Miley Cyrus is not a child anymore. She is 18 years old and experimenting with adulthood. Her act is becoming more sexually aware, shocking the mothers who forgot what sex is. But that was mild compared to the recent video clip showing her taking a hit of Salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant described by some scientists as the most potent hallucinogen in all of nature. Oh, the shock! The horror!

And of course the voices of outrage include in their diatribes the calls to criminalize the substance along with marijuana and LSD. Salvia is still legal, you see, largely because the slow-moving behemoth of government hasn’t had enough years to hate it before banning it along with everything else they’d like to control.

Why should it be banned, you ask? Well it depends on the particular neurosis of the answerer. For some, it appears to be enough that it’s hallucinogenic. If anything is hallucinogenic, for them, it should be banned. Perhaps they fear what someone will do under the influence of it, the typical example of driving a car being repeated ad nauseum. Of course, strict laws already exist – rightly – against driving impaired by any substance that could or will ever be dreamed up. No need to name the substances in the legislation.

The fact that the effects of salvia last only a few minutes and thus have resulted in virtually no emergency room visits – an infinitesimally small fraction of that of the Republican-approved substance of choice, alcohol – seems not to factor in their thinking.

Others say it’s “dangerous.” But of course! Aren’t all psychotropic drugs dangerous? Well, no. Caffeine is the most popular psychotropic drug in America, due to its being one of the most addictive. It isn’t dangerous, at least in popular doses (though in high quantities or mixed with alcohol, can be extremely so). Perhaps that’s why it is allowed, despite its inherent capacity to make addicts of its users.

Neither is marijuana dangerous in popular doses, but we don’t have these hypocrites arguing for the legalization of pot. As the late, great Bill Hicks once remarked of marijuana, “Why is pot against the law? It wouldn’t be because anyone can grow it, and therefore you can’t make a profit off it, would it?” The implied critique may make sense.

Tobacco is a prime example of an utterly legal, extremely addictive, quantifiably harmful substance grandfathered in by nothing other than sheer convention. And, of course, nothing does more harm to society than alcohol, consumed in copious quantities by many of those moralizing against other substances. (Can someone please point me to the website of a major political party which wants to bring back prohibition? And why is the DEA uninterested in adding alcohol or tobacco to its list of banned substances?)

All of this serves to illustrate the hypocritical, inconsistent and nonsensical US drug policy, which is – thankfully – failing miserably despite the billions spent to its misguided ends. Today’s Washington Post reports that America’s teenagers are using alcohol less and marijuana more. I think that’s a smarter choice (it’s a safer substance). But US drug laws don’t reflect that; in the cases of pot and booze, the substance with the (realized) capacity to do the most societal harm is the legal one. You’d never know by looking at drug usage of the population – or by looking at how harmful they are, or by how addictive they are, or by any other sensible measure – which drugs are legal and which are illegal; our archaic and illogical laws defy basic common sense.

And examples like salvia and K2 prove wrong the assertions that permitting legal use of a drug will make junkies of all of us. Just listen to the paranoid and utterly wrongheaded sentiments of genius Texas lawmaker Charles Anderson, who argued for the criminalization of salvia because, he says, if the government doesn’t ban it, it’s sending the message that it’s benign. I can’t think of anything stupider ever said by a government official. Aren’t lots of things potentially harmful yet legal, it being the responsibility of the user to heed safety warnings and of the government merely to advise and educate?

It is demonstrative of the abhorrent idea that’s been spread about the role of government – even by conservatives who claim to want small governments which act on principle alone rather than compulsion – that the government’s job is to control the citizenry without limit, even when they’re not harming anyone else or infringing on anyone’s rights. That idea is erroneous on the most basic level. It has never been the job of government to protect us from ourselves.

I just got back from a local community coalition meeting on K2 or ‘Spice’, a synthetic chemical compound with psychoactive properties which is thus far legal and yet apparently with potentially scary and dangerous side-effects. The meeting immediately revolved around talk of how to criminalize it, rather than how to educate people about it. It dismays me to observe the breakneck speed with which we take to criminalizing each others’ actions. The one glimmer of hope was to hear one leader talk of voluntary ‘prevention’, and Sheriff’s representatives talk about the difference between personal usage and actions which affect others (at least we speak the same language about civil liberties, despite disagreeing with the rightness of banning substances for these inconsistent, vaguely-defined group of reasons).

We must start somewhere. I join the millions of others calling for radical, fundamental change of America’s drug policy. It isn’t right, it isn’t consistent, and it isn’t working.