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Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use Hardcover – May 12, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Opponents of the "war on drugs" have long focused on the distinction between drug use and drug abuse; that distinction is at the heart of Sullum's provocative and impeccably reasoned new title. Our expensive and ineffectual drug war, Sullum says, is predicated on a fundamental misconception that drugs are inherently "bad." Politicians and the media perpetuate the stereotype of the desperate, violent druggie, while the average user looks nothing like that, Sullum says-just as the typical drinker bears little resemblance to a wino passed out in the gutter. "We see the drug users who get hauled away by police, who nod off in doorways and on park benches, who beg on the street or break into cars," Sullum writes. "We do not see the drug users who hold down a job, pay the rent or the mortgage, and support a family." He describes the billionaire insurance executive who's also a "functioning pothead," the neuroscientist who enjoys MDMA at social events and the woman who likes a bit of heroin before cleaning house. Most people understand that alcohol can be dangerous if used to excess, but alcohol in and of itself does not "compel immoral behavior." Why, Sullum asks, is that not the case for marijuana, cocaine and heroin? He labels the vilification of certain drugs over others (like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine) "voodoo pharmacology." A senior editor at the libertarian journal Reason, Sullum rejects the frequent moralizing that clouds the drug debate, and frames much of his case as part of the greater argument against so-called "consensual" crime, which asks why an act by consenting adults that doesn't hurt anyone should be illegal. As with his last title, For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health, Sullum proves he's not afraid to take on entrenched public policies that he sees as fundamentally wrongheaded. Never preachy, his volume presents its heavily annotated arguments in clear, conversational tone that's refreshing for a book of this kind.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Saying Yes is a powerful refutation of the pharmacological prejudices underlying the war on drugs. -- Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union; professor of law, New York Law School

Jacob Sullum has produced a thoughtful, sane, and logical analysis of our drug laws. Is that even LEGAL? -- Dave Barry, syndicated columnist and author of Tricky Business and Big Trouble

Sullum pits the truth against the lies of the drug prohibitionists. -- Thomas Szasz, professor emeritus of psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; First Edition edition (May 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585422274
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585422272
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anthony Berno on October 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What an interesting book.

I read it faster than I've read almost any other book - cover to cover in two days. (I'm normally a really slow reader.) Although the middle kind of drags on, with the same thesis repeated in several different forms, it's quite an enlightening read.

I've always considered myself well informed and quite liberal on drug issues, but it turns out that I was much more influenced by anti-drug propaganda than I had realized. My mind has been filled with stories that are true, personal experiences, or second-hand accounts of people I trusted, but I was seeing them in the wrong light. I thought of my father performing autopsies on cocaine users whose hearts had stopped with no warning. Someone who tried to kill his roommate with an axe while tweaking on crystal. Lots of perfectly real scare stories, which had caused me to feel chills just thinking about these "hard" drugs.

But these were still viewed through the lens of prohibition. Conveniently forgotten in these tales were the many, many more cases my father had seen of alcohol poisoning, a common cause of death among young people in the town where I grew up. Drunken rages in which people were killed - one that killed one of my best friend's bosses just two months ago. Somehow, because of the legality and familarity of alcohol, these were not "scare stories" about drugs. They were, instead, stories about people, and their foolishness; the blame was not transferred to the chemical.

The best part of the book is his historical review of alcohol prohibition, and the hype over the evil powers of alcohol at a time when opium and cocaine were not only legal, but popular and commonly used in "patent medicines".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is nothing not to like about Jacob Sullum's "Saying Yes." It's gracefully written, scientifically accurate and completely sensible. I guess I'm a little more pessimistic that other reviewers about the affect it will have on the drug policy debate -- as Sullum points out only too well, truth, common sense, and pragmatism have never had much to do with drug policy in the United States. If nothing else, this book will at least re-assure future generations that not everyone in our era was nuts.
Readers who have read a great deal on this subject will find much here that's familiar, but it's nice to have it all in one place and footnoted. And while I have quite a library of books on alcohol and other drugs, I did find a considerable amount of new info and thought-provoking angles. A very nice job.
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Format: Hardcover
Voodoo pharmacology. That is the term that Jacob Sullum uses for our irrational fears and phobic behaviors toward psychoactive drugs. In a plea for common sense and sanity, he confronts the stereotypes that sustain our current drugs policy. He destroys the myths that these substances have magical and/or supernatural powers to enslave those who use them and places the power and responsibility for drug use back in the hands of the individual.
In example after example, he compiles a wealth of data on how the vast majority of people learn to use alcohol and other drugs in responsible manners, balancing their use with the rest of their priorities in life. While not ignoring the harms that can come from misuse and abuse of drugs, he places them in perspective with other behaviors in people's lives.
Rather than erecting legal edifices that prohibit these substances, increase the harms associated with their use, and forever give up the chance to sensibly regulate them, he goes back to the original roots of the temperance movement to show that we have always had extensive historical precedents for moderation and effective social norms in this area.
This is a profoundly uplifting book that elegantly restates the philosophy that human beings have an inherent drive for balance and health and psychoactive substance use is no exception.
Since America's War on Drugs has pernicious effects in every area of our society, this is a book that should be read by all.
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I bought this book two weeks ago and really was not sure what exactly it would be. I hoping that Sullum would write a well-referenced work that provided a fairly objective analysis of drugs and the ensuing war against them, and that's basically what I got. Although, the reader is never in doubt as to what the author's opinion is regarding his subject, this is a scholarly synopsis of the literature and studies that embody our knowledge of psychoactive substances. Sullum always presents both sides of the issue and never retreats to the shallow role of advocate.

I personally have not tried, nor will I be trying, most of the drugs that are discussed in this book but I can say that I recognize the futility in our societal war on whatever the FDA and DEA suspect private individuals of currently enjoying at the moment. Some of the arguments he presents are quite convincing such as the legitimate medical uses of marijuana, and also the way we avoid examining the occasional darkness of human nature by making drugs the scapegoat for the acts of promiscuous sex, violence, and irresponsibility that we commit. Much of "Saying Yes" is a historical survey of drug origins and interdiction efforts, and this background information is absolutely fascinating. Some of the discussion left me unmoved as I do not buy LSD as having any legitimate uses, but I was glad to read views that contradicted my own on the subject.

Overall, a strong "yes" must be given in regards to this book. We should not be surprised as Jacob Sullum has always been an engaging and stylistic writer. I read his articles in Reason whenever I get the chance.
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