Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Challenging the “War on Drugs”

Originally posted on March 17, 2011

Building on a Lecture by Adam Blatner, Senior University Georgetown‘s Summer Program, June 9, 2004, posted on website November 18, 2004)

For over sixty years, and with some significant escalation beginning in the late 1960s, local, state, and federal efforts to arrest and imprison those found to possess even small amounts of illicit drugs has come to create more problems than these efforts purports to remedy. The cost not only in terms of dollars, but in terms of the social impact of these policies has now passed the tipping point, the disadvantages of the “war against drugs” vastly outweighing the advantages.

My hope is that you, as elders in our culture, will bring up this sensitive political topic in conversations, and speak up to your family and friends. Ideally, you’ll bring this issue up at local political meetings and lobby your state and national legislators. Own your power as elders, and people will respect you and listen. Whether or not you agree with me, you may be willing to reconsider some of the trends that have become established and question whether things need to be this extreme. So I’ll be satisfied if you are motivated to talk about these issues.

My background as a psychiatrist–and I’m one of those folks who got in before the field drifted too far into a romance with medicines, when we still talked and listened to patients–has been to explore that which becomes unconscious, unquestioned, taboo, avoided. In my lecture series on the psychology of foolishness a year and a half ago, I noted that we avoid thinking, not just about sex or other touchy subjects, but even about things that seem too difficult to think about. In this case, it’s the complexities of politics.

Let’s get real about politics! Mature people know that in life, the choices aren’t always simple, between good and evil. Often, real choices are compromises, choices between bad and dreadful. The argument sometimes boils down to which is worse.  In this case, I’m certainly not blind to the perils of drug abuse. It’s just that sometimes the solutions to problems may end up being considerably worse overall than the problems themselves.

A triggering factor in my giving this talk has been the recent political events that have turned a surplus into a staggering national debt. It has raised in my consciousness a sense of thrift, a sense of “we can’t afford it,” a questioning of priorities. Surprisingly, some of those who identify themselves as conservative seem overly willing to spend extravagantly in the service of a simplistic ideology–in this case, the war against drugs–although they rail against extravagant spending in other areas. I have come to look at the rapidly escalating costs and comparing them to non-results!  For example, in early 2004, Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger asked for suggestions as to ways he could cut the staggering California state budget. Around that time I heard another statistic that noted that more money was being spent in that state on prisons and criminal justice than on schools.

Another impetus to my preparing this talk was my having taken Ron Stimson’s class on Texas prisons as part of the Senior University Georgetown  Spring 2004 program, and his validating others’ claims that fully one-third of all people in these prisons are there for drug-related crimes, often nothing more than possession or petty sales. Another significant percentage are there for “parole violations,” and of these, the violation in question might have been nothing worse than possession. These pushed me to read up on something I’d been concerned about anyway, this war against drugs, and I became increasingly appalled at what I discovered: Over twenty reasons for challenging this war on drugs as a foolish and misleading crusade.

So, to begin, it’s important to note that most people who use illegal and legal drugs do so only occasionally or moderately–over 80-90%!  Of course, there’s a wide range and variety of problems and intensity of problems associated with those who misuse drugs, overdo it, do it irresponsibly. These problems exist–I certainly don’t deny this–but the massive effect of prohibition is far worse than the problems caused by drug use.

The Semantics of War

Although the history of criminalization of various drugs evolved gradually as a political process–and as the result, I should say, of a small number of neo-prohibitionists who were willing to use latent racism, demagoguery, and flat-out-lies, lies, lies, to build a sentiment and popular misconception of the nature of drug use in this country. By the 1960s, it seemed to have been an unquestioned idea that drugs were bad, whatever that meant. Few people knew much about them. In the later 60s, Nixon, hardly a paragon of sobriety–recent revelations by Kissinger confirming this–went against a panel of experts he had assembled to evaluate marijuana, and who recommended its decriminalization, incidentally–and as a political move to strengthen his image, declared a “war against drugs.”  Lacking a high-finance lobby, this trend began an escalation of expenditures and hysterical escalation of mandatory sentencing and increasing infringements on civil rights that has continued to the present–with, I’ll say it again–no significant reduction in drug use.

“War” is interesting because our present society has been a bit spoiled by a number of high-profile wars–especially World War II–in which it might be fairly said that we triumphed, we won, clear and simple. It led to the easy belief that good can triumph, given the will. The fact that we suffered a truce in Korea, in Vietnam–maybe less than a simple draw there–and that many if not most wars in history also resulted in some gains and then an armistice. Semantics is the study of how words carry emotional meanings, aside from their factual definitions, and it applies to advertising, political propaganda, and many other forms of demagoguery–or what the ancient Greeks and most classical scholars since have called “rhetoric”–or the art of persuasion. The current phrase is “spin doctor.”

The term “War” implies struggle of good versus evil, one in which no quarter should be given and anything less than a complete triumph and a full defeat of the enemy would be morally dubious. Politicians fear being labeled “soft on drugs.” Any concessions are vulnerable as forms of weakness. This absolutist attitude, though, is very stupid, very simplistic. Any parent who has dealt with teenagers, anyone who has done anything political in a club, knows that there are always compromises to be made. Buying a house, working out financial programs, being married–these are not occasions for grand ideals and claims to nobility. But in the political arena, it’s easy to imply that one can be a knight in armor fighting the dragon of doom, whatever evil that implies. (A recently published book–now in the Georgetown library– discusses the deeper psychological patterns that attend the symbols and images associated with war. James Hillman is the author, and the title is A Terrible Love of War.)

So, to begin with, question the language being used, and don’t settle for cliches, for sound bytes, for tricky phrases. War justifies any expense–and that approaches the dismal idea that the end justifies the means. That’s the mentality that led the present administration to get legal support from certain lawyers to justify torturing suspects in Iraq–many of whom were innocent, please note. A similar mentality has been applied in the war on drugs.

Is the alternative to war surrender?  Not at all! This again is the foolishness of either-or thinking, either for it or against it. There are a score of alternatives, ranging from simply getting the federal government out of this mess and leaving it to the states, as the tenth amendment suggests, to full legalization. There’s also the pretty obvious idea of making different kinds of laws for different kinds of drugs, recognizing that a number of drugs are relatively less intense and harmful than certain others.

I mentioned that the choices are sometimes between the bad and the dreadful. In this case, there’s little doubt that there may be an upsurge of drug abuse–but the word to know here is “harm reduction.” Increasing treatment options, Narcotics Anonymous and other Twelve Step Programs, educational programs, etc. all would help to counter the problems encountered.

The Problem of Alcohol and Tobacco

What complicates this whole problem, or perhaps throws it into perspective, is the intense hypocrisy of society’s unwillingness to recognize that two of its most commonly abused drugs–tobacco and alcohol–are far, far more destructive in their effects, their addictive potentials, their costs to society, and in every other way, compared to most–but not all–of the illegal drugs. That those who don’t prefer these drugs and do prefer others find this hypocrisy offensive, foolish, and even evil should not be surprising. Stated another way, this policy contributes to a kind of disrespect for law and authority that is most problematic and hard to assess in terms of its actual cost–but it is likely pretty bad.

There’s also the problem of the promotion and subsidization by the government not only for tobacco–and the problem of pushing tobacco sales overseas is a scandal in itself–but also the pharmaceutical industry and its billion-dollar psychotropic drug industry. Beginning with the barbituates in the first half of the century, then Miltown, then Librium, Valium, Xanax, and others, legal uppers and downers have stood as pretty obvious forms of hypocrisy also.

That many of the fiercest drug warriors were themselves abusers of drugs or in other ways addicted–such as the notable hypocrisy of William Bennett, the onetime drug czar and author of a book about virtue, who was found to be an inveterate excessive gambler and loser–adds to the sense of cynicism about the claims of righteousness by the advocates of this policy.


The similarities of the present problem and the history of prohibition is striking, and that history  could fill several lectures in a class on American History. A couple of things stand out: One, several of the most vociferous career-builders who fought against alcohol turned their attention to marijuana and heroin in the years after prohibition began and ended.

Second, when something is illegal, then it makes sense to smuggle it in its least bulky form, which means concentrating it, increasing its purity. In the 20s, this meant substituting distilled spirits, hard liquor, for wine and beer, which leads to a more intense and disorienting form of drunkenness.

Third, in prohibition, the widespread demand for consciousness alteration is met by criminals who compete for territory, escalate violence, raise prices, engage in widespread corruption of police and other governmental agencies, and so forth. More, some of the criminals are glamorized and the police are demeaned.

Once again, I note that a major factor in alcohol, tobacco, and other legal drug use, as well as the use of substances classified arbitrarily as problematic and worthy of being made illegal, is the fact that most people can use most of these substances moderately, and with no obvious side effects.  Indeed, used moderately, in some cases, one can argue for a variety of actual positive effects–though this is tricky in the simplistic either-or attitudes presently most popular.

Responsible Critics

Those who object to this drug war policy are not merely hippies who want the freedom to indulge. The bigger picture of cost, of impact, of effectiveness, and many other objections have accumulated a growing “consciousness-raising” about what seemed like a simple, noble objection.

It should be noted that many conservatives such as William Buckley, conservative magazines such as the Economist, and thousands of police officers, a few mayors and other office-holders, and many judges, as well as an increasing groundswell of thoughtful people, have questioned this escalating and self-defeating policy. My presentation is slightly daring, but not on close inspection or in the light of reasoned discourse.

There are thoughtful people also who disagree with me and this whole critique, but I believe their objections can be easily answered. Most of those who oppose legalization still don’t agree with the more extreme features of the present drug warrior policy, with its emphasis on interdiction and the international ramifications of that approach, forfeiture, mandated severe sentences–often more severe than for violent criminals– increasing incursions on civil rights, etc. There are now scores of major organizations, websites, an increasing number of well-researched books–all noted in the references below. What we have here is a long-term, self-defeating national policy that serves a foolishly simplistic ideology and the image-making of politicians and the pocketbooks of those who profit from this enterprise.

A Moral Question

Please consider the following quote by John Stuart Mill, in his essay, “On Liberty”:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

Here are some other quotes to ponder, also:

“It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil.” –Friedrich von Hayek,

The chief cause of problems is solutions.  – Eric Sevareid

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied; and vice sometime’s by action dignified.
— Wm. Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene iii.


From the beginning, illegal drugs–first opium, for the Chinese, and then later marijuana, for Mexicans and African-Americans, and more recently psychedelics and cocaine–were all described as inciting to violence, sexual assault, and madness. This is all so greatly exaggerated as to be lies. Young people know that marijuana mellows people out, and find scornfully laughable the kinds of things teachers are forced to teach from misleading textbooks.

Exhaustive study and re-study, national commissions of experts, and others have countered the occasional self-serving and sloppy research project that comes up with evidence about the great harm in these drugs. Some involve those who have become chronically overinvolved with drug use–and this is quite a separate population from moderate users, so the findings are clearly biased and distorted. Or the studies involve putting smoke into monkeys’ cages in great quantities.. Remember, even salt and water in high enough doses are toxic.

What about the “crack babies.” That impressed me when I first heard it, but it turned out to have been a distortion, observations that made few distinctions among those who drank alcohol, had premature births anyway, and later studies of these kids didn’t show lasting changes. The evidence for the syndrome of fetal alcohol syndrome is much stronger. This isn’t to say that it’s okay to use crack during pregnancy, but only that hysteria allowed for conclusions that weren’t warranted.


As an occasional reader of murder mysteries, I find myself instructed in the simple legal and criminological principle of who benefits? In this case, there is a great incentive to the political ambitions of would-be district attorneys, or those who would build on crime-fighting as a leg up in politics. Agency personnel want to preserve their jobs and are not averse to major distortions of information, if not outright lying, in their reports. Capturing large amounts of drugs is trumpeted as a great victory, in spite of these busts making no visible dent on the inflow of illegal substances.

Those who build prisons and those who staff them have an interest in expanding their profits. This is a multibillion dollar industry in the USA today! Bail bondsmen and other prosecutors, sheriffs, and police special units can make a pretty penny on forfeitures–we’ll get to that little gimmick more later. But those who benefit the most are those who get to seem noble in fighting crime–or what has come to be defined as crime–and those are politicians. It’s hard for them to dare to question the mass media, common sense, general ignorance about drug policy when it’s so easy to attack them in the next election.


Related to demagoguery is the problem of corruption. You’ve heard no doubt of cops who frisk suspects and drop a packet of marijuana or cocaine, pick it up, and claim that it was the suspects. This and other scams happen. We had a scandal a few years ago when a racist assistant district attorney in north Texas framed–baldly framed–over a score of innocent African-American citizens, sending them to jail for years. Finally they were released–but they still have records. The governor has offered pardons–what a joke! As if they had been guilty–but not full exculpation. Never admit you’re wrong? Is that the rule? There are thousands of incidents of bribery of judges, police, and others locally, nationally, and internationally.

The CIA and Drugs

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and with this motto, a variation of politics makes strange bedfellows, there have been occasional alliances made with known drug lords and smugglers who were anti-communist in areas in which that approach  seemed expeditious. As “allies” in this respect, many of their drug-related endeavors were ignored, and as a seeming ally of US interests, like Chalabi, they may even have been subsidized, in spite of the possibility that they were giving us misinformation or in other ways hardly worth the effort.

The many pressures and types of pressure the US has subjected allies to, especially those related to the drug war, have created innumerable difficulties for a number of countries, especially in Latin America. A book, “Bad Neighbor Policy” is filled with examples that are fed by the cops and robbers game generated by prohibition.

Clogging the Courts

In the early 1980s, drug cases constituted less than a fourth of all federal criminal trials, but by the mid ‘90s, over 50% do, and in some courts, over 70%. (Against excess). This has not only clogged the court system, but deprived not only these but many others from their right to a speedy trial.

Mandatory Sentences began to be set in place in a series of legislative actions beginning in the 1970s. These have led to overcrowding at prisons and pressure to parole early those without mandatory sentences–and that means not perpertrators of victim-less crimes, like smoking marijuana, but perpetrators of rape, burglary, assault, and even 2nd degree murder.

A significant percentage of the budget of police departments locally is allocated for fighting drug use.  Most arrests are for simple possession.

To find dealers–usually bottom, low level, petty dealers, there’s been an increasing use of sting operations, which are of questionable ethical status. They used to be illegal, luring people into committing crime, but in the hysteria of war, in which even torture is rationalized, many courts have come to support it.

Using informants is equally dubious, both because they are paid to inform, with the concurrent risk –no, inevitability–of false accusation, but also that this has become a major expense!  Some informers blackmail the dealers and inform only if not paid.

Increasingly, minorities are up in arms at the disproportionate attention given to frisking and incarcerating. Example, a young person might be swept up in a round-up, actually innocent. Facing 3 months in jail awaiting a trial, he is persuaded to plead guilty and put on probation. If he is caught again, again perhaps quite innocent, he is sent to jail without trial.  There are tens of thousands of people in jail, most minorities, awaiting trial, without ever having been proved guilty. (Similar problem in Iraq.)

There are increasing problems with civil liberties. A person who was charged and imprisoned by the state was re-charged by the federal authorities and re-imprisoned for a second time for the same crime–found to be legal, not double jeopardy, by the courts–because federal and state are different. It may be legal, but it ain’t ethical.

Search and seizure has become ridiculous, and again minorities profiled and excessively searched. Immigrant women may be stripped, forced to defecate into a pan, kept incommunicado for several days–occasionally finding swallowed drugs–they were indeed mules–but perhaps ten innocent women might be subjected to this ordeal for one guilty one. What if it were your niece. Well, they aren’t middle-class white, so maybe they don’t count?

The “War” on Minorities (From “Smoke and Mirrors”):

  • Percentage of drug-trafficking defendants nationwide between 1985 and 1987 who were African-American:   99
  • Percentage of the nation’s sixteen- to thirty-five-year-old black men arrested during 1989:                     35.
  • Percentage of black men who said in 1980 they could earn “more on the street doing
    something illegal than on a straight job”:       44.
  • Percentage who said the same thing in 1989:      66.
  • Estimated number of incidents, between January and April 1990, in which drug police killed black civilians: 15.


Let’s get something clear. Go to jail, as in Monopoly, is a hundred times more horrible than just paying a traffic ticket. You can be raped. Your business and job can fail and be lost. Your property can be taken away–this is worse than what happens to those who commit hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud! You can be beaten.

Teenagers can be forced into private treatment programs that actually torture them. Faith-based programs are notorious for lack of supervision and accountability.

Adults suffer the breakdown of families, loss of breadwinners or mothers, kids in foster families–all for an essentially victim-less crime, mind you.

What does it mean that the prison population has gone up tenfold with no change in the drug problem?

Item: USA News, @ June 1, 2004:

The nation’s prison population grew by olmost 3% in the year ending 6/30/2003, the Justice Dpartment’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported. It was the largest precentage increase in four years. The report attributes much of the increase to policies enacted during the 1980s and ‘90s, such as mandatory drug stentences, “three-strikes-and-you’re out” laws for repeat offenders, and “truth-in-sentncing” laws that restrict early releases. As of June 30, the nation’s prisons and jails held 2,078,570 men and women, the JJS reported. About a third of the inmates were serving short sentences or awaiting trials in local jails. The greatest percentage increase came at the federal level, where the prison population grew 5.4%. The state prison population grew 2.6%

Comment: This is the highest rate of per capita imprisonment of any country in the world, as far as we can tell. (I don’t know about Korea, for example.)

One author makes a compelling case that compares the drug warriors’ demonization of people who use drugs to the way the Nazis demonized the Jews, drawing a host of similar social maneuvers.

  • Percentage increase, from 1980 to 1989, in the number of Americans arrested for the sale or manufacture of cocaine or heroin:                   + 800 %
  • Number of people Florida imprisoned per month in 1985:                 180.
  • In 1988:                                                                                      780.
  • Percentage of men imprisoned in 1981 who held jobs before prison:    50.
  • Percentage of the same group  who held jobs after prison:                      19.
  • Percentage increase, between 1986 and 1991, in the number of women in state prisons:           75.
  • Percentage of them convicted of drug offenses:    55.
  • Percentage of women prisoners in 1991 who had children under eighteen:                                67.
  • Number of children this represents:                                                           56,000.
  • Chances that a state prison inmate has had an immediate family member precede him or her in prison:   37%.
  • Percentage of women in federal prison in 1990  who were either pregnant or had just given birth:     25.
  • Number of full-time OB-GYNs employed by the federal prison system in 1990:                                0.

The amount of imprisonment happening today has become the nation’s shame.

In-Effectiveness: Worse, this war has been spectacularly ineffective. Drug use has continued, and in spite of escalating efforts at prohibition, drugs flow in and as a measure of this ineffectiveness, drug costs have dropped!  (See chart)


Several laws were passed that allowed for the government to seize the cars, homes, and other property of those associated with drug dealing. Seems okay for drug lords, of whom only a handful have been convicted. But an elderly woman whose son deals petty drugs without her knowledge has also had her home taken away–the you should have known approach?

The subtopic here might well be “…With Liberty and Justice for All. Question mark?!”

Here’s another twist of civil liberty–the lawyers defending anyone convicted of a drug-related crime can be forced to reveal all their financial transactions. This rips up the client-drug privilege, even for those who are innocent. Another victim of the war.

Of course local civil liberties groups fight back, but in a war climate, with judges appointed by presidents and governors, or elected on a hard on crime platform, they lose.

Other Civil Rights Impositions:

  • Percentage of wiretap applications submitted to state and federal judges in 1990  that were for drug cases:  60.
  • Percentage of those approved:   100.
  • Value of assets seized by the Justice Department from1986 through 1990:    $1.5 billion.
  • Value of assets seized by the Justice Department in 1991 alone:                        $500 million.
  • Percentage of people who had property confiscated by police in 1991 who were never charged with a crime:                    80.
  • Percentage of travelers who had money confiscated in 1991   without ever being charged who were black, Hispanic, or Asian:  77.
  • Percentage of the flying public that is black:      4.

The 1984 “bounty hunter” law and the Supreme Court’s sanction of anonymous tips frequently combined to brew tragedy. On March 26, 1987, the Jeffersontown, Kentucky, police raided the home of twenty-four year-old Jeffrey Miles because an anonymous tipster told them there was “a drug dealer” there. Miles, who had no criminal record, was killed by the raiding officers. No drugs were found in his house.

A year later, San Diego police, acting on an anonymous tip, stormed the home of fifty-six-year-old Tommy Dubose, an instructor at the nearby naval air station. Dubose was shot dead by the police as he sat in his living room. No drugs were found in his home, either.

Medical Marijuana

Even if states approve limited use, the Federal Government’s Department of Justice has intruded and countermanded these referendums. This makes for an interesting problem of States’ Rights.

Doctors have been grossly harrassed, ruining them economically in their efforts to defend themselves, for appropriately treating patients with difficult pain syndromes with adequate amounts of medication. Although the appropriate and adequate treatment of pain has become a major campaign in the mainstream medical community, a campaign to educate physicians, there is a profound timidity–appropriately so–depending on the mood of local medical boards and their vulnerability to political pressure. You may be denied adequate pain medication because of the fear of making you an addict. Incidentally, appropriate pain control almost never turns into addiction!  This is another bit of misinformation. We must remember that a large number of moderate heroin users who were soldiers in Vietnam at the time went cold turkey and never resumed the use after coming back to the States.

Allocation of Resources

We need this money–not “affording something” is not entirely valid: It’s really a matter of priorities with limited resources. In this case, I’m advocating giving a higher priority to spending money on schools in general, including drug education; health care, including harm-reduction drug treatment programs; needle exchange programs. Our police need to be freed up to fight domestic terror, and our military forces overseas also free to address more pressing tasks.  Billions are being diverted unnecessarily to build prisons to house prisoners, a major group of whom have committed victim-less crimes!

Some more statistics from “Smoke and Mirrors”:

  • Percentage change, from 1989 to 1990, in states’  spending on primary and secondary education:     + 7.3.
  • On corrections:             + 29.0
  • Percentage change, from 1989 to 1990,  in states’ capital expenditures for colleges and universities:              + 46.
  • For prisons           +150.6.
  • Average number of prisoners, per prison guard, nationwide:                3.
  • Average number of pupils, per public school teacher, nationwide:      30.
  • Percentage of Michigan’s budget that went to the state’s prisons in 1984:     2.8.
  • In 1988: 7.2.
  • Percentage of Michigan’s budget that went  to the state’s schools in 1984:   36.6.
  • In 1988:    30.1.


In summary, the case against the drug warriors is compelling and extensive. Please read some of the books in the references. Check out the websites and consider some of the added statistics and other addenda at the end:


  • Andreas, Peter. (2000). Border games: policing the US-Mexico divide. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Baum, Dan. (1996). Smoke and mirrors: The war on drugs and the politics of failure. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
  • Benjamin, Daniel K. & Miller, Roger L. (1991). Undoing drugs: beyond legalization. New York: Basic Books.
  • Bertram, Eva; Blackman, M., Sharpe, K., and Andreas, P. (1996). Drug war politics: The price of denial. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Brecher, E. (1972). Licit and illicit drugs: The Consumers Union report on narcotics..etc. Boston: Little, Brown.
  • Carpenter, T. G. (2003). Bad neighbor policy: Washington’s futile war on drugs in Latin America.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan
  • DiClemente, C. C. (2003). Addiction and change: How addictions develop and addicted people recover. New York: Guildford.
  • Duke, S. B. & Gross, A. C. (1999). America’s longest war: rethinking our tragic crusade against drugs. New York: Jeremy Tarcher / Putnam.
  • Earlywine, Mitch. (2002). Understanding marijuana: a new look at the scientific evidence. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • (The) Economist, July 28, 2001: Stumbling in the Dark. (Special section challenging the drug war policy.) Pages 4-16.
  • Eldredge, D. C. (1993)  Ending the war on drugs: a solution for America. Bridgehampton, NY: Bridge Works Publishing Co.
  • Fish, Jefferson M. (Ed.). (1998). How to legalize drugs. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. (an anthology with extensive references)
  • Gordon, Diana R. (1994). The return of the dangerous classes: drug prohibition and policy politics. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Gray, Mike. (2000). Drug crazy: how we got inot this mess and how we can get out. New York: Routledge.
  • Husak, Douglas. (2002). Legalize this! The case for decriminalizing drugs. New York: Verso.
  • Kleiman, Mark A .R.(1992). Against excess: drug policy for results. New York: Basic Books.
  • Lusane, Clarence. (1991). Pipe dream blues: racism and the war on drugs. Boston: South End Press.
  • MacCoun, Robert, & Reuter, Peter. (2000). Drug war heresies: Learning from other vices, times and places. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Masters, Bill. (Ed.). (2004). The new prohibition: Voices of dissent challenge the drug war. St. Louis, MO: Accurate Press.  (Foreword by Gov. Jesse Ventura (Ret.)). Anthology of wiritngs.
  • Meyer, Kathryn, & Parssinen, Terry. (1998). Webs of smoke: smugglers, warlords, spies, and the history of the international drug trade. Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.
  • Miller, Richard L. (1991). The case for legalizing drugs. Westport, CT: Praeger
  • Miller, R. L. (1996). Drug warriors and their prey: From police power to police state.  Wesport, CT: Praeger.
  • Nadelman, Ethan. (1989). Drug prohibition in the United States: costs, consequences, and alternatives. Science, 245: 939-947.
  • Sullum, Jacob. (2003). Saying yes: In defense of drug use. New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam.
  • Szasz, T. (1986 ). Ceremonial chemistry: The ritual persecution of drugs, addicts and pushers. Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications.
  • Trebach, A. S. & Inciardi, J. A. (1993). Legalize it? Debating American drug policy. Washington, DC: American University Press.
  • Terkel, Susan N. (1997). The drug laws: a time for change? New York: Franklin Watts.
  • Weir, William. (1995). In the shadow of the dope fiend: America’s war on drugs. New Haven, CT: Archon/Shoe String Press.
  • Wells, Tim & Triplett, William. (1992). Drug wars: An oral history from the trenches. `New York: William Morrow & Co.
  • Wisotsky, S. (1986). Breaking the impasse in the war on drugs. New York: Greenwood Press. (Contributions in Political Science No. 159)
  • Zimmer, Lynn, & Morgan, John P. (1997). Marijuana myths, marijuana facts: A review of the scientific evidence. New York: The Lindesmith Center.

Some Websites for Further Information

Other Quotes, Comments and Statistics:

How dangerous are “drugs” ?

  • Number of Americans who died in 1969
    • falling down stairs:                      1,824.
    • Number who choked to death on food:                 2,641.
    • Number who died from cirrhosis of the liver:     29,866.
    • Number who died from legal and illegal drugs:  1,601.
  • Number of Americans who died in 1970
    • from legal and  illegal drugs:                       1,899.
    • Number who died from the flu:                     3,707.
  • Number of Americans who died in 1971
    • from all legal and illegal drugs:                2,313.
    • Number who died in gun accidents:             2,360.
    • Number who died choking on food:            2,227.
    • Number who committed suicide:                24,097.

Which Drugs Should Be Prohibited?

  • Number of prescriptions for psychoactive
    drugs written in 1970:                                 214 million.
  • Amount spent by Americans on legal spirits, wine, and beer:                       $24 billion.
  • Estimated size of the illegal drug market:     $  2 billion.


  • Federal drug-enforcement budget in 1969: $65 million.
  • Federal drug-enforcement budget in 1974: $719 million.
  • Number of DEA agents in Chicago in 1975: 111
  • Number of cases they worked that year: 138.
  • Number that involved less than a pound of drugs: 119.
  • Amount the DEA paid to buy evidence and pay snitches in 1969: $750,000  –  In 1976:  $10   million.
  • Federal funds paid to drug informants in 1987:   $35 million.  In 1989:    $63 million.
  • 1990 Justice Department budget for the “McGruff ” Take a Bite Out of Crime ads:                               $2.7 million.
  • 1990 Justice Department budget for drug treatment in jails:                                       0.
  • Percentage of Americans needing drug treatment  in 1990 who were getting it:      13.
  • Number of wiretap requests submitted  to federal judges
    by the  Justice Department in 1983:       648.
  • Percentage change from 1982:                +60.
  • Percentage approved:                              100.


  • Amount saved by California from 1976 to 1985  by reducing marijuana possession to a finable offense:                                                                $958,305,499.
  • Percentage increase in California marijuana use  during that time:     0.
  • Number of Americans arrested in 1990: 1.1 million.
  • Number arrested for marijuana possession: 264,000.
  • Percentage of high school seniors who said cocaine is “easy or very easy” to get in 1980:      48.
  • Percentage who said the same thing in 1990:          59.

The “War” on Minorities (From “Smoke and Mirrors”):

  • Percentage of drug-trafficking defendants nationwide  between 1985 and 1987 who were African-American:        99
  • Percentage of the nation’s sixteen- to thirty-five-year-old  black men arrested during 1989:  35%!!
  • Percentage of black men who said in 1980 they could earn “more on the street doing something illegal than on a straight job”:       44.
  • Percentage who said the same thing in 1989:      66.
  • Estimated number of incidents, between January and April 1990,  in which drug police killed black civilians:           15.


Recent estimate (June 1, 2004) of people in prison in the USA:      Over 2.1 Million.  This is the highest rate of per capita imprisonment in the known world!

Percentage increase, from 1980 to 1989, in the number of Americans arrested for the sale or manufacture of cocaine or heroin:                                   + 800 %

Number of people Florida imprisoned per month in 1985:                                            180.

In 1988: 780.

(And what about the needs of police and other public safety programs in this era that requires freeing them up to manage terrorism?)

“Legal” Substances with psychoactive effects:

  •    Tobacco,   chewed, smoked. Becoming more prevalent, especially in Orient, Generating more deaths from cancer per year (lung, throat/larynx, gastric, etc.) than deaths from bubonic plague at its height. Highly addictive.
  • Alcohol, fermented, distilled drunk, pervasive, more deaths from direct disease and accidents, murders, domestic violence, etc. than deaths from all other illegal drugs put together
  • Medically Prescribed drugs that can be abused:
    • Barbituates (was a more prevalent problem in 1920s through 1960s)
    • Tranquilizers (Miltown (meprobamate) in the 1950s, Librium, Valium, Xanax, etc.)
    • Sleeping Medicines
    • Pain Medicines, Darvon, etc.
    • Some stimulants–Ritalin, Dexedrine
  • Coffee, Tea, Cola drinks, caffeine, theobromine, mild stimulants: Usually drunk as teas, drinks
  • (Recently imported, not yet declared: Qat   (Chewed leaves, in Yemen), Betel (chewed mixed with alkali, South Pacific)
    Stimulants, psychoactive.

Drugs Currently Considered “Illegal” in the USA:

  • Marijuana, Hashish, Bhang, Ganga, different preparations: Eaten, smoked, water pipe
  • Cocaine, coca leaves: Chewed, eaten, snorted (nasal inhalation), injection, smoked (freebase, “crack”)
  • Opiates: Heroin, Opium, Morphine,  Oxycontin, ViCodin, Codeine, Dextromethorphan (Dxm)     Demerol (meperidene), etc.: Eaten, smoked, injected hypodermically, intravenously, snorted
  • Psychedelics, “entheogens,” psilocybin, mescaline, peyote, MDMA (ecstasy, Adam)
  • Quasi Hallucinogents, PCP, Ketamine, etc.
  • Amphetamines, stimulants,     Methamphetamine, “Ice”: Eaten, injected, smoked
  • Volatile Hydrocarbons, “glue,” gasoline, cleaning liquids: inhaling, “huffing”

Some Principles of Pharmacology

1. Faster in, greater the “rush,” more intense the euphoria, more noticeable the “come down” and more intense the sense of absence.      Smoked, intravenous fast, eaten digested slow.

2. More pure forms for smoking or injection, less volume, a few grams, while for eating, less efficient, more needed. But more volume means harder to smuggle

3. Just as beer and wine more common, easier to use moderately than distilled spirits (i.e., “hard liquor), so marijuana easier to use than concentrated hashish, slightly processed opium milder than heroin, or coca leaves chewed or cocaine eaten makes for a milder and less intense or addicting high than injected or smoked..

4. If people can access a pleasant relatively inexpensive form, that will be used instead of more expensive forms. Many people will also prefer milder forms that can give a pleasant high rather than seek deep intoxication.

Recent Reference:
Faguet, Guy B. (2010). Pain control and drug policy : a time for change. Santa Barbara CA: Praeger / ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2010.  (Book review on my blog.)

I’m open to your comments, suggestions for additions, arguments

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