"The War on Terror will be as successful as the War on Drugs."
December 1, 2007 4:26 PM   Subscribe

How America lost the War on Drugs. An article by Ben Wallace-Wells in Rolling Stone.
posted by lupus_yonderboy (40 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
America really needs to retrace its steps so it can find all the things it has lost.
posted by srboisvert at 4:45 PM on December 1, 2007


We're losing the war on drugs, You know what that implies? There's a war and the people on drugs are winning it. What does that tell you about drugs?
posted by empath at 5:17 PM on December 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


I agree that the drug war is a waste of time, but jeez — Rolling Stone runs this article, what, once a week now?
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:19 PM on December 1, 2007


Wait, was there ever like a possibility it could win the war on drugs? to say "How it lost" implies there was a particular action that would be pivotal if taken. I don't think that was ever the case.
posted by delmoi at 5:32 PM on December 1, 2007


I think the government did win the war on LSD, though. After they busted that huge factory making it in a missile silo in the midwest, it just disappeared. After years of being cheap and easily availabile.
posted by empath at 5:48 PM on December 1, 2007


I'm not sure people understand that the war on drugs was a battle to defend corporate productivity.

The United States doesn't actually manufacture much besides foodstuffs, IP, and companies. The first has competition, the second is unprotectable, so the third is the only real asset class that we generate. The ability to complete large scale organized projects requires significant numbers of people to work in concert towards a goal.

The war on drugs was an attempt to make sure that the corporate drones didn't go functionally insane. This, by the way, is why the whole family thing is really pushed in the corporate model -- gives people a deep desire for stability. Anyone can adapt their own income requirements for a time, but once you have a family, your risk tolerance collapses.

Drugs directly reduced long term viability of expensively trained resources, and put the stabilizing force of family at risk. Defending that is actually why $1B a week is being spent.

Now, we can argue all day about whether it's worth the money, or whether it's been a success. But it's worth pointing out why it's all really happening in the first place.

(Side note: Seriously, you have to look at economics to comprehend some of this stuff. Why is every industrialized nation slowly phasing out tobacco? Medical expenses.)
posted by effugas at 5:49 PM on December 1, 2007 [10 favorites]


Anyway, the war on terror is totally different than the war on drugs. Drug users exist in meaningful quantities, and legal or not most people wouldn't go blow up a building if they could.
posted by effugas at 5:51 PM on December 1, 2007


Let's look on the bright side here: If you think of the war on drugs as a strategy for imprisoning minorities, it's been a raging success.
posted by mullingitover at 6:06 PM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


effugas:Drugs directly reduced long term viability of expensively trained resources, and put the stabilizing force of family at risk. Defending that is actually why $1B a week is being spent.

If preserving the family or some other such nonsense was the driving force for the so-called war on drugs, then the prisons wouldn't be swollen with non-violent drug offenders. Surely that is taxing the stable family units more than the substance use itself.

Taking your idea a step further, if the corporate types really wanted to ensure the reliability of its worker bees, it would support the re-prohibition of alcohol. Think of how many people bang in sick on a monday from a run-in with Jack Daniels versus how many puff a joint while watching Scooby-Doo and show up for work on time the following day.
posted by dr_dank at 6:15 PM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


How the US government lost the war on drugs: declaring it.
posted by Malor at 6:48 PM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


effugas: Seriously, you have to look at economics to comprehend some of this stuff. Why is every industrialized nation slowly phasing out tobacco? Medical expenses.

On the other hand, lung cancer is a fairly quick death and most smokers only develop it once they are well into their 50s or 60s, i.e. past their productive prime. Dying shortly before or after retirement age, they can claim only a small amount of their pensions. Compared to the super-healthy grannies who live up to age 90 or 100 (and go to the doctor every other day for scores of smaller ailments), they might even be the smaller burden on society.
posted by sour cream at 7:00 PM on December 1, 2007


But dr_dank, think of all the drinkers who aren't alcoholics. They're spending their own money on booze instead of using vital insurance funds to seek therapy or expensive psychiatric medication or searching for a more challenging career. Corporate American needs liquor now more than ever.
posted by mikeh at 7:14 PM on December 1, 2007


ABC investigates '[US] soldiers [in Iraq] hooked on drugs'.
posted by telstar at 7:51 PM on December 1, 2007


dr_dank--

They're trying to prevent massive-scale drug use. They'll sacrifice a few percentage points of the workforce to scare the rest.

One important caveat to my argument, of course, is that inertia is at least as powerful a force as maintaining the workforce. In other words, that we've *had* a drug war is enough reason to *keep having* a drug war.

The work force is good enough for now. Arguably too small -- everyone I know, everywhere, can't staff positions.

sour cream--

The 90-100 year old issue is a big deal, but there are lots of diseases smokers get besides lung cancer. Emphysema is a big one, and there's lots of other things (like heart disease) whose rates increase dramatically with smoking.
posted by effugas at 8:35 PM on December 1, 2007


effugas: you have to look at economics to comprehend some of this stuff

The protoWoD had its genesis more than a century ago, before the era of corporations and efficient productivity. Inertia, genuine fear of social breakdown, an implicit notion of human teleology (incompatible with the caricature of hedonistic drug use) and genuine fears of health outcomes are enough to explain the persistence of prohibition. Put another way, even if the Fortune 500 CEO cabal decided to legalize drugs, there wouldn't be much change till a supermajority of the population were for it. This is one policy which is truly populist, thanks to the decades of propaganda.
posted by daksya at 9:02 PM on December 1, 2007


empath, umm, there was quite a bit of LSD around after the silo bust as well. The 2006 drug use survey estimates past-year use at 0.5% of (almost) the total population aged 12+ i.e. down but not out.

The major success story of the US WoD is qualudes.
posted by daksya at 9:13 PM on December 1, 2007


Seconding that. You gotta get em' from Mexico nowadays.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:00 PM on December 1, 2007


The war on drugs was an attempt to make sure that the corporate drones didn't go functionally insane.

How many crackheads and speedfreaks worked for corporations, prior to their unfortunate addictions? The WOD was/is a handy way to look tough on crime by politicians looking for knee jerk emotional responses from their constituents, aka political theater. Aside from military weapons manufacturers, I don't think corporations have a vested interest in the drug war. Generally, people who have decent jobs can afford the treatment they need to keep those jobs, even if they become addicted. Besides, we don't exactly have a shortage of workers, and when we do, we just increase the number of skilled workers imported from other countries.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:10 PM on December 1, 2007


"The lesson of U.S. drug policy is that this world runs on unintended consequences. No matter how noble your intentions, there's a good chance that in solving one problem, you'll screw something else up."
Forget it man. It's Chinatown.
posted by Ritchie at 12:18 AM on December 2, 2007


I'm not sure people understand that the war on drugs was a battle to defend corporate productivity.

I think you're giving them far too much credit. For one thing, some drugs can actually improve worker productivity. If all people had access to low doses of amphetamines or other ADHD drugs their productivity would go up. Other drugs, if taken responsibly could improve worker productivity as well. Also, many drugs could make tedious work more bearable for lower level employees. Not only that, but pharmaceutical companies would make fortunes creating new patented designer drugs. And the government could put a huge tax on addictive drugs, so that people would have to work extremely hard in order to earn enough money to get high.

In fact, legal drug use in a controlled way could yield extremely high levels of social productivity, by channeling the efforts of addicted people into productive work.

Think about it this way: A scientist needs to get a pedal pushed, so he sets it up so that whenever a rat pushes the pedal, he gets a breadcrumb or whatever. The rat figures this out, and pushes the pedal whenever they are hungry. Life is good.

That's like the current situation with the workforce. We work when we feel like we need something

Now compare that to the situation where the scientist plugs an electrode into the rat's pleasure center. Now, the rat presses the pedal all day, every day then sleeps, then pushes the pedal so more.

Now imagine how productive people would be if corporations controlled drugs and gave them out to people who were the most 'productive'.

I think for a lot of people, that's a disturbing vision. It's obviously not something I would advocate, but clearly the war on drugs is not being waged on behalf of corporations interested in increasing productivity at the expense of everything else.
posted by delmoi at 12:26 AM on December 2, 2007


Drugs can improve worker productivity in the short term, but the problem is that the impact of a mistake is much larger than the help from an incrementally better decision. Drug-induced irrationality with political inertia is a path to total collapse for a company.

If the drug war didn't have anything to do with corporations, why are there drug tests if you want to work at one?
posted by effugas at 12:43 AM on December 2, 2007


the drug war was a convenient excuse to jail huge numbers of minorities.
posted by empath at 1:34 AM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


effugas: Drugs can improve worker productivity in the short term, but the problem is that the impact of a mistake is much larger than the help from an incrementally better decision.

1)your statements refer to "drugs". Are you making the same claim for alcohol (legal now), pot (tolerated within the Dutch economy), cocaine, heroin (both tolerated for 30-40 years prior to prohibition)...etc?

2)Are you saying that the typical productivity benefits claimed of "drugs" are all short-term and only incrementally better whereas the mistakes are of "much larger impact"?

If the drug war didn't have anything to do with corporations, why are there drug tests if you want to work at one?

Because

1)drugs are illegal,
2)corporations with PR would like to be "socially responsible", although this depends on the culture. Only 18% of UK companies test, despite an alcohol binge culture as well as increasing use of cocaine. In the Netherlands, which tolerates pot and till recently, shrooms, only one lab does all the testing (20,000 tests annually for 30 companies).
3)many corporations give a test prior to job start but not regularly afterwards suggesting a lack of genuine concern, exceptions being those in occupations with the potential to have direct impact on matters of life & death such as pilots, surgeons...etc.
posted by daksya at 3:24 AM on December 2, 2007


Regardless of the roots of the War on Drugs, what it has turned into lately is a way to channel money to government, and especially to police forces. If my teenage son borrows my car and uses it to deliver some pot to his 'friend' the undercover cop, I'll probably lose my car. That's even if I had no knowledge of his activities. If my son was successful in his business, the cops will get to confiscate a lot of cash besides. They get to keep a lot of that. If my son parked a bunch of the weed in my house, or had people come there to get it, I could lose my home.

Police forces have a vested interest in continuing the WOD; it would cost them money if it ended.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:08 AM on December 2, 2007


Rolling Stone runs this article, what, once a week now?

Well, it keeps forgetting.
posted by Horken Bazooka at 7:37 AM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think the whole theory of corporations being behind the issue is a bunch of bologna. The reason why the war on drugs is such a popular meme in America is because it appeals to values voters, it shows a politican to be 'tough on crime', and because generally, the majority of the populace doesn't shoot heroine or meth, smoke crack or sniff coke. To *not* do drugs is as American as Apple Pie and GI Joe (I understand the caveats and hypocrisy - just roll with me on this one for a moment).

The article is salient because it points out one major theme that can be repeated throughout history: small, profit-driven operators are much more nimble and adaptive than are politically oriented bureaucracies. For that reason and that reason alone we will never be able to get our governmental head around the drug issue, so long as the Chris Dodds are trying to sell more helicopters to Columbia and the Bill Clintons are trying to redeem their 'tough on crime credentials'.

The drug trade is a highly profitable business and so long as it remains so, there will always be people who will take extreme risks for extreme profits. Cut the profit margin significantly and the rewards don't quite justify the extreme risk in the trade.
posted by tgrundke at 7:53 AM on December 2, 2007


The "War on Drugs" is (a) a simple expansion of government powers, enacted to further control the population for the advantage of those in power; (b) the natural self-perpetuation of an enterprise: the moment the problem is "solved," a half-million people are out of work. You can be damn sure they're gonna fight tooth and nail against that.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2007


actually, rolling stone *supported* the war on drugs and even began drug testing employees at some point during the height of the late 80's/early 90's drug war hysteria.

It was at that point that anyone who still believed it was a magazine of the hippies/60's gave up the ghost.

then, they reversed themselves at some point, but as far as I can tell, they did so without ever acknowledging their shameful period of being warriors themselves.

this article is actually filled with overgeneralizations and bizarre simplifications. Lee Brown was not regarded as highly as the author claims, for example-- from what I recall, he was generally seen as a hack. The Boston people got the credit for the "community policing" stuff-- Brown was seen as a failure in NY, anyway, where, "zero tolerance" was credited with the crime drop (although it did actually start under Brown).

Nonetheless, the drug policy budget that he proposed was never seen as a big deal or important by drug policy wonks (and I know from drug policy wonks). From what I recall, Brown was not especially knowledgeable or supportive of treatment, either-- I could be wrong, but he may have actually opposed methadone, which is the drug treatment most effective at crime reduction.

I don't recall anyone in the drug policy circles I knew seeing his tenure as a time of any promise-- no one actually believed that Clinton would shift the balance of funding away from enforcement, basically.

Further, the author seems to think that liberals have had their hearts in the right place on this issue--when in fact (as Rolling Stone's own drug war collusion shows), liberals have been at the forefront of the worst excesses of the drug war.
Clinton arrested more marijuana smokers than any prior president, for example.

And liberals didn't just try to outdo the Republicans in being tough on crime-- they enthusiastically endorsed things like mandatory minimums, even without Republican pressure. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is a great example-- an African American, he opposed methadone and needle exchange at the height of the AIDS epidemic, thus dooming efforts to decrease infections in the black community, which were and still are largely driven by drug use, not the "down low." He was a gleeful supporter (perhaps the main author, I can't recall) of the harsh crack laws that ended up locking up so many black people.

That the DEA actually thought that getting Escobar would make a difference is a sad commentary on the profound stupidity of the entire enterprise-- and this piece still misses the point.

It is not winning a victory in the drug war when you let dealers deal and focus on reducing drug-related violence. You are winning a victory against violent crime-- a far more admirable and productive goal, in my view-- but not one that can in any way been seen as a success in fighting drugs.

Focusing on reducing drug related harm like this is what *real* drug policy reformers support-- but it cannot in anyway be said to be a win in the drug war without distorting that term beyond all recognition. However, if the warriors want to become harm reductionists and call themselves warriors, I suppose that's acceptable too!
posted by Maias at 11:03 AM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Clinton arrested more marijuana smokers than any prior president, for example.

No, he arrested exactly the same number as all prior Presidents. The number is zero.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2007


Maias writes "ep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is a great example-- an African American, he opposed methadone and needle exchange at the height of the AIDS epidemic, thus dooming efforts to decrease infections in the black community, which were and still are largely driven by drug use, not the 'down low.' He was a gleeful supporter (perhaps the main author, I can't recall) of the harsh crack laws that ended up locking up so many black people. "

Yes, but he has recently changed his tune. While not exactly apologetic - he doesn't acknowledge his part in creating this situation at all - at least he addresses the injustice of the current situation.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:17 PM on December 2, 2007


If the drug war didn't have anything to do with corporations, why are there drug tests if you want to work at one?

Contractors or service providers to the Federal Government have mandatory testing thanks to Congress passing the Drug Free Workplace Act in 1988. This was not something corporations were clamoring for; it was a political maneuver designed to appeal to conservative voters (1988 was the same year President Reagan signed a bil allowing the death penalty for drug traffickers that commit murder). At this point in time, corporations are probably testing just to cover their own asses in case of any legal issues- some worker compensation insurance companies give discounts to companies that drug test.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:10 PM on December 2, 2007


very big second to Maias. Rolling Stone is every bit as responsible for the drug hysteria of the late 80's as any publication. After one particularly virulent, racist article on cocaine in that rag, I was one of those who said goodbye forever to my RS subscription.
posted by telstar at 5:11 PM on December 2, 2007


As usual, the author of this Rolling Stone piece has no knowledge of chemistry. He buys wholesale Haislip's story that if only we'd cut off the supply of precursors early, that methamphetamine would've been stopped like methaqualone. But there are many more synthetic routes to methamphetamine than to qualuudes (meaning it's much harder to stop precursors). The comparison is shallow, like much more in the article.

And I can never pass up a discussion associated with scare stories concerning methamphetamine without providing this:


Methamphetamine ( Desoxyn ) an amphetamine used to treat narcolepsy and attention-deficit-disorder in children.


posted by telstar at 5:26 PM on December 2, 2007


The Mafia is behind the war on drugs.
posted by notreally at 8:57 PM on December 2, 2007


telstar--

In his defense, knowledge of chemistry is being phased out.
posted by effugas at 11:57 PM on December 2, 2007


The Mafia is behind the war on drugs.

Not really, notreally.

I think the best account of this subject (the birth of the War on Drugs as a political concept) I've read is Edward Jay Epstein's Agency of Fear: Opiates and Political Power in America. Unfortunately, you have to ignore the nonsense that Epstein talks in that book about methadone maintenance and it's value as a treatment -- which takes up a large slice of the book -- but his coverage of the politics/policy aspects are very, very good.

While prohibition has been around for a very long time, the War on Drugs as a political meme comes about with Richard Nixon. Towards the end of the sixties, beginning of the seventies, the Nixon government was hugely unpopular for a range of reasons. It wasn't just the war though. The other big concern -- omnipresent in US politics -- was race. You had the end of the civil rights movement and growing amounts of racial unrest. These were the Days of Rage, when major American cities were burning on a regular basis. White flight was starting to happen in a big way, and this was having a negative impact on some of the republican power bases.

Rather than couch this stuff as fear of a black planet, Nixon and large sections of the media were happy to frame this issue as a concern about law and order. About crime being out of control. Unfortunately, crime levels have always been remarkably resistant to impact by policy initiatives. Spend as much money on policing as you like, the problem is that the vast majority of criminals who get caught, do so because they get caught in the act. Those people who manage to get away with the mugging, the burglary, the assault. the theft from cars. etc. will tend to get away scot free.

So Nixon's plan was to appear to be tough on crime, but because catching criminals is so hard, he needed a proxy measure. Consequently, he looked at the crafty moves that Nelson Rockefeller had implemented in New York, and saw that they'd work perfectly on a national stage.

Step One: Link drugs and crime in the popular imagination. Have people believe that the vast majority of crime committed is drug crime.
Step Two: If you can't catch 'real' criminals, then catch dope fiends. They're easy to catch. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. You just hang out at the copping spot and scoop them up when they come to score.
Step Three: Announce to the public that you're winning the war against crime by pointing to the number of dope fiends that you've locked up.
Step Four: Re-election

To Nixon's credit, he did recognize that people with a drug habit had their choices somewhat circumscribed by their condition, so he ploughed large sums of money into federally funded methadone treatment programmes. Epstein's book is a bit nutty on this subject, and he makes the traditional 'orange handcuffs' argument about the state 'enslaving' people against their will, but the rest of his thesis seems fairly robust and grounded in the data.

Some forty years later, the drugs/crime nexus still drives drug policy on a global stage. Our understanding of the problem has become more sophisticated in some ways, less so in others. In the UK, for example, the government and its civil servants understand that its really just heroin and crack cocaine that drive crime, and so those drugs are prioritized, and there isn't a great deal of energy put into enforcement or providing treatment options for people who smoke pot, drop acid or sniff a couple of lines at the weekend.

Unfortunately, both the police and the drug treatment industry have been somewhat dishonest in their portrayal of the relationship between drugs, drug treatment and crime. Up until now, these three variables have been presented as having a causal, linear relationship. Crime is caused by opiate/crack dependence. As use increases, crime goes up. Every dollar spent on treatment saves three dollars on crime/law enforcement/etc. It's now becoming pretty clear that this relationship isn't straightforward. Lots of heavy drug users were offending before their use began. Some prolific offenders aren't dependent. Some addicts become abstinent yet continue offending, etc. etc.

When these facts sink through to our political masters. it;s going to be interesting to see what sort of contortions the'll go through to justify policy.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:42 AM on December 3, 2007


Cops Become Drugstore Cowboys in Vermont; 4th Amendment Officially Dead
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on December 4, 2007


Mind Control Drugs, Addiction and LSD
posted by homunculus at 10:15 AM on December 5, 2007


Here's a ridiculously over-the-top article on methamphetamine in a 2003 issue of Rolling Stone. This kind of crap is why I let my subscription lapse in the late 80's when the crypto-lunkheads at RS were in full hue and cry over crack.
posted by telstar at 10:50 PM on December 5, 2007


Minimums are no longer mandatory.
posted by oaf at 10:57 AM on December 10, 2007


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