January 24, 2010

Whatever happened to the War on Drugs?

Can you believe that the War on Drugs has been raging for more than 40 years, ever since President Richard M. Nixon launched it way back in 1969? Talk about a war without end! And talk about casualties -- a massive prison industry that shoulders at least some of the blame for the current economic crisis here, where 46 out of 50 U.S. states are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Now, says Hugh O'Shaughnessy in an insightful article in the Independent of UK, the War on Drugs is quietly "being buried in the same fashion as it was born -- amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal."

The article, entitled, US waves white flag in disastrous 'war on drugs,' focuses on the disastrous consequences to Latin America of this long-running and unwinnable war, but it also points out the war's devastating economic impacts and suggests some positive uses for the billions of dollars currently being wasted on fruitless drug control efforts.
... US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America's longest "war" may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard….

Prospects in the new decade are thus opening up for vast amounts of useless government expenditure being reassigned to the treatment of addicts instead of their capture and imprisonment. And, no less important, the ever-expanding balloon of corruption that the "war" has brought to heads of government, armies and police forces wherever it has been waged may slowly start to deflate.

Prepare to shed a tear over the loss of revenue that eventual decriminalisation of narcotics could bring to the traffickers, large and small, and to the contractors who have been making good money building and running the new prisons that help to bankrupt governments -- in the US in particular, where drug offenders – principally small retailers and seldom the rich and important wholesalers -- have helped to push the prison population to 1,600,000.….

Part of the reason for the slow US retreat from the "war" is that the strategy of fighting it in foreign lands and not at home has proved valueless. Along the already sensitive frontier with Mexico the effect of US attempts to enforce a hard line by blasting drug dealers away has been bloody.... In the areas of Mexico closest to the US frontier the toll of deaths in drug-related violence exceeded 7,000 people in 2009.... This takes the death toll over three years to above 16,000, figures far in excess of US fatalities in Afghanistan.….

As far back as last May, Gil Kerlikowske, the former police chief of Seattle who was named head of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy and thus boss of the campaign, announced he would not be using the term "war on drugs" any more. A few weeks earlier, former Latin American presidents of the centre and right … had told the new US President that the "war" had failed and appealed for greater emphasis on cutting drug consumption and the decriminalisation of cannabis.

For the lives and sanity of millions, the seeing of the light is decidedly late. The conditions of the 1920s, when the US Congress outlawed alcohol and allowed Al Capone and his kin to make massive fortunes, have been re-created up and down Latin America….

This year should be the year that common sense vanquishes the mailed fist in an unwinnable war against an invisible enemy.
Now, my main question is, Why am I reading about this in a British newspaper? Why isn't it front-page news here at home?

The entire Independent article, well worth reading, is online HERE. A 2008 Independent article, "Mexico’s war on drugs: Journey into a lawless land," is also online, excerpted from Richard Grant's book, Bandit Roads.

Photo credit: The Independent (2008)


Antinomian said...

One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, communists, and non-whites under prosecution of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. Behold, it’s all good. When Eve ate the apple, she knew a good apple, and an evil prohibition. Canadian Marc Emery is being extradited to prison for selling seeds that American farmers use to reduce U. S. demand for Mexican pot.

The CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnates Al Capone, endangers homeland security, and throws good money after bad. Fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. Society rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

Nixon passed the CSA on the false assurance that the Schafer Commission would later justify criminalizing his enemies, but he underestimated Schafer’s integrity. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA shut down research, and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use. Former U.K. chief drugs advisor Prof. Nutt was sacked for revealing that non-smoked cannabis intake is scientifically healthy.

The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. God’s children’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with their maker.

Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

Common-law holds that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration. Liberty is prerequisite for tracking drug-use intentions and outcomes.

Philip said...


Thank you for an interesting post. I believe the reason you are not reading this kind of material in the US media is because a great deal of money is being made from the war on drugs.

My own view is that all substances should be legalized. My reasons are twofold. Firstly, on principle, the government simply does not have the right to tell people what they may or may not ingest. Even the kings and queens of old didn’t try to usurp that privilege (at least not very often). Secondly, on practical grounds, proscription of substances that are readily available is not enforceable (as the past four decades have demonstrated clearly).

In my view the major issue is that the marketing of addictive substances should be more tightly controlled than is at present the case for nicotine and alcohol. I would like to see all addictive substances sold only through government outlets. There would be a government store in every county – more than one in big counties. And these stores would sell every addictive drug for which there was a demand. Customers would have to be over 18, and show a picture ID. All sales would be registered in a central computer, and people whose purchases seemed excessive would be required to visit with a counselor in the back room. The counselors would talk about the dangers etc. – would give them leaflets and would connect them with abstinence programs if they wished. If they chose not to avail of these services, their purchase would be completed and they would be free to go.

Customers arriving at the store in an obviously impaired state (and this would need to be defined) would be taken involuntarily to a detox center from which they would be discharged as soon as it was medically safe to do so.

The abstinence programs and the detox centers would be funded by surpluses from the stores.

All addictive substances and substances considered dangerous/harmful to health would be stocked – including alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, etc., etc. It would be illegal to sell these products through any other outlet, and most importantly, it would be illegal to advertise these products in any way. The government would in fact become the middleman/retailer for these products. Prices would be set high enough to generate the surpluses mentioned above but low enough so that “freelancing” and black marketing would be pointless.

The negative consequences of using these substances would be widely and aggressively promoted and would be an integral part of school curricula in health and biology subjects. People who chose to use these substances would be required to use them in private. Use of any controlled substance in a public place would be banned. This would include nicotine.

Just for the record, the only addictive substance I’ve ever used is alcohol.

Philip Hickey, PhD