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December 22, 2008

An Untold American Success Story; Part 2

Both the title of this exercise and the narrative in Part 1 call attention to a key element in any fraud: the importance of what is left unsaid. The unraveling Madoff Ponzi scheme now astonishing the financial world is a convenient example; the characters and details are new, but the story is as old as the hills. The original intention may have been simply to make money; the fraud inevitably starts out small, but as losses mount, concealing them becomes an overriding objective and soon replaces any (transient) notion of repaying the original “investors.”

The American drug war is best understood as a federal government fraud, similar to Watergate, in which the goal was not money but the acquisition of political advantage. It began in the early Twentieth Century when a (now) largely unknown cast of characters sold the Harrison Act as a transfer tax. Their original motivation may even have been noble, but their legislative vehicle was deceptive from the outset and also rooted in an uninformed theory. An unfortunate precedent was established when Harrison survived judicial review. Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled, in a series of close (5-4) decisions, that “addiction” should be treated by a federal bureaucracy. That notion has since been converted into dogma by the passage of time and has remained beyond challenge; indeed, it hasn’t been reviewed by any court since.

The almost automatic tendency of any bureaucracy is to hang on to power to the extent possible and the moral imperative conceded to those "battling addiction" is considerable. Added to that is the understandable reluctance of both government and the electorate to admit that such a long term policy could have been so badly mistaken.

What happened next in 1937, and again in 1970, was that the scope and impact of those bad Harrison decisions were magnified by even worse legislation and compounded by further judicial ineptitude. The net result has been that American drug policy has been converted from a relatively minor program administered by a small agency tightly controlled by a single ignorant bureaucrat in the Fifties into today's multi-agency, multi-billion dollar monster nominally headed by an impotent “czar,” but actually dominated by a cluster of semi-autonomous agencies motivated primarily by their own survival. In the aggregate, they employ thousands of people to crank out “scientific” propaganda defending a policy that is filling our prisons, degrading our schools and keeping us entangled in futile wars around the world.

From Afghanistan to the Andes, and across the Pacific to Burma, rogue nations and terrorists are supported by illegal economies directly dependent on American drug policy for market protection and price support. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this global fraud is its dependence on our domestic policy of cannabis prohibition; if that single aspect were to be discredited, the whole elaborate structure might lose much of its credibility and collapse.

That's why I think John Walters spends so much of his time and energy railing against medical marijuana in California.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 22, 2008 04:33 PM