Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sketches Of The Drug Czars

Vanity Fair has put together an illustrated history of the United States' failed War on Drugs that "shows how science, politics, ego, and scandal transformed a public-health initiative into a century-long military campaign." This is one portrait from a slideshow of nine:

President Richard Nixon took on drugs as part of his anti-crime platform. But even as he pushed through such tough measures as mandatory sentencing and “no-knock warrants,” he also poured resources into drug-abuse prevention and treatment, which were funded at twice the level of law-enforcement efforts. In 1970, Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act, creating the U.S. drug-scheduling system. Marijuana was temporarily placed in Schedule I, the most restrictive, pending review by a commission to study its effects. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse consisted of 13 men—9 appointed by the president and 4 by Congress. In 1972, they offered their unanimous conclusion: “We believe that experimental or intermittent use of this drug carries minimal risk to the public health, and should not be given overzealous attention in terms of a public health response.” The panel, along with the American Medical Association and the National Institute of Mental Health, recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use, and the American Bar Association called for reduced penalties. Nixon responded by rejecting the report, declaring “an all-out global war on the drug menace,” and creating the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) by executive order in 1973.
In other words, Nixon ignored the opinions of doctors, lawyers and scientists because they did not agree with his policy ambitions and instead launched the country on a forty-plus year long propaganda battle of demonization and misinformation against cannabis. And it's just gotten worse in the years hence because practically every politician in this country has been too frightened of losing their job to speak truthfully to their constituents about this problem and that definitely includes President Obama. Yes, it was refreshing during the campaign when he candidly admitted his past drug use by stating that he had indeed inhaled frequently ("That was the point!") but he was always also quick to cover his ass by adding that it was a mistake and definitely not something that he's proud of (not that much better than "I didn't inhale" in my opinion). You see, we can't have kids finding out that one can recreationally smoke cannabis and still eventually become the president of the United States because that does not fit the ONDCP's official narrative about it tragically destroying lives, plus there are uptight campaign donors to consider as well.

Obama has also stated categorically since then that he has no plans to decriminalize cannabis nationally and has even allowed his Justice Department to drag its heels as far as fulfilling his campaign promise to discontinue the raids on California's medicinal cannabis dispensaries that were previously authorized under the Bush administration. In time he may well still pass legislation protecting the states rights to decide these policies for themselves (he obviously has bigger fish to fry at this point) but it's still sad to see how the current political atmosphere in this country (fueled by the powerful pharmaceutical, alcohol and tobacco lobbies) has so cowed our politicians into being such dishonest cowards when it comes to this issue. The War on Drugs has been one of the U.S. government's worst policy failures of the last half century and there's little reason to suggest that this will change anytime soon but if we're ever going to intelligently evolve and advance ourselves as a society it will have to change someday. Eventually, for the good of the country, this madness will have to stop.

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