The never-ending War on Drugs

April 17, 2009

Obama’s visit to Mexico this week has once again highlighted America’s interminable War on Drugs. The term was coined by Richard Nixon in 1969, in a clear allusion to Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous War on Poverty. We are now in 2009 and the war continues. The website has a drug war clock, which graphically shows the enormous costs of this war. So far this year the American federal government and the states have spent more than fifteen billion dollars on this war – that works out at over $600 a second. In the same period more than half a million people have been arrested for drug-related offences.

         This insane struggle goes back much further than Tricky Dicky. One of its first key players was HJ Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a precursor of today’s DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). Anslinger personifies the punitive approach to drug use. I know it’s a bit unfair to judge a historical figure by contemporary mores but this quote will give you a flavour of the man:

There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.” According to Anslinger marijuana had almost magical qualities, being responsible for inducing both violence and pacifism. He also claimed that it “makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” Anslinger was at the FBN for more than 30 years. He is no longer around but these catastrophic policies continue to hold sway.

            My first objection to this war is based on individual freedom. As adults we should be free to ingest whatever we want. As long as we don’t harm others, we have the right to choose what we do with our lives. But this freedom comes with responsibility. If you abuse that responsibility, you have to face up to the consequences of your actions. I think we hear the word victim and illness too often in these cases. Freedom without responsibility is a recipe for disaster. I have always stayed away from the whole drug culture – I have little sympathy for this world.  But I think if I did become addicted to any substance, I would find it very tough to go straight. Therefore, the best option for me is to stay off them.

Economic analysis can also be used to analyse the efficacy of this war. The aim is to reduce the supply of illegal drugs, thus pushing prices up and as a consequence reducing the amount people want to consume.  A typical enforcement strategy is to pressurize countries like Colombia or Mexico to eradicate the production of coca. This has been going on for three decades now and the policy just hasn’t worked. For a little while supply did go down but the drug cartel were able to lie low a while or their organisations mutated and now the total number of hectares has actually gone up. So the U.S. government has wasted billions of dollars on Plan Colombia and seems unwilling to learn the lessons of the recent past in the drug war. Let’s just suppose for a minute that it were possible to completely eliminate all the coca – all you would do is shift production to whatever country is next best at producing it. You can grow coca in many different places and so the effect on cost is likely to be minimal.  The cost of producing drugs abroad and transporting them to the United States is said to represent only about 1 percent of their street price. The inescapable conclusion is that this will never be an effective way of reducing drug use.

Finally we need to look at the unintended consequences. The most prevalent one is crime. This occurs in our countries and in the producer countries. In Mexico almost 10,000 people have been killed in the last two years; 10% were law enforcement agents. This has had a destabilising effect on Mexican democracy. Prohibition of alcohol helped Al Capone get rich and now history is being repeated with the Mexican cartels. Will we never learn?

Politics is about making trade-offs not finding the perfect solution. Decriminalisation is most definitely not perfect and I do have a certain unease about what the consequences would be. But this perpetual war reminds me of the joke by British Tommies in the trenches during WWI – if we keep advancing at this rate, we’ll get to Berlin in 100 years. At least that war ended after four years; this one has been going on for decades and there is no is no sign of a victory parade.

Quotes about drugs

April 17, 2009

Drug misuse is not a disease; it’s a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error of judgement. Philip K. Dick


Bacchus has drowned more men than Neptune Giuseppe Garibaldi


Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. Timothy Leary


There is only one reason why men become addicted to drugs, they are weak men. Only strong men are cured, and they cure themselves. Martin H. Fischer, German-born U.S. physician and author.


Cocaine isn’t habit-forming. I should know—I’ve been using it for years.  Tallulah Bankhead, U.S. actress.


Our country has deliberately undertaken a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose. Herbert Hoover, U.S. president referring to Prohibition.


Drugs have taught an entire generation of American kids the metric system. P.J. O’Rourke, writer.


Annual drug deaths: tobacco: 395,000, alcohol: 125,000, ‘legal’ drugs: 38,000, illegal drug overdoses: 5,200, marijuana: 0. Considering government subsidies of tobacco, just what is our government protecting us from in the drug war? William Turnbow


Consider first the addict. Legalizing drugs might increase the number of addicts, though it is not certain that it would. Forbidden fruit is attractive, particularly to the young. More important, many persons are deliberately made into drug addicts by pushers, who now give likely prospects their first doses free. It pays the pusher to do so because, once hooked, the addict is a captive customer. If drugs were legally available, any possible profit from such inhumane activity would largely disappear, since the addict could buy from a cheaper source. Milton Friedman


The only law the narcoterrorists don’t break is the law of supply and demand. Virgilio Barco Vargas ex-president of Columbia.


The idea that the creative endeavour and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time … Substance abusing writers are just substance abusers – common garden variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic snowplough drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons. Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2001)


A woman drove me to drink and I never even had the courtesy to thank her. W.C. Fields


It’s not a war on drugs, it’s a war on personal freedom. Keep that in mind at all times. Bill Hicks

Drug trivia

April 17, 2009

Here is some trivia about drugs that I have found on the web:


The opium poppy was first cultivated in around 3400 BCE in lower Mesopotamia. The Sumerians referred to it as Hul Gil, the ‘joy plant.’ The Sumerians would soon pass along the plant and its euphoric effects to the Assyrians. The art of poppy culling would continue from the Assyrians to the Babylonians who in turn would pass their knowledge onto the Egyptians.


Hassan Ben Sabbah, a boyhood friend of Omar Khayyam, the Arabian poet, gathered a group of warriors and captured the powerful Persian fort of Alamut. To maintain his power, Hassan formed a society of murderers to secretly kill all his enemies. The killers were known as “Fedais,” or Devoted Ones. When one of them was selected for a kill, he was first given hashish and entertained royally with all the most sensual and erotic delights of the Orient. He was told that he had been given a taste of things to come. After all this, the killer was not only willing, but also anxious, to die for his leader after this taste of Paradise. From this ceremony came the name “hashshashin,” meaning “hashish eater,” from which came today’s corruption, “assassin.”


Accurate American history tells us that famous names of the period like Wild Bill Hickock and Kit Carson actually frequented opium dens more often than saloons. The stereotyped picture we have of the cowboy in the bar drinking whiskey straight after a long hard ride on the dusty trail is only part of the story of the old west. Oftentimes times the cowboy was not in a bar at all. He was in a prone position in a dim candle-lit room smoking opium in the company of an oriental prostitute.


Because of its intense euphoric side effects, morphine was named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus.


In 1830 Britain solved its ballooning trade deficit with China by flooding it with opium grown in Bengal. This sparked the first opium war. The Chinese were defeated by the British. Along with paying a large indemnity, Hong Kong was ceded to the British.


The first recognized authority and advocate for cocaine was world famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud. Early in his career, Freud broadly promoted cocaine as a safe and useful tonic that could cure depression and sexual impotence.


Cocaine got a further boost in acceptability when in 1886 John Pemberton included cocaine as the main ingredient in his new soft drink, Coca Cola. It was cocaine’s euphoric and energizing effects on the consumer that was mostly responsible for skyrocketing Coca Cola into its place as the most popular soft drink in history. Public pressure forced Coca Cola to remove cocaine in 1903.


Snorting cocaine became popular at the beginning of the century. Cocaine can also be injected intravenously as Sherlock Holmes used to do.


U.S. efforts to contain the spread of Communism in Asia involved forging alliances with tribes and warlords inhabiting the areas of the Golden Triangle, (an expanse covering Laos, Thailand and Burma), thus providing accessibility and protection along the southeast border of China. In order to maintain their relationship with the warlords while continuing to fund the struggle against communism, the U.S. and France supplied the drug warlords and their armies with ammunition, arms and air transport for the production and sale of opium. The result: an explosion in the availability and illegal flow of heroin into the United States and into the hands of drug dealers and addicts.


It is possible to get high by licking a toad. The Cane Toad produces a toxin called bufotenine to ward off predators. When licked, this toxin acts as a hallucinogen.


In 2005 a study of Content Analysis of References to Substance Abuse in Popular Music  was carried out by Brian A. Primack of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. His team analysed Billboard magazine’s 279 most popular songs of that year. The researchers noted every mention of substance use in pop, rock, R&B/hip-hop, country and rap songs and they also looked within each genre to determine motivations for, associations with and consequences of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Their results included:


41.6% of songs had a substance use reference of any kind.

33.3% contained explicit substance use references


One or more references to substance use were found in:

3 of 35 pop songs (9%)

9 of 66 rock songs (14%)

11 of 55 R&B/hip-hop songs (20%)

22 of 61 country songs (36%)

48 of 62 rap songs (77%)


2.9% of the 279 songs portrayed tobacco use

23.7% depicted alcohol use

13.6% depicted marijuana use

11.5% depicted other or unspecified substance use

My media week 19/04/09

April 17, 2009

ABC’s All in the Mind has been running a series of interviews with the 89-year-old Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Thomas Szasz, who comes from Hungary, and has one of those Slavoj Zizek over-the- top accents and is equally opinionated. Szasz, a libertarian maverick, who was the author of The Myth of Mental Illness, believes we live in a therapeutic state— what he calls a ‘pharmacracy’—and that psychiatry is a ‘pseudoscientific racket’. There are three programmes – the first two are an interview with Szasz and the final programme had psychiatrists responding to the accusations.

Interview Part 1 of 2

Interview Part 2 of 2

Thomas Szasz – Psychiatrists respond


Richard A. Posner, a judge and also a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School analyses Why the Economic Crisis Was Not Anticipated in this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.


White-collar fraudster Bernie Madoff has been called a range of nasty names — from the Dickensian “scoundrel” to the clinically cruel “sociopath.” In this audio linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the proper terminology for condemning Madoff. Madoff: A Scoundrel Or A Sociopath?.


In this article Robert Higgs takes a critical look at the role of the Fed and its chairman in the current financial crisis

Give Bernanke Credit—For Chutzpah.


This article from Wired is about how YouTube is becoming more mainstream. YouTube Edges Cautiously From Grassroots Toward Hollywood