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December 04, 2013

The Drug War: an American Tragedy in Three Acts

In December 2014, America and the world will mark a tragic Centennial: the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotic Act, a (perhaps) well intended, but ill-conceived, effort to limit the production and consumption of drugs considered too dangerous or "addictive" by its sponsors to be sold to the general public or prescribed by physicians. The first "narcotics" targeted by Harrison were cocaine and heroin. The law's dubious strategy was to punish physicians for prescribing them in an apparent belief that all doctors who did so were more interested in money than in their patients' welfare. Some were, but many were not and cops are not equipped to recognize the difference.

Significantly, the 1914, New York Times had devoted two separate Sunday supplements to separate propaganda blasts against each drug; both were alarmist and racist in tone, as exemplified by this item which appeared in the Special on cocaine published in February. In January, an egregiously misinformed article forecasting the special on heroin had appeared; Harrison was eventually passed by Congress less than 12 months later. It was a legislative victory based on ignorance that would set the standard for a grotesquely ill-conceived policy of failure for the next Century.

The errors implicit in that early faith in prohibition- and the policies it gave rise to- are emphasized by the continued popularity of heroin and cocaine on modern criminal markets. Not to mention the huge markets for other "narcotics" created as human governments have stubbornly persisted in trying to make a conceptual failure work. The institutionalization of those failures as a Drug War simply reinforces their intrinsic errors. Wars cannot be turned into Public Health, by either devious rhetoric or legal definitions; yet drug prohibition supporters still see "addiction," as a dread disease for which only Law Enforcement can provide acceptable treatment; what I have come to think of as the Nixon Doctrine.

That stubborn idea has been leading our species into disaster for over forty years; not all by itself, but as an one of several reigning misconceptions now being stubbornly promoted by elements within our species: that murder and suicide are valid as manifestations of religious faith, that money can purchase security, and that human activity doesn't affect the planet's climate are just the three most dangerous.

Drug prohibition's evolution from an ill-conceived American law into today's disastrous War on Drugs was more erratic than linear. It would take another 56 years- from 1914 until 1970- and require two additional pieces of misguided legislation: the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

What they had in common was adherence to the same misguided belief that inspired Harrison: that the criminal prohibition of drugs is a good idea that should work, a notion that should have been rejected after Repeal was required to cancel the Eighteenth Amendment.

Instead, Nixon's CSA has given us mounting woes on our Mexican border plus the corruption of Burma, Colombia, and Afghanistan by a huge international drug trade.

Tragically- all three major American drug laws were promptly approved and uncritically adopted; first as US policy and subsequently by the UN.

Their detailed histories are both ludicrous and related: the 1937 MTA was a deceptive transfer tax clumsily modeled on Harrison. It required tax stamps that were never printed, probably because the insignificant "marijuana" market extant in 1937 was expected to remain small. When its unexpected expansion in the Sixties was signaled by the sentencing of LSD guru Timothy Leary to 30 years, the medically ignorant Warren Court struck it down on Fifth Amendment grounds.

Ironically, cannabis- re-named "marijuana" by Harry Anslinger, the MTA's original sponsor- has yet to be studied by competent scientists in a setting unburdened by the stigma of illegality during an era capable of recognizing its many and varied therapeutic attributes.

My necessarily limited study of cannabis users suggests that the DEA's ALJ Francis Young's 1988 ruling was correct, cannabis is a therapeutic agent of enormous promise: perhaps the single most valuable plant source of medicine yet to come to the attention of our species.

Thus was a golden opportunity missed in 1969 when the MTA was nullified by the Warren Court and President Richard Nixon took it upon himself to punish youthful anti-war protesters by enhancing the power of law enforcement agencies (and Psychiatry) to practice bad medicine.

A second opportunity was missed in 2000 when the theft of our Presidency by Dubya's supporters was enabled by a minor Florida functionary and later endorsed by a Supreme Court that had been configured by Republican presidents to overturn Roe-V-Wade.

Thus has support for the drug war becomes a good litmus test for political ignorance. With over 60% of the electorate now in favor of legalizing marijuana, will the Prez and enough of his political supporters please get the message? Legal pot is desperately needed by humans ASAP.

In another entry, I'll explain just why "decriminalization" and "medical" use are rhetorical traps.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 4, 2013 01:33 AM