On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver urged the adoption of harm reduction attitudes and policies when it comes to dealing with drug addiction, viewing it as an illness that needs treatment rather than a moral failing that requires punitive measures for deterrence.
It is encouraging that on many issues we are slowly shifting away from taking harsh moral stances and moving towards more accepting ones. Change does not come easily on issues such as this. It is usually presaged by wild claims that being more understanding and accepting is the first step towards the end of civilization as we know it. In this case, people are asserting that harm reduction policies are actually enabling drug use and perhaps even encouraging people to take up drugs, though that is manifestly not the case.
With drug addiction, we are very slowly shifting towards viewing it more like the way we view alcohol addiction. It was not long ago that marijuana was called the ‘demon weed’ and excoriated as being highly dangerous and the gateway to other drug addictions. The war on marijuana created massive amounts of suffering as people, usually people of color, were jailed for possessing even tiny amounts. Now it is becoming legal in many states and the House of Representatives has just passed legislation to decriminalize marijuana and expunge past federal convictions and the sky has not fallen.
Similarly, it was not that long ago that homosexuality was criminalized and people punished for being so. More recently, remember how we were warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to the end of the institution of marriage altogether? But nothing of the sort happened.
Right now with the issue of gender diversity we are hearing similar wild claims that if we accept people’s self-identification of their gender identity, then this will lead to the erasing of not only gender but of the differences between species and that people would claim to be cats and dogs and the like. It echoes the claims that allowing same-sex marriage would result in people marrying their horses.
I expect that this latest period of wild rhetoric that accompanies any social change and is fanned by self-serving politicians will also eventually die away. One hopes that it will be soon.