How to convince people that drugs need to be legalized: a guide for getting skeptics on board.

I’ve developed a really nerdy, but kickass, superpower. Give me twenty minutes of one-on-one conversation time with a person, any person, and they will come out of that conversation convinced that illicit drugs—not even just weed, but the ‘bad’ ones like cocaine and meth too—must be decriminalized. Give me forty minutes with them, and they’ll be down for full legalization. It doesn’t matter what opinions they had about drugs going into the conversation. I can get them on board.

This is a skill I’ve developed over the last five years of dedicated research on drug use and drug policy (on top of 15 or so years of, let’s say, thinking about drugs differently than your average person). This isn’t because I’m the worlds greatest rhetorician, or because I’m generally good at debating, although practice has helped a lot. It’s because legalization just makes sense. It’s because the War on Drugs is a spectacular failure. It’s because the time is ripe. People are ready. The normies, the squares, the teetotalers, the smokers-and-drinkers, the legal drug users, the potheads who claim cannabis cures cancer but hypocritically shit-talk other illicit drugs—they are all teed up and waiting to be putted into the hole of drug policy pragmatism with the right arguments, even by someone who sucks at sports metaphors but uses them anyway.

11012449_10153502860849245_3423341969182463811_nThey’ve been primed by The Wire and articles about MAPS research and (at least for the young ones) their own experiences with MDMA and weed not living up to the propaganda telling them ‘one toke and you’ll die.’ OxyContin has shown that legal drugs can addict and kill, and fentanyl has shown that illegal drugs’ purity is at the mercy of the unregulated black market. Overdoses kill more people than car crashes now in North America. Over a thousand people died of opiate overdoses in Vancouver last year alone. Shit is getting real, and drug prohibition is not helping. It’s at the heart of almost all of the problems.

People have heard about Portugal’s success with decriminalization. They’ve heard about the U.S. for-profit prison industrial complex that is fed by the War on Drugs, and they may have even connected the dots to police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline for Black men. Odds are they don’t know about historical trajectories like the 13th Amendment in the U.S. or the racist origins of the first drug laws in Canada (which were opium laws used to oppress and terrorize Chinese labourers), but still. They’ve heard whispers of these topics, fragments of the yelling drug activists have been doing for decades finally getting amplified by social media, breaking the segregation of this information from the general public. And they can see with their own eyes how badly the War on Drugs has been lost. Drugs are winning, and they know it.

Still, completely legalizing drugs is a cognitive stretch for most non-users. It seems too radical. They don’t all see firsthand what prohibition is doing to drug users and to marginalized communities. Even those who do often still fail to see the structural forces at work, and end up falling into the ‘personal responsibility’ trap. They frown and balk as their affective instincts kick in, deep in the body, before their brain catches up to justify the feeling. Completely changing some of our most entrenched laws? That can’t possibly be the answer. They often instinctively defend the status quo just because, well, this is the way things are, so surely there must be a point to these laws—surely we haven’t fucked things up so incredibly badly as a society that we need to overhaul our entire approach to drugs?

Uh. Cough. Yeah, actually. We have. And we do.

So I’m here to help you get these people on board. Because, and this is the important part—we need these people. We can’t win this fight alone. Marriage equality didn’t happen until straight people marched alongside queer folks. People of colour will keep being subjected to oppression until white people get off their asses and form blockades. Feminism needs men taking Gender Studies classes and talking to their bros about catcalling and emotional labour. Movements don’t succeed until people who aren’t directly affected by the civil rights being demanded are on board, and this means that non-drug-users need to demand legalization from their politicians for the latter cowards to feel that it’s a politically safe move to make. The most important thing you can do to help change drug policy is to have a conversation about it with someone who currently thinks we should keep putting drug users and dealers in prison.

So, below are some tips on how to have those conversations successfully. It’s hard work, and it’s emotional work. People can be extremely heartless about the plight of human beings they think they can’t relate to. But you know what’s harder? Being in fucking prison, or losing your son in a cartel shootout, or being physically dependent on a drug that could kill you at any moment if it’s contaminated. So yes, it’s incredibly frustrating to hear someone coldly say that drug overdoses are Darwin at work—but swallow that anger, and do it for all of those people.growtheeconomy

Remember, too, that changes in opinion sometimes happen after the conversation is over and they’ve had a chance to think a bit. They may not seem to have budged while you were talking to them, but as long as you kept your cool and didn’t insult them personally, some of the things you shared will likely get through. You just might not get the joy of watching it happen, but no one ever said this work would be easy or immediately fulfilling. We’re playing the long game here.

How to convince people that the War on Drugs sucks and we need to legalize everything:

  • Ask them questions. The idea isn’t to tell them how to think, it’s to guide them towards figuring it out for themselves. The argument really makes itself, it’s so obvious. Asking them questions also engages with them and shows an interest in their thoughts, instead of just lecturing or talking at them.
    • “Do you think that prohibition is working to stop people from using drugs?” This is the most important question, because their answer will determine how you proceed. Sometimes even just asking the question does half the work; a lot of people just haven’t thought about it that way yet. If they admit that it’s not working, then you can start talking about alternatives. If they think it is working, then your job is to introduce them to reality: it’s not.
    • “Why do you think alcohol is legal but other drugs aren’t?”
    • “Does putting dealers in jail stop people from accessing drugs?”
  • Remember that this isn’t an argument about whether or not people should do drugs. It’s about getting the person to pragmatically accept that we will never be able to stop people from doing drugs. Once they accept that, then it’s a natural next step to get them to realize that prohibition, therefore, will literally never work.
  • Keep the focus on whether prohibition is working. Talking about whether illegal drugs are good or bad is not actually relevant to whether or not prohibition is good or bad, and can be distracting if they have zero experience with any drug except alcohol. Convincing them that many currently illegal drugs are not actually harmful is a bonus, but you don’t necessarily need to do that in order to focus on the fact that prohibition is what makes most illegal drugs dangerous in the first place, and is causing more human suffering through the prison system and the militarized, global War on Drugs than drug use itself ever could.
  • Still, though: ask them if they’ve heard of the medical studies being done on the benefits of MDMA and psychedelics, and if not, share the good news. Especially don’t forget to mention that these studies are helping veterans with PTSD, survivors of child abuse, and terminal cancer patients—people who are hard to dismiss as burnouts. Then ask why they think these drugs aren’t legal while cigarettes are.canada-america-poll-angus-reid-marijuana-legalization
  • Ask them if they think that getting addicts medical treatment and therapy would work better than arresting them and putting them in jail.
  • “Well okay, I think marijuana should be legal, but not harder stuff.” Ohhh, I love this old chestnut. See the above question. Try also asking them if they think prohibition is preventing people from accessing those “harder” drugs. You can also poke them on the definition of “hard” drugs versus “soft” ones. This might be a good time to talk about the negative effects of alcohol, which is legal and should be, and compare them to something like MDMA.
  • Demeanour is key! Be respectful and kind, and always ask questions with an air of gentle curiosity, not like you’re about to trap them in their own hypocritical stupidity (even when you are). They’re not bad people, even the jerks who think addicts deserve their overdose deaths—they’re just very misinformed. Dehumanizing anti-drug propaganda has done its job, and that sucks, but getting mad at a person for being ignorant isn’t going to help. If you find yourself wanting to swear at them for being a cruel moron, and you don’t think you can engage with them calmly anymore,  just stop and leave the conversation. Giving in to your anger and calling them an idiot might feel good, and you might be totally justified, but it is not helping in the long run. Do better.
  • Ask them if they think the government should be telling people what they can and can’t put in their bodies, and using physical force to enforce those dictates. Libertarians respond pretty well to this one, and feminists should too.
  • Ask them if they think that people who finish their sentences and come out of prison and back into society—as almost all prisoners who are jailed for drug offenses do—are more or less likely to be involved with drugs afterwards. Note that prison traumatizes people, and trauma often leads to drug abuse. Note also that having a criminal record makes finding legal employment more difficult, which makes it harder to avoid the drug trade as a means of subsistence.
  • If you’re talking with an incrementalist—someone who is turned off by the idea of rapid or drastic social change—first focus on decriminalization: let’s at least stop putting drug users in jail, because clearly that doesn’t help anything. cops-say-legalize
  • Next, see if you can get them to agree that we will never fully eradicate drug use in our society. Then, shift it towards legalization with arguments around how, that being the case, we are currently allowing cartels and diffuse groups of individuals to control the entire illicit drug supply, completely unregulated. We, as a society, are making that choice. We are choosing to let dealers, some (not all) of whom don’t care about the quality or safety of their drugs, control the drug supply. We’re letting them do that by not regulating the drugs ourselves. It’s a choice. Legalization is the other choice we can make.
  • Some points you can use:
    • Drugs are purer, stronger, cheaper, and more accessible today than they were when the Drug War was started by Nixon. So, uh… Yeah, the current approach is clearly not working.
    • In response to, “we’re just not hitting the dealers hard enough, or being tough enough with our borders”: We can’t even keep drugs out of prisons, the most heavily controlled and policed environments on earth. Why do we think heavier policing is going to work anywhere else?
    • Most opioid addicts get addicted initially through legal prescriptions. Drug addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue.
  • In this fucked-up era, not only do facts not really mean anything anymore, words often don’t either. But that’s okay. (It’s actually not but whatever.) The facts are on your side anyway, so you can try using them. It might work. But what you really want to do is get the other person to feel something. To empathize with drug users, drug addicts, and their families. To understand how our drug laws are used to systematically oppress people of colour, and get angry about it. This is often the hardest part, because illicit drug users have been strategically dehumanized and stigmatized for decades, and that dehumanization runs deep. It can be helpful to talk about all the “regular” people who do drugs, as a way of showing that drug users are people too, and addiction can happen to anyone. (This tactic is problematic for other reasons, but in the short term, it’s still useful.) Some examples: Steve Jobs and LSD, indigenous South American communities and ayahuasca, literally everyone and weed, Freud and cocaine, blue collar labourers and opioids for pain. You can point them to the entire Master’s thesis that I wrote about regular, hardworking people—doctors, social workers, teachers—who use all sorts of illicit drugs and are completely fine (and in most cases, better off because of it).
  • If you’re a person who uses illicit drugs from time to time, and you’re feeling really bold, and the person you’re talking to knows you—come out of the closet as a drug user. If they already respect you, it’s the most effective way to change someone’s perception of all drug users as homeless or addicted or whatever other discriminatory way they view human beings who make different recreational choices from them.leap_billboard_350
  • If you’re Canadian, British or from another country with socialized medicine, you have a huge advantage! (Americans, I’m really sorry. I feel deeply for you, for real. Keep fighting for single payer.) Because our countries have decided that all people deserve medical treatment, that means we’ve socialized the costs of said treatment. Which means we don’t leave overdose victims to die, we try to save them. This costs huge amounts of money—more money than preventative care and treatment would cost—and when added to the costs of enforcing drug laws, it’s a crazy amount of money. And it’s all money we could be pouring into prevention and treatment (there’s Portugal again!). Furthermore, most of the overdoses that we’re sending ambulances and firemen to are a result of unregulated substances. No one dies because the alcohol they drink was unknowingly 100 times stronger than the person they bought it from said it was. This is because we regulate alcohol. If we did the same thing for opioids, fentanyl wouldn’t be such a problem, and we wouldn’t be spending nearly as much money on overdose response. (Note: If the person believes that we should stop helping overdose victims at all because it’s their fault: first, take a breath and try not to call them a sociopath. Try to steer them towards a more practical acceptance of the fact that with socialized medicine, we are going to help people regardless of how the person got hurt. That’s just how it is, and how it should be in any half-decent society. If they want to privatize medicine that’s a different conversation, but as things stand, the costs are a reality.)
  • Guns are literally designed specifically to kill things, but we still let people have them. We just train them first. So ask them if making guns illegal would work better than our current system of regulating them. (This argument probably only works outside of the U.S.)
  • People hurt themselves and others with cars, so our response as a society is to regulate when, how and under what conditions people can drive. Doesn’t this make more sense than banning something that many people enjoy and use?

Most people just don’t think about drug policy enough to have an informed opinion on it. They rely on instinct and the status quo without even knowing why. Be the person who informs them. And be proud of doing this hard work.

Please share this article with anyone you know who could benefit from it!

Any other tips to share for talking with people about drug policy? Please leave them in the comments! Anything else to add or correct? Let me know! (I wrote this while tired and drained and trying to proactively distract myself from all the hurricanes and forest fires and Nazis with something productive, and will be working to continually fine-tune and improve it over the coming weeks.)


If you like my writing, please consider supporting me on Patreon, or sending some diapers for my baby from my Amazon list 🙂 I’m a low-income grad student and new mom trying to fight against the devastation of the Drug War–every little bit helps.

Find me on Twitter ranting about drug policy, criminal justice reform, anti-capitalism, psychedelics and anthropology: @HilaryAgro

Alright, let’s talk about GHB: A user’s guide. 

When it kicks in, it feels like meeting an old friend for the first time. – Daniel, 34

Few drugs are as misunderstood and stigmatized as GHB (except for acid, the king of misconceptions). GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), also known as simply G, is a central nervous system depressant that comes in liquid form, drank in doses of around 2 or 3 mL. It makes you feel relaxed, warm, sometimes tingly. It’s popular at raves and parties, mixes delightfully with psychedelics and is a pretty well-known sex enhancer.

It’s also a problematic drug in the Toronto party scene right now. Ask any paramedic what causes the most issues (aside from the obvious, alcohol) and they’ll unequivocally say G. I know this because I did ask a bunch of them for my research—initially assuming, based on the media hysteria around it, that they would say MDMA. Nope: it’s G. Event organizers hate it because although deaths are extremely rare, it does usually cause the most visible, paramedic-and-police-attracting problems when someone overdoses and passes out. The reputation it has for being dangerous, while frequently exaggerated, is not totally unfounded—it’s a tricky substance to dose and is especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol, a combo of factors that make it a ticking time bomb for careless, drunk bros. Last year, some of Toronto’s best and most caring party organizers were forced to temporarily shut down a beloved and usually very responsibly-attended ongoing event series as they reckoned with the legal and logistical fallout of a near-fatal overdose. I was there when it happened. It wasn’t pretty.

It’s also well known (especially among people who don’t use party drugs) as a date rape drug. While this is true, it’s not the reason that most GHB is bought, sold and consumed. (It’s also important to remember that the number one date rape drug is alcohol. And it’s even more important to remember that drugs don’t cause sexual assaults, people [and rape culture] do. And unlike guns, drugs aren’t specifically designed to hurt people.)

So yes, absolutely, GHB has partially earned its reputation as a troublemaker. However, G has some significant positives—if it didn’t, no one would use it and it wouldn’t be such a big damn problematic deal in the first place. So, look, it’s time to stop talking about drugs as if they’re just sinister little omens of risk and danger. Information on them is so bogged down in prejudice and “Danger! Risk! Doooooom!”-style rhetoric that it’s pretty much useless for actual users. Recreational drugs are fun—that is the definition of ‘recreation’—and people enjoy them because they bring a lot of benefits to their lives and are mostly harmless when used correctly. There. I said it. Apologies for all the broken monocles that popped off in shock.

This really shouldn’t be so controversial. If you want drug users to listen to you in the first place, you’ve gotta acknowledge their actual experiences. Which is, drugs are fucking fun. Literally anyone who uses them could tell you that (including alcohol users if they would admit that they’re using a drug) but we all act like acknowledging it would mean that everyone would immediately quit their jobs and get high all day.

Anyways, back to G. So, as far as we know, when used properly, GHB is actually one of the least harmful drugs. In fact, it appears to be downright benign. I haven’t been able to find any sources indicating long-term negative side effects, and believe me, the anti-drug warriors would be throwing stacks of photocopied negative articles from the rooftops if they existed. G is also, as far as we know, much less likely to be adulterated with other substances than powder or pill drugs are. Which in the age of fentanyl, is a pretty significant plus.

People use G because it feels like a mild combination of alcohol, MDMA and weed. Importantly, the biggest upside users cite is that unlike with many party drugs (looking at you, alcohol and MDMA), there’s no hangover of any kind to worry about with GHB. They take it, they dance a bunch, they get some sloppy make outs in, they go home, and they get up the next morning feeling fine. For those responsible users, what’s not to love?

Quotes from GHB users online:

“It mimics the effects of being buzzed on alcohol but you also have a nice euphoric push and everything feels nice so it’s a nice social drug at low doses.”

“GHB is amazing. Effects are similar to alcohol, but with more euphoria, less stupor, no nausea, no hangover. It makes you hungry and horny though. Completely replaced alcohol for me.”

“The buzz – very very horny, very euphoric – I would have extremely intense washes of intense body euphoria. When mixed with a stimulant the euphoria is incredibly intense.”

“GHB is the most wonderful drug I’ve ever done. When people asked me what it was like, I would always tell them ‘it makes you feel like the most popular kid in high school.'”

So G is basically a miracle drug for those who’ve figured out how to use it properly and no more than once or twice a week. But: “when used properly” is the tricky part. That’s where everything can fall apart, and is the reason G is the bane of every festival medic’s existence.

In the end, we can go back and forth forever about whether it’s good or bad, safe or dangerous, but the reality is that enough people have decided that they like it that they’re going to keep doing it and it’s going to keep being a thing at parties. And so, below, compiled from my ethnographic research on harm reduction in the rave scene (interviews with users, participant-observation at events, scouring peer-reviewed articles and other sources, generally being a huge nerd, etc), here’s some tips for how to party more safely with G. A good “spirit guide” (see here, page 100) will ask you questions about all of the factors below so they know how much to dose you. If you’re dosing yourself and you’re not willing to follow these guidelines, just don’t use it. Put the vial down. In fact, maybe think about not using any drugs if you feel you’re not up to the task of being careful about how you use them. Drugs are fun, but they are not toys. You can get badly hurt if you’re careless.

NOTE: These instructions will seem pretty cavalier to some, but they reflect the principles of harm reduction, which means I know I can say things like “don’t mix with alcohol, period” all day long but that’s not going to help people who are gonna do it anyway, so I might as well be straight about how to minimize risk while doing it.

NOTE ALSO THAT THE BELOW APPLIES ONLY TO GHB, NOT GBL. Know what you’re taking.

GHB User Guide:

1) DON’T MIX WITH ALCOHOL. Seriously. Like a single beer at most, but even then, you really shouldn’t mess around with alcohol + G together unless you know your tolerance extremely well. Be very careful. If you’ve already had a couple drinks, leave at least an hour or two before dosing with G. If you’ve already had several drinks, just stay on that train and wait to play with G another night. (Remember, you shouldn’t even really need to drink at all if you’re gonna do G—it does everything alcohol does, minus the hangover. Except, fair warning, it doesn’t taste delicious. It tastes like salty shit. And yeah I know beer is amazing, but so is not passing out and going to the hospital.)

2) Don’t mix with ketamine either, or opiates, or any CNS depressant, unless you want to risk blacking out and unceremoniously barfing all over yourself and your friends, who may not be smart enough to put you in the recovery position so you don’t aspirate on your own vomit.

3) Start low til you know your dose. Everyone’s threshold is different, and an effective dose for each person is different. Because it’s liquid (and unregulated—thanks, prohibition), you also don’t know how strong it is until you get familiar with a batch. Around 1.5-2 mL is an average starting dose to feel effects, somewhere between 2 and 4 mL is the sweet spot for most people. Body size matters for dosing G; some bigger/taller people with naturally higher tolerances have to take up to 5 mL for a good high. For others, 4 mL is enough to make them puke. A too-high dose has the universal effect of making you pass out into an unrouseable sleep for a few hours, which will scare the shit out of your friends. But since different batches vary, it’s impossible to say ahead of time exactly how much is a proper dose from a new batch. Finding your dose requires patience and doing some of the same batch a few separate times in safe environments. Don’t go for broke on day one. Just as with any drug, you have to build a relationship with it and get to know how it interacts with your body.

4) Re-dosing is very tricky. Don’t re-dose before at least 90 minutes have passed. Preferably two hours or more, and closer to 2.5-3 hours your first few times. The less time has passed, the smaller your re-dose should be, and it should always be less than your initial dose. An okay rule of thumb is to not re-dose while you still feel at all high, but even if you don’t, be careful as you don’t know how much is still active in your system. Knowing your own ideal re-dose timing is another highly individual thing that you have to figure out slowly and very carefully.

5) Be conscious of how much food is in your stomach. If you just ate a big meal, your threshold dose will be higher than if your stomach is totally empty. (This is different from most drugs, but similar to alcohol.) It’s a very good idea to have eaten at least some food before you do G.

6) Trust your friends who are responsible and knowledgeable, but beware anyone who’s dosing you for the first time without asking how much you’ve had to drink, or having a conversation about how much you want to be dosed. They are being fucking careless. Bad spirit guide! No! Put the G down, you have not earned the right to dose your friends!

7) Use pre-measured vials (most head shops sell these) or a liquid syringe (available at pharmacies) to dose. This way you get consistency and accuracy in your dosing.

8) Don’t use it every day. No negative long-term side effects from GHB use have been established (yet), however, like almost any drug, GHB can be psychologically habit-forming if used too often, and (unlike many drugs) can cause physical addiction and withdrawals if used multiple times a day.

BONUS STEP:

8) Call your congressman/member of parliament and yell at them to legalize and regulate recreational drugs so we can have actual adult conversations with each other about how to use them properly without wading through a swamp of propaganda, prejudice and unregulated substances.

The main thing to remember is that the strength of G’s effects vary widely from person to person (and even from night to night depending on how much food you have in your stomach). The line between “THIS FEELS AMAZING!” and puking and/or passing out is a pretty thin one with G. So unlike with some easier drugs like MDMA, there’s no idiotproof guide to getting a great, safe high from day one. Starting slow and getting to know GHB is essential to be able to sustainably have fun with it. You need to woo her. Be a gentle lover with GHB. Get to know her ins and outs, how she works with your body. Don’t just stumble in and nail her without thinking. No one will have a good time.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s really not hard at all once you practice being careful, and being careful quickly becomes second nature. (It may not be as fun and exciting to be so methodical about it, but if you’re getting off on the risk you have a whole other set of problems that a set of guidelines can’t fix.) If you do it right, you’ll end up with a drug that has mostly upsides and few downsides.

There! See? It’s not impossible, yay! Please share this with your friends so uninformed users stop G’ing out and ruining the rave scene for us. ❤


Disclaimer: With this and all of my posts, I’m not advocating for drug use any more than someone who tells teenagers to use condoms is telling them they should have sex. I just don’t have my head stuck in the sand. I’m acknowledging a reality in order to keep people safe. -H


If you like my writing, please consider supporting me on Patreon, or sending some diapers for my baby from my Amazon list 🙂 I’m a low-income grad student and new mom trying to fight against the devastation of the Drug War–every little bit helps.

Find me on Twitter ranting about drug policy, criminal justice reform, anti-capitalism, psychedelics and anthropology: @HilaryAgro



Extra reading: I kept this post as short as possible to encourage lazy readers like myself to actually read the whole thing, but there are some important points to add. Some have been helpfully suggested by knowledgeable users, feel free to leave a comment with anything you think is missing!

  • Note that this article is NOT about GBL – the dosing is different for GBL so make sure you know what you’re getting, and do additional research before you consume anything.
  • GHB is not actually measured in milliliters, it’s measured in grams. Talking about GHB doses in mL is ultimately meaningless without knowing the concentration of the solution. “If taking/purchasing GHB from someone, always inquire as to what the EXACT concentration of the solution is. If they do not know, do not ingest the substance without either using titration to determine the concentration or evaporating the solution back to powder, weighing and putting the known amount of GHB back into a solution with your choice of concentration.”
  • If you buy larger quantities to dose out, put blue food colouring in the bottle you keep your G in so that no one accidentally mistakes it for water or liquor.
  • Advice from a harm reduction expert I know: “If you’re going to mix with alcohol, it’s better to take the G first or sip it to titrate up on either drink.”
  • Stimulants/uppers can mask the symptoms of a G overdose, so you can go into an OD after the stimulant wears off. Be aware of this when mixing and don’t take more G to compensate for the upper.
  • Does my monocle joke make sense to people who don’t get the Simpsons reference? (EDIT: I have been given confirmation that it does. Excellent.)