Old War, New Name


The "War on Drugs" in America is a crime against all Americans; especially those most associated with our inner cities. The drug war breeds racism most of us thought was in America's past. Escalation of the drug war multiplies the insidious effects of racism that threaten us all.

     The newspapers of William Randolph Hearst using techniques now infamous and still used, known as "yellow journalism," fanned the flames of hatred and racism across America from the late 1800's and through the mid 1900's. For more than thirty years Hearst portrayed the Mexicans, Chinese, and African - Americans (then called "Negroes") as lazy, subhuman, "dope fiends" (Herer 26).  Hearst's newspapers blamed the majority of rapes by blacks ("Negroes") of white women (Herer 27) on "cocaine crazed Negroes." Hearst later shifted blame to "marijuana crazed Negroes." The Chinese who endured building our transcontinental railroad (without their opium they hardly could have) were smeared with the racist moniker "Yellow Peril." These times saw minorities spend generations of years in jails as a result of prejudice and "Jim Crow." Yet, American businessmen smoked hashish in legal Turkish hashish parlors that had opened in every major city around the country, before and during alcohol prohibition, without problem nor ridicule. 

     The current drug war fuels the fires of racism once again. Many black leaders believe the drug war is a tool of the government to "get Blacks." Intended or not, the war on drugs has breed hatred and racial division. Evident also by the fact that in many neighborhoods in the inner cities, where the police literally "jump in" and "jump out," citizen policing groups have sprung up out of churches and other neighborhood organizations. Recent figures have shown a disproportionate number of African - Americans and Latinos in prisons, most of whom are there via the drug war—a new "acceptable" and legal way to persecute minorities. Targeting of minorities may show itself soon in upcoming Supreme Court hearings.

     This racist war, somewhat invisible and ostensibly on drugs, is with us everyday. We pay for this war dearly with our dollars, our safety, our freedom, our unity as a nation, and our lives. Most of us refuse to acknowledge the war itself as the problem. The inner cities are just that "the" inner cities no longer "our" inner cities—the media refers to them as war zones.

     Government officials and nominees come "out of the closet" and admit that they smoked marijuana or otherwise experimented with drugs as college students or professors and it is then dismissed as an act of "rebellious youth," they are not subjected to imprisonment nor fines; however, if they are a minority leader a "sting" operation ensues, a trial, public humiliation, and most likely prison time, for example, the Marion Barry case.

     America's young African-American males are stigmatized as drug-addicted, drug-dealing criminals. A drug war? A genocide, as stated in a speech by Rev. Cecil Williams, a black minister in San Francisco. Today's drug war is yesterday's racism that never went away. Its effects, like all racism, are crippling America. We must re-think our war on drugs in America before our children's only choice is prisoner or prison guard.

     The war on drugs has reached epidemic proportion. A contagious boondoggle that wastes countless billions of dollars (estimated at more than $100 billion in the 1980s alone) (Dilulio 53) and costs millions their lives and property. Non-jury property seizure from suspects of drug crime has become the incentive as agencies are keeping the spoils. Many more people die every year as a result of the drug war than as a result of overdoses from illegal drug consumption ("The War" 36). The famous, or infamous depending on your viewpoint, National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (a.k.a. Shafer Commission or President Nixon's Blue Ribbon Panel on Drugs) reported in 1973 that the annual drug war budget was almost $800 million for that year, noting a drastic surge in government resources being spent, a 1000% increase from 1969 to 1973. The Shafer Commission also noted that no one has systematically analyzed either the problem to be solved or the solutions to be employed–that was 1973. As Federal spending in the drug war approached the billion dollar mark, an entirely new "drug abuse industrial complex" was established. The appointment of more judges to fill newly constructed courtrooms is big business. The building of new prisons is big business. The feeding, clothing, and maintaining of inmates are big business. The exploding number of new employees hired by the Department of Corrections is big business. In the view of many, these factors feed an already large armada of private and public agencies whose primary goal it is to keep drugs illegal to preserve profits and ensure job security and promotional opportunities; a domestic prison economy is running strong. The owners of these industries are just a few of the players that this war benefits.

     Drug treatment in prisons has grown into big business, yet those drug rehabilitation programs are largely ineffective (Dilulio 56). In 1970, 16% of inmates were there for drug offenses; today 61%, by the end of the decade 70% of the prison population are predicted to be drug offenders (Timms 1) and disproportionately Black and Hispanic. The lack of prison space for violent criminals may be due to the fact that many drug offenders are there for simple possession or selling of drugs, not violent crime. Disproportionate numbers of minorities are in prisons due primarily to minorities receiving longer sentences because their cases are tried in the federal rather than the state court system (Epstein 3). Many black leaders believe that the "white" government is waging war on black Americans under the guise of a war on drugs (Szasz 118). Claims of racism may not be unfounded. The drug warrior defends against this attack by appointing, as William Bennett did — a black Jew, Rueben Greenberg — a "respected" member of that race, of said victims (of racism), to lead the "persecutory practice," (Szasz 120). It is much safer practically and politically to "round up" clients for jails and "treatment programs" in poor inner cities than white suburbia; imagine the outraged cry of racism had Greenberg done just that!

     Floyd Bloom of the Scripps Medical Institute, one of the foremost brain scientists in the country, has stated that most psychoactive drugs work on the brain's reward system ("Opium of" 38). This well-supported theory explains why so many of those who live in poverty and despair are more tempted to use and possibly abuse drugs in order to become artificially satisfied, a crutch. Environmental factors play an important role in drug use; however, the affluent are not always satisfied with their lives and, so, choose to escape into drugs ("Opium of" 38). How did America get into this "drug" war?

     The alcohol prohibition of the 1920's did not stop Americans from drinking; in fact, the wording does not state drinking, the law was aimed at manufacture and transport, and when it was repealed the idea of [drug] prohibition remained, manifesting itself in progressing criminalization of self-medication (Szasz 50). It is informative to note the words of physician and temperance reformer Dio Lewis (Szasz 25) protesting the arguments of the (alcohol) prohibitionist: he declared, "Every man has a right to eat and drink, dress and exercise as he pleases. I do not mean a moral right, but legal right." "The drafters of the Volstead Act...," (providing enforcement for the Eighteenth Amendment), writes Szasz, "....wanted to prohibit drinking, but they did not outlaw it [drinking]. They were not interested in people transporting chemicals around in bottles, but that is exactly what they outlawed, the manufacture and transportation.  The drug warriors' position against drugs is based in fear, fear of moral decline and devastation of culture and society (Ehrenfeld). This idea [agenda] has been around since the New World, a place where man, corrupted by the Old World, was re-born uncorrupted (Szasz 33). At the beginning of this century the drug problem was that people drank too much; the solution was Prohibition. Then the Prohibition, or banning of booze, became the problem; the solution was repealing Prohibition. Shortly thereafter the problem became that people bought drugs not because they needed them for bodily health reasons, but because they wanted to use them to feel better. This was a medical problem solved by giving physicians a monopoly of control over drugs, in particular those drugs producing pleasure; thus, abuse of prescription drugs and newer measures to combat those "abuses." George Santayana observed, "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim," (Szasz 48). To quote Dr. Thomas Szasz, "The more hopeless our drug problem becomes, the more stubbornly we cling to the myth that drugs pose a threat to every man, woman, and child in the world, and the more certain we are of our duty to combat drug abuse by coerced treatment and criminal penalties at home, and by armed intervention and economic sanctions abroad. Truly, we are the redeemer nation, our centuries-old ambivalence toward alcohol seemingly entitling us to assume the role of moral savior not merely of our own people, but of people everywhere," (Szasz 48). "Black men and the drug trade," to quote Wahneema Lubiano, are the dominant threats from within the State.

     Most criminals use, and some abuse, drugs, whether alcohol or some other form of drugs. The prohibitionists hold up a few "worse case" addicts, whether also criminals or not — those who are harming only themselves, no other's person, nor property — as examples of what happens when someone takes drugs, not alcoholics nor legal prescription abusers. A cursory view of everyday media reveals this to true. We do not see or hear in the news the town drunk or the hooked (on prescribed legal drugs) soccer mom. We see the poor fighting their deprivations with money, money easily gained despite this war; in fact, profits motivated specifically because of the war. You cannot get a license to sell drugs only a prescription to use them. A drug dealer selling a commodity to a customer who wants that commodity cannot take his customers to court for not paying their bills–thus, vigilante justice, killings and crime. More laws have only created higher profits for pushers who fight violently in pursuit of those profits. Consumers are forced to become criminals just to purchase the goods they desire–which may be and often are tainted with poisons since the seller is under no legal obligation to reveal the specificity of the contents¾a lethal byproduct of a black market. Surely we should not clog our courts with law suits aimed at reaping damage settlements from tobacco consumers and alcoholics, or even wrongful death claims when the dangers are clearly labeled or at least well known. Similarly, illicit drug sellers and buyers cannot call for police help when they are stolen from. They are criminals not customers and entrepreneurs.

     The War Prohibition Act was enacted after America entered World War I, outlawing the manufacture of beer and wine after May 1, 1919 and outlawing all intoxicating beverages after June 30, 1919. America went dry under this act on July 1, 1919. The fighting, WWI, had actually stopped on November 11, 1918, Prohibition, the Eighteenth Amendment, took effect on January 20, 1920. Reverend A. C. Bane declared the nation, "redeemed by prohibition" (Szasz 48), "America will 'go over the top' in humanity's greatest battle... struggling with the same age-long foe, we will go forth with the spirit of the missionary and the crusader to help drive the demon of drink from all civilization." Reverend Sam Small in 1917, spoke these powerful words to the Washington, D. C. Antisaloon League's convention, "...you and I may proudly expect to see this America of ours, victorious and Christianized, become not only the savior but the model and the monitor of the reconstructed civilization of the world in the future." The Reverend Josiah Strong, coeditor of the magazine "The Gospel of the Kingdom," in 1914 (Szasz 47) wrote, "Personal Liberty is at last an uncrowned king, with no one to do him reverence. ...We are no longer frightened by that ancient bogey...." First Lady Nancy Reagan said, "Any user of illicit drugs is an accomplice to murder." Former U. S. government drug czar William Bennett said, "It [drug abuse] is a product of the Great Deceiver.... We need to bring these people in need the God who heals." Indeed, in need of an education. Dr. Szasz (Szasz 49) states, "This role of universal religious-therapeutic saviorship seems to fit America's collective spirit so perfectly that we have preserved the play intact, merely modernizing it. We have replaced the actors: liquor with cocaine, Christianity with Medicine. And we intensified the struggle by equipping the combatants with more powerful weapons: temptations more irresistible than man has ever known╔." The anti-drug warriors' crusade is one against evil¾as perceived by the crusader. Dr. Szasz suggests, "It is a fatal weakness of prudential critiques of drug policy that they ignore the 'religious' character of the war on drugs" ("The War" 45).    

     The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported 500,000 crack users in 1989, yet in 1990 the prohibitionists claimed there were 375,000 "crack babies," ("Opium of" 36) powerful hyperbole. A "cult of drug disinformation" (Szasz 77) prevails. This rhetoric is illustrated by William Bennett, the nation's first drug czar, appointed under President Bush, and a former U.S. Secretary of Education, when he suggested decapitating convicted drug dealers ("Perspectives" 15). When asked about a moral problem with such decapitations, Mr. Bennett said we should "╔trust him╔" — because he "╔used to teach ethics," ("Perspectives" 15). This "cult of disinformation" can be found right here at FSU (the Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL) in most pamphlets where information about the effects of certain drugs are offered, the information is given without reference to the source of that information, and very often, said information is an outright untruth–this sort of propaganda does nothing but fan the flames of demonization. For example, in the case of marijuana: there is not a single known case of marijuana causing cancer or death, just the opposite is reported in most every pamphlet. The intelligent debater should be equipped with the sources of proclaimed facts. This demonization is really focused at minorities and any means necessary to criminalize their youth. Clearly, prohibitionists are interested only in forcing by law their beliefs on all people. As E. L. Tuveson cautions in his book Redeemer Nation (Szasz 34), "To assume that what is good for America is good for the world, that saving the Unites States is saving mankind, is to open up a large area of temptation.... The danger in all this is evident." Szasz points out, (Szasz 33) "Our quest for a free society and a utopian moral order is self-contradictory." Lysander Spooner declares in his Vices Are Not Crimes, (Szasz 44) "Vices are those acts by which man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which man harms the person or property of another." The literal meanings of these words have been interchanged in today's efforts to legislate behavior. Logically, the only place in the end for the prohibitionist to turn to continue his argument would be to also prohibit alcohol, once again, and tobacco — automobiles and chainsaws╔. To talk about former Czar Bennett's cigarette smoking (Morganthau, Miller 22) and drinking would not be fair — or would it? Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Perhaps more sage advice is that of the great Stoic philosopher Seneca when he said, "If you wish to fear nothing, consider that everything is to be feared," (Szasz 59); from this we get Lubiano concerns repeated.

     When William Bennett resigned as Drug Czar proclaiming victory in the war on drugs after only 20 months at his post. He cited the decline in drug use as the fruits of victory  ("Just Say" 91). On closer examination, it is found that when people are informed of the potential dangers of a particular drug they are likely to control their use or stop altogether, though it may not be easy for them. It is estimated that over 90 million Americans have at some point in their lives experimented with illegal drugs, and some experts put that figure much higher ("Opium of" 37). Thus most people today still appreciate the difference between temperance and prohibition — controls from within and controls from without — between self-discipline and coercion by the criminal law. Excluding tobacco, less than 10% of the entire adult population abuses drugs, including alcohol, and that figure remains constant ("Opium of" 37). According to government figures, cocaine users make up 2% of our adult population with 1 in every 6 converting their cocaine to crack cocaine. The rate of Americans becoming addicted to psychoactive substances stays the same ("Opium of" 37). Most users of cocaine want to stay in the category of casual to moderate use, and most studies document the cautiousness of most cocaine users about crack cocaine ("The War" 36). Tobacco use, though not illegal, has also diminished tremendously since 1979 when its effects began to be argued. Education, not stiffer penalties, has deterred many from abuse of tobacco and illegal drugs and abuse of legal drugs and alcohol for that matter — as driver education helps to curb unsafe drivers, and usage directions that come with the purchase of any potentially lethal weapon or piece of machinery. When we make self-discipline by law a civic duty we commit a moral tragedy in that we dissolve a person's sense of self — self-accomplishment — and erode his self-esteem. We throw sand into the gears of self-discipline by making it [self-governance] a civic duty. No, caveat emptor prevails in a free market, buyer beware. A free market breeds self-governance and personal responsibility, thus is the right and moral foundation of a free market; there is no sense in giving people a choice if one is convinced that they are either too young, too old, or mentally incompetent to make the right choice. In a free society drug consumption is the individual's business and responsibility; he reaps the benefits or suffers the miseries of his own choices, ("The War" 45). An inclination toward moderation does exist. Alcohol is available at 120 proof, but it does not sell well, ("Opium of" 36). We are a health conscious nation, after all. As Malcolm X observed, it was much more difficult to get prospective Muslims to quit tobacco than to quit dope. Malcolm also boldly observed the state's unjust interest in keeping man timid and weak–in prison and imprisoned. To the Muslim it is not the substance one uses or abuses that is wrong, it is the habit of self-indulgence, not the "pharmacomythology of highs or kicks," (Szasz 122). In fact, if a person believes in any of these major religions — Black Muslimism, Judaism, or Christianity — he does not need the "ersatz mythology of medicalism and therapeutism."

     The war on drugs, like Prohibition in the 1920's, has produced crime and enormous profits for the anti-drug crusader and drug dealer alike. Government agencies fight over turf and steal one another's profits from — all too often unjust — seizure laws (Waldman 26). By driving up the price of drugs, more black market profits and profiteers are created and with them more crime. Crime and the so-called "crimogenic" nature of drugs — as if to suggest that crime is the result of the pharmacology of the illicit drug ("Opium of" 34), has been the rallying cry of the prohibitionist. The truth is the war on drugs itself feeds — as gasoline to a fire — the crime related to drugs, not actual drug use. One may attempt to argue that if there were no consumers of drugs then there would be no drug crimes; or, if there were no drugs there would be no consumers of drugs and therefore no "drug" crime. This logic surely is sound; however, this is America not communist Russia! "We cannot intelligently examine the pros and cons of drug controls if we accept, as prima facie valid, the premise that it is in the best interest of individuals as well as society to curtail or eliminate the use of (certain, so-called "dangerous") drugs. This postulate, which virtually everyone now accepts, justifies punishing persons not only because they injure or kill others, but also because they produce, possess, sell, or use certain drugs," (Szasz 160-61). The effect of a drug on behavior, like the effect of religion on behavior, may be for good or for bad. Many of the world's greatest works were born out of men intoxicated with drugs, religion, or both. We have a choice as to how to judge a person's behavior: we can reward it or punish (penalize) it because we are only interested in it — the behavior.   

     Perhaps, if the illicit drug business — estimated at over $70 ("The War" 35) to $150 billion ("Opium of" 40) a year [correction: in 2005 it is now tops the trillion dollar mark, either historical reporting is that "off" or it has grown that much in the six years since this essay was written] — were legal, police could direct their attention to those remaining criminals. Those now inticed into crime by the economic incentives intrinsic in the drug laws (Szasz 116) would become tax payers. 

     The law of the land, indeed the Constitution, gives the individual the right to property, "In its larger meaning, it [property] embraces everything to which a man may attach a value... [and includes that] which individuals have in their opinions, their religion, their passions and their faculties," James Madison wrote. The Ninth Amendment of the Constitution states that the enumeration of certain rights is not meant to disparage or deny other rights retained by the people. When this was written, all drugs were completely free to be consumed and traded, free from government regulations and interventions. The "drugs as property right conception" is the capitalist's view of the relationship between individual and state, incompatible with that of the socialist (Szasz 110). Prior to December 17, 1914, it was a right to use and trade in drugs; in 1915, the federal government's attempts to control drugs became a constitutionally questionable action. By 1921 the federal government had control over all drugs and a quasi-papal immunity from any challenge to that authority (Szasz 41).

     Paternalistic government has overstepped its authority—has become unfit for freedom — in prohibiting drugs from being sold in a free market economy. Only people can be committed to freedom, government can only be fit for it. And "government has a vested interest in enlarging its freedom of action, thereby, necessarily reducing the freedom of individuals," (Szasz 14). Making certain drugs illegal is a communistic idea of property rights — the State's "property rights." Freedom has become a frightening proposition, and unwittingly or not people are afraid of it. Unless we come to understand our right to drugs, we cannot have meaningful conversation regarding the alleged right to die. Legalizing physicians to aid in killing simply again avoids the basic, a priori, right to [body] self-ownership. If one had access to drugs, one would not have to assert that he is being deprived of a right, such as the misnomer right to die. And so too is legalization of drugs a misnomer. The government may prohibit and repeal its prohibition it cannot legalize; however, these misnomers represent much deeper consequences. Inevitably we are afraid of our right to suicide. Persons do not need a medical license to pull a death-prolonging plug, or to consume a death-inducing drug. We attempt to give (or have taken from us) our rights to an alliance between the state and medicine, that the "deadly embrace of the therapeutic state" may "solve our existential tasks of living and dying for us" (Szasz 151). The drug war is immoral and most importantly unconstitutional.

To come forward into the twentieth century consider the point of view of former federal prosecutor Paul Butler, now an associate law professor at George Washington University. Butler suggest (Harper's Magazine, Dec. 1995) we imagine a country in which a third of the young males are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, awaiting trial, in prison, on probation or parole; imagine this same country again where two-thirds of all males can expect to be arrested before the age of thirty. "This is Black America now," Butler says. America has more people in prison per capita than any other country, more than South Africa during apartheid. Many people are imprisoned for (so called) victimless crimes such as drug possession, prostitution, a battered wife killing her husband, or illegal anti abortion activities. (This appears statistically, at least, not unlike a police state.) Butler suggest black jurors keep their young men in the community rather than sending them to prison and that the means to this particular brand of Black self-help is jury nullification.

However, despite the Supreme Court's, 1970's, apparently precedent setting ruling against two members of the Native American Church–who happen to have been drug abuse counselors in Alaska–progress is being made, consider this excerpt from Texas law: "Such individual is a member of the Native American Church with not less than 25% Indian blood and the peyote purchased is to be used for bona fide religious ceremonies," and also a Pentagon ruling: The Pentagon is "implementing a law that says this is indeed a sacrament," said Captain Mel Ferguson, a chaplain involved in drafting the new rules. The rule would make Pentagon policy consistent with a 1994 federal law that protects Native Americans' right to use peyote in their religious services. The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation worked with Native American religious leaders to get the law passed. The Native American Religious Freedom Project operated out of the offices of CJPF in the summer and fall of 1990.

     Morals are something for free, adult individuals to choose for themselves, not to be coerced into by their government, particularly if they are Americans. The right thing to do is to end the drug war, stop drug prohibition, and free Americans from an ignorant attitude toward self-medication and the intolerance of a few. Enforcing these agendas of prohibition on a "free" people¾Americans¾has created a backlash of lost freedoms (loss rights) and crime, crippling our police and judiciary, and casts personal responsibility, temperance, and moral stamina to the hounds. The war on drugs has fragmented our society — White militias, Black uhuru (freedom), the Unabomber — dividing its victims, a war from which no one escapes.

     The economics of the drug war plunders the nation's budget. This war is immoral in that it denies what is right, that right of liberty inalienable to a free people to have and make free choices about their own body and life. For liberty is the choice to do right or wrong. The government by, for, and of free people becomes a leftist oligarchy. It bankrupts its victims economically, spiritually, and morally. It is unconstitutional at its core in that it denies the American rights of private property and privacy — keystones of capitalism. To shake off this albatross is to regain freedom and keep the American ideal intact; not to is to condemn the children of a free people to a continuing destiny of prison, servitude, and dependency to the state. Ultimately, we must choose between reform and revolution.   Many fear an oncoming "race war." The war on drugs has served as a major propellant of racial hatred, fear, and superiority of the ruling class. Thus, drugs like crack cocaine and alcohol have been allowed to run amuck leaving a trail of death and debt through America's minority cultures.


Works Cited

Dilulio, John, Jr. "Cracking Down." The New Republic. 10 May 1993: 53+56.


Ehrenfeld, Rachel. "The Movement To Legalize Drugs in the United States: Who's behind It?" Townhall. 9 June 1996. Internet site: http://www.townhall.com/crc/trends/ot00596.html.  


Epstein, Aaron. "Are Sentencing Parities Different for White and Black Offenders?" Newsbank/CD-ROM. Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau, Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. 8 Feb. 1996: 3.


Herer, Jack. The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Van Nuys, CA: HEMP/Queen of Hearts, 1985-95: 26+27.


"Just Say Whoa." Time. 19 Nov.1990: 91.


Morganthau, Tom, and Mark Miller. "The Drug Warrior." Newsweek. 10 Apr. 1989: 22.


"Perspectives: Overheard." Newsweek. 26 June 1989:15.


"Opium of the People: The Federal Drug Store." National Review. 5 Feb.1990: 34+36-38+40.


Szasz, Thomas. Our Right to Drugs: The Case for a Free Market. New York: Praeger, 1992: 14+25+33+41+44+48-50+59+77+110+116+118+120+122+151.


"The War on Drugs is Lost." National Review. 5 Feb. 1990: 35-36+45.


Timms, Ed. "Debate on Drugs: As Number of Offenders in Prison Rises, Disparity in Penalties Creates Controversy." The Dallas Morning News. Newsbank/CD-ROM. 17 Dec. 1995: 1.


Waldman, Steven, Mark Miller and Richard Sandza. "Turf Wars in the Federal Bureaucracy." Newsweek. 10 Apr. 1989: 26.