Beginning The War on “The War on Drugs”

Mother Jones Drug Cover

It takes a long time for public opinion to change on some issues but sometimes we reach a tipping point where old ideas begin to be abandoned. In 2006 the Republicans won in many states by making an issue of same sex marriage. Today many see their opposition as being a factor which has caused young voters to abandon the party and speed up their decline. Other aspects of the culture wars will take longer to change. At this point we seem to be far away from ending the war on drugs but there is increased discussion of the issue and some signs of hope that it will be possible in the foreseeable future for politicians to discuss change. Mother Jones has devoted an issue to the topic and began with noting any absurdities of the drug war:

…the drug war has never been about facts—about, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we’ve been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success. (To wit: Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who’ve seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.)

What would a fact-based drug policy look like? It would put considerably more money into treatment, the method proven to best reduce use. It would likely leave in place the prohibition on “hard” drugs, but make enforcement fair (no more traffickers rolling on hapless girlfriends to cut a deal. No more Tulias). And it would likely decriminalize but tightly regulate marijuana, which study after study shows is less dangerous or addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, has undeniable medicinal properties, and isn’t a gateway drug to anything harder than Doritos. (Watch Clara discuss the Doritos theory at the 00:12:54 mark of this video, and see “The Patriot’s Guide to Legalization.”

So why don’t we have a rational drug policy? Simple. Forget the Social Security “third rail.” The quickest way to get yourself sidelined in serious policy discussion is to stray from drug war orthodoxy. Even MoJo has skirted the topic for fear of looking like a bunch of hot-tubbing stoners. Such is the power of the culture wars, 50 years on.

After skirting the issue in the past they are now willing to address it, as others occasionally do. There’s still a long way to go before public opinion changes, but at least the process is starting to move a little more towards the mainstream.

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  1. 1
    Glau Montgomery says:

    To anyone who still proclaims the effectivness of the War on Drugs, I suggest looking up Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs in 2001 and the “LaGuardia Committee Report.”

  2. 2
    Fritz says:

    Glau, I doubt that you will find any of those people here.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Besides–it would be helpful to leave a link.

    Evidence that the drug war doesn’t work is all over. A look at Portugal would be of more interest since we have far fewer examples of drug laws being rescinded than evidence of drug laws which don’t work. Here’s one report on the benefits of decriminalization in Portugal.

  4. 4
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Even Mother Jones really only skirts the issue of ending the drug war and engages in some of the usual false tropes on the left.
    I’m certainly not saying that drug treatment should not be a readily and affordably available option for those who want it. However, changing the laws to subsitute forced treatment for incarceration would likely not be as useful as they think. With or without treatment, cold turkey or on a program, the numbers of those who successfully quit are pretty much the same. Statistical information suggests that treatment can be highly useful to help someone who wants to quit, but is entirely useless if someone really doesn’t.
    The treat program with the highest level of ‘success’ is the methadone schedule used to treat the ‘hard’ drugs they mention in the article. The trouble is that methadone therapy is trading one monkey for another, one much harder to buck off and potentially much more life threatening to try to buck off.
    The odds of successfully kicking of the methadone habit replacing the heroin or cocaine addiction are far lower than the odds of kicking the original addiction, many methadone patients never fully reintegrate back into ‘normal’ life due to the side effects of methadone, and quitting methadone cold turkey can literally kill you.
    I’m NOT trying to say we should not focus on treatment. We should certainly should, and focus on making it better and to better do what it does best. I’m saying we shouldn’t rest our entire drug policy on treatment the way we currently rest it on criminal prosecution, because treatment is no more a universal fix than incarceration is.

  5. 5
    Bill Harris says:

    Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation did not yet run amok. Madam Secretary Clinton need not travel to China to find subcultures stripped of human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of flower-children, political radicals, and ethnic minorities under the banner of the war on drugs. If we are all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance credibility.

    The witch-hunt doctor’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. Taxpayers foot the bill for each investigation, prosecution, adjudication, incarceration and probation. My shaman’s second opinion is, grow your own herbal remedy victory garden. Abstaining from the black market implements demand reduction for cartel product, and increases economic stimulation.

    Only a clause about interstate commerce provides the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) with a pretext of constitutionality. The effect of the CSA on interstate commerce is to fatten outlaws and endanger homeland security while the treasury bleeds. Eradicate, do not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land, perhaps the most useful plant in nature. America rejected prohibition, but its back. SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon promised the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due-process under an anti-science law without any due-process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research. Marijuana has no medical use, period.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. A specific church membership should not be prerequisite for Americans to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes the free exercise of religious liberty.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Puritans came here to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law must hold that the people are the legal owners of their own bodies. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal law should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should not deny self-exploration to seekers. Americans’ right to the pursuit of happiness is supposed to be inalienable by government.

    Simple majorities in each house could put repeal of the CSA on the president’s desk. The books have ample law on them without the CSA. The usual caveats remain in effect. You are liable for damages when you screw-up. Strong medicine requires prescription. Employees can be fired for poor job performance. No harm, no foul; and no excuse, either. Replace the war on drugs with a frugal, constitutional, science-based drugs policy.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    “Even Mother Jones really only skirts the issue of ending the drug war…”

    At this point I’m just looking to see more people question the continuation of the drug war and realize that it has been counterproductive. We need to reach a national consensus on this first, and then can debate over what is to be done instead.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    “Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation did not yet run amok…”

    I think that pretty much everyone questioning the drug war realizes that this has been a problem going back at least as far as Nixon.

  8. 8
    Fritz says:

    The Drug War has gone through a number of phases, starting with Henry Anslinger (OK, even that is not the start).
    To me, the phase starting with Nixon was interesting because it was not as much racially-motivated as earlier incarnations had been, nor was it focused on addictive drugs.  Nixon’s war on pot and LSD was aimed at people who were not buying into the societal structure.

  9. 9
    Glau Montgomery says:

    I would say the beginning was with Hearst’s opposition to hemp  and the “Reefer Madness” episode of yellow journalism. Not to mention the popularity of marijuana among the “barbaric” black and Mexican workers of the time (which would cause them to take our innocent and pure white women).
    Here’s an article from Scientfic American:
    A brief report on the last government study on marijuana:

  10. 10
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “At this point I’m just looking to see more people question the continuation of the drug war and realize that it has been counterproductive. We need to reach a national consensus on this first, and then can debate over what is to be done instead.”
    I don’t disagree. It’s certainly a step in the right direction. I just wish that their article had been more educated and informed… or more honest. I’m not sure which it is, honestly, because I don’t know the mindset of the writer. I’m glad they published it. I just wish a publication that claims to represent ‘edgier’ liberal thought would not parse itself or give space to a more aggressive counterpoint.

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