politicians who seem to be hardliners against crime by supporting anti-drug laws. The incredible truth is that there never was a heroin problem until the laws against heroin were passed.
Nobody is saying that you should try heroin—or necessarily take any drugs, for that matter—but it is important that the facts about this topic be put on the table, so that it can be discussed intelligently. Heroin, like all drugs, is capable of very serious abuse, but that doesn’t mean we should lock up people who occasionally use illicit drugs and throw away the key. It just doesn’t make any sense that alcohol and tobacco are legal, multi-billion dollar industries while drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin are illegal and the focus of an international effort to stamp out their use. I f this country’s government were really concerned about the health of its citizens, it would stop hassling drug users and start hassling industries that pollute our air and water and who are responsible for the skyrocketing rate of cancer in this country.
Charlotte Faye Greenberg
Editor and Publisher