The War on Drugs (and reality) – Part One

This is part one of a series in which I use the American drug war to examine how we have turned social concerns into financial or criminal ones, and thus dehumanised society, oppressed minorities and exploited the poor. You can read the intro here.

There are five main lies that many of us believe about drugs and the war on drugs. I’m going to look more closely at each in turn.

Lie One – Drugs are the enemy

...and drugs don't do this to people either...
…and drugs don’t do this to people either…

As we are told directly in the documentary The House I Live In “you have to understand that the war on drugs has never been about drugs.” (Charles Bowden – Investigative Reporter).

Drugs cannot be an enemy; a problem perhaps, but not an enemy. Drugs are inert substances – plants, liquids and powders. They do nothing of themselves.

This misuse of language, in calling drugs an enemy, gives the lie to the whole drug war. Only a person, only a living being can be an enemy – and the War on Drugs is in fact a War on People by another name.

Richard Miller, a Lincoln Historian, researched the reality of drug law in its historical context. He says, “historically, any drug laws have always been associated with race.”

A History of Drug(policy) Abuse

In the 1800’s you could buy heroin, opium and cocaine from a shop because drug use was considered ordinary and accepted. People who grew addicted to drugs were viewed sympathetically as in need of help, much as alcoholics today.

It isn't justice if you can buy it off
It isn’t justice if you can buy it off

Then California made opium illegal. As Richard Miller makes clear, “it had nothing to do with opium itself.” A large number of Chinese immigrants had come to California and were willing to work longer and harder for less money than American workers. Unable to jail people simply for being Chinese, California instead criminalised opium, and then associated its use with the Chinese. The Chinese who continued their long tradition of smoking opium could be jailed – while those that didn’t could be made ‘potential drug-users’, and thus social pariahs. They are first demonised and then blamed for ills not of their making.

Then came cocaine. Like opium, cocaine was legally taken by average people without any fuss or opprobrium. Then, around 1900, propaganda began associating cocaine with blacks, who were alleged to be able to work all day and night thanks to cocaine. This fictional, prodigious ability threatened the jobs of white people, and so cocaine was criminalised. Then blacks could be arrested not for being black, but for using, holding or being ‘involved with’ cocaine. Using Cocaine as a disguise, Blacks were demonised and then blamed.

The easiest way to win any race is to shoot the other runners, right!
The easiest way to win any race is to shoot the other runners, right!

Hemp used to be a useful crop before it became ‘the demon weed’ around the 1930’s. Shock, horror – marijuana was associated with Mexicans – who were: guess what!? Considered to work longer and harder than whites and so threatened their jobs. Mexicans demonised and blamed. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Policy as Social Control

As Michelle Alexander (author The New Jim Crow) points out, in the modern era, segregation and other racially oppressive laws forced immigrant populations into ghettos. Then the government refused to underwrite FHA mortgages (social housing) in those areas – effectively cutting the immigrants out of the housing market. Finally, industry moved out of the city and took the jobs with it, leaving large concentrations of people, mostly Black, unable to find work. Excluded from legitimate modes of supporting themselves, ghetto populations were forced into illicit means of finding money.

If social engineering was more honest...
If social engineering was more honest…

However, while African Americans represent only 13% of crack users, they represent 90% of those convicted for crack. It is true that some black people have resorted to drugs, but so have white people! The reality is that drugs are still being used today as a tool to control black populations while avoiding accusations of segregation or direct prejudice.

How Rhetoric Disguises Other Areas of Policy

Drugs are not the only area where a rhetorical play of language covers the truth. In a recent interview I heard a conservative minister constantly refer to “the least well off people.” Who are these “least well off”? They are the poor. But calling them ‘less well off’ makes it sound as if they are still a little ‘well-off’ – so much better than ‘poor’. The minister can’t even state the reality of poverty.

Ah, it all becomes clear!
Ah, it all becomes clear!

Likewise we hear of bad-parents rather than poor social policy, of bad teachers rather than poor educational policy, and welfare-scroungers instead of bad business policy. In each case a demographic is being persecuted ‘by the back door’ – demonised first and then blamed.

The cumulative effect of poor political decisions is represented by a recent change in welfare structures in the UK. You can now only receive up to 75% of your council tax (rates) in benefits. This means the other 25% must be paid by you. If you are in receipt only of benefits, you must pay the 25% from those benefits. Since benefits are calculated by deciding the minimum it is possible to subsist on, the 25% must be subtracted from this minimum. So without directly taking the money, the government has ensured that people must live on less than that government has decided it is possible to live on!

In addition, welfare has been frozen at beneath the rate of inflation for several years, so is already less than was once considered the minimum to live on.

If politics was honest - pt2
If politics was honest – pt2

A similar bit of political shittery has seen a lack of social housing being built. There are now no single bed houses available, with waiting lists up to 20 years long or more. All that is available are two or three bed houses, though even here waiting lists are huge. But due to a recent change, if you have more bedrooms than you require, you will have your benefits cut.

What this means is that the government is saying – there are no one-bed houses, but if you don’t down-size to one, we will take money from you (and no, you cannot legally sub-let the extra room).

The minimum you need to live on could be reduced by 25% of your council tax, rises below inflation and a portion of your monthly rent. The effect of which will be either to push the poor into more expensive private tenancies (increasing the benefits bill) or homelessness (increasing the benefits bill) or benefit fraud (increasing the benefits bill) or crime.

Politicians don't lie - they actually believe their own bullshit!
Politicians don’t lie – they actually believe their own bullshit!

Does anyone protest that people in a supposedly affluent nation are being forced to live below the poverty line? No. Why not? Because the government has labelled the poor as work-shy, and drawn a picture of benefit claimants as all lazy fraudsters stealing the working mans taxes. They are first demonised, then blamed.

Even while police budgets are being cut, you can guarantee that many more people will be attempting to make-up their welfare shortfall by cooking meth in the garden shed, leading to increased crime and increased government costs on policing and prisons.

All in all, much as the drug war has cost appalling amounts of money and failed to do any good, so the new ‘war on benefits’ will only cost more in the long run, especially as the poor turn to drugs to make money or to ease the misery.

But that’s okay – because higher crime is exactly what the government wants – as we will see as this series continues.


25 thoughts on “The War on Drugs (and reality) – Part One

Add yours

  1. Who or what kind of creature is a government? I hear it’s wild untamed and has so many reasons for doing unimaginable things in so many places and faces in all the languages, so good so bad, monster human many one something mystery alive concious sweet parent enemy immortal god or beast…?

      1. An arm to reach and catch me when I trip. Compassion and wisdom patience help clear direction authoritative guidance thanks for these. I am Government. I serve. I am human. I am you.

  2. Difficult to argue with your logic, not that I would necessarily entertain the idea, but I’m looking forward to putting all of your parts together (damn, don’t mean that to sound like a chainsaw serial killer!) and see where it all comes out. You put words together well, Panda, and thank you for putting your time into this issue.

  3. Thanks for taking up the bugle and sounding the alarm. Keep writing. You have my attention.

    Everything you say is the same in the USA. You’d almost think that the USA was a former British colony. πŸ˜‰

    Oh! Hey! Someone new (or old) to blame! We love the blame game here. We in the US can blame the British corporations responsible for the Jamestown colony for infesting, not only the native populations with small pox blankets, but our nation with the plague of industrialization.

    Check out the historical roots of all these human troubles in the industrialization process. Industrialization requires destruction of families, communities and self-sufficiency in order to provide a cheap and easy-to-control work force. Industrialization continues today here and around the world.

    I love it (not) that corporations have all basic human rights PLUS immortality. This is a better deal than GOD gets. Unless legal COMPREHENSIVE and STRONG restrictions are placed on corporations (or better yet their legal plug is pulled) your grandchildren will be fighting these same battles.

    Keep reading, thinking and writing.


    PS Another rant has been triggered by the mighty Panda. (If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have.) See how easy blame falls from American lips (keyboards). πŸ™‚

    1. Hey Alice – I should collect your rant/responses into a post of their own!
      I’m not sure who’s copying who between the UK/USA – we seem to trade bad ideas in both directions!
      Yes, industrialisation has both broken up communities and separated people from the meaning of their occupation. Once you could know why you did a job, you could see your product/purpose. Now you can pour your life into a company and never see a single tangible end result.
      As for corporations – they are a tool, and I’m still not sure if we should fight them, or embrace them? Given a more moral framework, couldn’t the corporate model work better than todays model of government? Big questions…
      Enjoying our banters πŸ˜€

      1. Mike,

        I really enjoy your posts. I enjoy having the opportunity to bounce ideas off you here. You have a nice funny “edge” to your writings that I admire. Thanks for giving me more excuses to write (like I need them) πŸ˜‰

        Our model of government in the USA is “power to the highest bidder”. These are the corporations. He who controls the money, controls everything. So we have a “corporate financed” government model here. Even the part of the FDA that approves our new drugs is funded by the pharmaceutical companies that are requesting drug approval.

        When public services are “privatized” they become fragmented and and enormously expensive. (utilities, health services, prison systems)

        Having lived through and with the consequences so many corporate orchestrated problems in things from health care to prisons to multiple collapses in banking systems (five since 1961), I have to say I lack an easy trust of the unregulated corporate mentality to run things.


      2. Hi ALice,
        I agree with your conclusion as things stand. I guess I’m interested (and ignorant) as to whether it isn’t all just workmen blaming tools.
        Is capitalism inherently flawed as Jameson had it, or is it human agency that creates the problems. Is the corporate model flawed, or again is it just that no matter what tool you give humankind, they’ll find a way of oppressing and over-powering with it?
        For me this is the only question, and the one that lies under almost everything I’m wrestling with. When I see individuals or small groups I see kindness and decency – why then is there so much cruelty in the world? What changes? What are the essential ingredients that make monsters of previously good people? Is it just a consequence of population concentration? Is it because money and technology have distanced us from consequences? And can we remove the ‘bad ingredients’ from our systems – from people and our infra-structures?

  4. Interesting. I’ll wait to see where you’re going with this. I really have too little knowledge of the details to comment much at the moment, but I want to see how it all fits together.

  5. Your PM sounds an awful lot like ours, except ours likes to have someone else do the talking while he hides in his office and checks his teflon suit for holes. I’ve long thought that so-called “street drugs” should be legal and taxed, and as a recent poll shows, I’m part of the majority. Our holy-roller PM, however, with his bare-majority conservative government, thinks that we’re a bunch of misguided hippies who are all going to hell. He has tried a number of times to shut down the needle-exchange clinics because they supposedly “encourage crime” but the resulting protests have needled him, pardon the pun.

    Thanks for this series. I doubt that many of these government types even know where these drug laws came from – they have simply, and unthinkingly, bought into the idea that drugs are “bad” and that people who take them are “bad.”

    1. I’d be interested in where that poll was?
      Few people know where the drug laws came from. I read a book once during Uni that posited that drugs were criminalised in England because it was found that they encouraged free (i.e. anti-establishment) thinking – whereas alcohol encourages conformity. Whatever the real reason, part of why Cameron won’t change the law is because his donors and voters believe the horror stories too.
      Thanks for your comment Arty, I’m glad your enjoying my (somewhat) more serious turn.

      1. It was done in Canada by (I think) Ipsos but I couldn’t immediately find it when I Googled it. I did find another one done by Forum Research from Nov. 2012, but that one only addresses marijuana use. You might also find this interesting –

        Yes, I am enjoying your series and feeling somewhat rantish about it myself. πŸ™‚

      2. Cool! Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out. What started as a three post series is getting out of hand! I have four posts so far and no end in sight! Glad you enjoying it – always feel free to rant here πŸ™‚

  6. I read your comments above and as to your question if what’s wrong is the system (capitalism) or the people, I believe it’s more of the system’s fault. Before, I thought it otherwise, but recently, as I got to watch a lot of documentaries, read articles/books about the issues of our society today, I observed that these problems – war, inequality, poverty, almost everything – are deeply rooted in our current monetary system and capitalism. I also believe that human beings are inherently good, and that being born into a system that perpetuates greed, competition, and division, would turn us against our true nature.

    1. Hi Hindia – I agree, I feel people are essentially good, yet we appear to have a history of religious war and oppression by Monarch and Oligarchs – long before capitalism – why? Why do we so easily get turned to war, and how do we overcome this?
      As per you comment on my other post – perhaps this is the time of learning, leading to an enlightened change of story.
      Thanks for you great comments.

      1. I guess mankind is still maturing and we are learning the lessons of the stories we have lived in the past. I think we are realizing that war and domination doesn’t do any good, and that there are other compassionate ways to organize a society. And I hopefully believe that we really are in a time of waking up, of shedding our old ways and changing our story. Also, thanks for your thought-provoking writings. These kinds of discussions are what we all need. πŸ™‚

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