Declaring a Truce in the War On Drugs

Declaring a Truce in the War On Drugs
Posted by CN Staff on January 15, 2003 at 08:49:24 PT
By Rick Reimer 
Source: Straight Goods 
Now that there is another war to occupy our attention and ever-dwindling resources, perhaps this is an opportune moment to re-examine the so-called "War on Drugs". This intentional misnomer (brought to you by the late king of spin, Richard M. Nixon) begins the entire maelstrom of hypocrisy and propaganda. There is no "War on Drugs", there is only a war against people. As with any war, the poor are the first and longest-suffering victims.
Not because the rich use fewer drugs, but because they are better able to buy "legitimate" prescriptions and drugs, are less likely to be accosted or investigated by police, and are less likely to be punished harshly if and when apprehended. Legislators and their families and friends tend to be among the rich, unmolested drug users, and have little need to ameliorate drug laws, and therefore little inclination to take the courageous steps (and face the inevitable onslaught from various ivory towers) required to craft a realistic drug policy focused on harm reduction rather than prohibition rhetoric. Drug use, of one kind or another, has been around since time immemorial, in virtually all societies. The current amount of drug use is astounding (especially if one includes, along with pharmaceuticals, such drugs as alcohol and nicotine) and we increasingly become hypocrites by accepting and echoing the philosophy that drug use is the root of most, if not all, evil. It is our collaborative silence in the face of criminalization of largely innocuous behaviour that is truly evil. We appear to have abandoned the "harm" principle of crime and punishment, namely that he who does no-one else harm ought not to be harmed himself. Certainly, crimes committed as a result of or in order to support drug consumption can and should be appropriately punished. However, it is wrong and counter-productive to criminalize the use or possession of the drug itself. For 30-odd years this war has taxed our police, legal, correctional, and social welfare systems to an extent which is truly alarming, creating staggering fiscal costs and inestimable human costs. Yet most western governments, without the slightest bit of proof to back them, continue to successfully spout the rhetoric that the "War on Drugs" is noble and necessary and that victory is just around the corner. This despite incontrovertible proof from other nations that the war aggravates the very harm it seeks to prevent. This "War on Drugs" will fail for the same basic reason that its forefather, the 1920's American prohibition of alcohol, failed. If demand exists, it will be fed. History has shown that prohibition can temporarily disrupt but never stop the supply of illicit substances. Drug use has seen a steady increase in spite of huge increases in government expenditures to stop the flow of drugs. Ironically, those jurisdictions with the harshest drug penalties tend also to have the highest levels of drug use. Alcohol prohibition in the USA was finally repealed because enough concerned citizens were able to compare the relative calm of 1920 (when alcohol was legal) with the various monsters prohibition had created by 1933. Because society has no living memory of non drug-prohibition days (marijuana, for example, has been illegal almost 80 years) a comparison of prohibition versus more liberal access is unavailable. This lack of a reference point, coupled with mainstream reluctance to rationally discuss drugs, makes government propaganda eminently saleable. Government rhetoric, always best taken with a grain of salt, becomes especially suspect in the case of drugs. Because they are the only branch of officialdom with any supposedly licit knowledge of drugs, the propaganda is largely dictated by the police. Police, of course, have a large vested interest in the War on Drugs. Drug prosecutions represent a significant proportion of police work. If drugs are legalized, a significant number of police risk becoming redundant. This has led to the conundrum of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police endorsing decriminalization of marijuana while the rank and file Canadian Police Association objects. A cynic might suspect the rank and file officers fear lay-offs while the Chiefs (and the public) would like to see an undisturbed number of police focus on more serious crime. One of the greatest propaganda tricks of the "War" is to make the drug synonymous with the crime created by its prohibition. Take, as an example, the recent plight of Quebec farmers. They have complained that biker gangs plant marijuana in their corn fields. The bikers then pay an ominous visit to announce their return at harvest time and to promise dire consequences upon the farmer and family if the plants are reported or tampered with. The authorities point to this as a "marijuana problem". That's tantamount to decrying kidnapping as a "child problem". It is, in fact, an organized crime and extortion problem. The only viable path to preventing such crime is to decriminalize the currency and thus deny any significant financial incentive to those prepared to risk production and/or sale. Sure, an inevitable illegal market will exist along with a state monitored official market, and drug trafficking will become the kind of relatively insignificant problem that bootlegging of alcohol currently presents. The War on Drugs has not achieved even a scintilla of success in its avowed goal, the reduction of drug use. It has caused a myriad of negative effects, including loss of life, injuries, stronger and more dangerous drugs (higher potencies equate into higher profits), widespread political and police corruption, disrespect for the law (an inescapable result of enforcement of a law largely disobeyed), inappropriate punishment, untold financial expense (to individuals and society collectively) and the branding of many harmless people as "criminals". In the name of its crusade, the US (through Nixon's brainchild, the Drug Enforcement Administration) has supported political regimes only to do a 180 degree about face when the (American-fuelled) corruption of those regimes is exposed. It has devastated (physically, culturally and politically) large areas of the world. It appears to be prepared to forfeit the civil liberties upon which it was founded, reluctantly within its own borders, and enthusiastically in countries which fail to toe Uncle Sam's policy line. The US has, both candidly and covertly, denied foreign aid to otherwise deserving nations whose drug prohibition enforcement efforts were not up to DEA standards. The US has demonstrated it has no qualms whatsoever about spraying deadly herbicides and poisons over fields and homes in other nations. Such programs benefit the military and the chemical industry. Many innocent drug users in Canada and the US were poisoned by paraquat sprayed on marijuana by the DEA One shudders to think how toxic it must have been to the Mexican farmers. If, knowing the poison will end up in American lungs, the USA will spray fields in Columbia and Mexico, can it be long until they do so in Canada and, finally, in their own country? Can we be so naive as to think they will draw an arbitrary line when it comes to our country? This generation's "shot heard 'round the world" will be George W. Bush's cry that your either "with us or against us"! If the Americans continue to prosecute the "War on Drugs" (which appears likely) Canada will ultimately be told by the DEA and White House to crack down on marijuana growers, failing which they'll come in and do it for us. If we don't formulate our own drug policy now, we're likely to be bullied into accepting American policy when that ultimatum comes. As a matter of course, the War on Drugs necessitates police intrusions on civil liberties. In order to investigate a "crime" that routinely takes place in private between consenting adults (the purchase, sale or use of drugs) the police must be given powers to invade that privacy. In the name of this "War" society tolerates a battery of investigative techniques (wiretapping, strip searches, the use of paid "snitches", etc.) that are offensive to our basic notions of civil liberty. We trust our police to use these extensive powers rationally and honestly. And what do police do with that sacred trust? At best, throw their weight around. At worst, go into the drug business themselves. Police officers, by and large, love drug work as it provides a flashy, television-style environment which appears dangerous but is, in reality, relatively safe. The vast majority of drug offences investigated by the police expose them to nothing more dangerous than a carload of cowed and paranoid teenagers. Drug work permits bullyish police to bully, and greedy police to steal. We are all victims of this "War on Drugs", when one considers the colossal and unwarranted cost of prosecuting it. Users of illegal drugs must be (and usually are) willing to pay the additional price of being overt targets in this war. Public attitudes have changed to the point that most people now feel users of "soft" drugs shouldn't risk criminal prosecution. Having reached this point in the drug use debate, public support often flounders over the thorny issue of treatment of producers and the ever-nefarious "dealer". One can argue it is hypocritical to continue a war against the producers of such illegal drugs, when the general (and generally accepted) demand for those drugs makes those people guilty of nothing more than capitalism. This is not a popular position. That particular debate is academic since, in the face of state-controlled distribution, such activities will become insignificant. The answer is to recognize that safe and careful distribution must take place, and to regulate that activity. Almost all "drug-related crimes" are caused not by use of the drug per se but by the illegality of the drug. When drugs are prohibited, they become the domain of criminals. As a result, they are untested, untaxed, and potentially unsafe. Disputes between rival suppliers are more likely to be resolved (as in alcohol Prohibition days) by liquidation rather than litigation. If an inescapable industry is not legally controlled, it will be illegally controlled. In nations where drug use is decriminalized or tolerated, drug "offences" are, of course, almost non-existent. The amount of drug use might see a slight and temporary increase, but is largely unaffected and ultimately likely lower. The health and productivity of drug users is vastly improved. Drug overdose deaths are almost unheard of. Contrast this with the overdose deaths which routinely occur in our prohibitionist society, and are poignant reminders that this truly is a "War". Not only drug crimes drop when drug policies are liberalized. Overall crime rates are generally lower, and prison populations per capita are staggeringly lower. In spite of this clear evidence authorities continue to sell the myth that toleration of drug use leads to increased drug use and increased crime. In fact, the exact opposite has been demonstrated. Past experience, and also the limited studies available (governments are reluctant to fund or facilitate research likely to repudiate their avowed policies) consistently show that harsher restrictions on drugs result in increased, not decreased use. As a convenient excuse for failure to consider lessened restrictions, our legislators point to commitments Canada has made to drug interdiction in various International Conventions and Treaties. This is palpable nonsense. Belgium, the Netherlands and other nations with relaxed drug laws are also signatories. They have shown the courage to buck Uncle Sam's policies and have been, for the most part, left alone because they don't share a large (and largely unprotected) border with the US. Canada's medical marijuana regime shows the alleged treaty impediment is a red herring. Our government is to be applauded for going that far but should go further. Canada has at various times flexed its sovereignty and threatened to formulate its own drug policy (remember the LeDain Commission?) but has consistently backed down to American pressure. Like most Western nations, we have harmed our own citizens and interests rather than offend Uncle Sam. It's time for this to stop. Canada has not only the ability but the obligation to demonstrate to the world that the Americans do not dictate drug policy for other sovereign nations. If we show this courage, it will not take long for others to follow, especially with European nations already in the lead. Prohibition assumes we are a bunch of moral paupers who need legislation to make our choices about potentially dangerous things for us. This is ludicrous. We make such choices for ourselves (with the potential to impact on others) every time we open a package of cigarettes or start a car or walk across a busy highway. Those of us prone to languish in a permanent drug-induced stupour can already do so using any number of legal and readily available intoxicants. Most of us are not so inclined, and the number of those who are does not depend upon the drug choices available to them. Easy access to drugs doesn't turn us into a society of drug addicts any more than easy access to alcohol creates runaway alcoholism. If society genuinely wishes to reduce the harm created by drug use, it must first accept that drug use always has and always will exist. Second, minimize the harm inherent in the inevitable drug use of the moment. Third, stop attempting to cut off supply. That is a mug's game. Instead, focus on treatment and education, which are, dollar for dollar, vastly more effective than interdiction in reducing drug use. The answers will not be quick or easy or without controversy. Eighty years of prohibition can not and should not be dismantled without careful deliberation. The daunting nature of the task ahead ought not, however, to delay a start. We have daily shot ourselves in the proverbial foot in this war. It's time to stop fighting. Note: "The first casualty when war comes is truth." - Hiram Johnson Related Article:History of Canadian Cannabis Laws Excerpts from Panic and Indifference: The Politics of Canada's Drug LawsDateline: Sunday, January 12, 2003 Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, January 9th A discussion of the origins of Canada's cannabis laws is now available online. Of particular interest: * the addition of cannabis to the Schedule (of prohibited drugs) of the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act in 1923 before cannabis was identified as a social issue in Canada --a "solution without a problem" (p. 179). The first seizure of marijuana cigarettes occurred only in 1932, nine years after the law had passed (p. 182); the first four possession offences (it is not clear whether these were charges or convictions) occurred only in 1937, 14 years after cannabis was criminalized (p. 599) * the mystery about why cannabis was added to the Schedule of prohibited drugs in the first place, including the complete absence of debate in Parliament, and the lack of evidence of any consideration of the scientific knowledge about cannabis (pp. 179-80) * the equally mysterious addition of "cannabis indica" to one of the carbon copies of a draft of the Schedule before it was enacted, with no explanation (p. 179) the hysterical, unscientific and racist rantings of Emily Murphy, Canada's first female magistrate (and one of the "Famous Five" who successfully argued that women were "persons" under Canadian law) that may have been the impetus for criminalizing cannabis (pp. 179-81) * the apparent ignorance within government (even nine years after the law had passed) and the Canadian Medical Association that Canada had criminalized cannabis (pp. 181-82) * very few possession offences -- in some years, none at all -- between 1923 and 1966; 1966 was the first year when cannabis possession offences (or charges) exceeded 100 per year (pp. 599-600) * throughout these pages, reports of the wealth of propaganda by government, the police and the media about cannabis. Some things never change. Read the full story at: http://www.cfdp.caRelated addresses: URL : Source: Straight Goods (Canada)Author: Rick Reimer Published: Monday, January 13, 2003 Copyright: Straight Goods 2000-2003Contact:  feedback Website: Articles & Web Site:Cannabis News Canadian Links Coming Canadian Drug Revolution Thinking Fuzzy on Marijuana Drugs in Canada - Gone To Pot
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #3 posted by drfistusa on January 15, 2003 at 10:38:23 PT:
we already get sprayed in the U.S
Hawaii gets frequent doses of herbicides from copters with sprayers. along with massive military intervention, for "erradication" for the last 20 yrs. expect this in your backyard soon !!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by FoM on January 15, 2003 at 09:30:01 PT
Thank you for the information! Go Vermont!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by druid on January 15, 2003 at 09:02:16 PT
 Vermont Senate to Hold Medical Marijuana Hearings
WHERE:   Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee      State Capitol      115 State St.      Montpelier      (802) 828-2228WHEN: Friday, January 17, 2003, 9:00 amThis Friday, January 17, at 9:00 am, the Vermont Senate Judiciary
Committee will hold a special hearing on the therapeutic use of 
 Specifically, the Committee will discuss the findings of the Vermont
Medical Marijuana Legislative Task Force, which convened this past 
and winter to “assess options for legal protections which would allow
seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana without facing criminal
prosecution under Vermont law.”NORML has obtained a preliminary copy of the Task Force’s report, and 
findings are quite positive. Among these:“There is medical value in using marijuana to ameliorate some symptoms
associated with severe illnesses and the treatment thereof.Marijuana is misclassified by the federal government as a Schedule I 
and should be reclassified to permit physicians to prescribe and
pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana.Medical marijuana programs are functioning effectively and generally
without incident in those states which have established them under
statewide regulatory oversight.Legal, private cultivation of medical marijuana by patients or 
would provide some patients with control over the type and cost of 
marijuana and would offer patients an alternative to the illegal drug
market.If Vermont authorizes the medical use of marijuana, a statewide medical
marijuana registry should be created within the Vermont Department of
Health.”As a result of these strong recommendations, NORML expects the state
legislature to begin serious deliberations regarding legislation to
legalize the possession of medical marijuana by qualified patients. 
Friday’s hearing will likely be the first step in this process.If you cannot attend this hearing, please take a moment today to 
your state elected representative and tell him or her that you support 
Task Force’s recommendation that marijuana is medicine, and that you
support statewide efforts to protect medical marijuana patients from
statewide prosecution. You can contact your elected state legislators
directly via NORML’s website at: will update you on future details as they happen.Regards,Kris Krane
Affiliate Coordinator
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment