Opioid overdoses ravaging cities and rural areas alike killed nearly 110,000 people in the U.S. last year. And increasing numbers of state governments are legalizing and seeking to profit off the sale of marijuana. At the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in New York City June 2-4, Mayor Eric Adams gave a keynote speech encouraging everyone to “light up” and “spend some money” on marijuana there.
The city’s health department has started posting ads in subway cars and buses telling drug users, “Don’t be ashamed you are using, be empowered that you are using safely.”
This course, promoted by liberals and middle-class radicals alike, is a deadly danger in the midst of a deepening epidemic of drug use, as today’s crisis of dog-eat-dog capitalism tears at jobs, living conditions, families and social solidarity.
The road forward is to forge a working-class movement led by class-conscious fighters whose character, reliability and trustworthiness makes them capable of beating back the attacks by the bosses and their government. The last thing needed is for the government and a new wave of drug entrepreneurs to encourage workers and youth to get access to drugs. Yes, drugs like marijuana should be decriminalized, but the working-class movement should fight to convince toilers not to use them.
The New York ad campaign urges addicts not to feel embarrassed about abusing opioids, and offers tips on how to use fentanyl “safely,” one of the deadliest and most addictive drugs. Every four hours someone dies from fentanyl use in New York City.
“Even if you are going for a night out to just do cocaine,” one city subway ad says, “there is a possibility that fentanyl could end up in your drug supply.”
Chiming in with some “advice,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urges users to “test your drugs” for fentanyl. Then, she points to health department instructions saying after such a test “you can drink them, snort them using a clean nasal spray device or wait until the water evaporates to use them.”
Middle-class radicals like Workers World Party have jumped on the bandwagon. They promote the example of a group called the Drug User Liberation Front in Canada, which gives out “safer heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.”
City officials and their liberal backers say this drive to “empower” drug users is part of a “harm reduction” movement, which will reduce overdose deaths. But the opposite is the case.
A ballot measure passed in Oregon in 2020 decriminalized use of heroin and fentanyl and established addiction “treatment” centers to “help” drug users. Since then drug use in rural Eagle’s Pass has risen 700% and overdose deaths by 120%.
The Socialist Workers Party has campaigned for decades against the spread of the drug profiteers as a deadly threat to the working class. The use of drugs — illegal or not — is a threat to the workers’ movement, and is incompatible with membership in the SWP. It is an obstacle to a way of life and activity that builds loyalty and discipline in fighting uncompromisingly for the interests of all working people.
The party points to the example of Malcolm X and other revolutionaries who urged the toilers to learn their self-worth through struggle. It points to how groups like Alcoholics Anonymous deals with addiction. People who join must halt all drinking, fight against relapses, and the group provides the necessary help to do so.
NY mayor pushes marijuana
In his talk at the Cannabis Exposition, Mayor Adams encouraged everyone to get high. He said he was “a bit disappointed” that there wasn’t “a nice scent of weed” in the room.
The mayor has lauded now legal recreational use and sales of marijuana as a profit bonanza for the city — and as a jobs plan! In April he floated the idea of installing marijuana greenhouses on top of the city’s public housing buildings and hiring residents to tend the crops. Once state-licensed retail sales of the drug are started up — slated for later this year — city authorities expect to collect over $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.
New York made recreational marijuana legal in March 2021, one of 18 states plus Washington, D.C., to have done so, so far. “When you include the additional states poised to legalize cannabis, the national forecast exceeds $72 billion in sales,” the June 5 New York Times gloats.
Under the state’s “social equity” policies, the first retail licenses to sell marijuana will go to people with a history of marijuana convictions, especially Blacks and Latinos.
The state-appointed Cannabis Control Board is also encouraging farmers to sign up for licenses to grow marijuana plants, 52 of whom had already done so by early April.
“New York’s farms will be at the center of the most equitable cannabis industry in the nation,” New York state Gov. Kathy Hochul bragged to the media.
The state is also putting poster ads in subway cars instructing working people on how to behave “responsibly” using marijuana. “Don’t drive high,” they preach, and, “If you choose to use, store it responsibly.”
State officials also allow dealers to fiddle with the chemical composition of their weed to boost its effects, and their sales. In the 1970s and 1980s, street marijuana generally contained less than 5% THC, the chemical responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects. Today, marijuana sold at legal dispensaries often contains 25% THC.