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October 15, 2005

Drug Policy 102: How Nixon's Drug War has expanded a prohibition into a repression.

The "war" on drugs launched by Richard Nixon's "Operation Intercept" in September 1969 suddenly and dramatically expanded national resources which America had long been committing to a bad idea- one that had already been failing miserably in the case of "drugs for over fifty years," and had flamed out in spectacular fashion a mere  fourteen years it was  applied to alcohol in 1920. That idea  was prohibition- the belief that a specific human behavior, when opposed by a majority on "moral" (religious) grounds, can be either "controlled" or eliminated simply by passing laws against it.

The idea that prohibition works is, of course, still alive and well in the form of our "war on drugs," even though the preferred modern euphemism is "control."

The essential reason for prohibition's inevitable historical failure is not difficult to grasp: it's human greed. It has never taken long for a lucrative criminal market supplying any banned item to develop and flourish- whether for alcohol, "drugs,"  gambling, sex- or even nuclear weapons. The history of such illegal markets is that they quickly gain enough wealth to corrupt many of society's important institutions- a process which has now gone on so long in America that we seem unable to recognize- or even discuss- it openly.

In the thirty-six years which have elapsed since Nixon's malign initiative- and thanks to the increasingly brutal and dishonest efforts of the American federal bureaucracy he was then creating to enforce it- the flawed idea or drug prohibition has, paradoxically, both failed and succeeded on a massive scale. Its failure is measured by the perennial inability of enforcers to accomplish even one claimed goal; its success is measured by its continued acceptance as an essential policy with budget and influence to match. The drug war has now seriously unbalanced American society- thanks to its ability concentrate wealth and power in the hands some of our wealthiest, greediest and most repressive citizens-  and most recently-  even with the unwitting assistance of organizations like NORML. which represent its targeted victims.

One the more troublesome aspects of American drug prohibition is that, thanks to its cloning by UN treaty in 1961,  it is now also an "essential" policy in every member nation. Although differing considerably in the style and intensity of  its enforcement within various nations, the policy's global acceptance- together with the mischief created by the international criminal markets it enables- now pose a threat to our entire species by making eventual reversal of the culprit policy all the more difficult.

A question which had long puzzled me was just how such an obviously flawed and destructive  national policy could be tolerated within a country claiming to be the world's most active proponent of 'human rights.' The answer turns out to be quite simple: the same all-too-human emotions of fear and greed which have allowed every successful repression in history to gain enough tacit acceptance to be enforced over a significant interval. In terms of  simple duration, the drug war- when measured since it first emerged as a coherent national policy in 1914- is now the most enduring modern repression since the Inquisition.

Over the next few days, I hope to cite some recent examples of the policy's continued malign dominance of American politics- together with some hopeful evidence that its ultimate unmasking as a breathtaking scientific fraud may be a bit closer than we now realize.

As before, those insights will all refer back to my study of California pot users which inspired this blog in the first place.

Dr. Tom O'Connell

Posted by tjeffo at October 15, 2005 07:54 PM