Why The War On Drugs Has Failed

  Why The War On Drugs Has Failed

Posted by FoM on September 05, 2000 at 04:44:47 PT
By Dan Gardner, The Ottawa Citizen 
Source: Ottawa Citizen 

Every society in history that could grow plants had drugs. These drugs weren't just for stanching wounds and healing the sick. They were also psychoactive drugs for altering sensation and consciousness. Few things can be said to be practically universal among human societies. Psychoactive drug use is one of them. The Incans chewed the leaves of Erythroxylin coca, the coca bush, to release the cocaine within. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and many others grew the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, which oozes the sap that becomes opium, morphine and heroin. Buddhist Indians celebrated what we call marijuana. 
Some North American aboriginals had peyote; others had tobacco. Europeans had alcohol. These drugs were fixtures in their respective cultures, and it was the rules of the cultures that regulated their use. Only in the 20th century did the idea of states issuing sweeping bans, backed by police and prison, become the standard method of controlling drug use. Only in the 20th century did governments feel they could engineer societies without drugs. Today, the "war on drugs" is, after wars on humans, the most sustained, co-ordinated and well-financed international effort in history. Tens of billions of dollars are spent every year by rich nations. Billions more are spent by desperately poor countries. Armies carry out assaults to control the fields where the plants grow. Airplanes and helicopters spray poison on them, platoons of workers dig them up by hand. Farmers are paid not to grow them. And still the plants are harvested. Police forces, air forces and armies mobilize against those who turn the plants into drugs and ship them out. In this struggle, thousands upon thousands of law enforcers are killed. And still the plants are turned into drugs and shipped. Satellites and advanced radar watch for the drugs in transit. Armies stand ready to intercept. At borders, behind steel walls, entire police forces stand guard to keep the drugs out. And still the drugs cross thousands of miles of ocean and land and get in. To keep the drugs from being sold and used, police forces dedicate tens of thousands of officers to hunt down sellers and buyers, a job so difficult they are sometimes forced to bend the law and lie in court. Legislators constantly expand police powers, eroding civil liberties. Millions are charged and jailed, creating a vast, profitable industry that lobbies to have even more people imprisoned. Hiding from the police and buying unregulated drugs, users are killed by overdose, by tainted drugs, and by diseases like AIDS contracted by sharing dirty needles. Still the drugs are sold, and still the drugs are used. And throughout this whole, disastrous effort, international organized crime fattens itself on the immense profits of the illegal drug trade. It grows richer and more powerful than ever before in history. The traffickers' bribes corrupt whole societies. Their fights over market share kill thousands of young toughs with nothing to lose, turning streets into urban battlefields and taking the lives of innocents. And it goes on year after year, decade after decade. It goes on so long, people forget why and how it started in the first place. In 1930, Fiorello La Guardia, a New York congressman who would become the legendary mayor of New York City, spoke out against the criminal prohibition of alcohol in the United States. Ten years of the "noble experiment" had produced only misery, he concluded. "People are being poisoned, bootleggers are being enriched, and government officials are being corrupted." Worst of all, La Guardia said, the ban had created "contempt and disregard for the law all over the country," as he had predicted a year before Prohibition came into force. La Guardia despaired. The failure of Prohibition was obvious to anyone who cared to look, but still "politicians are ducking, candidates are hedging, the Anti-Saloon League prospering." It seemed to him that the madness would never end. Yet, when La Guardia spoke, Prohibition had only three more years left to it. Americans in 1930 remembered the very real harms done by alcohol before it was banned in 1920. But they also saw that bad as those harms were, they weren't nearly as terrible as the damage done by Prohibition itself. Being able to contrast the two situations, Americans decided to legalize alcohol in 1933. Today, the historical memory that saved the United States from Prohibition is lost. In North America, it has been seven, eight or nine decades since drugs such as cocaine and opium were criminalized by a handful of activists informed mainly by bad science and racist myths. We have had drug prohibition so long, we've forgotten where it came from. We've had it for so long, we can't imagine anything else. We have been fighting the war on drugs so long that the terrible damage the war causes seems unfortunate but unavoidable -- if it is acknowledged at all. We aren't asking ourselves what Americans asked in 1933: Does the criminal prohibition of a drug do more harm than good? Beginning today and in the following days, this series will look at the ways governments try to stop the flow of illegal drugs, the results and the unintended consequences of these efforts. While we may not be able to rely on personal memory to decide if prohibition does more harm than good, we can look at the evidence. Perhaps then we will also ask if there isn't some better way to deal with the drugs that human societies have lived with for millennia. Published: September 5, 2000Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)Copyright: 2000 The Ottawa CitizenContact: letters Address: 1101 Baxter Rd.,Ottawa, Ontario, K2C 3M4Fax: 613-596-8522Website: Articles:The War On Drugs - First, Inhale Deeply a Leaky Sieve in Drug War

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Comment #4 posted by observer on April 02, 2001 at 14:17:20 PT
re: drugs-acts wanted
I need several drugs-acts of more lenient might try writing to the Trimbos institute. luck!! Hopefully it won't be too much of a hard sell in India. Ask your countrymen why they need to have the US and the UN dictate Indian internal policy. Indian haveused cannabis for thousands of years. Nothing changed about cannabis when certain police-state circles in the west decided to make criminals of their own children over this plant. Why should India jail her children over ganja because of the west's stupidity? International prohibition is fragile and unstable. If India (for example) were to unilaterally decide to left the pro-west prohibition on bhang, ganga and charas, yes, the west would make a fuss. But international cannabis prohibition would suffer, and India would yet prosper. Look at brave little Holland: they're changing hearts and minds (most recently Belgium's cannabis policy) by their steadfast and good example. Every pontifical lecture the west could mete out to India over (hypothetically) re-legalized cannabis, could be repaid with interest by enlightening the nosey western meddlers with historical facts (like India's traditional religious use of cannabis). I wish you the best!
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Comment #3 posted by Christoforus on April 02, 2001 at 12:47:56 PT:
drugs-acts wanted
I need several drugs-acts of more lenient countries.I work for legal de-criminalising of cannabis and charas (Hashish).Please, anyone who has the legal drugs act of his or an other country may send me the key to the resources or send me the act through a mail.Thanx, Christoforus
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Comment #2 posted by Dan B on September 05, 2000 at 20:34:06 PT:

Great Work Here

An excellent piece, and an excellent addendum by observer. I look forward to reading the remaining articles in this series, and I plan to print them out and share them with anyone willing to read, encouraging others to pass this information along. This promises to be an excellent source of accurate information about the so-called war on drugs, its negative effects and its origins.Bravo to the Ottawa Citizen. Once again, some of the best information is coming from Canada. I'm really thankful for our northern neighbors.
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Comment #1 posted by observer on September 05, 2000 at 08:36:33 PT

We've Forgotten Where It Came From

Today, the historical memory that saved the United States from Prohibition is lost. In North America, it has been seven, eight or nine decades since drugs such as cocaine and opium were criminalized by a handful of activists informed mainly by bad science and racist myths. We have had drug prohibition so long, we've forgotten where it came from. We've had it for so long, we can't imagine anything else.Excellent piece. This lack of memory if why we need to constantly remind people: the freedom to consume whatever substances one chooses is an ancient freedom, but one that has been lost only in the last century. These are traditional rights that need to be restored, in contrast to the picture prohibitionist propagandists paint. Prohibitionists want you to forget that all people, all Americans once had these rights. They want you to assume that "drug users" are some kind of new, technological phenomenon that have arisen like a scourge in the last century because of chemical technology. They constantly use language to reinforce this misconception. "Should we 'legalize' murger, too?", is a prohibitionist retort that plays on this misconception. Murder has always been illegal and immoral and wrong: it wasn't declared a 'crime' in the last few years. Not so with drug use, something that was always legal until recently. Another use of language to reinforce trhe misconception that drug use is a foreign, strange thing is the use of the word "legalize" itself. Prohibitionists are fond of saying that some want to "legalize drugs." This rhetoric hides the fact that people are being thrown in jail for using drugs, and that such laws should be repealed. Prohibitionists hate to talk about "prohibition" or "restoring freedoms", they instead spin that desire as "legalizing drugs", to obscure the fact and history of prohibition.The Norman Rockwell scene prohibitionists spin of a "drug-free America" is a false picture of something that never existed. The world didn't fall apart when people had this freedom, the freedom consume what they chose. Neither will it fall apart when people are simply not jailed for using the drugs they use now, in courageous defiance of the unjust tyranny of prohibition.
History of US Drug Laws
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