Note: Although over two decades old, this article's discussion of the War on (Some) Drugs is still highly relevant, presciently describing how the anti-drug hysteria was to evolve into and legitimate the “War on Terror,” which was ostensibly justified by 9/11. Many more studies regarding the history of responsible use of psychoactives have been done since the article was written; see, for example, here. And the suppression continues in spite of some states having legalized the medicinal use of cannabis, with the Obama administration going after dispensaries and clinics in California full force, despite numerous studies demonstrating that cannabis use can in fact promote health; see, for example, here. [First published in Collide-O-Scope #1 (Berkeley, CA) in May 1989, reprinted in Anarchy: a Journal of Desire Armed #21 (Columbia, MO), 1989.]-- J.S, October 13, 2012.
Back in the Summer of '86, the system’s already frenzied anti-drug campaign took on the aspect of a witch-hunt. At the time, many commentators dismissed the spreading social purge as election-year grandstanding, to be forgotten after Election Day. Boy, were they wrong — or did they lie?
In fact, the level of attack has steadily increased. During the recent residential presidential campaign, both parties identified themselves with an assault on our already meager civil rights. Little need be said about the Bush position, while the "liberal" Dukakis attempted to take a stand to the right of his G.O.P. rival, even calling cops who kick down doors looking for drugs "role models." With bipartisan support, the House voted to suspend the Miranda ruling against illegal search and seizure in drug cases, subject to the searchers' "good intentions.” (The courts are weakening this ruling every year anyway.) The full Congress ended up approving penalties of up to $10,000 for possession of even a single joint, and a cutoff of most federal benefits to those convicted of possession. Recently, courts have approved searches of individuals based upon "suspicious looks", and the National Guard has been recruited to search for drugs at the borders and other entry points.
The Bush regime created a cabinet-level drug czar in the person of former Education Secretary William Bennett. In March, 1988, he advocated the invasion of drug-exporting nations. In March, 1989, he raised the idea of setting aside constitutional rights such as habeas corpus.
Drug testing is being used by more and more businesses and government agencies, with four million transport workers the next target. Kits are now sold to enable parents to test their kids (or vice versa?) The genuinely scary crack situation is utilized by the media to whip up sentiment against any use. Even David Crosby, now a properly reformed ex-user, embraces such nonsense as "pot leads to hard drugs."
We do know better. It's pretty obvious that the social toll exacted by illegal drugs, even crack, pales next to problems caused by alcohol, tobacco, prescription pills and sugar. Tobacco kills 2-300,000 a year, alcohol, over100,000, and legal drugs, 10,000, while illegal drugs do away with 3500 or so a year (U.S. Bureau of Mortality Statistics, 1979, and ABC Evening News, 1985).
Furthermore, the relation between poverty and/or stress and drug abuse has been well-demonstrated. Yet little is done about poverty, nor can much be done without changing the social structure to which poverty is like sores are to syphilis. Changes in the neurotic pace and out-of-controlness of life in this society or our growing remoteness from nature do not receive even lip-service support. In fact we're told stress is healthy.
A long history of reasonable, healthy drug use is well-documented but not so well-known. Many gatherer-hunter and subsistence agriculture societies have employed mind-altering substances for a variety of reasons, including pleasure, for thousands of years, and continue to do so. Marijuana has been in use for at least 12,000 years, and other plants and fungi date back even further. Several studies have connected the suppression of psychoactives with the rise of organized religion (see Hallucinogens and Shamanism by Michael Harner, p. xiv). Robert Graves and Raphael Patai contended that the Fruit of Knowledge in the "Original Sin" story was a psychedelic mushroom (Hebrew Myths, p.82).
At least two U.S. government-sponsored reports on the long-term effect of pot have been suppressed. One was a 1972 study of Jamaican smokers sponsored by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. It failed to come up with any demonstrable ill effects of use. Its results were later deemed inapplicable to American users because Jamaicans smoke pot differently (you bet). Another study covered Costa Rica. Among other things, it showed heavy use (six or more joints a day for over 30 years, quite excessive by my standards) produced only slight problems in short-term memory, significant only for "competitive purposes" (San Francisco Chronicle, August 29, 1987. p.13). Overthrow, a New York underground paper, reported four years ago in a more complete report that the study covered a rather lengthy period, 1967-1983. Drug "experts" often decry the lack of long-range studies, but it seems like the results of these studies were not the ones desired.
Nor are very many people aware of the plentiful evidence which connects powerful figures with drug trafficking. During the '60s, the C.I.A. brought in heroin from Indochina and funneled it to restless ethnic ghettos and counterculture communities. In the '80s, the drug of choice is cocaine, and George Bush has been doing his share as coordinator of a drug network involving the Contras and the CIA (his family happens to own a major chunk of stocks in Eli Lilly Inc., a leading maker of legal drugs):
But none of this really matters. After all, the crusade is not about public health, but social discipline. Life (if you can call this living) is very harsh these days, with economic uncertainties, ecological disasters, decaying social fabric and military maneuvers. As you know, it's gonna get even stranger. Such conditions tend to undermine the power of the social elite, who, unable to really solve any of these problems, can only stay in power through increased control and surveillance. Likewise, the increasingly bitter competition between enterprises and nations for profits means more discipline at work (boosting "productivity", they call it) as well as more control over leisure time, which we're supposed to be using to reproduce ourselves as obedient workers, not to enjoy ourselves.
Over the last decade, lots of rationalizations have been sought for the imposition of more blatantly authoritarian means of control. A new Cold War was used to justify a massive arms build-up and draft registration. Terrorism has been used to promote "security" measures at places like airports and a general racism against Arabs and Muslims. Crime has long been employed to justify domestic racism, more cops on the streets, curfews, phone taps and, in Germany, computerized I.D. cards. It also has led to massive growth for the criminal-industrial complex, the web of courts, prisons, police departments and lawyers.
But all these rationales have limitations. While flexing military muscle is popular, few people desire a real war, especially one that lasts more than a day. Note the tremendous amount of public opposition to even the hint of direct intervention in Central. America. Besides, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are becoming friends. Terrorism plays well on T.V. , but is not a street reality for very many Americans. And while crime is widespread, most crimes amount to only annoyance, with serious cases usually affecting only residents and visitors of inner cities.
Drugs, however, are everywhere. Crack is a problem even on Beverly Hills' Rodeo Boulevard. It has turned many neighborhoods into war zones, unsafe even during daylight. Furthermore, an anti-drug campaign appeals to a populace that feels more and more besieged by life, and is eager to strike back. What better target than remnants of the '60s counterculture, which every well-informed consumer of the mass media knows caused our crisis of values in the first place, "...the counterculture which, with its destructive nihilism and barbaric passions, ripped at the social fabric and left so many lives wrecked"( Wall Street Journal, October 23,1987, p. 22).
These conditions have created a climate of support for the current draconian crackdown. Increasing numbers of people, especially inner-city residents, are willing to jettison civil liberties in order to fight drugs. 71% of college freshmen support mandatory drug-testing by employers San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 1989, p. A2). As the war proceeds, the public's wrath is becoming indiscriminate, with all illegal substances and their users being deemed fair game. Opinion polls have even demonstrated support for military action against drug-dealing nations (are there any clean ones?), which represents a major breakthrough for the establishment's drive against the "Vietnam Syndrome." All this is of course further good news for the criminal-industrial complex.
Little is actually being done about crack or heroin. Why should the government endanger one of its few lucrative enterprises? Nor are the powers-that-be ignorant of the role hard drugs play in controlling both the urban poor and striving yuppies. Nothing is being done about legal drugs, of course. The main targets are users of consciousness-altering substances such as pot and psychedelics. These were associated with the radical community in the '60s. While they do not automatically radicalize people, they tend to open minds and connect people to nature. Enlightenment is a natural enemy of a social order whose stability depends upon ignorance of history and reality. Furthermore, becoming sensitized to the environment can only alienate one from a way of living based upon compulsions, repressed desires and suppression/destruction of the natural in and around us. Lastly, in a social order based on discipline, genuine pleasure is subversive.
The left is so scared of the witch-hunt, it goes right along with it. Many leftists condemn even use of pot and LSD as anti-"revolutionary" or anti-"progressive" (depends upon one's pretensions). Part of this attitude is an analysis which claims that use was a major factor behind the demise of the '60s movement: "They were too stoned to demonstrate" Some conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the C.I.A.'s experiments with LSD in the early '60s prove that the counterculture was a C.I.A. operation aimed at social control and diffusion of opposition. (Funny that the state did all it could to stamp out the counterculture, including the mass importation of heroin into the Haight in January '67 after a major pot-acid bust).
Leftists (and even some "anarchists") have done little to separate themselves from the prejudices of Western European bourgeois culture. This tradition features a distinct preference for alcohol and a disdain for other substances, or opposition toward alteration of any form, an attitude which reeks of Christianity. Some activists also see use as strictly an escape from the wretched conditions of modern life, a phenomenon which should disappear after the election of a progressive government, the abolition of capitalist relations or a return to a primal;lifestyle. Others insist use is a sign of immaturity, something they have gone beyond (and so should you).
But more,fundamentally, leftists suspect a culture which nurtures anti-authoritarian and anti-work-ethic values. One day, they expect to be managers of state and capital, and would hate to see disorder. (This may also explain increasingly puritanical attitudes within the left regarding sexuality). Frantz Schurman, a well-known leftist writer, has called for a world-wide effort to fight drugs, on which he blamed lagging productivity.
Their arguments should be blown apart. Many of those in the counterculture had an analysis which went far beyond the politicos' rhetoric, including calls for the abolition of money, and an understanding of the links between our culture and participation in a global accumulation machine. More recently, the 1977 Movement in Italy was also an upsurge whose nuclei were counter-cultural tendencies. It led to still-ongoing activities in many parts of Europe.
Refuse to submit to brainwashing by either the "establishment" or the "left." Fight them by spreading the facts. Furthermore, be prepared to fight the imposition of martial law by the narco-military-legal junta. If we can't stop draconian anti-drug laws, it'll be harder to stop future steps. Begin now. Learn how to sabotage drug tests. A good source is Abbie Hoffman's Steal this Urine Test. Despite some questionable political analysis, it's a wonderful guide to this hi-tech war on users. Resist plans to restrict public gatherings. The riot in Tompkins Square Park in New York City's Lower East Side this past. August shows how. Do your best to expand the sphere where an alternative culture can flourish. And, most importantly, participate in efforts to do away with a social system which requires witch-hunts and drug abuse to stay in existence.