Carpe Diem

America’s Drug War: Either we are a uniquely evil people or we have some uniquely awful laws and social policies

The trailer above is for the movie “How to Make Money Selling Drugs,” opening this week in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon provides this commentary about the movie and America’s disgraceful and failed War on Drugs Peaceful Americans Choosing to Use Intoxicants Not Currently Approved by the Government: 

It really shouldn’t be news at this point that the war on drugs has been a disastrous failure from every possible point of view. Journalists, activists, academics and documentary filmmakers have been making that case since the 1990s, and have increasingly been joined by those law enforcement officials honest enough to admit the pointlessness of the whole campaign. Public opinion begins to shift – and not all that slowly – on the relatively benign use of marijuana, on stop-and-frisk policing in urban neighborhoods and on discriminatory sentencing laws that send black crack users to jail for far longer than whites who snort powdered cocaine.

While Americans are just 5% of the world’s population, we house almost 25% of the world’s prisoners, making us No. 1 in something, anyway. As Arianna Huffington says in the film, either we are a uniquely evil people – and let’s not rule that out, prima facie! – or we have some uniquely awful laws and social policies.

Anyone in any position of power who still supports the war on drugs today has either been corrupted by the unending flow of taxpayer billions, technological toys and bogus prestige – into local police departments, the FBI, the DEA, the Border Patrol and who knows where else – or is simply a coward. That accounts for the political elite in both parties, which with only a handful of exceptions has continued to fund the militarization of police work at an accelerating rate. Democrats may be less willing to talk tough or be perceived as racist than Republicans are, but Bill Clinton pursued the war on drugs just as avidly as either President Bush, and Obama has not notably slowed things down.

But it’s going to take large-scale publish pushback to set national drug policy on a more rational footing, and that’s where an entertaining, anecdotal package like “How to Make Money Selling Drugs” comes in, which apparently cashes in on producer Grenier’s access to celebrities. (He was the star of HBO’s “Entourage” for seven seasons.)

Does the drug trade produce all kinds of corollary crime and violence that is not victimless? Definitely. Do drugs like cocaine, heroin and crystal meth have negative public health consequences? Of course. But to state what should be glaringly obvious to anyone who’s not a total idiot, alcohol and tobacco have devastating effects on public health, almost certainly worse than all the illegal drugs put together. Regulation, heavy taxation and stigmatization have done a reasonably good job of reducing the harm from smoking. Our society remains confused about where to draw the line on alcohol abuse and how to educate young people, but at least vigorous DWI laws have stemmed the most obvious tide of booze-fueled death.

As Cooke’s film points out, cocaine and heroin were legal until our society went Prohibition-happy in the early 20th century, at least partly out of fear that such drugs encouraged white women to copulate with “Negroes and entertainers.” But the argument against the legalization or decriminalization of all drugs isn’t much more sophisticated than that today. Is it possible that in such an environment some goody-two-shoes honor student in Kansas gets hooked on coke who would never otherwise have tried it? (As opposed to the Jägermeister that person is likelier to consume today.) I guess so, but the larger point is that any negative consequences of legal drugs cannot possibly equal the social devastation and moral and financial bankruptcy of the drug war. We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars to transform our police departments into extralegal terror squads and our society into a prison-state whose apartheid policies are largely invisible to the middle class, and are no less vicious because they’re not written down. All in the name of a Prohibition policy that, to quote former Baltimore cop and Maryland state trooper Neill Franklin, is bad for public safety and will never work.

10 thoughts on “America’s Drug War: Either we are a uniquely evil people or we have some uniquely awful laws and social policies

  1. ” … it’s going to take large-scale publish pushback to set national drug policy on a more rational footing, and that’s where an entertaining, anecdotal package like “How to Make Money Selling Drugs” comes in, which apparently cashes in on producer Grenier’s access to celebrities. (He was the star of HBO’s “Entourage” for seven seasons.)”

    Hmm, HBO. Aren’t they the geniuses that brought us “Gasland”, and only recently shelved a hagiographic “documentary” about Castro produced by Oliver Stone?

    Yes, it going to take some deep thinking Hollywood producer with access to celebrities to set the world right. (Try not to laugh when you read that sentence)

  2. “… the larger point is that any negative consequences of legal drugs cannot possibly equal the social devastation and moral and financial bankruptcy of the drug war.”

    Social devastation? Moral and financial bankruptcy? That could describe the effects of almost every liberal program since the New Deal. We will we getting a series of documentaries condemning “The War on Poverty”, the teachers unions public education monopoly, etc., etc.?

    I’m guessing not.

    “to state what should be glaringly obvious to anyone who’s not a total idiot, alcohol and tobacco have devastating effects on public health, almost certainly worse than all the illegal drugs put together.”.

    I really like this bit of brilliant reasoning, the legalization of alcohol and tobacco have been “devastating” so, let’s up the ante by legalizing meth, crack and heroine. And if you disagree you are apparently both an idiot and a coward.

    Nice.

  3. “When the tour ended and the drugs disappeared, Griffin turned to prostitution — from call girl to mistress and finally to doped-up street hooker — to pay for the habit. After entering and failing nearly two dozen drug rehab programs, Griffin got clean 10 years ago through Houston’s drug court. From that she learned what worked, and understood what didn’t, and she tailor made a curriculum for prostitutes.” — Bigoted, evil U.S. justice system tailors sentencing for drug addicts and prostitutes.

    Bastards.

  4. What do we think and know will be the result of legalizing marijuana? No policy should ever be enacted without such scrutinization. We can’t shoot from the hip based on economic philosophy we need to have articulated outcomes.

  5. Remember, if you give government a power—the power to decide what recreational drugs you can consume–that power can and will be abused, like the power to tax, or the power to have a standing military, or to regulate crop production, or anything that a large government does.

    Right now, federal, state and local governments control what kind of recreational drugs I consume, during what hours (in bars etc) and determine the content of entertainment in those bars (no nudity, sometimes no dancing, no showing of films, etc). In L.A., a liquor store can sell liquor, but cannot set up a bar inside the store, so you can sample a few drinks before deciding what to buy. Does this make sense? Why?

    I can’t watch a movie in a theatre and buy a drink either. Why?

    Che is Dead: Do you really need a mommy to tell you that you cannot watch a movie and buy a drink? Or watch a pretty girl dance naked? That in you own home you cannot smoke pot you grew in your own backyard?

    If you allow these intrusions into your own life, then complain not of else. You need mommy to tell you how much taxes to pay, and when to shuttle off to war, and who to hire in your business and what to watch on TV, and what kind of sex life to have.

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