Resurrect the World: End the War on Drugs

Readings for Easter Sunday: ACTS 10:34A, 37-43; PS 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3: 1-4; Pascal Victim Sequence; 1 Corinthians 5: 7B-8A; John 20: 1-9

On this Easter Sunday, I want to tell you a story of resurrection. It involves the ex-president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, and his personal resurrection from three years in a tomb. It’s about how he not only advanced his country’s resurgence from its profound drug problem, but set a shining example of national leadership from his country’s highest office.

The story is intimately connected with that of the poor man, Jesus, whose immortality billions celebrate today. As today’s readings tell us, this healer, teacher and champion of the poor spent three days in a tomb and is more alive today than ever he was 2000 years ago.

Focus on Mujica’s story comes from a personal experience that I had last January when I spent a couple of weeks at the border in Tijuana Mexico. There I worked with pro bono lawyers and volunteers offering legal help to immigrants, refugees and asylees. The group is called Al Otro Lado

In helping clients fill out paperwork, I discovered that most of the Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and others I interviewed were driven from their countries of origin by drug gangs.

On the one hand, the experience made me think in general about drugs, addiction, and our country’s century-long “War on Drugs.” On the other hand, it drove me to reflect more deeply on resurrection and the possibilities for new life we celebrate on this Easter day.

The War on Drugs

Start with the war on drugs. Of course, we’re no closer to winning it than when first it began in 1914. (Before then, you could buy cocaine-based remedies, for example, at your local drug store – and at a low price.)

Moreover, so many of the problems that plague our world can be traced back to that spectacularly unsuccessful war. It’s not just the addiction and the gangs. It’s also the billions upon billions of dollars that have been wasted, the corruption of governments and law enforcement agencies throughout the world, the millions of souls who have been incarcerated or forced to leave their countries, as well as the thousands upon thousands who have been murdered by drug gangs and their police mob counterparts.

It all made me think: what if there were no drug war? What if drugs were entirely legal again? Wouldn’t that drive the gangs out of business? And wouldn’t all those other related problems disappear? Wouldn’t that lead to a kind of resurrection of humanity?

Think about it. Drug decriminalization and legalization would profoundly change the world!

But you might wonder (as I did) wouldn’t drug decriminalization and legalization also vitiate the planet? Wouldn’t our kids (and maybe we ourselves) all get hooked and end up staggering around in drug-induced stupors?

As it turns out, the answer is No. As Johann Hari points out in his page-turner study, Chasing the Scream, (as is the case with alcohol) less than 10% of those who use even cocaine, crack, and Oxycontin get hooked. The other 90% often take those controlled substances for recreation every weekend (and even on some weekdays) and still carry on normally in their families. They hold steady jobs and contribute to their communities. Even those who become addicted mature out of their problem after about 10 years. This means that the War on Drugs, laws against narcotics, and the resulting havoc are connected with something like 10% of users.

All of this is because drug addiction is not the result of chemical “hooks,” so that anyone taking them becomes ipso facto obsessed.  Instead, addiction is caused primarily by personal and social problems connected with childhoods marked by abuse, with loneliness, meaningless work, and lack of human connection.

Addictions are psychological and social diseases. They are not crimes. Punishing drug use as criminal only causes more drug use by aggravating its causes. It also feeds the gangs.

The Case of Uruguay

And that brings me to Jose Mujica and his resurrection from three years in a tomb. Mujica was a Tupamaros (Robin Hood) guerrilla during Uruguay’s revolutionary war against the country’s military dictatorship during the 1970s and ‘80s. He was captured by government forces, tortured mercilessly, and imprisoned for 12 years – three of them in the bottom of a well that his captors thought would be his final resting place. Those years gave him lots of time to think about life and his country’s problems.

When the revolution Mujica supported eventually triumphed, he in effect returned from the dead only to be elected his country’s president for five years (2010-2015). It was then that he set about decriminalizing the use of drugs beginning with marijuana. Contrary to all expectations, he was successful in reaching that goal.

[Not only that: as president, Mujica himself continued to live with his wife in their simple farmhouse. He gave 90% of his income as president to the poor (living on $775 per month), sold his presidential limousine to travel on public transportation, and passed legislation to give a laptop to every child in the country.]

The point here, however that the president’s action on the drug front represented a first step towards bankrupting his country’s drug cartels. His ultimate goal was to provide for users of all drugs a cheaper, safer, cleaner product, and set up locations for safe drug consumption. The facilities would be staffed by medical personnel, and by counsellors and life coaches intent on helping their clients find work, housing, and more meaningful lives.

In this way, drug cartels would suffer defeat and the country’s drug problem would be solved. Similar results from comparable policies had already been achieved in Switzerland, Portugal and elsewhere.

Easter Readings

Now, keeping in mind what I’ve just said about Mujica and drug use in general, connect it all to Easter. Read today’s liturgical selections. They recall that like Jose Mujica, Jesus of Nazareth set about bringing healing to the sick, liberation of captives from prison, and relief for the oppressed. Christian faith professes that such commitment brings enlightenment and (somehow) never-ending life. (What follows are my “translations.” The originals can be found here.)

ACTS 10:34A, 37-43: Peter’s First Proclamation of Jesus’ Resurrection: From the beginning, Jesus of Nazareth embodied God’s Holy Spirit of healing the sick and liberating the oppressed. For that, the Romans crucified him (their policy with all rebels). However, three days later, some of us (not all) were privileged to recognize him as still alive during our ritual meals together. Inspired by that experience, we ask you to join us in continuing Jesus’ work of healing and liberation.   

PS 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23: Response to Peter’s Proclamation: Thank you, Divine Mother for this happy day! You have been so good to us, so powerful and unfailingly compassionate. You use the world’s “weakest” to contradict its idea of power. With you, we acknowledge that the “weakest” are actually the strongest. Thank you, again!

COL 3: 1-4: Where God’s Holy Spirit Is Found: Yes, our Easter faith is that the Holy Spirit is found in the sick, the oppressed, in those executed by the state, and in those the world despises. Realizing this truth represents OUR resurrection! Let’s keep our eyes on the prize – the ultimate triumph promised us by the example of Jesus (and Jose Mujica).

Easter Sequence: On Death Row and in Drug Addicts: Thank you, Divine Mother, for contradicting the world’s judgment that the poor and despised (like Jesus on death row or drug addicts today) are somehow sinful. In fact, the supreme victim of empire’s capital punishment has proved more immortal than Rome itself. Jesus lives; Rome is all but forgotten! We can’t even find his tomb or decaying body. Help us, Divine Mother, to synchronize our lives’ energies with those of our Master.

John 20: 1-9: And in Female Leadership: Jesus’ beloved and dearest disciple, Mary Magdalen, achieved full enlightenment when everyone else was in dark mourning over Jesus’ death. Three days later, on visiting Jesus’ tomb, she realized that his True Self was not even there! So, she (even as a woman without standing before the law!) became the first to recognize what later was called Jesus’ “resurrection.” Meanwhile, Peter, “the first pope,” was slower than others to accept what Mary saw immediately. She (the despised) rather than the men, was the first truly enlightened follower of Jesus. As the Master himself said (in the Gospel of Thomas) she rather than Peter should be recognized as the “apostle of apostles.”

Conclusion

Today’s readings along with Chasing the Scream and its story of Jose Mujica invite readers to imagine a world turned upside-down — where death and burial do not have the final word — where prisoners are freed and those the world writes off as dead return to fullness of life. In our world torn apart by a futile drug war, the readings can call us to imagine a human community where those sick with addiction are treated as human beings instead of being criminalized. In the spirit of Easter, that would be a resurrected world:

  • With greatly reduced crime and a shrunken prison system
  • Where police forces could be downsized and rehabilitated in the eyes of poorer communities as a welcome rather than a threatening presence
  • Where countries like Mexico would be liberated from control by drug cartels
  • Where refugees from those countries would be dramatically reduced or eliminated, thus greatly impacting immigration problems and the perceived need for baby jails and expensive border walls.
  • Where the billions upon billions of dollars currently spent in a clearly unsuccessful war on drugs including those huge police forces, overcrowded prisons, and enormous bureaucracies intended to administer it all could be re-channeled to help the merely 10% percent of drug users whose habits are problematic.

In short, cessation of the Drug War, decriminalization and legalization of drugs of all kinds, would reshape our world in ways that would reduce and/or eliminate many of its most vexing problems. It would truly be an Easter event.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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