Friday, January 6, 2006

John Walters and the government's propoganda machine

One of the many methods the government uses to sustain public support for the drug war is severe propaganda.

In its infancy the propaganda was blatant and outright false. Even if you haven't seen it you probably have heard of films like "Reefer Madness". This film portrayed cannabis use as a mortal danger, an imminent cause of psychosis and many other disturbingly false assertions. The truth is cannabis use have never been known to cause a single death. It is true however, that using cannabis with other psychoactive substances can be extremely dangerous.

"Not Your Parents Marijuana"

Today's propagandist methods while just as false as ever are much more subtle. At some point or another most people have been exposed to "public service announcements" from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) or organizations they support. John Walters who directs this office loves the "Not Your Parents Marijuana" slogan. The intent of this slogan and campaign that has grown from it has many problems. I will highlight two. First, if this slogan had a sliver of truth, it would completely invalidate the propaganda spouted in films like "Reefer Madness". This is in part why the government has backed away from all the assertions in the film. Second, as many cannabis users of the Vietnam era will attest, the only thing that has changed about cannabis is the price. John Walters is a man who thoroughly enjoys making statements without opposition. The problem with drug warriors in general is they can't stand debating drug policy because they don't want to look like idiots. When there is a true dialogue on drug policy the primary problem becomes evident very quickly. The stated intent of our federal drug policy is to protect society, with an emphasis on children from dangerous substances. While this sounds extremely admirable in theory it is not being practiced. The two most deadly substances in America, tobacco and alcohol are legal. It is has been said that when the middle-class accepts something, it will generally be accepted by society at large. This is surely the case with alcohol and to a lesser extent tobacco. For decades, tobacco use was not just accepted but glamorized in popular culture. Today alcohol consumption is glamorized just as much as tobacco use was. Annually, tobacco and alcohol cause or are related to 500,000 deaths. Illicit drugs on the other hand account for fewer than 20,000 deaths annually. Many of these illicit drug deaths can be attributed to the harsh nature of drug policy not the drugs themselves. The same cannot and will likely never be able to said about alcohol or tobacco. One of the myths that is heavily perpetrated by the ONDCP and others, is that tobacco and alcohol use are higher among underage minors than that of illicit drugs like cannabis, cocaine, heroin and others. I find this to be one the few blatantly false statements left out there. The lunacy of this statement is illustrated very well by Jack Cole, a former New Jersey State trooper and undercover narcotics agent during the Nixon era. He is now Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The following is an excerpt from his essay "End Prohibition Now" in the book Under the Influence:

"Those kids in the parking lot, none of whom were 21 years old, could and did sell me any kind of illegal drugs you can name but they often came up to me and said, "Hey Jack, we're thirsty--will you go into the liquor store and buy us some beer? We can't buy beer." They could get all the illegal drugs they wanted but couldn't buy beer. How can that be?"

The answer is simple. The regulatory structure. The proof of age bar to buying alcohol and tobacco while not perfect, prevents most minors from purchasing these substances. John Walters would have you believe that heavy taxation is the reason why tobacco use has been reduced among minors. He needs us to believe this because this is the same methodology of the drug war. Federal drug policy relies on the theory that lowering purity and increasing price will reduce drug use. The truth about the reduction in teen tobacco use is based in two things. Solid public education about the dangers, and increased penalties for retailers who sell to minors. When it comes to the drug policy theory, the exact opposite has happened. Since the drug war began, purity has increased while retail prices have decreased.

"The Gateway Theory"

Probably the most well-known myth of the drug war is that cannabis is a gateway drug. Many may have the heard the joke that it's nothing more than a gateway to the munchies. While this is lighthearted it is pretty much the truth. No causal link has ever been established between cannabis use and harder drugs like cocaine or heroin. The fact of the matter is, alcohol and tobacco are the most likely gateway drugs. Most people who use cannabis or harder drugs, took a drink first or tried a cigarette.

"The Myth of Marijuana"

Many people have known the word marijuana since their youth. I have known about this word for years but didn't learn what it truly meant until 5 or 6 years ago. It comes from from a reference to the Thuglani of India. It means hashish assassins. The Thuglani were a gang of armed robbers and killers that are said to have smoked hash before they did their dirty deeds. This goes straight to the heart of the propaganda that the drug warriors have leaned on to justify the drug war as social policy. The notion being that drug users commit violent acts because they are intoxicated. The truth is most violent or property crimes committed by drug users are for no other reason than to obtain the necessary funds to feed their habit. Many of the drug-related problems we see in our society are directly attributable to the drug laws. Hepatitis C infections, heroin overdoses and high numbers of HIV infections among IV drug users are all heavily influenced by the drug laws.

Anyone who has been affected by illicit drug abuse knows that it is an illness. For a multitude or reasons, none of which I find to be reasonable, it is the only illness that is criminalized.