Inside The Drug Wars

The drug war is out of control. It is responsible, both directly and indirectly, for the massive rate of incarceration in the United States. It is also a direct cause of the increase in police harassment faced daily by tens of thousands of US residents, especially those of color. It is in large part responsible for the constant surveillance we live under and, even worse in some ways, for our casual acceptance of this surveillance and the abuses that come with it. Among these abuses one can include home invasions by overly-armed police, arrests via entrapment, drug sniffing dogs in schools, airports, and even at music festivals. Even this is not enough for some law enforcement officials. Newt Gingrich and New Jersey’s Governor Christie are but two of the more prominent politicians who consider the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado (among others) to be criminal and wrong. Their statements remind one of former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ wish that all drug users should be shot.

Yet, the United States of America is home to the world’s most medicated population in history. The use of legal prescribed pharmaceutical drugs—many of them considerably more harmful than their illegal cousins—is at an all-time high. One can turn on the television at any time of the day or night and witness at least two or three glossy advertisements for some kind of pharmaceutical compound within the first twenty minutes of viewing. These advertisements include a laundry list of the potential dangers each one poses. Yet, law enforcement agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agencies (DEA) focus on the pursuit and arrest of marijuana growers, dispensaries, and sellers for reasons seemingly known only to them.519E3kcsrWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Author Carl Boggs takes this situation on in his most recent book, Drugs, Power, and Politics: Narco Wars, Big Pharma, and the Subversion of Democracy. One of the few such texts discussing the obvious hypocrisy of illegal drugs and the corporate pharmaceutical business, Drugs, Power, and Politics dissects the economics and politics of both sides of the drug business in twenty-first century United States. In doing so, the book also reveals the structural design that business serves as both metaphor and integral part of. The numbers he cites are representative of the role the current effort to control who takes drugs, what kind of drugs they take and who profits from them are staggering in themselves: 900,000 marijuana arrests in the United States from2002 to 2012, eighty percent of painkillers consumed are consumed by US residents, global sales of pharmaceutical drugs approximately $840 billion, DEA budget $3 billion. These are but the tip of the iceberg, but prove Boggs’ point that money is a primary factor in the seemingly endless narco wars.

Once one moves beyond the dollar signs and the arrest figures, other even more ominous phenomena appear. Perhaps foremost among them is the statistically obvious racism of the law enforcement aspect of the US war on drugs. Black and Latino residents (mostly young men) in the US are stopped, frisked, arrested and imprisoned at rates far beyond their relative percentage of the population in the country. Furthermore, the extremely long leash given to police officers and agents involved in illegal drug enforcement when added to the panopticon of surveillance that has been constructed to fight this trade makes the DEA a greater threat to civil and human rights than any other government agency in North America. When combined with the growing militarization of local police forces and an increasing use of drones, the level of surveillance becomes almost incomprehensible.

The symptoms of the desire to control drugs, who uses them, and which ones are to be legal are somewhat common knowledge. They are also disheartening and almost too numerous to list much less comprehend. Boggs utilizes these to discover and discuss the disease these symptoms represent. In his competent hand, that disease is easily recognized: neoliberal global capitalism. Both major political parties are part and parcel of this system, so there is no easy or obvious political way out of the hold Big Pharma and law enforcement have over our lives and well-being. The former uses its enormous wealth to write legislation in its favor while opposing other laws that might impinge on its profits; at the same time, it seduces the public with unfettered access to the airwaves and our wallets. Meanwhile, the regiments aligned against the illegal drug trade are now the most undemocratic realm of American public life.

Carl Boggs has written a comprehensive history useful to the drug war opponent and the civil libertarian. It is equally useable to the social scientist, the pot grower, the student looking for valid and well-researched information, and the interested citizen wondering what the hell is happening to their country. By placing the prevalent US drug control mechanisms into the capitalist economic model he provides an analysis that makes clear the role profits play in each and every facet of the drug economy, from pharmaceutical sales to the often brutal policing of illegal drug users in America’s streets.

Ron Jacobs is the author of a series of crime novels called The Seventies Series.  All the Sinners, Saints, is the third novel in the series. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. His book Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies will be published by Counterpunch. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography