HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Straight Thinking About Drugs
Source: Des Moines Register 
Section: Books & Art
Fax: (515) 286-2511
Pubdate: Sunday, 19 July 1998 
Author: Reviewed by Paul Rosenberg  
Note: Paul Rosenberg is a Los Angeles writer and founder of Reason and
Democracy, an organization that advocates democratic values and the
promotion of cultural diversity.


Perhaps if we'd listen and learn for once, history would stop repeating
itself.  That's the hope nurtured by Mike Gray's succinct, yet sweeping,
survey, "Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess & How We Can Get Out."

The parallels between the failures of Prohibition and drug prohibition are
striking, yet we've managed to set this obvious, ominous lesson aside even
as more and more people grow disillusioned with the futility and failure of
the war on drugs.

"Drug Crazy" should end this avoidance while highlighting a range of other
follies we've been repeating for more than 80 years: race-based drug
hysterias and phony quick-fixes plus scientific studies ignored, successful
non-punitive alternatives suppressed, constitutional protections
undermined, criminal empires empowered and ever-harder drugs ever more

Drugs' Spawn

Just as Prohibition gave birth to organized crime in America and the
corruption of law that went with it, Gray points out, drug prohibition has
given birth to hemispheric organized crime, infiltrating the governments of
Colombia and Mexico at the highest levels and corrupting law enforcement
across our country.  We're still arrogant enough to ignore what's happened
in Colombia and Mexico (forgetting Chicago in the '20s) just as we ignore
the opposite threat - the relentless erosion of our constitutional rights.

In a scant 200 pages, Gray's vivid narrative (he's a screenwriter, producer
and documentarian) smashes through our habitual acceptance of the drug
war's self-serving rhetoric, leaving the reader feeling suddenly sober, as
if waking from an ancient trance.

The heart of "Drug Crazy" is a brief history of drug prohibition, tracing
the influence of a few zealous - and amazingly ignorant or deceitful men.

* There was Hamilton Wright, who built the international edifice of drug
laws on the illusion "that the United States not only had an opium problem,
but that it was worse than China's" in 1909, just as drugs and alcohol
reached a low ebb of respectability and use.

Building on this prototypical scare campaign, Wright took the drug war's
first shot at the Constitution by crafting the Harrison Act of 1914 as a
tax law (circumventing the 10th Amendment's limit on federal police powers)
while gaining Southern support for this intrusion on "states rights" by
playing up the myth of the "drug-crazed Nigger."

* There was Charles Towns, whose quack claim of a quick cure for addiction
permanently hardened America's attitude toward addicts - though 10 years
later the first follow-up study discredited him entirely.

* And there was Harry J. Anslinger, who first fought against taking on
marijuana enforcement, because eradication would be impossible - he said it
grew "like dandelions." He changed his mind when he realized

it could be used to scare up state and local law enforcement support.

This history would be a comedy of errors, if not for its tragic consequences.

Common Sense

But there were also people of common sense and uncommon courage.  Dr.
Willis Butler was a public health official in Shreveport, La., in 1919 who
prescribed maintenance levels of drugs to incurable addicts as part of a
program that cut crime and won praise from local law enforcement, until the
Feds shut him down.

Pauline Morton Sabin was a Republican blueblood whose 1.5 million-member
Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform broke the spell of
moral hypocrisy, ushering in the end of Prohibition.  With that base of
support, her logic finally got through: "Before the Volstead Act her
children had no access to alcohol, now they could get it anywhere.

Tucked in along the way are a string of studies, buried and forgotten
because they contradicted drugwar propaganda, and mounting violations of
the Constitution, culminating in drug-forfeiture laws (where you have to
prove your innocence to get your property back), and the case of
millionaire recluse Don Scott, shot dead in his mountain-top home by police
in a fruitless drug raid motivated by the desire to seize his land.

Focusing on the growing power of multi-billion-dollar drug cartels, Gray
paints a chilling picture of the inexorable destruction of civil society on
two fronts.

However, there's a bright side to history repeating itself. Prohibition
ended, making it possible for states to regulate alcohol, adopting policies
to discourage hard liquor, which had flourished as never before during
Prohibition.  Likewise Gray argues, ending drug prohibition won't mean
surrendering to drugs, but adopting more varied, more specifically
targeted, non-punitive approaches far more likely to reduce the more
dangerous forms of drug use, and guaranteed to halt the growth of worldwide
criminal organizations, police corruption and the erosion of our
Constitutional rights.

In the past, drug-war critics were automatically accused of every evil
under the sun.  Now "Drug Crazy" soberly calls the drug warriors to account
for the havoc they've wrought in the name of saving us from ourselves.
Demon-haunted men hunt their demons in others.  It's time to hold them

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Checked-by: Richard Lake