David P. Hamilton : Our Corporate Rulers and their Bankrupt Drug War

Image from Democratic Underground.

Why our leaders wage war on drugs
And why this war is doomed

By David P. Hamilton / The Rag Blog / May 26, 2010

Ted McLaughlin recently wrote an article for The Rag Blog (“Prohibition II: A Trillion Dollars Down the Drain“) that cataloged the failures of the “war on drugs.” Basically, it hasn’t met its stated objectives to reduce the use of illicit drugs, it has cost a lot of the taxpayer’s money, and it has fueled the development of organized criminal elements.

All true and I have no quarrel with his conclusion that the government needs to admit that the whole effort has been a misguided failure. However, this failure has been glaringly apparent for many years and yet the policy continues. The National Research Council studied the efficacy of the war on drugs and concluded that existing studies were inconclusive, inadequate, and provided no basis on which to carry out a public policy of this magnitude.

This study was ignored by policy makers, leading one observer to conclude “the drug war has no interest in its own results.” There must be other benefits that our rulers derive from the war on drugs that we are not taking into account.

In addition to its inefficacy, the war on marijuana in particular has suffered from mounting evidence of pot’s benign nature and its beneficial effects. Despite considerable effort to do so, the anti-drug forces haven’t been able to link it with lung cancer. Some studies even suggest that pot may have a prophylactic effect against it. A pulmonary specialist who I’ve seen, a member of a large group of doctors in the same field, told me that in 17 years of practice, he had never seen a patient with lung cancer who had just smoked pot.

We need to grasp the real reasons the war on drugs is maintained in the face of its obvious failures. What is the corporate ruling class gaining from this policy despite the fact it isn’t accomplishing the objectives that are fed to the general public as justifications? There are several answers.

The war on drugs is an important means of social control. It gives the state a reason to employ many more agents of social control — police, border patrol, prison guards, and the related bureaucrats. It gives these agents a justification for interfering in people’s lives. It allows the state to incarcerate and disenfranchise millions of those who have, by violating drug laws, shown disrespect for the state’s authority.

This is especially useful in controlling potentially dissident non-white male populations. It is no historical coincidence that the racist Nixon kicked off the war on drugs in 1970, in the wake of years of major rioting in African-American communities. The racist character of making marijuana illegal was quite overt when we look at the justifications originally put forth in the 1930’s.

Image from cannabis culture.

The war on drugs has always had racist elements like the continuing gross inequities in penalties for crack and powder cocaine. African-Americans comprise nearly three fourths of those jailed for drug offenses although they are no more likely to use drugs than anyone else.

The money generated by the illicit drug trade eventually gets laundered and spent. It filters into the regular economy and ends up in legitimate financial institutions. This has the normal multiplier effect within the overall economy as the money ultimately becomes available to these financial institutions for their own investments. They make billions from their investment of drug money without ever touching the illicit drug trade.

Hence, the drug trade is an important pillar of the economy. Were drug money to magically disappear overnight, the shock would send the economy into a depression. In relation to the economy its illegitimate origins are largely irrelevant.

Like the “defense” industry, the war on drugs establishes a system of transfer payments from the general population to the corporate ruling class. We are all taxed to support this policy. If the government has spent a trillion tax dollars to support the policy, where did it all go?

Outside of salaries paid to the state’s social control agents required by the program, the money is sent to the corporate entities that supply the hardware for it — private prisons, guns, electronics, cars, airplanes, uniforms, fences, etc. And like “defense” spending, drug war spending provides government guaranteed profits to the capitalist class who own the enterprises that support it.

This government spending generates a constituency from among those to whom it provides jobs. They naturally support the prohibition’s continuation. California’s powerful prison guard association is doing all it can to defeat the marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot there this November.

Marijuana is the primary drug at issue with exponentially more users than any other illicit drug. The money involved in the marijuana trade comprises probably half of all the money in the illicit drug business, although this is hard to measure given its widespread domestic production, amorphous distribution, and ubiquitous consumption.

The problem for the capitalist class is that marijuana makes for a uniquely poor legitimate commodity. It’s a weed that is easily grown anywhere and you don’t need a green thumb to grow powerful pot. Were it legal, too many people would just grow their own. The state has no means to tax what is growing in a person’s back yard. The capitalist class can’t package and sell a significantly better product than you can grow at home. Its production cannot be monopolized and, therefore, the capitalist class can only make money from marijuana if it’s illegal.

Finally, we cannot forget the principal reason marijuana was made illegal in the first place back in the 1930’s, through the combined efforts of timber, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, alcohol, and other industrial and agricultural interests. The first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, an anti-marijuana zealot, was married to the niece of major industrialist Andrew W. Mellon. As Secretary of the Treasury under Hoover, Mellon appointed Anslinger — whose qualifications, besides his marital status, were a two year business degree and working as a cop for the Pennsylvania Railroad — to head the anti-drug agency he led for the next 32 years.

Industrial interests Mellon represented didn’t want to compete with products made from hemp, marijuana’s non-psychoactive form, possibly the world’s most useful and valuable plant resource. Hemp oil could replace most uses of petroleum including medicines and gasoline. (Diesel, which can be produced from biomass and is now used by over half the cars in Europe and gets 30% better fuel economy than gasoline.)

Hemp’s fiber can be used for paper, textiles, building materials, cordage, and biodegradable plastics. Its seed and the oil produced from it are highly nutritious. It grows like crazy (up to 25 tons of dry matter per hectare) almost anywhere without fertilizers or pesticides, and can be grown by small farmers just as well as by large agribusinesses.

Hence, in its multitude of industrial applications as in its more familiar psychoactive uses, it is poorly suited to being controlled and monopolized by large corporations. All these reasons to prohibit hemp production are more relevant today to capitalists involved in the exploitation of difficult to extract non-renewable resources than they were in the 1930’s.

Sign from Zen Healing Collective, West Hollywood, CA. Photo by Caveman 92223 / Flickr / Creative Commons.

So the war on drugs continues, but there are major fissures in the system. One is the medical marijuana movement, obviously a foot in the door for legalization. After several years of proliferating medical marijuana efforts that now include nine states, there is a very good possibility that legalization will tale place in California in November as a result of a popular initiative.

It easily achieved ballot status and most polls indicate it will pass, although narrowly. Every opponent of the war on drugs ought to be sending money or volunteering to help this legalization effort. Once it is legal in California, the dam breaks and the rest of the country will be compelled to react.

Another major problem for the capitalist class is how the enrichment of the criminal organizations supplying drugs has destabilized whole countries, particularly Mexico and Afghanistan. Having a virtual civil war taking place just across our southern border is extremely problematic.

They don’t so much mind the piles of corpses, because those are mostly expendable young men who have found employment with the “drug cartels” or easily replaceable police. But they like stability above all and this situation is progressively destabilizing and corrupting of normal political processes. Additionally, as in Afghanistan, it provides a means of support for elements which are the sworn enemies of continued Western cultural proliferation — and that includes Coca-Cola and its ilk.

These negative byproducts of the system require changes, especially since a popular domestic movement for reform is growing stronger and the prohibition forces weaker, making perpetuation of the current system impossible.

What is the capitalist class to do? They will be split, with many capitalists in resource exploitive industries still worried about competing with hemp products. But the compromise position they are being forced into will require them to give way on marijuana. The popular movement for its legalization and the growing evidence that it is largely harmless or even beneficial makes the marijuana situation uncontrollable.

But there may be some value for them in its legalization, even if they can’t make much money from its use as a recreational drug. Perhaps, marijuana can provide them with an alternative and more subtle means of social control, the “soma” factor, as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Since one can learn to drive well enough while stoned, maybe the working class will become more complacent and be just as productive if allowed to have marijuana. Thereby, the system is modernized and they can devote themselves to controlling the smaller and more isolated problems associated with cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

In any event, with the burgeoning medical marijuana movement spreading across the country, they need to develop a new policy that protects their most basic interests. The long-standing status quo of war on drugs is coming to an end and our rulers are now faced with the obligation to devise a new fall back position.

Mariann G. Wizard contributed to this article.

[David P. Hamilton is an Austin-based activist and writer.]

The Rag Blog

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10 Responses to David P. Hamilton : Our Corporate Rulers and their Bankrupt Drug War

  1. There is no need for the government to spend a trillion dollars fighting the war on drugs. Its like going 12 rounds with Ali with one hand tied behind your back.

    Simply declare everyone who crosses the border illegally to be an invader (sort of like Iran, which you progressives constantly defend). Make it a capital offense and station Air Combat bridages along the border and let the Apache crews execute the sentence on site on anyone found within half a mile of the southern border who are not crossing at a marked border crossing. And the Apache crews would get much needed field work.

    I guarantee you that illegal crossings would stop and the transport of illegal drugs across that border would end. Other routes would pop up but a serious blow to the drug trade would be landed and supplies would be slashed. That would cost just a fraction of a Trillion dollars.

  2. Pollyanna says:

    Extremist, you are very misguided on this issue. One hardly knows where to begin, with your willingness to engage in open warfare on an allied nation’s border, within US territory, or your stupid notion that drugs have anything to do with immigration and border security, or your ignorance of the drug trade, or even on progressives’ supposed constant “defense” of Iranian immigration policies. What are YOU smoking??

    Really, you’re way over your head on this one.

  3. Mariann says:

    David, great article! I appreciate being mentioned as contributing; I only pointed you to the Big Lie that led to hemp prohibition.

    I have a few clarifications, qualifications, maybe a correction or 2:

    1. The Nat. Research Cncl isn’t the only advisory body that has found the drug war useless. Almost since the inception of cannanbis prohibition, every appointed body, every gov’t medical study, every scientific study, every blue-ribbon panel, has found it unnecessary and/or undesirable. As you imply, weed isn’t illegal to protect us from anything but ourselves.

    2. Your pulmonary guy is quite right, but, there’s a caveat to lung cancer not appearing in people who’ve only smoked pot. This may not apply to those w/ other cancers that spread to the lungs, even those who never smoked tobacco. A clearer way of putting the matter: pot has never been directly implicated in any cancer, but people who’ve smoked pot aren’t immune to cancer.

    3. Hemp: let’s re-read one part of David’s article, in caps: “HEMP OIL CAN REPLACE MOST USES OF PETROLUEM INCLDNG MEDICINES AND GASOLINE.” And biomass – another potential hemp fuel – is already used in 1/2 the cars in Europe; maybe elsewhere.

    As the Gulf Oil leak spews, according to what I see on BP’s live feed, UNABATED, can we get it through our pointy little heads that HEMP legalization and production NOW is the single most important task we face?

    Hemp is biodegradeable and enriches soil in which it grows. It breaks the backs of Big Oil, Big Chem, Big Pharma and the rest. Hemp is the only way to PEACEFUL revolution.

    4. Although $ comes first, another reason the ruling class likes Prohibition is the leeway it gives to destroy the Constition. From “no knock” laws to legalizing formerly illegal searches, before terrorism took center stage as Boogie Man, we’ve seen our Bill of Rights reduced to a Rag Blog(chuckle) by the Drug War.

    5. D, dunno where you got the info on med pot states, but there are now 14 or more – and a LOT more initiatives than the one in CA. We had a Rag BLog story by Vernell Pratt on one in WA that is NOT for tax-and-control, but would repeal all criminal penalties associated with cannabis. There are campaigns in +/- 10 states, click my link to see ’em. Most are still signature gathering. David urges support for the CA inititive, but efforts in other states could NO DOUBT use some support; spread the love!

    6. Re a Huxleyan pot-smoking future: a) the cheeto-eating couch potato of pop culture isn’t like the 100000s of tokers who are active, involved, intelligent, creative, and who KNOW bullshit when they smell it. Cannabis receptors in our brains, evolved in close association with this plant over millions of years, csn guard against dementia, depression, and anomie, helping us make a positive impact on the world.

    And b) they may be able to legalize hemp w/out legalizing pot (as CAN has done), but you can NOT legalize pot w/out legalizing hemp! After all, according to some US-gov’t-spproved medpot users, that’s about what they’re given, from the federal grow at UMiss!

    7. Finally, and belatedly, I want to lament the passing of our friend and Teacher, Jack Herer, of complications following a collapse after speaking at last year’s Seattle HempFest. A Freedom Fighter to the end, Jack rescued the Hemp from government-enforced obscurity and the dustbin of History with his seminal (chuckle, he’d say “It’s sensimilla”) “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”. If you haven’t read this work (available in print or digital versions), you honestly have NO IDEA what was stolen from YOU, in an unprecedented RESTRAINT OF TRADE CONSPIRACY, through the Cannabis Tax Act and its’ Goddess-less spawn.

    Our condolences and gratitude to Jeannie and to Jack’s children; like Moses, he couldn’t enter the Promised Land. But we may, if we choose, because he led us to this place.

  4. Pollyanna, I loved your comments.

    You have read some of my musings on here and none of them sounded like that. I have a simple reason for having written it.

    I read the exact same kind of crapola from you rag bloggers all the time, with a left wing spin…..Lock people up cause an oil spill happened, take private property from the rich cause they are evil, dont worry about the constitution as long as you can find a way to accomplish your agenda, Gin up cries of racism about Jena even though those arrested got serious prison time. I could make a long list of the exact same kind of left leaning crapola as I just wrote.

    I just wanted to experience what you guys experience when you abondon any sort of logic, reason, or sense of fairness and just blast away. I must admit, it does make you feel better for a while.

  5. Richard says:

    Dave and Mariann,

    re: California Marijuana Inititive. This is a wrong headed approach, to turn over the bizness to the State to control is a step backward. The only inititive moving in the right direction is the Washington State one, a complete decriminalization. The CMI will only broaden and enlarge the drug war. We outlaws like it like it is, we are winning the war and CMI will also be defeated, but it will take time and energy, which we have plenty of.

    Drug war is class war as David points out.

  6. Mariann says:

    Richard — I totally agree with you that complete decrim is the answer, but am in favor of any measures that reduce the harm and fervor of the drug war.

    As you know, medical pot is still controversial in CA and in other states, where demand far exceeds supply and attempts to meet the supply are met with amazed horror by some straight folks. But they’re also getting over it in places, where they see that medical pot doesn’t lead to chaos in the streets.

    We need the whole cannabis plant free to use for all of its 10,000 uses and we need it now. If we can get part of it a little bit less restricted, we don’t stop with that. But we can’t afford to hold out for perfection after 75 years of prohibition; gotta get someplace to stand and keep fighting.

    It’s, you know, our fundamental difference in viewpoint; you see “reform vs. revolution”; I see “reform + revolution”. Tomato, tomahto.

  7. Richard says:

    Potato, potahto, or for Mr. Quale, potatoe.

    Putting the control of our herb in the hands of the state will only enlarge and intensify the war on drugs which is really a war on people.

    Pero, vamos y ver.

  8. Mariann says:

    Richard — here’s a question for you: a friend from CA, from the Emerald Triangle area, told me recently that a lot of the “old-time growers” there are opposed to the CA initiative, not for any of the reasons you advance, but because they think they won’t be able to make any money. When I scoffed at this — they need to develop an “Emerald Triangle” like the “Napa Valley” wine thing and get all the retiring straights high — he said that already, dope they used to wholesale at $4K/lb is down to $2K.

    Is this because CA’s well-developed medical use demands such quantity bud that there really is more to go around? It can’t be the outdoor stuff the cartels are supposedly growing in the parks; that’s commercial Mexi stuff, not serious weed. But this price drop sure isn’t reflected in anything happening in Texas, where medical use remains as illegal as any other use. Is there anything other than increased quantity being produced that could bring about a price drop? Can us Common People have some Hope??

    I look forward to weed being as cheap as oregano, because (almost)everyone can grow their own. That takes the gov’t right out of it.

  9. This is the kind of meaty issue that only the left tackles. Should pot be available and controlled by the government like a drug? Or should us “common people” should be able to grow it like a patch of St Augustine in our back yard? As we all know, the ability to grow and use hemp openly is critical for the future of the world. The debt crisis and terrorism pale in impoprtance to the need for us to landscape with hemp.

    I cant wait for November so the past two years can be erased like a bad dream.

  10. Lem says:

    Keep the priced elevated, protect the monopoly of the East India Company. Robber barron families profited and they still do;


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