People who have been following my Trawls will have noticed, as a recurring theme, that I have been documenting the growing cracks in the taboo over discussing rational drug policy that has enthralled our political and media elites for forty years. I first noticed this particular stone as it rolled through Portugal. Since then, a great deal has happened, and the stone accelerated considerably between the release of the UN GCDP  report in 2011, and the ballot-box legalisation of recreational cannabis use in Colorado and Washington States in 2012.
Over the same time period, we’ve seen such travesties as the Nutt Sack affair, and President Obama’s intensified aggressions against (legal!) medical marijuana in California. As always with societal progress, the last gasp before we pass a tipping-point precedes a scream of wrath from the right-wing: and just as with civil rights in the sixties and LGBTQ rights over the last twenty years, the general population gets on the correct side of history long before their elected representatives.
I have a piece over at Liberal Conspiracy expanding on my discussion of a recent finding that elected officials routinely and in the case of the right wing, drastically over-estimate social conservatism in the electorate. Liberals underestimate liberal support: conservatives radically over-estimate the reactionary forces in society. That structural tilt in our national discourse has delayed the realisation of social justice on a number of fronts; reproductive freedom for women, representation for people of colour, religious tolerance, and so on. But I would argue that through its global scale, and by the count of victims and shattered lives it has left behind it, the US War on Drugs must number among the most damaging, and the most unnecessary, of the modern era.Leave aside, for a moment, the hubris of declaring war on a plant. Pass by the institutional racism of the enforcement regime, and the obscene profits of the prison-industrial complex. Ignore the fact that any war in which you are funding both sides is as insane as a land war in Asia. Even, if you can, ignore the fact that the War on Drugs involves a land war in Asia. Prohibition creates black markets; it artificially raises prices, it creates incentives for organised crime and it damages product quality. We’ve known this for a very long time; ask any historian of the Mafia about the unintended consequences of the 18th Ammendment. The US-declared War on Drugs is directly responsible for state failure, or near-failure, across the sphere of US hegemony in the Americas, and for millions of broken lives and trillions of dollars of waste, all for a net reduction in US addiction rates of nothing at all.
It has long been a ‘known’ thing that many serving politicians count the WoD a failure: that many think other approaches would be wiser; and that they will only admit it once they’re safely out of office. That moral cowardice has sentenced generations of young, poor men, most of them people of colour, to short and brutal lives of bullets, poverty, and incarceration. It has caused some thirty thousand deaths in Mexico in just a decade. It created several of the most savage organised criminal enterprises of the late twentieth century. Huge and well-funded lobbies in the West fight for the status quo, including pharmaceutical and alcohol conglomerates, enforcement bureaucrats whose budgets depend on it, and the shadow slave-state which is the US prison-industrial complex. Finally, as this stone gathered speed, the taboo has begun to crack, and significant politicians who are still in office have begun to speak out.
An excellent documentary filmed in 2011 and released shortly after the 2012 election cycle deals directly with that aspect of this egregious failure. Breaking the Taboo features interviews with Presidents current and past, of several nations: comprehensively documents the catastrophic geo-political consequences of prohibition; and directly addresses the perverse incentives in America which keep the juggernaut rumbling forward. It’s also narrated by some famous dude. As the polls have caught up with shifting public opinion, and as legitimate, hard-news stories like the ballot legalisations in the 2012 cycle have provided cover for serious journalists, articles have begun to appear in serious publications which break the taboo. In order to address the topic as it stands now, I want to take a look at how we got this way, and why; what it is, precisely, that the prohibitionists wish attached to their name in history, and what can be done about it.
That’s going to take a series, rather than a post, so watch this space for future articles with the title “Us and Them”.
[ Editor’s note: US & Them I ]