09.26.16 | War On Drugs

Resolved: The War on Drugs was rooted in a government need to control its citizenry. Discuss.

Boulder author Dan Baum opens his piece (“Legalize It All”) in a recent Harper’s article with this first-hand interview of John Erlichman (Nixon’s then domestic policy advisor), “You want to know what this was really all about? . . . the Nixon White House had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people . . we knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black . . .  but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities . . . we could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news . . . did we know we were lying about the drugs? — of course we did.”

Of course they did. Fear mongering was good politics. Just-Say-No was the best perception management campaign since Reefer Madness. It drove legislation and powered exploding bureaucracies at both the federal and state level.  

But as in War On Anything there is, ahem, collateral damage. Only recently has the citizenry come to see the trade-offs in terms of cost and lives ruined. The problem with entrenched bureaucracies is that they tend to exist mainly to continue their very existence. What’s required is a renewed sense of genuine purpose and priorities.   

Despite the hyperbolic title, the Baum piece is more of a sedate review of alternative approaches to replace a simple prohibitionist mind-set with a rational system to regulate and control dangerous drugs. That includes, by the way, better control of certain prescription drugs i.e. opioids, the misuse of which represents an equally alarming threat to public health.

That’s it, public health becomes the aim. Change in the U.S. may be difficult — particularly with the patchwork of competing federal, state, and local jurisdictions (e.g.Colorado) — but the discussion has to start somewhere.

Article (click): Link: http://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/ 

Steve SmithComment