Legalize Recovery!

By Adam Sledd 08/10/14

Recovery space will not be achieved through restriction or regulation of those who can enjoy the recreational use of substances, legal or otherwise. One of the stigmas that we are working to overcome is the idea that we are a bunch of party poopers. Pro-recovery must not be confused with anti-drug.


I just read William White’s blog post Drug Legalization and Recovery Space, which is a thoughtful piece about the presence and visibility of legal substances in a community shared by people in recovery. White asserts that “any policy discussions of marijuana legalization should include the voices of people in recovery and should include a serious discussion about recovery space. Such space must be protected regardless of the future legal status of psychoactive drugs.” I have a great deal of respect for Bill White; but I disagree strongly with this line of reasoning. I submit that in an atmosphere of true destigmatization of addiction and recovery, the identification or designation of “recovery space” becomes unnecessary and, in fact, perpetuates the stigma that we are working so hard to shed. Furthermore, decriminalization is central to the destigmatization effort.

I can relate a lot of what White writes about to my own personal experiences in recovery. In early recovery, I returned to my old neighborhood, which consists largely of college students, so there was a Mardi Gras atmosphere for about ten months out of the year. I was in Drug Court and I had no driver’s license. I had to walk or bike everywhere. In order to attend my frequent appointments with court, probation, and outpatient treatment, I passed by at least ten local businesses that sold alcohol. I still live in this town, and I am now in long-term recovery. A few weeks ago, I visited my brother in Tacoma, Washington. There were medical marijuana dispensaries in his neighborhood, and they were noticeable in the same way that a 7-Eleven or a KFC is noticeable. I could stop for nachos, a six-piece, or a doobie. Or, I can just keep it moving. The day after I returned home, the recreational law went into effect. I doubt that my brother’s neighborhood looks any different today. Currently, I work as a counselor in a halfway house which is located just outside of Philadelphia. There are drugs available in that neighborhood and a bar sits directly across the street. This is not uncommon; methadone clinics and halfway houses are known hotspots for drug dealers. One of the group activities that we use is a “trigger walk” in which we walk through the neighborhood and look for things that might trigger a relapse. The clients identify everything from dope bags on the ground to the beckoning of a jukebox from the open door of the tavern. The 12-step meetings that we require them to attend frequently include a member with the desire to stop using, but the inability to stay conscious during the meeting. Early recovery is a minefield, and our sanctuaries are imperfect at best. There are 12-step meetings in parts of Philadelphia where I would never set foot, recovery or not. Regardless, many people recover in spite of surroundings that may be less than ideal. This is because recovery is an inside job. It does not only happen in conducive environments. It can flourish and thrive in virtually any set of conditions.

People in early recovery need to avoid People, Places and Things; but this is not a long-term strategy. Eventually one develops the strength, confidence and skills to move freely through the world and keep one’s recovery intact. The world will never be recovery-friendly; but to ask our communities and legislators to be sensitive to recovery space perpetuates the misconception that people in recovery are passive victims, hopelessly susceptible to environmental cues and in need of sheltering. In this context, people in recovery will never achieve full empowerment.

Our communities need to be aware and respectful of recovery, yes; but our integration into the community means not only that we are not confined to church basements, community recovery centers and the once-annual recovery walk. It also means that we foster in ourselves and each other the necessary skills, and indeed our responsibility, to maintain our recovery in the real world while acting positively in our communities. “Recovery space” is everywhere, and it is nowhere. It exists between your ears; it blooms in your footprints.

The slippery slope argument that legalization of marijuana will result in its ubiquitous presence has been repeatedly debunked. Also, the legalization of marijuana is not about making it more accessible. Marijuana has always been more accessible to those under the legal drinking age than alcohol; which suggests that regulation will actually reduce its availability. History has shown that overregulation of substances tends to have a distorting effect on usage. The temperance movement at the turn of the last century actually increased problem drinking and magnified stigma. More importantly, the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana is about reducing another huge part of the stigma that dogs addiction and recovery - the perception of the drug user as a criminal. In The Anonymous People, the filmmakers outlined the failed War on Drugs and our skyrocketing prison population. Fair and just drug policy in this country is essential to our cause. One component of destigmatization is normalization; in this case, the NORMLization of marijuana will help to break down that old stigma that separated alcohol from the other drugs; to shake up the paradigm of legal vs. illegal drug users.

About once a month, someone writes to my local newspaper about the “culture of alcohol” in our college town. (One such submission may or may not have been mine.) Our local coffers have grown substantially as a result of our attempts to regulate our way out of the problem; offenders are cited for everything from parking tickets to public drunkenness. We have even had a few of the alcohol-fueled sexual assaults that had drawn recent attention. Yet, the party rages on. Nothing that we put in place seems to have any impact. However, I also have the privilege of helping to open our first, very own Recovery Community Center, which will be linked to our own local Pro-Act chapter. It is our hope to get the University involved somehow. These centers are cropping up all over the country and already exist on the campuses of some major universities. They are wonderful resources for those in recovery, and they also increase our visibility in the community in a positive light.

Recovery space will not be achieved through restriction or regulation of those who can enjoy the recreational use of substances, legal or otherwise. One of the stigmas that we are working to overcome is the idea that we are a bunch of party poopers. Pro-recovery must not be confused with anti-drug. Instead, we must act positively to increase awareness, break down stereotypes and stigma, and earn the respect and consideration that we deserve. We are not a glum lot. Our seat at the table must be next to those who advocate for freedom and decriminalization, not across from them.

Adam Sledd is a person in long-term recovery and a public recovery advocate. He is a father, husband, student, counselor and recovery educator. Read more at his website,


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Adam Sledd is a recovery support coordinator at a regional nonprofit and an MSW candidate for 2018. He is a person in long-term recovery, father, and husband. Read more at his website,