The Insanity of the War on Drugs: Part I

“To lie, of course, is to engender insanity.”

Anais Nin, Henry and June

And that it has.

During author and journalist Dan Baum’s 1994 interview with John Ehrlichman, domestic policy chief under past US president Nixon, a mind blowing quote came up. This is the lie that started the current insanity we call the war on drugs:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or 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.

Wow! What? The impact of that whopper is staggering, beyond belief …and so very sad. It is truly amazing the havoc that the war on drugs has wreaked. We have lost so much and so many.

Facts vs. fantasy

Most North Americans in the late 1960’s knew very little about addiction and believed the hype that the politicians and media were feeding them. People who became addicted to the newly illegal drugs were supposed to be dangerous, morally corrupt thugs that choose to commit crime in order to satisfy their selfish needs.

It wasn’t understood then that living “happily every after” was just a fairy tale; that the “Leave it to Beaver” type of family rarely, if ever, existed. It was normal for most everyone to lie about how they felt; they just didn’t know any better.

At the same time, most everyone numbed out the gnawing feeling of imperfection with workaholism, alcohol, prescription drugs, gambling, shopping, TV and any other means of legally acceptable desensitizing.

It wasn’t common knowledge that those who were addicted to drugs were like everyone else, just trying to numb their pain. The truth of emotional suffering and trauma as a basis for addiction, wasn’t understood then. It’s barely acknowledged now. Medical research was cut off and everyone was too busy anyway – they had a war to fight!

The lie picks up the pace

In late sixties, the US saw certain drugs became illegal, drug addiction to those drugs became criminalized, and illegal drug users – addicted, casual users and those in between – labeled a public menace to be eradicated.

While the 70’s was a fairly mellow time in the drug war in the US (eleven states decriminalized cannabis possession), 1980 marked the start of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign that set the war on drugs back 30 years. (All the while being a habitual user herself of prescription tranquilizers, sleeping pills and diuretics.)

In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which set mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain drug offenses and being caught with certain drugs resulting in harsher penalties, especially depending on race. Judges were forced to hand out mandatory life sentences for simple possession and low-level illegal drug sales.

How much worse could it get?

Money, money, money!

With the start of the war on drugs came the race to build prisons. So much so that the US is described as having a prison-industrial complex, meaning prisons becoming a private industry set up to make a profit regardless of the actual need.

The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997 to over 2 million today in the US. Statistics show 1 in 5 incarcerated people is locked up for a non-violent drug offence.

At the same time, another money-making machine, the pharmaceutical companies, were slowly creating a new generation of people with addictions, causing the epidemic of opiate addiction in North America today.

war on drugs prescription pill addictionMillions of people were becoming addicted to Oxycontin and other synthetic opioids at an alarming rate and true to form, the government took the easy way out and responded by making it more difficult to get these legal narcotics, which in turn caused many of those in withdrawal to have no choice but to seek out illegal drugs.

But this was all ok because the highly venerated medical community prescribed these opioids. Yes, the same community who are educated by and getting kickbacks from, you guessed it, the pharmaceutical companies. Hmmm…

And then there’s those money-makers called “treatment” centers that came to the rescue, using the 12-step-screen for religion, to unsuccessfully cure their clients, totally missing the mark about the root of addiction.

Almost seems like there was a plan there, no?

War on Drugs in Canada

While we’ve been our traditionally laid back selves concerning the war on drugs, Canada has certainly been keeping up with the Joneses.

In 2016, Canadian Lawyer said, “over the past 10 years, arrests for possession of marijuana have increased by 28 per cent. In 2014, approximately 50,000 people were arrested for simply possessing marijuana. Ultimately, about 24,500 of those people ended up in court. Minorities and aboriginal communities are disproportionately charged, prosecuted, and incarcerated.”

According to Health Canada, “There were 2,946 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2016 and at least 2,923 from January to September 2017 of which 92% were accidental (unintentional).”

Colossal waste of cash

In 2014, The Globe and Mail stated, “Illicit drug sales are still somewhere between $7-billion and $10-billion a year while law enforcement costs are over $2-billion annually. The combined value of these expenditures is greater than Canada spends on First Nation health services, veterans’ health care, health research, and public health programs, combined.”

Aside from money that could better be used elsewhere, the ongoing practice of arresting people for drug possession has it’s costs too. It disrupts individual lives, families and communities. Criminal records reduce employability, encourage further drug use/sales and increase the likelihood of longer sentences for future offenses.

war on drugs, drug bust, cannabis, prescription pillsFrom what amounts to extreme racial profiling to biased law enforcement that still prevails today, to the large group of innocent people who have come out of our penal systems not at all rehabilitated but, at the very least, more criminally wily and at the most, very damaged or dead

And still it goes on. In 2014 the US saw more than 1.5 million drug arrests, more than 80% for possession only and almost half was for cannabis. That same year, Canada saw 100,000 drug offenses with over half being for possession of cannabis. Just less than 50% of those arrests resulted in conviction.

Rates of drug use now are still the same as when the war on drugs first started in 1971. And during this stretch so many have suffered and/or died.

And we’re not even talking about the impact of the North American drug war has on the rest of the world.

Scientific studies to evaluate different drugs’ medical safety and efficacy were cancelled with the start of the war on drugs. Meanwhile, veterans with PTSD committed suicide, many others lived half-lives suffering with anxiety and depression, addiction rates and overdoses skyrocketed out of control… Canadians are burying a loved one every 2 hours.

And this all started because Nixon wanted to keep his job – which he managed to lose anyway. But we as a collective have lost much, much more.

Stay tuned for Part II