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June 24, 2014

The Approaching Centennial of American Drug Insanty

On December 17th of this year the American policy that matured into a global "war" on drugs in 1970 will celebrate a painful centennial; it was on that day in 1914 that Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act, the first of three punitive laws based on the idea that police are the professionals most qualified to define and treat "addiction," a condition that still can't be defined as other than an undesirable behavior. Harrison was the first of 3 major pieces of inept American legislation that would coalesce into a global "drug war" with passage of the most misguided of all in 1970: Richard Nixon's Controlled Substances Act.

In a bizarre twist, the 18th amendment mandating the prohibition of alcohol was not passed until 1918, 4 years after Harrison. The much-anticipated ban on commerce in alcohol, which had been expected by many to bring about an alcohol free utopia, failed miserably and had to be repealed a mere 14 years after ratification. Perhaps the most obvious lesson (not) learned from that failure is that prohibition laws forbidding products or services desired by a significant minority of the population will inevitably create illegal markets which, in turn, induce wholesale corruption and end up doing far more harm than good.

Nevertheless, Harrison remained in force by surviving several 5-4 Supreme Court decisions between 1915 and 1920. Later, the Court ruled unanimously against itself in Linder in 1925, but because no other drug cases were decided after that, Harrison continued to survive under the watchful eye of Harry Anslinger.

In 1937, a 2nd critical piece of prohibitive legislation– known as the Marijuana” Tax Act was pushed through Congress by Anslinger himself, who had been made Chief of the Federal Bureau of narcotics, despite his complete lack of qualifications for the position. However, he had important political connections: his uncle was Andrew Mellon, who just happened to be Secretary of the Treasury and the richest man in America.

The third act in this legislative farce took place over 30 years later when Richard Nixon-possibly the least qualified American president ever– took it upon himself to enhance the scope and power of American drug policy in the complete absence of supporting evidence. He then compounded the felony by announcing criteria for the establishment of new illegal drug markets on a substance by substance basis, a privilege awarded to the Attorney General, thus excluding Medicine completely from both the legal and regulatory processes.

In an astounding example of the blind following the blind, The UN then updated, without significant discussion, its original 1961 commitment to ape American drug policy.

To a degree that has yet to be appreciated, Nixon's need to deal with the hippies then protesting the war in Vietnam, who were also the leading edge of an emergent new “drug culture,” dovetailed almost perfectly with the confusion and distress felt by their parents and elders over their behavior. That mutual generational ignorance led to an uncritical acceptance of Nixon' (and John Mitchell's) Controlled Substances Act which– in retrospect– can be seen as a purely rhetorical exercise aimed directly at the young political rebels then (understandably) protesting America's sadly mistaken war in Vietnam.

Another phenomenon complicating that already complex jigsaw puzzle, was the emergence of the so-called “beat generation” a relatively small but influential bi-coastal literary movement that appeared in the late Fifties and early Sixties. They were the first contingent of young Americans to actually try marijuana and psychedelics and soon wrote about those experiences. Their descriptions contrasted with the cookie-cutter blandness of the Eisenhower Fifties while also encouraging young "boomers" to try marijuana and psychedelics themselves, which further encouraged the behaviors that were puzzling and frightening their parents.

The final impetus for Nixon's anti-drug flight of fancy was the completely unexpected action of Earl Warren's Supreme Court in striking down the Marijuana Tax Act. Thus almost as soon as he took office, Nixon found himself confronted with a youthful rebellion in which the children of the "greatest" generation that had won World War Two were taking drugs and thumbing their noses at their parents' values while also refusing to fight in a deadly jungle war they neither understood nor agreed with.

Add in the demands of other "liberation" movements by Blacks, Gays and women and you have a formula for unprecedented social unrest.

As we now know, Nixon's "solution" was to restore the federal government's power to punish "drugs" and drug users indiscriminately, thus turning what had been an ill-conceived policy into a Perfect Storm of repression that punishes a whole species indiscriminately.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 24, 2014 09:55 PM