Drugs are a problem, and that’s something that no one can rationally ignore, whether they may be in support of or against the prohibition of drugs. Drug abuse is rampant throughout our communities, with our youth throughout the country becoming hooked on deadly substances. Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon sight to see families torn apart by heroin, or a young person’s life ruined by crystal meth. The truth simply is that this has become a growing epidemic, and it must be stopped. Washington bureaucrats have, for over century, used the coercive penalties of law and the violence of the police force in attempts to diminish the use and abuse of potentially dangerous substances, but the effects of such prohibitionist statutes have been unequivocally less than desirable

It is plainly evident the amount of corporate greed, blatant lies, and overt racism which helped to influence numerous drug laws to be passed, in state legislatures and also at the national level. The debates were conveniently halted, the newspapers often headlined with false stories, and the rise of drug czars has been commonly motivated by a purpose other than universal justice. As much of a complicated difficulty as some drugs may be within our localities, it is imperative that we may not be swayed by mindless babble, but be ever-searching for the most efficient way by which to combat such critical issues. It is my pleasure to present you with this comprehensible history of drug prohibition within America which I have compiled and have riddled throughout with my own analysis of the scenarios which come as a result of certain laws’ enactments.

Chinese-Americans and Opium Legislation

The chronology of drug prohibition in America begins as far back as the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, when many Chinese immigrated to the country during the decline of the Ch’ing Dynasty, and established many opium dens (locations where the drug was sold and used) as new citizens here in America. Over the subsequent decades, as Chinese immigrants were consigned to labor-intensive building projects such as the First Transcontinental Railroad, they sought further refuge in the usage of opium. Before long, whites became involved in the drug and widescale anti-opium fearmongering soon began. During the second half of the 19th century, a racist attitude swept America, with the Chinese facing mass discrimination. These anti-Chinese sentiments, although having been partially created out of an Anglo-Saxon racial pride, also came about in part because immigrants were often times hired over whites due to their cooperation in working in less desirable conditions (and at less of a wage), and were thus perceived as taking white jobs and burdening the economy. This sentiment is quite evident in the culture of the time, and in many racist groups that emerged, such as the Supreme Order of Caucasians (which was based in Sacramento, CA) and the Workingman’s Party (which was based in San Francisco, CA, with their slogan being “The Chinese must go!”). In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act which banned the immigration of Chinese (“the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States…is hereby, suspended”, it read) on the basis of clear and obvious racism, which was accepted by a good deal of the country’s federal lawmakers.

These racial prejudices which plagued the nation, caused opium, despite its users having displayed far less dangerous behavior than that of other substances (such as alcohol), to face the scrutiny of racially-biased Californian lawmakers. It was claimed that involvement with the Chinese distribution of opium would corrupt whites, namely women, who were purported to have sexual intercourse in opium dens. Though it was true that some women did go to dens to engage in sexually promiscuous actions, it would be naïve to claim that to be the intent of all or even most, as one prostitute replied in 1884 when asked if she was a “fast woman” (as it was claimed of her), “I am. But you would be greatly mistaken if you imagined that all the women who come here to smoke are of that character. In San Francisco I have known some of the first people visit opium houses, and many respectable people do the same here”. Overall, regardless of whatever truth that might have been engrained in the matter, the public tended to believe the propagandist pressmen who unambiguously manipulated their readers with scare tactics, which helped fuel the movement for a drug law to take shape.

As a result, the city of San Francisco instituted a ban on the smoking of opium altogether in 1875, which was, in fact, the first American attempt to curb opioid use through legal action, which other cities and states soon emulated. Just as one with a basic understanding of drug prohibition would expect, the law proved to be remarkably ineffective and the rate of smoking opium continued to increase steadily. Interestingly enough, this failed ban only targeted the smoking of opium, rather than its use in other forms such as the ingestion of opiate pills and powders, because of the fact that smoking opium was a culturally Chinese way of taking the drug, whereas whites were content in consuming it through other methods, and the law was designed to target Sino-American narcotraffickers. In the following years, legislation was continually passed on the subject of banning smokeable opium, including a tariff which was periodically raised until it hit $12 ($325.11, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD) per pound in 1890 (which was reduced to $6 [$175.47, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] per pound in 1897, as it was realized that at a certain rate, the market couldn’t bear such taxes, and the operations of opium production would be, in such a case, conducted covertly). In 1887, federal prohibition was enacted on the importation of opium containing less than 9% morphine, which was another undertaking, although guised, to restrict the Chinese mode of opium ingestion, for only opium with a low morphine content can be prepared for smoking. In spite of such national-level punishments inflicted upon Chinese opium peddlers, which continued to be enacted, state legislatures increasingly began to pass even harsher laws regarding the subject.

Eventually, the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, which was called “the death sentence of Chinatown” by the LA Times, was passed, federally banning both the possession and the importation of the substance for the purpose of smoking. This law wasn’t entirely based off of racism, as many of former times had been, nor upon worries about rising opioid abuse, for that rate had, in fact, been declining over the past decade. On the contrary, the bill was enacted due to concerns regarding foreign policy. In the century past, Ch’ing China and Great Britain had engaged in two “Opium Wars” (during one of which the United States gave Britain foreign aid), after China closed their opium trade against the demands of the British. Although there was no active threat between the United States and China (this specific Chinese regime of which ceased to be in power only three years later), the United States Department of State found it promising that a campaign against the smoking of opium would improve relations with the nation. Having opened the door to federal-level prohibitionism, the prospect of future laws being of a similar character was a near certainty. But against this great likelihood was the actual phenomenon; in reality, the future laws enacted were worse.

Legislative Vagueness and the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act

Just as these laws took shape in an opposition to Chinese cultural practices, so did much of the following drug-related legislation take punitive action against minority racial groups. The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, a federal law which imposed taxes and regulations upon all commercial exchanges of opium and cocaine within the United States, was passed in 1914 by the 63rd United States Congress. Of course, taxes on commodities weren’t uncommon and neither were regulations (after all, the US Constitution gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce”). The bill in and of itself (according to its official wording) held impartiality to all races, and in theory was nothing out of the ordinary for a piece of legislation, its long title being, “An Act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax upon all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes”.

United States Opium Commissioner, Hamilton Wright, who was appointed to his position in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, though, once stated that “cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes of the South and other sections of the country”, which is evidence of the distorted racist narrative that was being spread by both government officials and the media. While using cocaine may have been more common of a habit amongst southern blacks, it is implausible that it encouraged users to act violently upon others to satisfy their sexual desires, nor is it likely to have given the ability of superhuman shooting accuracy to those under its influence (which was also commonly claimed). These false pretenses lead to the broad interpretation of one of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act’s clauses, which read “Nothing contained in this section shall apply…to the dispensing or distribution of any of the aforesaid drugs to a patient by a physician, dentist, or veterinary surgeon registered under this Act in the course of his professional practice only”. Law-enforcement, having hastily jumped to the conclusion that drug addiction is not a medical issue (but rather a criminal justice issue), understood the phrase “in the course of his professional practice only” to prohibit even licensed physicians from being legally able to prescribe “opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations…[or] for other purposes” to those addicted to such drugs, which few congressmen of the time could have even conceived of happening. It cannot be posited altogether, though, that this vagueness was unintentional, for the 1912 Hague International Opium Convention, a conference which the United States took part in with eleven other nations, resulted in a resolution that made it obligatory for agreeing parties (which the United States was one of) to “enact effective laws or regulations for the control of the production and distribution of raw opium”, lest said party already had such laws or regulations instated. Curious as this truth may be, its actual intent may not be known, though by the looks of it, the disastrous effects that law-enforcement caused were certainly not the intended result of either the 1912 Hague International Opium Convention or the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act.

As a result of this interpretation of the bill, not only were nonviolent doctors and patients arrested for the unlawful prescription and usage of the aforementioned substances (which were, to restate such substances, “opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations”), but so too did the rates of violent crime and drug use rise. An international North American black market spawned out of the consumer demand for opium and cocaine products, with smuggling having happened nautically in harbors, as well as across the southern and northern borders, especially the latter. Congress officially banned the importation of all non-medicinally functioning narcotics (or rather, those which the government perceived to be non-medicinal in use) in 1922 explicitly (under the Jones-Miller Act), as opposed to the rough interpretation required of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act.

Alcohol Prohibition and its Social Effects

Throughout the early 1900s, many more drugs continued to be illegalized by both state and federal legislatures, including tobacco and peyote (a spiritual drug of the Native Americans), although many of these laws were later repealed. Many states over the decades had issued bans on the manufacturing, selling, and use of alcohol, the earliest being in 1851 in the state of Maine, with the movement for legislated teetotalism  having begun even further back in social campaigns conducted primarily by Protestant churches.  A political party created for the general purpose of enacting anti-alcohol laws, called the Prohibition Party, was founded in 1869, and hoisted many candidates to public office, including the 22nd Governor of Florida. On January 16, 1919, after a hard-fought battle, the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, which entailed that “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited”, and took effect exactly one year after its ratification. The specific provisions of the amendment were detailed in the Volstead Act, which was officially titled “An Act to prohibit intoxicating beverages, and to regulate the manufacture, production, use, and sale of high-proof spirits for other than beverage purposes, and to ensure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye, and other lawful industries”, which makes obvious its purpose.

While the actual consumption of alcoholic beverages were not banned, all transactions from one party to another were, in an outright manner. Almost identically to the other large bans of substances, the effects were incredibly unpleasant and unforeseen by many. As could be expected, the alcohol industry was seized by organized crime rings of bootleggers whose increased profits allowed them to bribe public officials. The rate of drinking and public drunkenness grew, with even congressmen – many of which who were in support of prohibition laws – having drank alcoholic beverages recurrently on the job. Not only did the habit of drinking become more frequent, but it also became far less safe, as the illegality of the industry made it easier for alcohol to become contaminated by other substances, which often times led to death (such as when ‘drinking alcohol’, or ethanol, was replaced with by ‘wood alcohol’, or methanol, which was more readily available and potentially fatal when consumed by humans). As well as this, the homicide rate rose during the years of alcohol prohibition, exponentially so in certain urban communities with strong black markets of the substance.  In the words of author Bill Bryson, “There’d never been a more advantageous time to be a criminal in America than during the 13 years of Prohibition. At a stroke, the American government closed down the fifth largest industry in the United States – alcohol production – and just handed it to criminals – a pretty remarkable thing to do”. Although saloons closed down (as had been intended), so many other restaurants and establishments that could no longer sell their liquor to customers were forced to close down, and thus the government lost a great deal of tax revenue. The resulting loss of jobs was undoubtedly harsh upon the economy, most especially since the Great Depression was contemporaneous with the later years of the federal banning of alcohol.

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It became quite apparent in time that Prohibition, despite arguably a few meager successes, was as a whole proving to be a failure. Out of necessity, the Cullen-Harrison Act, which was passed in 1933, was intended to modify the Volstead Act (which had vaguely aimed “to prohibit intoxicating behavior”, in its text). The Cullen-Harrison Act allowed levels of alcohol thought to be unintoxicating (those “containing one-half of 1 per centum of alcohol by volume and not more than 3.2 per centum of alcohol by weight”) to be legally permitted to manufacture and sell, so as long as one had the permits to do so and applicable taxes were paid. After signing off on the act, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt notably remarked, “I think this would be a good time for a beer”. Over the year of 1933, state legislatures met and held state ratifying conventions to put a complete end to the nationwide ban on the commercial exchange of alcoholic beverages with the Twenty-First Amendment to the US Constitution. Officially ratified in early December of the year, the amendment nullified the Eighteenth Amendment, and thus by extension, also negated the constitutionality of the Volstead Act, thereby repealing it as well. Federally, the ban had indeed been lifted, but many states continued to hold provincial prohibitions over alcohol, as the new amendment had permitted, “The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited”. Although various types of regulations and bans may exist within municipalities, no state-level law has forbidden the legal usage of alcohol since the state of Mississippi ended its state prohibition in 1966.

Despite this success for drug legalization activists, the liberalization of drug laws did not continue concurrently. During the years of Prohibition, numerous more laws, both federal and provincial, were added to the books regarding to drugs. Among these laws was the Jones-Miller Act, which was enacted in 1922 and amended a former bill, the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, and placed tighter control over the importation and usage of narcotics.  Amending the same act two years later was the Anti-Heroin Act of 1924, which was devised to prohibit “the importation of crude opium for the purpose of manufacturing heroin”, the law being altered to apply to heroin as well, instead of its mere original purpose of banning smokeable opium. In 1930, a new federal agency was established in the US Department of the Treasury, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which was created for the purpose of enforcing narcotics laws, and amalgamated two former agencies, the Narcotic Division and the Federal Narcotics Control Board (which had been established as a result of the aforementioned Jones-Miller Act), into one.

Marijuana Laws and the Lies of Commissioner Anslinger

Drugs laws continued to be enacted throughout the 20th century, especially upon marijuana, a drug so familiar with North Americans for the practical benefits of cultivation that it had been legally grown by both settlers at colonial Jamestown and by the first US president George Washington. The two main species of marijuana include cannabis sativa, which provides its users with a stimulating high with a state of uplifting euphoria and mental alertness (although it can induce hallucinations as well), and cannabis indica, which has a high of relaxedness and immense tranquility. Neither strain causes its user to become dangerous in word, thought, or deed, as seemed to have been the basis for former drug laws (although many of the hysteric claims about those drugs were fallacious). State legislators had given in to outright lies (most of which seem to have been racially-driven) about the substance when they brought about anti-marijuana statues, one lie being evident in the notion that a particular Texas senator of the time had alleged, “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy”.  In fact, the hemp plant that Americans had been quite familiar with began to be referred to by its Mexican name, marijuana (often times spelled ‘marihuana’ at the time), within legal circles, to closer associate the drug’s abuse with Chicano culture. Mexicans, though, weren’t the only ethnic minority which faced blame for the nation’s marijuana problem (this “problem” which was almost entirely made up), as African- and Filipino-Americans also were seen as being guilty of encouraging cannabis use throughout the nation, many times supposedly by way of pop culture.

Many people pushed for a federal ban on marijuana, as if the plurality of states of which had outlawed the drug already wasn’t enough. The United States’ first commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, was the leading proponent for the national prohibition of cannabis, and served as an architect of its legislation (marijuana was often falsely labelled as a narcotic in those days, so his bureau’s “research” of cannabis, although incredibly faulty, was justified, at least under the law). He incessantly erred in his assertion that “Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death”, a lie which was tragically accepted by many. As opposed to the tone with which Anslinger insisted (even with the less potent marijuana of the time), multiple studies hold that only an approximate 9% of users will become addicted to the substance. It neither produces insanity nor death (there are no documented cases of any marijuana overdoses, nor are there concrete evidences upon which we can firmly call any illness a direct result of its use), as he’d stated, that is – unless it is laced with a highly dangerous additive (although, the media of the day had pushed the notion that marijuana, in and of itself, was a more dangerous substance that heroin or cocaine, and that those drugs could serve as a ‘gateway drug’ to marijuana, which is the precise opposite of what is claimed in present by the media). Commissioner Anslinger, though, did have one valid point, that “marijuana…produces in its users…criminality”, which is true, in one case, only when it is outlawed by the government (and its market becomes controlled by violent thugs). He had agents of the Bureau of Narcotics aggregate information into “The Gore File”, a file containing stories about the crimes supposedly committed by marijuana-crazed rapists and murderers, such as the surely fictitious “young boy who had become addicted to smoking marihuana cigarets [sic] [who] killed his father, mother, two brothers and a sister, wiping out the entire family except himself”. Anslinger was nervous that these crimes, most of which were completely false (and those of which were true were not committed due to marijuana use), and some of which were gross exaggerations, would be found out as being empirically false in actuality, and sought further methods by which to misconstrue the truth about cannabis.

Anslinger employed the help of former New York representative and founder of Hearst Communications, William Randolph Hearst, in his fight for federal laws banning marijuana. Hearst Communications had ownership over many media firms, which Anslinger knew was a promising way to indoctrinate the public by way of yellow journalism (the use of using hyperbolic or fictitious events and stories to captivate the public and sell more newspapers), if only he could help spread his false narratives through Mr. Hearst’s media conglomerate. Luckily for Commissioner Anslinger, William Hearst did have reason to support new laws about marijuana. You see, Hearst had invested much money into the timber industry and saw the competition that hemp paper could eventually pose as a threat that he had to thwart. He also had reason to help Anslinger sell his anti-Mexican marijuana rhetoric to consumers, for Hearst had, in the past, lost 800,000 acres of forest (which he owned with the intent of producing timber) to Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, fueling his hatred for the Mexican people. The San Francisco Examiner, the primary paper of Hearst’s expansive chain, ran with a story once that read, “Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him”, amongst other similar quotes from editorial clippings such as the following tale published by a national Hearst-managed newspaper, “Users of marijuana become STIMULATED as they inhale the drug and are LIKELY TO DO ANYTHING. Most crimes of violence in this section, especially in country districts are laid to users of that drug”. Exceedingly wrong as the columns may have been about marijuana, several corporations, many which were within the pharmaceutical and chemical production industries, having faced hemp-related business threats as did William Hearst, joined the bandwagon against marijuana.

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Despite the vehement propagation of his falsehoods regarding cannabis, of which Hearst Communications was a tremendous benefit, Anslinger had one last step to his scheme, which was to bring it to Congress. He brought with him all of the lies upon which his case had been founded over the previous years, including tales of murderers swiftly becoming barbarous following their ingestion of marijuana, more racial statements on the issue, and the like. Before Congress, he read from many truth-distorting Hearst publications and misquoted numerous health organizations. Dr. William C. Woodward of the Legislative Counsel of the American Medical Association (who Congress was seemingly biased again, with the AMA having opposed much of the New Deal legislation of the past decade) had also attended the hearings, which were unusually short in duration, in order to set the record straight upon the nature of cannabis, but his efforts were unsuccessful, the Congressional majority having firm faith in the hearsay of the prevalent yellow journalism. He’d stated matter-of-factly, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug”, to which a Congressman promptly retorted, “Doctor, if you can’t say something good about what we are trying to do, why don’t you go home?”, and another following him saying, “Doctor, if you haven’t got something better to say than that, we are sick of hearing you.” Congress haughtily and ignorantly dismissed Woodward on the sole basis that he didn’t support the popular congressional opinion on marijuana, which shows the non-negotiability of their thoughts, that they could be swayed in neither direction, counter-productively fixed in the assertion that marijuana was the prerequisite of most occurring cases of homicide and mental derangement.

Also having testified that day was Dr. James C. Munch, a pharmacologist from Temple University with connections to the Department of Agriculture, who had injected the brains of three-hundred dogs with the active ingredient in marijuana, two of which died, so he claimed.  When asked by a congressman, “Doctor, did you choose dogs for the similarity of their reactions to that of humans?”, the doctor answered “Yes. So far as I can tell, not being a dog psychologist”. Although the vagueness of his answer is telling enough of his lack of honesty when presenting the results of this experiment, it is also nearly for sure out of the question that Dr. Munch had injected the canines’ brains with the active ingredient of cannabis, as he’d also claimed, for the primary psychoactive ingredient, which is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), wasn’t isolated until 1964, and no other cannabinoids had been synthesized either until the early 1940s, years after Munch’s study would’ve been conducted. Whatever substance that Dr. Munch had injected into the dogs (that is, assuming that he did indeed inject dogs with some sort of substance, which we may never know), we can almost certify without doubt was not “the active material lodged in male plants [of cannabis] as well as female plants”, as he’d said it’d been. The lack of proper understanding of the drug was obvious within Congress, as in when the House Speaker was asked what the legislation – which Harry Anslinger had drafted – actually entailed, saying, “I don’t know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it’s a narcotic of some kind”. The insufficient responses and unanswered questions disturbingly didn’t put off enough Congressman to show discontent with the bill. As well as this, an absurd amount of lies were accepted after having been communicated, such as by one committee member (who later became a Supreme Court Justice) present that day who uttered an undebatably-untrue falsehood about the American Medical Association’s opinion on the bill, “Their Doctor Wentworth [sic] came down here. They support this bill one-hundred percent”, an obvious fib, as Dr. Woodward had served as the only main force testifying against the bill, which, without an official vote or even a debate on the subject, was soon thereafter passed.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, its intent being “to impose an occupational excise tax upon certain dealers in marihuana, to impose a transfer tax upon certain dealings in marihuana, and to safeguard the revenue there from by registry and recording”, not a literal ban in actuality, but effectively serving as one. The taxes levied by the act made marijuana transactions incredibly costly, such as the fact that the “transfer to any person who has paid the special tax and registered…$1 [$16.67, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] per ounce of marihuana or fraction thereof” would be mulcted, or yet even worse, “upon each transfer to any person who has not paid the special tax and registered…$100 [$1,666.72, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] per ounce of marihuana or fraction thereof” would be have to be paid, the “special tax” of which could cost up to $24 (or $400.01, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD) according to Section 2 of the act. Along with the sin tax necessary to be paid for transferring marijuana (transferring being defined by the act as “any type of disposition resulting in a change of possession”), was the legal necessity that a registration of the two parties involved in the transaction was provided, as well as their addresses, in order to fulfill the legal requirement (as is outlined in the bill) and receive a marijuana tax stamp. While, in appearance, despite the heavy burden of fees and requirements, legal transfer of the substance was still possible, many states in the country actually had statutes outlawing the possession of marijuana, causing one, in such jurisdiction, who was legally following the procedures in those outlined in the act to self-incriminate themselves, because of the great amount of registration required to be submitted to the government. The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, a body of nineteen people who’d been designated to the task of studying American jurisprudence by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, released a report in 1967 which spoke volumes of the law, “The Act raises an insignificant amount of revenue and exposes an insignificant number of marijuana transactions to public view, since only a handful of people are registered under the Act. It has become, in effect, solely a criminal law, imposing sanctions upon persons who sell, acquire, or possess marijuana”. Expectedly, clandestine transactions began to account for the majority of cannabis sales, as is the usual course of action when a commodity is either banned or obsessively regulated.

The Strict Tightening of Laws Regarding Narcotics

In 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, an act which amended the previously-mentioned Jones-Miller Act, and gave harsher penalties tousers of narcotics (and of marijuana), it being written accordingly, “Whoever fraudulently or knowingly imports or brings any narcotic drug into the United States or any territory under its control or jurisdiction, contrary to law, or receives, conceals, buys, sells, or in any manner facilitates the transportation, concealment, or sale of any such narcotic drug after being imported or brought in, knowing the same to have been imported contrary to law, or conspires to commit any of such acts in violation of the laws of the United States, shall be fined not more than $2,000 [$18,462.08, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] and imprisoned not less than two or more than five years. For a second offense, the offender shall be fined not more than $2,000 and imprisoned not less than five or more than ten years. For a third or subsequent offense, the offender shall be fined not more than $2,000 and imprisoned not less than ten or more than twenty years. Upon conviction for a second or subsequent offense, the imposition or execution of sentence shall not be suspended and probation shall not be granted”. The bill apportioned mandatory prison sentences for those who trafficked narcotics following much alarmism on the floor of Congress, such as a statistic illustrating the fact that drug use amongst youth was rising (which was true, at least as far as we can now tell, although the law did nothing to solve this problem).

At the hearing, Anslinger made a reappearance, speaking in favor of the law, “There should be a minimum sentence for the second offense. The commercialized transaction, the peddler, the smuggler, those who traffic in narcotics, on the second offense if there were a minimum sentence of five years without probation or parole, I think it would just about dry up the traffic”, which it didn’t. As well as that, this time he asserted against his previous claims that “marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death”, as he’d testified a bit over a decade before for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This time, he only retained the notion that it produced criminality, and threw away most of the other planks upon which he’d lobbied against the legality of cannabis. He even threw away the beguiling concept that narcotic abuse lead to marijuana use, supplanting it with the prohibition argument of the modern status quo, that it was the other way around, marijuana serving as a ‘gateway drug’ to harder substances (in his words, it was “the certain first step on the road to heroin addiction”). This “gateway drug” theory (which has been rebutted – in my opinion, successfully so – myriad times), having served as one of the premises for the Boggs Act, also influenced twenty-eight states (and the territory of Alaska), to implement many similar state-level laws on top of the grave punishments of the federal law. Among these was a ridiculously severe Louisiana statute passed in 1956 which made narcotics users subject to a five year sentence, at minimum, and with a maximum sentence of ninety-nine years, both without the chance of parole. This caused Louisianan narcotics offenders, as well as those in other states throughout the nation, to often times face more series penalties for simply selling narcotics than they would have faced for committing the violent crimes that were claimed to result from narcotic use (an example of which was Virginia, where first degree murder had a minimum sentence of 15 years and rape had a minimum of 10, both of which were considered to be easily induced by drugs such as marijuana, which had a minimum sentence of 40 years in the state at the time).

Under the impression that tougher sentences deter crime (which is still part of an ongoing debate), Congress passed, also in 1956, the Daniel Act, which was officially signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and featured numerous amendments to preexisting laws, including the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, the Jones-Miller Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act, and even a new chapter on narcotics was amended to Title 18 of the United States Code, among other amended acts. These amendments made many changes in the existing state of the law, such as the fact that as opposed to the former clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the passing of the Daniel Act made the violation of existing narcotics laws, or even the “conspiracy to violate”, to be sufficient reason for “any alien in the United States…[to] be deported”. The first section of a different law, the Act of July 11, 1941, was, by the Daniel Act, “amended by striking out [the words] ‘fined not more than $5,000 [$81,635.03, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] or be imprisoned for not more than five years, or both,’ and inserting in lieu thereof ‘imprisoned not less than five or more than twenty years and, in addition, may be fined not more than $20,000 [$176,475.74, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD]'”, a replacement which greatly steepened the intensity of the legal repercussions of contravening narcotics laws. Quite a few other legal provisions were altered by this act, many of which, in a likewise manner, were changed in order to feature harsher sentences, in the name of attempting to diminish drug use, and by extension, to decrease the crimes purported to come as a consequence of the use of such substances.

Other non-narcotic drugs were banned from being freely sold in the market in the succeeding years, such as phencyclidine (PCP) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in the mid- to late-1960s, their prohibitionary laws having been legislated as further attempts that federal and provincial governments made at controlling the use of drugs they declared to be unsafe.

The Consolidation of Federal Drug Laws

In December of 1965, Dr. Timothy Leary left New York with his two teenage children, and two others as well, intending to drive to Yucatan, Mexico, where they would vacation. They eventually, a few days prior to Christmas, crossed the border by bridge from the United States into Mexico. The Mexican customs station did not allow Leary and his party ingression to the nation, and sent them on their way, back across the International Bridge to Texas, where they’d come from. They were made to be interviewed in the secondary inspection area by American customs officers on their return to their homeland, when it was found, after the car had been inspected, that there were marijuana seeds on the floor of the automobile’s interior. After receiving clearance to conduct more extensive searches, officers found more cannabis, both in the glove compartment and on Leary’s daughter’s person (in a snuffbox containing semi-refined marijuana and a few partly-smoked joints). Due to these findings, he was tried and found guilty before a Texan jury, having consciously smuggled illegal substances into the United States from Mexico (at least technically, although his stay in Mexico was quite brief, in reality) and having transported those substances within the nation (again, a very short transportation of marijuana as this may have been, it was sufficient for indictment according to the law), consciously and willfully. In addition to these charges, because this marijuana which he transferred was untaxed (the court determined that Leary was aware of this fact), he was found to be in violation of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

Leary petitioned against the courts, which resulted in a Supreme Court case (Leary v. United States), his reasoning on the matter being that if he had acted in accordance with the tax act, it would be virtually tantamount to self-incrimination, as the states in which the crime of possession was committed (in this case, both New York and Texas) had active laws banning marijuana (as did all other states at the time). He held that this was unconstitutional, as citizens had a right against having to testify against themselves, which is protected in the Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent “), an extension of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution (“No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”), and was the conclusion also achieved by similar cases (such as Marchetti v. United States and Grosso v. United States, which dealt with taxes on wagers, and Haynes v. United States, which dealt with the registration of firearms, as opposed to marijuana possession and transference). The case (which included a certiorari, or the writ of a higher court assessing the ruling of a lower court, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit) lead to the determination of the court that, “If read according to its terms, the Marihuana Tax Act compelled [Timothy Leary] to expose himself to a ‘real and appreciable’ risk of self-incrimination”, just as Leary had claimed. On May 19, 1969, the official conclusion was reached, which unanimously declared the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 to be unconstitutional, thus cancelling Dr. Leary’s violation of the act as the basis by which he was convicted, the official holding stating, “The Marihuana Tax Act required self-incrimination, thus violating the Fifth Amendment of [the] Constitution. Leary’s conviction [is hereby] reversed”.

As a result of Leary v. United States, Congress presented a new act just over a year later, which was intended primarily to provide further changes to the drug policy of the time, its title being the Controlled Substances Act. This bill, which was passed in 1970, notably categorized all drugs with existing prohibitions and regulations into one of five “schedules” (each drug’s schedule was determined by each particular substance’s practical medicinal usage, the likelihood and intensity of addiction to it, and the degree of injuriousness it could inflict upon the user), the most dangerous drugs categorized under Schedule I, and those deemed least dangerous respectively under Schedule V. Schedule I oddly includes – to this day – marijuana, amongst other drugs such as ecstasy and heroin, and yet excluded other substances like cocaine and oxycontin (which are decisively Schedule II, due to their legally accepted usage in the practice of medicine, although both heroin and, especially, marijuana have numerous medicinal qualities as well, despite their total bans).

The Controlled Substances Act, despite being very noteworthy in its own right, was part of a larger bill, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, its long title being, “An Act to amend the Public Health Service Act [which was passed in 1944 and regarded laws pertaining to the United States Public Health Service] and other laws to provide increased research into, and prevention of, drug abuse and drug dependence; to provide for treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers and drug dependent persons; and to strengthen existing law enforcement authority in the field of drug abuse”, served the function of consolidating all federal statues of the time which concerned drugs, into a single act.  As well as the schedules, which the act may be best known for, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 as a whole held the role of granting new special privileges to certain bureaus, such as to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA]) and to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (the predecessor of the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS]), concerning the ability to initiate movements to change drugs’ schedules and the evaluation of certain controlled substances. The Controlled Substances Act also ramped up funding and the number of agents involved with the federal government’s crusade against drug use, “During the fiscal year 1971, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs is authorized to add at least 300 agents, together with necessary supporting personnel, to the number of enforcement personnel currently available to it…There are authorized to be appropriated not to exceed $6,000,000 [$35,560,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] for the fiscal year 1971 and for each fiscal year thereafter”. The act additionally repealed and amended former laws, and set further policy on the importation and exportation of specific scheduled substances. It is obvious the ferociousness of the legislative fetishism of the drug laws which began to be enacted around this time period, as the country’s tensions regarding substance abuse grew ever quicker.

The Nixon Administration Declares the War on Drugs

President Richard M. Nixon stated during a press conference on June 17, 1971, “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive. I have asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive. This will be a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of sources of supply, as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad, wherever they are in the world. It will be government-wide, pulling together the nine different fragmented areas within the government in which this problem is now being handled, and it will be nationwide in terms of a new educational program that we trust will result from the discussions that we have had. With regard to this offensive, it is necessary first to have a new organization, and the new organization will be within the White House. Dr. Jaffe, who will be one of the briefers here today, will be the man directly responsible. He will report directly to me, and he will have the responsibility to take all of the Government agencies, nine, that deal with the problems of rehabilitation, in which his primary responsibilities will be research and education, and see that they work not at cross-purposes, but work together in dealing with the problem. If we are going to have a successful offensive, we need more money. Consequently, I am asking the Congress for $155,000,000 [$918,550,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] in new funds, which will bring the total amount this year in the budget for drug abuse, both in enforcement and treatment, to over $350,000,000 [$2,074,130,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD]. As far as the new money is concerned, incidentally, I have made it clear to the leaders that if this is not enough, if more can be used, if Dr. Jaffe, after studying this problem, finds that we can use more, more will be provided. In order to defeat this enemy which is causing such great concern, and correctly so, to so many American families, money will be provided to the extent that it is necessary and to the extent that it will be useful…One final word with regard to Presidential responsibility in this respect. I very much hesitate always to bring some new responsibility into the White House, because there are so many here, and I believe in delegating those responsibilities to the departments. But I consider this problem so urgent – I also found that it was scattered so much throughout the Government, with so much conflict, without coordination–that it had to be brought into the White House”. This “offensive” to which he referred later became known as the War on Drugs (much like how his political forerunner, President Lyndon B. John, had declared a ‘War on Poverty’ seven years prior), which, in reality had existed for nearly a century past, but officially was declared that day in 1971.

The urgency with which Pres. Nixon spoke was not entirely unbased, I might add, as the abuse of drugs had rapidly grown more severe in the past years, with the number of New York City deaths due to narcotics having risen over 500% over the previous decade, not to mention the rise of drug culture which had been famously apparent just two years before at the 1969 Woodstock Concert. These, though, were not the main issues which seemed to worry the president. Rather, an interesting remark of his during his address at the presence conference that day seems to show the underlying root cause as to why he wished to embark on such a resource-demanding campaign against drugs, “This will be a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of sources of supply, as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad, wherever they are in the world”. You see, highly potent narcotics and amphetamines (such as codeine and dextroamphetamine) had been distributed by the US Military to its soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, and with very little regard to the proper amount of each substance to take per dosage. These psychoactive substances were intended to enhance soldiers’ performances in combat and while on lengthy missions of reconnaissance, making the conflict in Vietnam to become known as the first “pharmacological war”.  As a result, numerous soldiers became addicted (such as one 1971 congressional report finding that 15% of American soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to heroin, with more having been hooked on other drugs), which studies have also shown has led to both an increase in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in substance abuse amongst servicepeople who fought in Vietnam upon their return home from the war. Thus, it is logically understandable why the president should wish to diminish drug abuse amongst his country’s military personnel.

Puzzlingly though, John Ehrlichman, the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs and the White Counsel under Nixon, spoke about the drug war in a 1994 interview, giving a quite different reason as to why such an offensive was sought, saying, “We [The Nixon Administration] knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or [to be] black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did”. We mustn’t be quick to consider either cause as being true, though given the amount of corruption strewn throughout the Nixon Administration does not make it easy to resist accepting Ehrlichman’s account as fact (nor does another of Nixon’s quotes, that blacks “live like a bunch of dogs”, which may point towards a racist agenda behind the president, but in this case, due to our unsureness, we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt). Notwithstanding this intriguing information, what we can confidently corroborate are the historical occurrences that transpired as a result of Nixon’s declaration about “America’s public enemy number one”.

In time, President Richard Nixon began to carry out his promises regarding the War on Drugs. During that important press conference in 1971, he stated that  “it is necessary first to have a new organization”, in order to fulfill his legislative plans. The next year, the Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act of 1972 was passed with a unanimous vote from the House and the Senate, which “established in the Executive Office of the President an office to be known as the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention [SAODAP]” and aimed “to concentrate the resources of the Nation against the problem of drug abuse” into one federal office, rather than the thirteen (Nixon, during his speech the year before it had mistakenly claimed that there were nine) disconnected agencies which previously had dealt with drug abuse. The bill also brought Nixon’s budgetary aspirations (“If we are going to have a successful offensive, we need more money”) into fruition when it delivered great funds of money towards the enforcement of preexisting drug laws, and apportioned $233,000,000 ($1,142,900,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD) across the fiscal years of 1972, 1973, 1974, and 1975. While these funds seem to not have been as annually steep as the president had originally wished, he nonetheless expressed his overall contentment of the act’s passing in the White House’s East Room just before signing it, “I simply want to say…that the country owes a debt of gratitude to all the Members of the Congress, and particularly the members of the committee who have worked for this legislation and who have helped to get it to the President’s desk”.

The following year, Executive Order 11727 was signed by Pres. Nixon which made effective the Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973, the purpose of which was to merge two organizations, the Drug Abuse Law Enforcement and the Office of National Narcotics Intelligence (which were birthed of Nixon-era executive orders the year before), into the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The executive order gave the Attorney General (who, at the time, was former Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson) the authorization to “provide for the winding up of the affairs of the two offices and for the reassignment of their functions”. In such a way, the passage of the Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973 better organized the structure of the government’s drug enforcement program with the creation of this new agency of the coalescence of the former two, a function not unlike that of the Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act of 1972. “This order shall be effective as of July 1, 1973” were the words borne by the sixth section of this document, thus creating the DEA. 

Throughout the rest of Nixon’s tenure, until he resigned in 1974, new laws, amendments, and agency amalgamations continued to be set forth.

Just Say No and the Racist Drug War

In the wake of former leader President Richard Nixon’s desire for a “new educational program”, as he’d declared years before, the 95th Congress of the United States passed the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Education Amendments of 1978, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. This act “amend[ed] the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Education Act” (which was a Nixon-era bill passed in 1970 to “to encourage the development of new and improved curricula on the problems of drug abuse”). The 1978 amendments chopped and changed many of the words of the original act, in order to better carry out its functions, and even created a new organization, the Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Education, within the Office of Education (also known as the Department of Education). This brought drugs into the curriculum of Office of Education-led educational programs, the Office of Education having provided “sufficient staff and resources” to the Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Education. This was a pivotal moment in the War on Drugs, as it harnessed resources and used them to educate the public on drug abuse (much of this “education” was and still is based on fallacious and/or misused information, though), a further attempt to stifle the social demand for illegal substances, for harsh supply-hampering (or, attempted supply-hampering) prohibition laws by themselves were proving to be ineffective as a whole.

Despite such additional attempts to stop substance abuse, the rate of drug use continued to rise, with the Household Survey reporting in 1979 that an approximate 20% of all Americans had used cocaine over the past year, a number of epidemic proportions. The failures of the drug war were known to most Americans, many of which found the country helpless against the threat of drug abuse, with first lady Nancy Reagan having to answer to a little girl at an elementary school in 1982 when asked what to do when offered drugs. Mrs. Reagan first then delivered her infamous line, “Well, you just say no”. “Just Say No” soon became the catchphrase of a national movement undertaken by the first lady against drug use, namely that of adolescents, in 1986. The movement peaked its way into American sitcoms (namely Diff’rent Strokes and Punky Brewster, the former of which the first lady was featured in an episode in), into Good Morning America, and into a 2-hour PBS special, as well as, to much lesser extent, into the country of Britain, the phrase being featured in a program from the BBC. Local Just-Say-No clubs were established, growing to over 12,000 in number by 1989, which is a success, it seems, as far as can be deduced from purely statistical data.  Though few studies have actually been done on the efficacy of the campaign, Just Say No, although appearing to be quite simplistic in its methods, social scientists and experts on drug policy seem to agree it was indeed successful, as the rates of many commonly abused drugs fell drastically amongst youth.

Image result for Nancy Reagan Just Say No

Nancy Reagan’s social movement had appeared to be very successful, at least in certain respects, but what is troubling, though, is the approach to the situation taken by her husband President Ronald Reagan, the “small-government” conservative who employed big-government drug strategies. To the president’s desk, Congress offered up the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which he happily signed on October 27th of that year, officially promulgating the statute, which was properly called, “An Act to strengthen Federal efforts to encourage foreign cooperation in eradicating illicit drug crops and in halting international drug traffic, to improve enforcement of Federal drug laws and enhance interdiction of illicit drug shipments, to provide strong Federal leadership in establishing effective drug abuse prevention and education programs, to expand Federal support for drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation efforts, and for other purposes”. The bill, once enacted, gave the government the ability to levy tariffs on the products of foreign nations who failed to comply with American rules regarding the importation of illegal substances. Apart from this part of the law, the act also banned controlled substance analogues, which are, as defined by the act, “substance[s] – the chemical structure of which is substantially similar to the chemical structure of a controlled substance in schedule I or II”, new drugs with psychoactive effects similar to those of a previously prohibited drug, but that is technically different in chemical composition, so to attempt to avoid legal scrutiny. These new substances emerged, without doubt, as an attempt to find a loophole in the preexisting laws, in order to legally distribute, possess, and consume certain banned drugs (or rather, near replicates of them). After the genesis of these new drugs, if time was given in order to allow their markets to grow, would have likely made drug use safer, as they would be commercially sold within the scopes of legality. With that point in mind, we can estimate that the illegalizing of these substances by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 depreciated the standard of living amongst addicts even further, the precise antithesis of the anti-drug crusade’s attempts, although an unavoidable product of it.

More notoriously, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 put into place more mandatory sentences, which were heightened in intensity a hundredfold, whereby I mean this literally, that the necessary amount of grams of powder cocaine that one would need to possess in order to be warranted a mandatory sentence was divided by one hundred in determining the sentences for those of crack cocaine. An example of this is that after the passing of this act in 1986, being found in the possession of 5,000 grams of powder cocaine would result in a minimum sentence of 10 years, the same duration of which would be earned for one caught owning a mere 50 grams of crack cocaine. This caused an important disparity between these two forms of cocaine, an astounding 100:1 ratio in the length of their penalties. The reasoning behind this difference is that crack cocaine produces a more intoxicating effect in regards to the euphoric feeling experienced by its user, causing many to have believed it to be more dangerous than its powder equivalent (though it isn’t), despite the two having the same composition, chemically speaking. The rise in its use over the 1980s and the years prior created hysteria amongst the press, with Reagan even having promised to do something about the issue during his presidential campaign. Originally, he had proposed a ratio of 20:1 for the drug law, with Democrats in the House later increasing it to 50:1, with Democratic senators having finally edged that number up to the 100:1 proportion, their hopes being that it would from then on truly diminish the use of crack, as if they hadn’t yet learned the disastrous effects of their similar past follies! Crack, because it was much more inexpensive on the black market than was powder cocaine, was used primarily by poorer urban communities, primarily by African-Americans, causing the law to bear down most harshly upon the black community. Whether or not legislators had foreseen this (as they had in the early 20th century when anti-black cocaine laws were enacted intentionally) is unknown, but its result, we are certain, caused a great racial disparity between the number of blacks incarcerated on drug charges (and the severity of the subsequent sentences) and the number of whites.fair sentencing act

Two years later, the 100th United States Congress approved the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which served as an amendment to its similarly-titled predecessor. Pres. Reagan declared, upon signing the act, “This bill helps us close rank on those who continue to provide drugs. Arrests, convictions, and prison sentences of sellers and abusers are rising to record levels…Eight years ago we set a course. We stuck to it. And the path we blazed is marked by the success of our accomplishments. Our ultimate destination: a drug-free America. And now in the eleventh hour of this Presidency, we give a new sword and shield to those whose daily business it is to eliminate from America’s streets and towns the scourge of illicit drugs…And with great pleasure, I will now sign the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988”. This bill created a new office, as had many drug-related acts before, called the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), intended to work towards bringing about appropriate measures in order to strive towards the eradication of drug distribution, possession, and use. The act also made crack cocaine the only substance with a mandatory minimum sentence for a first offense of simple possession, further developing the aforementioned racial disparity in incarceration. As well as this, the bill also was very costly, as the drug war had always been, the bill stating that to increase the power of treatment and prevention programs “there are authorized to be appropriated $1,500,000,000 [$2,900,000,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] for fiscal year 1989” and, for the purpose of drug education, “$350,000,000 [$677,400,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD] for the fiscal year 1989” were apportioned. Due to the provisions of this act, as well as those before it which bore similarities in word, contributed to the filling up of American prisons with nonviolent criminals, locked up on drug charges, which most had peacefully partaken in and of their own autonomous will.

The Post-Reagan Drug War

President George H. W. Bush said in 1989 during a nationally televised speech, the Presidential Address on National Drug Policy, “No single policy will cut it, no matter how glamorous or magical it may sound. To win the war against addictive drugs like crack will take more than just a Federal strategy: It will take a national strategy, one that reaches into every school, every workplace, involving every family”, and thus, as Professor Noam Chomsky put it, “a huge government-media propaganda campaign” began. The drug education programs of the former presidential administrations were continued and intensified in their efforts to cut off the demand for drugs, seeing very plainly that cutting off their supply isolatedly was an impossibility.

As well as this, in Section 1208 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, Congress authorized the militarization of police for Drug War purposes, “The Secretary of Defense may transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is…suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and…excess to the needs of the Department of Defense”. This was a further step in the war against drugs, now featuring equipment of literal militancy, as was signed into law by President Bush on November 29, 1989, this provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991 having been dubbed the “1208 program”. This is related to an earlier statement of Bush’s, also from the Presidential Address on National Drug Policy, that to diminish drug use (namely cocaine, the use of which was on the rise) “we need more jails, more prisons, more courts and more prosecutors”, that only by expending more and more resources and by providing police with deadly military grade weaponry would the Drug War be won. All it did, in truth, was make life for nonviolent addicts worse, while it simultaneously fostered a predatory black market which enriched the drug kingpins behind international trafficking schemes.

A few years later, Bill Clinton, during the first Clinton-Bush-Perot debate of the 1992 presidential election, proposed his strategy for combatting drug use, “What should we do? First, we ought to prevent more of this on the street. We need 100,000 more police on the street. I have a plan for that. Secondly, we ought to have treatment on demand. Thirdly, we ought to have boot camps for first-time nonviolent offenders”. With that apparent preparedness to confront drugs that he seemed to have, Bill Clinton went on to win the presidential election with flying colors. Early during his tenure in the Oval Office, though, he eliminated much of his federal drug policy staff, such as 83% of workers in the Office of National Drug Control Policy and 80% of those employed in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. To be sure, Clinton was not a closeted pro-legalization advocate in the least, for cocaine seizures were equal in number under President Clinton to those under his predecessor Bush and the seizure of heroin and marijuana were in excess of the quantity under Bush as well. Still, drug use amongst adolescents grew 78% between 1992 and 1995, an obvious failure of the Drug War, as well as are the pieces of data that state the fact that between 1994 and 1995, overall hallucinogen use grew 54% and cocaine use grew 166%.

Despite cutting some employees and parts of the drug budget, Clinton instituted new drug edicts and continued pressing on with many of the Bush-41 Era policies, reintroducing the 1208 program (which expired in FY 1992) with its revamped variant, the 1033 program, which was part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, as was signed into law in September of 1996. The 1033 program permitted, “all law enforcement agencies to acquire property for bona fide law enforcement purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission” and gave preferential treatment to “to counter-drug and counter-terrorism requests”, causing the deaths of numerous nonviolent citizens accused of drug trafficking, perpetrated by paramilitary police squads, often times in no-knock raids. As fierce as many of Clinton’s anti-drug efforts may have been, drug use kept becoming more and more prevalent. Most experts seem to agree that costly budgets and brute law enforcement tactics were not the road to stopping drug abuse (as the black market always provides the consumer with their desired product, save for under rare ultra-totalitarian regimes), but rather it was by way of social campaigns, such as Just Say No, or any of the other number of organizations which shared a message similar to that of Nancy’s Reagan’s (like the Partnership for a Drug-Free America), that drug use actually faced a decline. Though the remnants of youth anti-drug movements did still exist, the message had simply ceased to be propagated at the level it had, possibly due to the media attention directed on the Persian Gulf War.

It was clear that the Drug War was being brutally lost by the US government, and that no increase in anti-drug legislative measures would change that. Attorney General Janet Reno, whose tenure lasted nearly the entirety of the Clinton presidency, favored reductions in mandatory minimum sentencing for drug-related charges. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who served in her position between 1993 and 1994, suggested that the potential outcomes of drug legalization should be studied, expressing a veiled anti-prohibitionist character which had been long-forgotten by the federal government. In a 1992 interview, Bill Clinton himself even stated, “I experimented with marijuana a time or two and I didn’t like it and didn’t inhale and never tried it again”, the president’s (though at the time of the interview he was only a candidate for the presidency) confession of having used illicit substances, something which no drug policy expert would likely think to do should he hope to keep marijuana illegal. Soon thereafter, the state of California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with its Proposition 215, with Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Nevada, and Colorado following suit during the end of the century. The consciousness that it may have been time to end the prohibition of drugs was growing, though the Drug War continued forth.

President George W. Bush, son of President George H. W. Bush, implemented similar policies to his predecessors during his presidency. He began community- and faith-oriented initiatives (which were arguably employed to pander to his Christian conservative support base) towards solving the issue of drugs, remarking that such projects would “rally the armies of compassion, those citizens who love their neighbor like they’d like to be loved themselves, to help send a clear message that we love you, we love you so much we’re going to convince you not to use drugs in the future”. These faith-based methods of providing treatment to addicts was a procedure of “compassionate coercion”, as Bush oxymoronically called it, and seemed to be based off of a similar premise as was his belief that God cured him, through prayer, of the alcoholism which had previously afflicted him. The Bush-43 administration, as well as this, continued the tactic of using education as a means to disrupt the drug market, which would cause demand, in theory, to drop (although more spending was still used to attempt to counteract the supply of drugs, rather than the demand), hence the formation of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program and the institution of a “$180,000,000 [234,790,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD]…youth anti-drug media campaign” (which was to include “a series of messages which lay out the hazards of drug use”) under his presidency in 2003.

Bush, over his presidential tenure, directed billions of dollars of funds to the costs of medical treatment, law enforcement, aid to Central American nations, and education programs, all on the basis of trying to stifle the drug trade. In spite of such substantial budgetary expenditures, the rate of drug use grew greatly. In the last full year of Bill Clinton’s presidency (2000) overall illicit drug use (of individuals age 12 and older) was approximately at 11% of the general population, whereas by the last full year of Bush’s (2008), that number had risen to 14.2% (which was actually the lowest it’d been since the year 2001). Over Bush’s presidency, the use of nearly all notably banned substances rose dramatically, such as the use of analgesics (painkillers) rising 130% and that of cocaine rising 140%, as well as the rising of other drugs’ uses such as ecstasy and heroin. The market interventions didn’t work and neither did the top-down education scheme, it seems (it is possible that these methods may have slightly slowed the growth of drug use but they clearly did not reverse the trend of that growth altogether). The Drug War had continued to be lost.

A Shift in Drug Policy in the 2010s

While President Barrack Obama’s presidency was filled with the continuation of former policies such as civil asset forfeiture and more drug raids, it was obvious that the direction of the country was slowly moving towards legalization. The president acknowledged the fact that there had been little good news for the drug crusade for decades when he stated, “I am a very strong believer that the path we have taken in the United States in the so-called war on drugs has been so heavy in emphasizing incarceration that it has been counterproductive. You have young people who did not engage in violence who get very long penalties, who get placed in prison and then are rendered economically unemployable, are almost pushed into the underground economy, learn crime more effectively in prison — families are devastated. So it’s been very unproductive”. Even Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who served under Pres. Obama, had called for an end to the War on Drugs, though, of course this was not a sentiment support of legalizing all drugs, but rather Kerlikowske had meant that “being smart about drugs means working to treat people who go to jail with a drug problem so when they get out and return to the communities you protect, you will be less likely to re-arrest them”. The legislation regarding drugs was certainly to continue under Obama, but it was clear that there was shift in the outlook on the situation. It came to be perceived as much more of a medical issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, as had been the policy of the past century.

Obama signed into law an important bill during his first term, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which was signed into law on August 3rd of the year, the purpose of which was “to restore fairness to Federal cocaine sentencing”. Although the act did “increase penalties for major drug traffickers” monetarily, it changed a provision of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, causing the intense 100:1 ratio between penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine to be decreased to an 18:1 ratio, thus having a less racially-targeting effect (as had been stated in an above paragraph, crack cocaine was the usual choice of poor blacks in regards to cocaine preferences, rather than its powder counterpart, due to its cheapness). As far back as the 1990s there had been similar bills attempting to do away with the 100:1 proportion, but such bills hadn’t passed until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Some have even called for the 18:1 cocaine ratio, despite it having been a great improvement from its former variant, to be reduced to a 1:1 ratio, with others, though more few in number, having called for the laws regarding cocaine to be abolished entirely.

In 2012, two state ballot measures, Colorado Amendment 64 and Washington Initiative 502, were passed with voting results of 56% to 44% and 55% to 45%, respectively, thus legalizing recreational marijuana (after so many years of prohibition) for citizens aged twenty-one and older in the states of Colorado and Washington. States over the subsequent years continued to legalize and decriminalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes. In 2014, the states of Alaska and Oregon followed in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington in their legalizations of recreational cannabis, as did the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe (the tribe of the Santee Dakota people who live on a 5,000 acre Native American reservation) in 2015, followed by Massachusetts, Nevada, Maine, and North Dakota in 2016.

With the rapid change in drug policy under the Obama Administration, drugs became an important topic and point of contention between many candidates of the 2016 presidential election. Some candidates, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, supported more stringent and regressive policies on drugs. Many others were believers in state legalization efforts (although some said they wouldn’t vote for marijuana’s legalization themselves, they acknowledged states’ rights to set this policy), especially Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Rand Paul, with Libertarian nominee Gov. Gary Johnson having openly admitted to his current use of it (though he abstained from its use during his campaign) and expressed great enthusiasm about its legalization. Despite some claims to turn the clock back on drug laws, the candidates seemed to be open, although cautiously, to the actions of Colorado and Washington (as well as the other states which legalized recreational cannabis), many taking a wait-and-see approach to the so-called experiments in such states.

After a long and hard-fought race, as we all know, the underdog candidate, business mogul Donald J. Trump, won the presidential election against former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with an electoral college win against his opponent of 304 to 227, despite having lost the popular vote by more than 2%.  At the beginning of the race, during his presidential campaign announcement on June 16, 2015, Trump famously stated, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime….They’re sending us not the right people. It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East, but we don’t know, because we have no protection and we have no competence. We don’t know what’s happening and it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast”. In this part of speech, he’d hinted that the US government should take control of the border in part because of drug-related issues, later confirming this belief of his, “We first should stop the inflow of opioids into the United States. We can do that and we will in the Trump administration. As this is a national problem that costs America billions of dollars in productivity, we should apply the resources necessary to mitigate this problem. Dollars invested in taking care of this problem will be more than paid for with recovered lives and productivity that adds to the wealth and health of the nation”, the base level of a plan to cope with drug interdiction, with a bit of a Keynesian spin to it. His drug policy, in this regard, bears many similarities to the pre-Bill Clinton approach to the legislative offensive against drugs.

Marijuana, though, is a far softer drug than the opioids that Trump said he seeks to stop the inflow of. On cannabis, Trump tends towards supporting the idea that states should determine their own policies and he supports the legalization of marijuana for its medicinal use, though he says so very carefully, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical [marijuana] should [be legalized], and then I really believe we should leave it up to the states, and of course you have Colorado. There’s a question as to how it’s all working out there, you know? That’s not going exactly trouble-free”. It will be interesting over the next four years (that is, should he not be made unable to serve for one reason or another), and potentially the next eight (should he win the presidency for a second term), to see what President Trump’s drug strategies will be, a sort of history in the making, one could say.

Legalize Everything!

After having thought deeply upon the subject of drug legalization and the effects of it, I have reached a decisive conclusion, one based in principle, logic, and data. The argument which I propose, as have many political theorists in the past, is that not only should marijuana be legalized, but so too should all drugs be devoid of punitive measures, indiscriminately and across the board. That, to many, is a crazy notion, which would cause “insanity, criminality, and death” (in the words of Comm. Harry Anslinger). Social libertarians expressing an opinion similar to that of my own are not advocates of chaos and haphazardness, but rather it is seen that the legalizing of drugs is the road to a better, safer, and more free society.

I subscribe to the philosophical belief that each and every human being is sole proprietor of themselves, and that there is no just usage of coercive violence against other individuals in order to achieve our desired ends (unless that coercive violence is used strictly in self-defense). All people should be accountable for their actions, and they should be free to put into their bodies whatever they should choose in regards to foods, drugs, sexual instruments, or anything else for that mater. True freedom is when one has complete control over their lives, and that includes the use of drugs, should one choose to engage in such behavior. Of course, though, drug abuse is a problem which creates a detrimental material dependency (to use an intentionally contradictory phrase, I would call drug abuse “voluntary coerciveness”, use having begun voluntarily, but having later turned into an uncontrollable habit).

My personal belief is not that all nonviolent action is necessarily good, and that many drugs are indeed bad and should not be used. The “should not be used” category, in my eyes, covers the recreational (not necessarily medical) uses of many hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which are certifiably quite unsafe to consume and easily produce abuse of said substances by the user. While this may be my own individual opinion on the matter, other people have the total and complete right to violate my own principles, provided that they do so peacefully and do not cause harm to anyone else in the process.  Hedonism was never meant to be the subject of regulation by any government, save for those which are authoritarian in nature. Under a system where no drugs were illegalized, people would buy these substances, dangerous as some might be, casually and without the need to retreat to slummy alleyways and other unfortunate settings, many places of which currently lead to the spreading of HIV through unsterilized needles. The drug industry, if drugs were to be made legal again, would be controlled by consumer-accountable businesses, as opposed to gangs and violent drug traffickers who cause great violence, especially in urban areas. That way, drug abuse could begin again to be dealt with as a medical issue, in a system that would no longer reward drug lords for their societally deleterious behavior.

As well as this, dangerous drugs, like many other things, have a natural punishment embodied within them. That is, the direct outcome of anything’s usage – good or bad – is the reward or punishment of its usage. For example, if using methamphetamines, in the end, provides a user with a quantity of less subjective happiness, that itself is the punishment. I would argue that jail time for drug users, having no basis in natural punishment or principled ethicism, is completely unnecessary and is effectively immoral. End of story, no ifs or buts.

Both the War on Drugs and the drug laws that were enacted prior to it have caused a great racial disparity, prisons being filled up with minorities from urban communities, both due to the issues in individual bills themselves and in the essence of such laws altogether. Much tax money extorted from its hard-working earners has been, over time, diverted to the purpose of trying to stop drug distribution, use, and abuse of drugs, but to no avail. Drug rates have continued to rise higher and higher, even when resources were expended upon stifling demand. So how do we deal with drugs? I certainly would agree that we mustn’t ignore them, for they plague the communities of America and the rest of the world. The best attempt a government-connected entity has had in solving the drug problem was conducted by the Just Say No campaign, though the movement was thoroughly flawed, despite delivering on its promises of reducing drug use exceedingly better than any legislative statute. Instead of money being diverted to the government’s failed methods of drug prohibition, the decisions of where that money is allocated should be left to the earners of it, to the consumers.  If consumers were to be in control of where drug funds are sent, instead of corporate lobbyists and hardly accountable legislators, money will be allocated towards only the most successful efforts against drug use (which would indeed be non-coercive, and thus exercising many principles of liberty in doing so). I don’t hold all of the solutions there (though I would have some suggestions) and surely neither does the government (as we have now well understood), but rather the open market does. Free competition (and I mean FREE competition, not the so-called competition of botched oligopolies) in drug policy would certainly provide the best solution to the drug problem that our communities have to offer.

That is my case, that to maximize freedom and our desired results, we must commence an immediate end to all federal, state, and municipal drug laws. For a return to people-oriented drug solutions, I implore you to consider the prospect that we must legalize everything, all drugs, medicines, and illicit substances.