The drug user's manifesto

Drug users, listen to the podcast “Drug Positive”. 

How many of you have heard of DanceSafe? Well, they’re the organisation supplying the reagent testing kits which Know Your Stuff use to test your pills and powders whenever they set up. DanceSafe is an OG drug harm-reduction organisation, founded in 1998 in San Francisco by Emanuel Sferios, before its chapters spread throughout the US and Canada. Two years ago, Sferios started a podcast called Drug Positive, which contains some of the most compelling and accessible drug “risk reduction and benefit enhancing” information I’ve consumed.  

Below are some excerpts from the debut episode “The Drug User’s Manifesto”, calling drug-users to arms to focus on drug-positivity and the elimination of harmful stigma. I think it perfectly encapsulates a vision many of us share. 

The Drug User’s Manifesto 

From time immemorial, in every tribe and civilisation on Earth, our human ancestors drank the spirits of fermented fruit, consumed the colourful visions of sacred herbs and mushrooms, chewed the leaves of stimulating plants and shrubs, and sipped the somniferous sap of the opium poppy. Indeed, human consciousness has evolved for more than 200,000 years in direct relationship to plants, the empathy and compassion we feel towards others, our awareness of the divine and the transcendent love that permeates and in-dwells all manifestation, our intelligence and the network of neurons in our brains containing receptors for hundreds of naturally occurring compounds. All these bind us inseparably to what we today refer to as psychoactive drugs. Yet, something has gone wrong.  

An empire of ignorance has emerged on the planet, founded on materialism and greed, and in less than 100 years, has banned nearly every healing and celebratory substance we use; denying us our natural birth-right, the ability to commune and evolve with nature, and with ourselves. Only Alcohol, Tobacco, and the coffee bean have managed to survive this onslaught, perhaps because they allow us just enough stimulation and escape to deal with the drudgery and stress of our overworked lives. Yet the demand — indeed, the necessity — of drugs in our lives has meant their so-called “war” is a failure. 100 years later, and all our ancient medicines and many new ones are still among us.  

Prohibition cannot stop the spread of drugs — it never will. But it has dispossessed many of us from the communal rituals with which we once partook of them, moderately and with intention. Indeed, the misuse and abuse of drugs has risen dramatically under prohibition; as a result of the isolation, shame, and stigma it engenders. Prohibition also means that now we are forced to risk our lives to obtain drugs, we risk our lives to criminal gangs and cartels. We risk our lives and freedom to ignorant police and prosecutors and politicians, who use drug prohibition to imprison their political enemies and the minorities they fear.  

Around the world, our communities are besieged by drug gangs and cartels, as well as the authorities designated to fight them. Both sides feeding off each other in a corrupt system where there are no good-guys or bad-guys — just victims of this needless, fabricated war. And we risk our lives to adulterated, unregulated drug-markets. From fentanyl to levamisole to PMA; over 60,000 of us (USA) die each year from the poisons added to the drug supply by profit-seeking criminals, and the corrupt government officials who protect them. We must rise up and end this catastrophe of prohibition.  

We are drug users. We are everywhere. We are your children, your parents, your doctors, your teachers. We have a right to alter our consciousness. We have a right to be free from unregulated, poisoned drug markets. We have a right to be free from the criminal violence inflicted upon us. If we or our children get into trouble with drugs, we have a right to compassion and respect. We are not criminals. We do not deserve to be in prison for using drugs. We know the so-called “war on drugs” is a political ruse, maintained to uphold the power and profits of the few. It does not protect us. It does not protect our children. We demand drug policies based on science and public health. We demand decriminalisation and legal regulation. We demand an end to the drug war. We demand an end to prohibition. We demand this and we will not stop until we win. 

Emanuel Sferios on drug-positivity 

So, what do I mean by “Drug Positive”? Well, the name Drug Positive is based on the name “Sex Positive”. The sex positive movement is really a harm reduction or risk reduction movement that embraces positive sexuality; from issues like STI prevention, to the all-important consent. It’s about creating a healthy, responsible culture around sex. And so, what we want to do is do the same thing for drugs. Drug use, like sex, can be very fun and very positive. Negative stuff does happen, and we’re trying to reduce that obviously, but to do that successfully we have to first and foremost acknowledge and promote the positive side. Have fun, be responsible, be respectful, be safe, have clear intentions. What do you want from a given drug? How can you maximize the benefits and reduce the potential risks? It all goes hand in hand.  

You know, if we go back to the AIDS crisis of the 80s — and I was a teenager back then, and had friends who died, like many people — you can trace the beginnings of what’s called “social marketing”. Social marketing is like regular marketing, but instead of trying to get a population to buy your product, you’re trying to get them to change their behaviours for the social good, say, for public health. And it began with the AIDS crisis, really, when the gay community realised that to stop the spread of HIV, they needed to get people to start using condoms. But to do that, they realised you can’t just use scare tactics. You can’t just say “use a condom or you might die from AIDS!”. You have to use real marketing strategies; you have to make the idea of using condoms fun and sexy. So, they created ads showing sexy guys with condoms negotiating safer sex and all that.  

I always thought of DanceSafe in the same way from the beginning. I made the messaging positive – acknowledging the benefits of drug use, never condemning or judging, but rather trying to make responsible and safer drug use, cool. Always test your drugs before you take them, know the proper dose, use in moderation — less is often more. Don’t pressure others to take drugs if they don’t want to. Be cool, be responsible. So that’s why we’re calling this podcast “Drug Positive” — it’s okay to use drugs.  

The drug war is wrong. Psychoactive drugs have benefits, and the more you realise that, the more you shed the internalised stigma and shame put upon you by drug-war culture, and the less likely you are to misuse drugs. The drug-war manifests the very misuse and abuse of drugs it pretends to be preventing, and we need to end it.  

You can find ‘Drug Positive’ at DrugPositive.org or via your preferred podcast app, and can visit DanceSafe.org for detailed drug harm reduction information. 

By Asher Etherington and Emmanuel Sferios