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Bad Trip: How the War Against Drugs Is Destroying America Hardcover – June 30, 2004
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Many see the war on drugs as one of the best examples of government policy run amok, which makes it a natural target for libertarian polemic. WorldNetDaily.com columnist Millers vigorous denunciation approaches the issue as a problem in economics. Given insatiable demand for drugs, he says, government attempts to strangle the supply simply raise the price and make trafficking enormously profitable. Criminalization therefore generates irresistible incentives to break the law, and is itself the cause of the crime and violence for which drugs are unfairly blamed. Junkies steal and hook to get money for a fix. Drug profits fuel murderous turf battles to control the black market, which is a cash cow for the gangs, guerilla armies and terrorists who dominate it. Interdiction efforts are more than matched by the ingenuity of traffickers, Miller says, and the police themselves are often corrupted, either by involvement in the trade itself or by the increasingly intrusive, violent and militarized methods they must use to suppress a "crime" in which all parties are willing participants. Millers well-researched, bitingly written account paints a panorama of irrationality and abuse: well-funded, innovative drug lords who regard seized shipments as a cost of doing business; broad drug-courier "profiling" criteria that could finger virtually anybody; forfeiture laws that allow police to seize property and savings with no pretense of due process; drug raids in which law-abiding citizens are gunned down in their homes. Millers libertarian leanings, supported by quotes from conservative icons like Adam Smith, Barry Goldwater and Ann Coulter, occasionally carry him past drug policy into jibes against the New Deal, Social Security and all things governmental. But when he sticks to drugs he delivers a formidable challenge to the reigning prohibitionist orthodoxy.
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In one rather entertaining early segment, Miller takes the reader on a glimpse of the drug war's early days, illustrating the roots of the current mess in the first half of the 20th century. There's plenty of unintentional comedy to be found when Miller discusses some of the attitudes regarding drugs (including alcohol) that were commonly held back in the twenties and thirties. In one especially uproarious moment, in 1938 the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics actually wrote, "an overdose of marijuana generates savage and sadistic traits likely to reach a climax in axe and ice-pick murders." And then of course, there was Reefer Madness, the classic 1936 movie where a little toking resulted in PERMANENT INSANITY. Now, having been around some pot smokers myself, I can say for sure that while marijuana use may result in giddiness, the telling of off-color jokes, and the consumption of junk food, it does not lead to violence or insanity. Sadly, though, the ridiculous beliefs outlined above continue to inform the drug laws even in these more "enlightened" times, and Miller does us all a favor by casting light upon them.
Of course, it's not drugs themselves that cause so much crime, it's the illegality of drugs. If people can't obtain drugs through legal means, they'll just get them elsewhere, very likely from violent gangs. Every halfway-informed person knows the same thing happened when alcohol was prohibited and gangsters took over the market, but apparently our politicians are slow learners (duh). Essentially, Miller writes, the drug war is bound to fail due in large part to simple economics. Drug dealers, he writes, are profiteers, while drug warriors are mere bureaucrats. Since the sale and use of drugs are prohibited, the government creates a black market in which any willing person with some brains can turn an easy profit. Therefore, the dealer trying to make a buck will always be ahead of the DEA agent who's getting paid anyway. As Miller details in the chapter on drug smuggling, the tighter the noose of prohibition gets, the more inventive dealers get in the quest for money.
Most tragically, though, since the drug trade is entirely voluntary and there are no victims to file complaints, governments have to resort to ever more proactive and draconian measures in order to catch dealers and users. Warrantless searches, no-knock military-style raids, blanket traffic stops, and utterly unjustified confiscations have made a mockery of everybody's Constitutional rights while doing little or nothing to stem the flow of drugs. Miller provides us with a laundry list of innocent people who have been robbed, terrorized, and even killed at the hands of overzealous (or outright corrupt) drug warriors. In many cases, governments have established a giant network of informants to fink on friends, customers, and even classmates, often going so far as to entrap people into breaking the law. Not to mention, the travesty of mandatory-sentencing laws has filled our jails with non-violent "criminals" who take up space that could be used for slightly more dangerous folks, like, say, muggers, burglars, and rapists.
Ultimately, Miller writes, the war on drugs amounts to nothing more than a war on freedom. There are plenty of other institutions in society, such as the family and the church, that can help prevent people from abusing drugs, but government prohibition merely creates a whole slew of new problems for all of us. Accepting the fact that other people are going to do things you don't like is a necessary part of living in a free society, one that mature people are going to have to get used to. After all, I don't think people should watch reality TV or listen to Celine Dion, but I manage to get over it. Miller finishes with a quote from Thomas Sowell that sums up the issue better than I ever could: "What do people get out of using drugs? I don't know...but there is all the difference in the world between deciding that you don't want to do something and trying to force other people to live your way." Amen.
Mr. Miller's book has completed my change of mind on this topic. I have commended it to many.
Let's face facts: this is not a problem of supply, it's a problem of demand. But it need not be a problem at all. University sponsored and AMA and BMA endorsed research has consistently shown most "classic" drugs, such as weed, hash, heroin and morphine to be non-toxic. Coke is rarely dangerous, and then primarily to those with heart conditions. The prohibition of these drugs has caused the gov't to entirely surrender their ability to regulate a drug's content, which is far more detrimental to the health of any user of classic drugs in their unadulturated form. Medical studies have shown without fail that Alcohol is the most poisonous and detrimental of mood-altering substances.
Additionally, America's drug war has resulted in the wholesale destablization of producer and transshipment nations. The lawlessness seen in Colombia and along the Mexican border is entirely a result of America's campaign of zero tolerance-an unobtainable goal. Senator John Kerry perpetrated the prevaricative canard that criminal cartels were behind the drive for legalization. Nothing could be further from the truth: cartels always step into a vacuum, and they benefit from our draconian laws. One has to wonder where Senator Kerry gets his marching orders. Cartels would disappear if drugs were legalized, just as they did when alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Prohibition also leads to police corruption: studies show that 30% of police have been unlawfully involved with illegal drugs. The supreme court recently overturned a previous 9-0 ruling regarding the knock-and-announce rule, stating that the cops need merely identify themselves before entering a residence-usually violently.
Enforcement of drug laws are also racially biased (I'm a white male). Most drug users are white and casual users of weed, coke or heroin. Yet most of those doing time for drug offenses are disproportionately black and hispanic. It's a case of a predatory DEA wolfpack picking off the most vulnerable members of a herd, rather than facing down a banker who can afford something better than a court-appointed defence. It's so unfair it pangs the conscience.
America has among the most restrictive drug laws in the world, and they have only made the situation worse. Canada recently considered a Senate recommendation to legalize pot. Holland has legalized pot without any negative consequences: the Dutch have the longest life-span in the world and a violent crime rate less than 1 sixth of the US. Injection programs for the most hard-core heroin addicts in Switzerland have caused aids to disappear among this vulnerable group, and employment among them stands at 70%. Other countries have come to grips with this problem through rationality and compassion. America has not-and it has utterly failed. Studies of American conditions and behavior prior to 1914, when these subsances were legal, show no correlation to poorer health or crime-Alcohol is the sole exception to this.
President McKinley used cocaine for 27 years until his death by an assasin's bullet. Grant used morphine to ease his discomfort after his presidency. 250,000 Civil War vets were morphine addicts.
The police chiefs of Kansas City, MO, San Jose and San Diego, CA, Seattle, WA and many smaller departments have called for the legalization of drugs. Former drug czar Barry McCaffrey has called the Federal prison system "America's drug Gulag" and has stated "We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem." Former Secy of State George Schultz has called for an end to prohibition and consideration of decriminalization and legalization.
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."-William Pitt.