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September 09, 2012

Post Convention Thoughts

As yet another Presidential campaign grinds toward its November conclusion, its strident debates have become as revealing for what is never discussed by either party, as opposed to the issues they wrangle over incessantly. Specifically, neither mentions the perennial failure of American drug policy, let alone how the scope of that failure was increased dramatically right after the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970.

In fact, considerable popular dissatisfaction with our drug policy is evidenced by the existence of "medical marijuana" laws in a third of all US states and the fact that similar laws remain under active consideration in an increasing number of others. Nevertheless, the federal government continues to insist that "herbal" cannabis cannot possibly be medicine and neither political party has taken a stand on the issue in the 16 years since Proposition 215 was approved by California voters in 1996.

On the political front, despite the partisan differences that erupt every four years over taxes, national defense, and other "social" issues, the drug "war" that began almost immediately after passage of the CSA in 1970 continues to receive bipartisan support.

That should be amazing, especially when one realizes that the CSA was based entirely on the medically incompetent assertions of US Attorney General John Mitchell in 1969 at the behest of his Watergate buddy, then-President Richard Nixon. Mitchell's excursion into Pharmacology was clearly prompted by the Supreme Court's unexpected decision, in a case involving LSD guru Timothy Leary: that the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment grounds.

Nixon needed Mitchell's rhetorical help because he was under attack by a youthful peace movement for escalating the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam; the Court's decision not only took away federal power over "marijuana," it also threatened the Harrison Act by which the feds had arrogated the power to "regulate" opium and coca products in 1914. In other words, the Court had, perhaps unwittingly, threatened all federal jurisdiction over drugs, something the punitive Nixon could not have tolerated under any circumstances.

That the drug war is an abject policy failure has been an open secret since the late William F. Buckley Jr. first said so in print in 1995. Twenty-seven years after Buckley and forty-two years of Drug War defeats, that's hardly news. The question its victims (who serve the time and foot the bill) should really be be asking is what would it take to at least mitigate such a rip-off policy failure?

Perhaps the answer may be revealed by another question: why did Hitler's Third Reich fail in a dozen years, while Fidel Castro has retained control of Cuba since 1959, despite intense American hostility?

The answer is that Hitler and Germany committed mutual suicide by attacking too many enemies in too short a time. Castro, on the other hand, has skillfully retained control of Cuba by exploiting his advantages. The closest he, Cuba, (and the world) came to nuclear war was when Kruschchev was forced to back down after smuggling nuclear weapons into Cuba in 1962.

The lesson seems to be that wars that don't threaten their antagonists with destruction can be fought indefinitely; especially if they manage to reward all sides. Those conditions were admirably met by America's war on drugs; especially after the CSA became UN policy retroactively upon passage: drug "criminals" are rewarded by enhanced profits, law enforcement agencies, by guaranteed budgets and enhanced opportunities for graft, and "rogue" nations- Mexico and Colombia- for example, have learned to tolerate illegal drug production and smuggling on an industrial scale for the increased foreign exchange they generate. Oh yes; all it takes to create a brand new illegal market under the CSA is an administrative decision by whoever happens to be the American AG.

Given the emotional nature of "drug" issues and the enormous reluctance of politicians to admit old mistakes, we may have a long wait before any American President would risk modifying the CSA.

That said, I'm sure an Obama Administration would be a lot more open to the idea of ratcheting down the drug war than one led by a (Mormon) President Romney.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at September 9, 2012 07:45 PM