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America's Self-Inflicted Wound: 100 Years of the War on Drugs


America's Self-Inflicted Wound: 100 Years of the War on Drugs

Alfred W. McCoy

We live in a time of change, when people are questioning old assumptions and seeking new directions. In the ongoing debate over health care, social justice, and border security, there is, however, one overlooked issue that should be at the top of everyone’s agenda, from Democratic Socialists to libertarian Republicans: America’s longest war. No, not the one in Afghanistan. I mean the drug war.

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From the very moment that I bought a first nickel bag of grass, I never could have imagined that this nation would make a War on people for something as simple as this, when there are those that use their wealth, their power, and their position, to produce weapons that kill, to charge excessive prices for necessary Healthcare, to throw people into the streets because of soaring rents.

Why isn’t there a War on Greed?



100 years of the War on Drugs? How many really understand what that means?
China calls it the Century of Humiliation, the time from 1849 to 1949 when their country was destroyed by drug dealers and addiction leading to 100 years of humiliation, degradation and military defeat. Once the world’s greatest manufacturing dynamo, literally bankrupting Great Britain for its tableware (“China”) and tea, millions of Chinese died horribly in the interim. This is why the Chinese execute drug dealers with alacrity. They don’t fuck around anymore.
And now they supply Mexico with 80% of the raw materials for the meth that comes into the United States. Could they be taking a page from the history books and the “China Trade”?
And we stupid, pathetic Americans are legalizing drugs. Our doctors hand out opioids like Halloween candy to suicidal children.
Our own venal, corrupt leaders have used drug addiction to destroy political movements without regard for the damage it does to their own country (MKUltra and the Hippies, Heroin and Crack into the black power movement).
And the United States of America, hooked on meth, alcohol, pot, opioids , once the world’s greatest manufacturing center is approaching total societal collapse.
Howard Dean, MD. opposed the legalization of drugs and so do I. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.



First off we should have a drug use, over eighteen drug card. If you don;t have one you get busted IF In possession.
The reason for the card would be that it would prove you have attended and passed a class. A class that went over the aspects of drug use, and taught the basics in CPR.



Hah! Thanks for giving me another reason to support drug legalization - that guy is a worthless fraud and I’ll forever regret giving him money during his 2004 presidential campaign. My guess is that most people who read comments here feel the same about that asshole.



Five time governor of the state of Vermont and a fully licensed MD. Howard Dean is likely a greater person than yourself. But putting Dean’s characterization as an “asshole” aside by one of the peanut gallery, review China’s experience with drugs. They tried legalizing them too. It failed. Now they simply execute dealers and deal harshly with users, very harshly. They know the truth about people and drugs. But I think you should take drugs. Clean up the gene pool.



There are a lot of excellent insights here, and I look forward to reading more of what McCoy has assembled, but the drug wars are not only nor mostly a SELF-inflicted wound. The less powerful nations involved in trafficking and subjected by the act and enforcement of prohibition to the depredations of the black market mafia and black operations are the principal victims, though of course subjects within the hub of empire suffer as well.

These are part of the intrinsic operations of capital and market, as I suspect one might read more thoroughly in McCoy’s other work. Harnessing the violence and authority of governments to restrain supplies and create artificial scarcities creates profits, and deeply unequal gains allow the further purchase of government actions, narrative and spin control, and most all that goes with all that.

Here the principal industries that are involved are not only what are called illicit drugs, but also the others have have become unnaturally inflated:

  • Pharmaceuticals, which are granted monopolies by the DEA and the so-called “Affordable” so-called “Care” Act
  • Arms, for reasons that are probably obvious
  • International banking and finance, which folds “black” market money into “white” and maximizes indebtedness, providing human fodder for illicit trade
  • Energy, upon which empires are dependent for war

We have not just the responsibility, but an ongoing need to disarm all this by a serious reworking of Western societies. The same mechanisms and iniquities drive our ecological problems.



I prefer Portugal’s strategy. I don’t discount China’s history though I’m not crazy about many of their solutions to getting to where they are, certainly not this one.

Dean’s cash out to the lobbyist profession and betrayal of single payer and his idiotic stance on support for MEK in Iran are good enough reasons for me to think of him as an asshole. Hopefully he did some good while he was governor for the people of Vermont - now he isn’t doing anybody any good that I can see except for himself.



What’s Portugal’s unemployment rate, China’s? What’s Portugal’s year over year standard of living indices, going up, down, by how much? China is double digit up for more than 25 years.
You see the Chinese have been through what we are going through now and they learned the hard way, at great cost which you seem to ignore, just as you ignore the fact Vermonters (the folks who also gave us Sanders) elected Dean FOUR TIMES to their statehouse. And until you get a medical degree, as does Gov. Dean, your opinion on drugs is like an asshole, everyone’s got one.



McCoy frames the strategy of prohibition as a “failure”, but for whom?

Certainly for humanity … but for those prosecuting the war on drugs?

Like “terrorism”, the aim is not to “win”, but to perpetuate a fear of the demon to justify policies meant to maintain power.

If the dragon is slain, what need of the knight?

(And the Florida measure did not restore voting rights to all felons. Those convicted of murder or sexual violence were excluded.

All that glitters is rarely unalloyed gold)



Why don’t we start one or continue it? Good point as always! Don’t buy their products, grow food as much as you can and if you can’t join a coop, buy as little as possible- that’s the language they understand- coNsumerism/



Alfred McCoy is always worth paying attention to but I found this comment troubling:
“…U.N., whose dubious role when it comes to drug policy stands in stark contrast to its positive work on issues like climate change and peace-keeping.”

Huh? The UN is an instrument of US imperialism, never more than today. And climate change? What have they done? Total missions (what matters) have gone up, not down.



The nation-state is always at war with it’s citizens.



How do we start a revolution on greed. All suggestions welcome.



You really need to read “Chasing the Scream”.




You are right in that law enforcement, and others (look at the bloated DEA budget) make a lot of money from the war on drugs. They will not give up that gravy train willingly. Politicians use the war on drugs to appeal to conservatives and paint themselves as tough on crime. A few states have adopted laws allowing the use of recreational Cannabis and several more have passed medical Marijuana laws.
However for most states the War on Drugs is humming along quite nicely. The GOP claims to believe in states’ rights, but when it comes to allowing Cannabis use they have with the full cooperation of Trump’s administration wanted to charge users and providers in those states that have voted to allow
Cannabis use.
The War on Drugs is a failure, but I do not see it winding down any time soon.



Excellent book! Also read “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts,” by Gabor Mate.




Where’s your medical degree?



Yeah, prohibition has worked so well that we have kids selling drugs on street corners and the contraband is sold inside prisons.

Tremendous policy you advocate.

The only reason the prohibition exists is because the many bureaucracies that profit from it will not let it end.

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You and many others simply gloss over China and the Opium Wars as if 100 years of Chinese addiction to drugs never happened. They legalized them too. Bad idea, they will never do that again. They lost their country, literally and perhaps hundreds of millions as a result. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. And, btw, as for prohibition, our most corrupt leaders, Nixon, CIA, the Bush Family, Ollie North, the Reagan Administration, while publicly blasting and prohibiting drug us, were, in secret supplying the country with drugs as a means to gain political advantage. You think the Sackler Family is any different? Legal opioid drug addiction to keep the masses from causing any political damage. They don’t give a damn if we all overdose on their poison. The more things change, the more they reman the same.