L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 122, May 21, 2001
Happy NC Secession Day!
Overview & Review: Drug Crazy
by James J Odle
Special to TLE
A commercial that I would like to see
The scene: a typical middle-class living room. We see an armchair and a fire burning quietly in the fireplace. In walks an elderly man with the carriage of a lifetime of experience and a kindly aura of authority, honesty and a no-nonsense attitude about him. Someone like Raymond Burr. He is carrying a see-through zip-lock bag in one hand and in the other, a rolled up piece of sheepskin. He settles into the armchair and begins to talk.
"Ladies and Gentlemen—my fellow Americans—we need to have a chat. A serious chat about drugs and the Constitution. In this hand, I hold a bag of illegal narcotics. The specific nature of these drugs is unimportant. For our purposes here, tonight, you need only know that they're illegal. In my other hand I hold a copy of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The speaker stands up and walks over to the fireplace. He then unscrolls the parchment revealing a copy of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"Let us decide, Ladies and Gentlemen. Freedom with all its inherent risks. Or the War on Drugs with its inner city violence, government corruption, assaults on our Constitutional Rights and an even greater occurrence of drug use among our fellow Americans.
He then tosses the Constitution and the Bill of Rights on the fire.
"Personally, I prefer freedom.
A poetic observation
Prohibition is an awful flop,
It's so maddening that no one in government—in either party—has learned a damn thing since prohibition.
A swell bunch of guys
Wait a minute now. This is supposed to be a book review. And the book in question is Drug Crazy by Mike Gray. For in Mr. Gray's tome we have a study of a few of the governmental crazies such as drug warrior and physician Hamilton Wright. In 1908 Dr. Wright started his moral crusade as a delegate to the International Opium Commission at Shanghai. A commission in which the U.S. sought to use the opium issue as a wedge between the Chinese and the British so as to open-up Chinese markets to American goods. [Isn't it interesting that the U.S. has been attempting this since 1908?]. This moral crusader would invoke the image of Drug-Crazed Niggers raping women before Congress.5 Dr. Wright is almost single-handedly "responsible for shaping the international narcotics laws as we know them today."6 Mr. Gray further confounds us with the story of Harry Anslinger, first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics—a man who would never let any facts get in the way of his holy crusade. A trait quite common among drug warriors. Anslinger was also known to make-up his own facts and then cite himself as an authoritative source.
The impact of this appointment would ripple through history for half a century and more because Harry Anslinger was no ordinary bureaucrat. He was a law and order evangelist—"a cross between William Jennings Bryan and Reverend Jerry Falwell,"....and he brought to the job a puritanical conviction that alcohol prohibition could have succeeded. It failed....not because it was a bad idea, but because law enforcement wasn't tough enough.7
The latter half of the last century was characterized by Republican and Democrat politicians engaging in a childish game of one-upmanship in a fruitless contest to determine who could be the 'toughest' on crime. I'm not impressed. Are you? And we can only marvel that the likes of Congressman and Spanish-American War hero Captain Richard Pearson Hobson8 wasn't hooted out-of-town when he suggested that "the brain...is divided into various layers like a building, with the baser instincts in the basement. Alcohol attacks "the top of the brain...organ of the will, of the consciousness of God, of the sense of right and wrong, of ideas of justice, duty, love, mercy, self-sacrifice, and all that makes character." Unfortunately, he said, Negroes and Indians were particularly susceptible...they degenerate to the level of the cannibal.""9 Much of the fear mongering propounded by these drug warriors carried with it racial overtones. But, hey, these guys lived 50-70-90 years ago and people were much more naive then. Surely, these days in the glaring spotlight of 24/7 news cycles—and a television in almost every house—our modern day drug warriors can be relied upon to, at least, make sensible public policy using the very latest and soundest scientific information. Well, what about our first Drug Czar10 William Bennett? In Bennett, we have a man who—as a former Professor of Philosophy—has such a grip on morality that he has authored two books on the subject.11 Surely Rush Limbaugh's hero could be relied upon to deal honestly with the facts. So what happened when the issue of medical marijuana came to the forefront of the nation's agenda?
"...the Woodstock generation...came to know first-hand that the noble crusades of government can be grounded in illusion. To bring them on-board the War on Drugs it was necessary to convince them that the basic facts about marijuana had changed dramatically...Bennett...(broke) the bad news. The children of the boomers were facing a far more powerful form of cannabis than the stuff their parents experimented with in the sixties. The amount of psychoactive THC in the new plants was said to be forty times greater.
A slice of life
Mr. Gray doesn't limit his focus to the mental midgets who have led our nation's Drug Wars. He also takes us into an inner city Chicago ghetto where we can ride along with drug warrior Detective Frank Goff as we witness children dealing drugs. The drug dealers use children because with the Illinois mandatory sentencing rules an adult would get a six to sixty year sentence whereas a juvenile would only get thirty days. Has Detective Goff's multi-year efforts to curb the presence of drugs been successful?' He had this to say:
"Ten years ago, if you stopped a dope dealer and he had a thousand bucks on him, that was a big deal. Today you can find that much in some kid's lunch bucket...There's a big upsurge in heroin. Acid is back. Crack is all over the place. I absolutely guarantee that I could go anywhere in the city and buy dope within three or four blocks. Very easily done. For instance, there's a place a block from the station house. This one operation maybe does fifteen or twenty thousand dollars a week."14
It is absolutely immoral to ask a man to risk his life for an unachievable goal. Which is what this nation asks of its drug warriors. Mike Gray also takes us into a Chicago courtroom where proceedings are conducted behind bulletproof lexan and judges rush defendants through like a bullet train. A single court case being conducted within a time span of 15 minutes or less. ""Night court is a production line...a cattle call...a mill, not a court of law." But these reservations were far outweighed by the practical advantages of cranking out fourteen thousand verdicts a year without any new real estate."[I.e. prisons]15 And there are the racial overtones associated with the Drug War. No, I am not saying that the War on Drugs is intentionally racist. It can't be when many of the drug warriors themselves are members of racial minorities. Nevertheless, when the majority of defendants are plucked from inner city neighborhoods and they are of darkened complexion, then one might see how the Drug War could be so perceived. How does it happen that with the majority of crack users being white, why are 96% of the defendants black or Hispanic? Explains Commander Mike Hoke of the Chicago police department:
"Most of our complaints come from the black community—somebody who can't wash his car or let his kids go outside because of the gunfire. We have no open-air drug markets that are manned by white people and we have probably a hundred of them manned by blacks."
Does this explanation sound plausible? I'm sure, there is a great deal of truth to it. Then, why don't inner city drug dealers do their drug dealing in-doors where they can't be seen? Or is it only the lowest ranks of the drug dealing corps who ply their trade on sidewalks because that's where their customers can be found? In any case, nine times out of ten, it wont be the drug-dealing kingpins who will face the bar of justice. It will be the foot soldiers who - because of poverty—will put up with vastly overworked public defenders and an in-justice system that works at warp speed. Also, Mr. Gray doesn't explain why minority communities continue to put up with the War on Drugs. Isn't obvious to them that the Drug War results in inner city violence and many of their friends and family members either dead or behind bars? Do they support the Drug War because if they were successful in ridding their neighborhoods of the drug purveyors they would be left without an income?
Violence, public fear and corruption
When drugs are illegal. Disputes cannot be brought to a court of law for a peaceful resolution. The only out, is therefore, violence. During prohibition Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit and other major cities were awash in a sea of blood. The drug warriors responded with more law enforcement, more prosecutors, and increased sentencing to no avail. For example, the Cook County state's attorney..."added a thousand men to the police force, got the county to triple the number of judges, and had absolutely no impact whatsoever. Over two hundred gangsters were gunned down, blown up, or knifed to death...but not a single gangster was sent up for murder."17
Despite the state attorney's efforts, twenty-six year old Al Capone was able to rule Chicago with an iron fist. He routinely gave orders to aldermen, senators and judges and traveled the streets with his submachine gun toting pals in a seven-ton armored Cadillac. His tax-free income made him one of the richest men in America.18
We mustn't overlook the fact that drug-related violence isn't limited to the inner cities but is rather international in scope. This is still one of the many unintended consequences of the International War on Drugs. Yes, I said international. You didn't think we were the only country pursuing this foolishness, did you?
And nowhere were the stark realities of these unintended consequences on better display than in Columbia during the rein of terror perpetuated by Pablo Escobar Gaviria. Compared to Escobar, Al Capone was a saint.
At his height, Escobar, who was known affectionately as 'the Godfather' made Forbes magazine's top 125 non-U.S. billionaires, placing number 69. "He had sixteen houses in Medellín alone, with heliports, and his country get-away was big enough to sleep a hundred. The swimming pool was flanked by a marble statute of Venus and a mortar emplacement. The surrounding seven thousand acres contained the finest zoo in all Columbia, with camels, lions, giraffes, bison, llamas, and a kangaroo that played soccer."
Escobar was no shrinking violet when it came violence. He amply demonstrated his willingness to inflict death on his fellow man when he blew up an Avianca 727, killing over a hundred passengers and crew simply to kill a couple of suspected informers. Also
"...His rap sheet included the assassination of the Columbia Minister of Justice, the attorney general, dozens of judges and journalists, scores of innocent civilians, and the machine-gun massacre of thirty peasants....At 7:30 on the morning of December 6, with the streets in downtown Bogotá full of people headed for work, a truck loaded with half a ton of dynamite blew the front off the secret police headquarters and heavily damaged two square miles of the city. The concussion shattered windows across from the U.S. embassy, seven miles away. Sixty people were killed outright and nearly a thousand wounded...By now Escobar had made it plain that there were no boundaries. Bombs were going off in supermarkets, hotels, movie theatres—even schools...So the Godfather set out to terrorize the one institution that had authority over extradition...In the vicious shoot-out that followed, half the Columbian supreme court was slaughtered. By curious coincidence, the eleven judges who died had all voted for extradition."
After the Bush administration's invasion of Panama and the kidnapping of General Manuel Noriega, Escobar realized that if the U.S. was willing to kidnap a head-of-state, that his own days were probably numbered. So he arranged a peaceful surrender with then President Cesar Gaviria on the condition that he would not be extradited to the U.S. As part of the terms of his surrender, Escobar had his prison designed and built to his own specifications. It soon became clear that it was the Columbian Government that did the actual surrendering.
"Surrounded by barbed wire, high voltage, and military patrols at the end of a winding mountain road, the comfortable ranchita above the Río Cauca was clearly designed not to keep Escobar in but keep his enemies out. Don Pablo [Ochoa i.e.] had been allowed to surrender with entourage intact, and proceeded to set up shop here with the full protection of the Columbian government, His cell was a three-room suite with an office larger than the warden's. There was a soccer field, a disco, and a bar where the guards served drinks to the hit men and their prostitutes at weekly parties. The media dubbed it 'Club Medellín.'...The government's creeping embarrassment was amplified by Escobar's outrageous behaviour in prison. He and his pals, had not abandoned the drug trade. They had simply relocated their operations to this mountain redoubt."19
Of course, it is the illegal nature of narcotics and the resulting astronomically high profit margins that make the Escobars of this world possible.
The U.S. has not stood idly by while South American drug kingpins were busy terrorizing their fellow citizens and corrupting their governments. We have lent a helping hand in the form of financial assistance, military advisors, crop eradication and substitution. What have we gained for all this international meddling?
Let's first understand the scale of the problem. The cocaine-producing region of the South America covers an area nearly as large as the continental United States.20 Much of this in the form of tropical rain forest.
"In the spring of 1988 Ed Meese had taken a helicopter tour of the Huallaga Valley and found it to be a sobering experience. Cresting the Andes at Cerro de Pasco... the attorney general's aircraft descended into an emerald ocean between two monumental ranges of the Andean cordillera and came upon a living carpet undulating to the horizon in all directions. He found it 'overpowering.'...The Huallaga Valley alone covered three times the area of Massachusetts."21
Next, there is the hardiness of the coca plant.
"The coca plant...is almost indestructible. It will grow anywhere, including the sheer face of a cliff, and it will flourish in soil too poor to support anything else. It has built-in resistance to the local bugs, and unlike tomatoes, rice or beans—which have to be reseeded each season—a single plant can last forty years...As a farmer friendly shrub, about the only thing that could beat Erythroxylon coca would be a money tree."22
Ah, but we have crop eradication and substitution programs. All we have to do is get those South Americans to switch to another crop, right? Guess again.
"Offering farmers one-time cash payments of eight hundred dollars an acre...Bolivian and U.S. experts arrived in the Chaparé Valley to provide seed, plants, and advice for growing everything from macadamia nuts to passion fruit. Thousands of acres of coca plants were wiped out, and there was a significant and immediate drop in coca production...No one thought beyond the planting season. One typical group of farmers had been talked into planting ginger. After accumulating forty tons of the stuff, the Bolivian official in charge said, "Now I am trying to stop ginger production because I don't know where I will sell it." The farmers who switched to bananas, grapefruit, and pineapples fared no better. Some of them managed to get crops to market but at a price too low to make a living. Soon, there was smoke rising from the jungle again. "I think coca is here for good...It's the only product you can grow you can sell the same day and earn enough to stay alive...By the end of the Bush administration total cocaine output in the Andes had increased 15 percent. Some estimates placed in excess of thousands of tons per year."23
Two presidential-administrations later, we are still pursuing crop eradication and substitution, aerial spraying and various military solutions including the provision of some forty Blackhawk helicopters and military advisors to Columbia. And the result, the machine-gunning of peasants and civilian aircraft and the movement of the drug cartels to points south. This is pre-Viet Nam war conditions, folks24.
'Humanitarian' law enforcement and maintenance doses
The stark realities of the Drug War get up close and personal when it comes to treating addicts and medical care for the critically injured and terminally ill. This is also where governmental behavior is at its most barbaric and contemptible. In what other arena of life are law enforcement officers permitted to substitute their judgment for highly trained—better-educated—licensed professionals?
"Since the early 1920s the medical profession...has been so terrorized by federal drug agents that it has virtually abandoned patients with chronic pain. These people—victims of accidents, botched surgery, degenerative disease—sometimes require massive doses of drugs like morphine just to get out of bed...But chronic-pain patients, by definition, don't get better and they sometimes get worse. The drug enforcers may be willing to let a doctor prescribe a reasonable amount of pain medication for, say, a lung removal but they expect those prescriptions to taper off quickly. Anyone who gets an on-going dose of drugs—let alone an increase—gets the attention of state and federal officials, and hardly a day goes by that they don't lift some doctor's license. So the medical profession...has largely abandoned the field and most doctors actively avoid treating any of these tortured souls. For the past half-century they have been left to their own devices, screaming in a vacuum..."Jim Klimek...[ran] his car off the road...and when discovered the next night his legs were frozen. Gangrene set in and a series of amputations followed...Only his torso, head and arms remain. But the nerve endings they sliced through are still active, and he claims that he needs morphine to deal with the sensation that his lower half is still in the process of being sawed off. In Virginia, however, narcotics agents are trained to see through this kind of ruse. They know that many times people like Klimek are simply faking their symptoms to feed a drug habit. As the Virginia state police manual warns, "Physicians should be alert for 'Professional Patients' showing up in wheelchairs missing various limbs."25
Really makes you proud to be an American, don't it?
England is one country where the rule of the medical authorities is supreme over the drug warriors. As a result, far more sensible drug policies. Policies such as maintenance doses have been experimented with and the results are vastly superior to the slash and burn policies of the U.S.
By permitting physicians to issue maintenance doses to addicts the English have experienced a corresponding drop in crime rates and an aging addict population. Maintenance doses remove the illegal and thus attractive lure of drug use and this results in fewer people becoming addicts. Further, maintenance doses allow addicts to pursue otherwise normal lives as parents as well as occupations of various kinds and to make positive contributions to society.
This has been the experience of the Dutch, the Swiss and the English. So, why aren't we pursuing similar policies here? Who knows? Maybe it has something to do with our religious heritage. After all, the War on Drugs is a holy crusade from which the righteous must not shrink!!! It certainly isn't effective or sane.
So, does Mr. Gray believe that drugs should be legalized? No. He favors permitting physicians to issue maintenance doses to addicts and permitting individuals to carry any drugs that they might personally use and going after the traffickers. He approves of milder drugs being openly sold in modern day speakeasies with tight government controls and minimum ages for drug users. He believes that if drugs were completely legalized that drug use would increase. The Dutch experience resulted in increased use of marijuana and other relatively harmless drugs but a decrease in the use of harder drugs. Crime rates also dropped substantially. Referring to Dr. John Marks success with issuing maintenance doses...
"What Marks realized was that the demand curve for forbidden fruit is not linear—it's U shaped. If drugs and alcohol are too freely available—or if they're prohibited—you increase consumption. "Free markets promote use; prohibitions pedal use. And I discovered quite by accident the validity of this at the Widnes clinic.""26
I have to say it. I like this book. It does a marvelous job of achieving its objective. That is, conveying the idea that the War on Drugs is sheer insanity. It is a smooth blend of story telling and facts. No academic prose here! The result is quite a page-turner.
Nevertheless, the book is not perfect. You wont read any libertarian arguments about the individual right to fry his brains with whatever drugs he chooses. Nor will you read anything about the individual's responsibility to shoulder his own burdens and not inflict the unintended consequences of his drug use on the rest of society. But then, Mr. Gray is not a libertarian. On the drug issue he is a pragmatist. Since he is the author of The China Syndrome, I have to assume that he is a liberal democrat.
Also, while Mr. Gray mentions law enforcement's use of asset forfeiture laws and RICCO statutes to abuse the liberty of the American people, I would have thought that these topics deserved an entire chapter of their own. They aren't explored enough here.
So, we have now sampled the book and it time to make a recommendation. Is this a book for which one should plunk down his hard-earned, post-taxation, venture capital?
Well, sort of depends.
For anyone who is well versed in all the unintended consequences related to the Drug War, this book is probably a waste of time— unless they just love to wallow in the details of governmental intrigue and insanity. On the other hand, it is a great book for the libertarian activist who needs an introduction to the history of the War on Drugs and all its ramifications in society. It is also a terrific book to use to explain to people the insanity of the War on Drugs.
I originally purchased the paper back edition of this book. It contained missing chapters and duplicate pages. But I found it sufficiently interesting that I bought the hardbound edition. Nothing wrong with it.