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Do the drugs work?

War on drugs? AUC paramilitary death squads in Colombia.

Take the drugs but don’t let them take you for a fool – a look at the global drugs industry by Marie Jean in this article first published in Freedom, 1st May 2004

Hypocrisy is rife around the issue of drugs. The basic law of supply and demand is deemed okay when it comes to arms dealing but not for drug dealing. They are both commodities people want, but one is regarded as fair, the other not. It all seems a bit fraudulent.

Italian anarchist Malatesta had certain views about the evils of the cocaine trade and the wretchedness of the addict, but he hated state interference in the form of prohibition. He said: “the more severe the penalties on consumers and traffickers, the greater will be the attraction of forbidden fruits … and the greater the profits made by speculators avid for money.”

The 1930s Prohibition of Alcohol in America simply led to the regeneration of the Mafia and an increase in alcoholism that was so acute it led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. This would suggest that drugs policy and draconian laws do nothing to help drug addicts or social problems, simply leading to increased desperation on the part of addicts.

The cycle of crime and violence instead intensifies, as gangsters fight each other for control of the lucrative black market trade – a trade often financed by the state itself. We find ourselves in the ludicrous position of being in a state which finances the drugs trade while targeting its customers as criminals.

 

State support for drug dealers

Mussolini, the Italian fascist, all but eliminated the Mafia in the 1930s, as he saw them as a threat to his power. It was the US government who financed Mafia informers during the Second World War, which kept organised crime alive in America. Mafia families quickly moved into the drugs trade once prohibition of alcohol had been repealed.

The crack trade in South America went into a boom period, after the right-wing Contras were financed by the CIA to ferment a civil war in Nicaragua to prevent the Marxist Sandinistas from being elected to government in the 1970s. CIA and FBI involvement in covert drug smuggling of heroin and cocaine from Asia to South America was exposed in the Iran Contra Scandal in the 1980s.

Crack-cocaine first appeared as an organised trade in East LA, something now seen by some historians as being deliberately introduced to undermine the black liberation movement. In poor black areas it took off like wildfire, with the tacit consent of the CIA and FBI who even acted as double agents under the guise of covert operations, to ensure that the trade flourished.

Now, in Afghanistan, in order to remove the Taliban from power the US have financed Afghan warlords who control most of worlds heroin trade, accusing the Taliban of being the opium producers. Whatever the other philosophies of the Taliban were, part of their draconian policy was to ban opium production, jail farmers, and execute drug addicts. Who’s fooling who here?

Even Gore Vidal, the American writer and member of the Gore family political dynasty and no great hippy, likens the current war on drugs to the war on terror, as a self perpetuating hypocritical war being waged in the interests of the state. He said: “If drugs did not exist our governors would have invented them in order to prohibit them and make much of the population vulnerable to arrest, seizure of property and imprisonment.”

 

It’s not the drugs but what they represent

In the 1960s drug-taking, from Marijuana and LSD, to heroin and cocaine became a recreational activity and also came to symbolise the youth rebellion from the USA and across Europe. “Let those who doubt drugs doubt that which is here” read the San Francisco graffiti in 1966.

Allen Ginsburg the poet and peace activist wrote back in 1967 that “the dope menace in America has become a national hallucination. Heroin addicts status as monster criminals is a glaring example of an extraordinary viciousness inherent in [our] society.”

Even more extraordinary nowadays, as drug-takers become the scapegoats of state machinations to destroy individualism and attack any kind of counterculture activity. At the same time the ‘drugs problem’ is used to ferment racism, often being seen as black ghetto based organised crime, or the workings of foreign states to corrupt Western civilisation.

A good example of this kind of attack is the Christiana community in Denmark, a long standing commune set up in the 1960s with widespread support amongst the Danish population.

Cannabis was generally available within the community and tolerated by the police, where it caused no particular problems. Harder drugs were not allowed in.

The last election brought in a more right-wing government, and one of their first moves has been to threaten this community. Their small outlets for selling cannabis within the commune have been taken down, ritually burnt by the residents themselves, and they have been threatened with prosecution for ‘drugs’. The new prime minister has stated he intends to evict the community and build luxury flats on the site.

 

The state’s way out

The UK government is now putting money into rehabilitation centres, often run by right-wing behavioural psychologists cashing in on the social problems created by prohibition – with little success.

Irony compounds infamy with Tony Blair’s latest solution for the UK, which is not liberalisation, tolerance and understanding, but the creation of an FBI style organisation simply recreating the American situation ripe for corruption and ‘covert’ operations.

 

 Legalise it

Legalising cannabis! That old chestnut. Whether it’s harmful or not is irrelevant. Alcohol, nicotine and lead in petrol are all perfectly legal, but equally harmful. Everyone can get legally drunk, addicted to alcohol, and many commit appalling crimes of violence whilst ‘under the influence’ – alcohol binges which are often continued the next day chasing a ‘hair of the dog’.

The pollution of the environment along with the proliferation of the arms trade is harmful but all perfectly legal! Yes the problem of illegal drugs is on our streets and of course causing serious problems. But is this problem just an artificial creation by the state to create public panic and protect private greed through prohibition?

We had the glorious comedy of MP’s rushing to admit they had smoked cannabis prior to the war in Iraq to grab votes. Then as Bush and Blair climbed into bed with each other, this liberalisation was suddenly reversed, and dope smokers again vilified. At the moment the declassification of cannabis seems a double edged sword and is simply a way of keeping the ‘crime’ of smoking cannabis in the police armoury, allowing for the fact that people want to smoke it but making it impossible for them to buy it in a safe place.

The ‘Zero-Tolerance’ strategy adopted by and backed by the state of removing supply goes against the most basic principles of capitalist economics, where supply creates demand, leading to worse crime as addicts and gangsters become more and more desperate to find more supplies.

Drug addicts are the ultimate consumers, constantly having to satisfy their demand for this commodity which becomes increasingly expensive – chasing dragons.

 

Libertarian high idealism

So without knowing all the answers I am simply reflecting on the double standards of the state’s propaganda about the drugs trade. People always have and always may take drugs to enjoy themselves. It seems to me people should have the freedom to make that choice for themselves as legislation simply does not work. From an anarchist perspective I would agree with Malatesta’s observations on the cocaine trade and apply it today to all illegal drugs including marijuana and heroin. He argued as anarchists “we suggest another solution – make the use and sale of cocaine free from restrictions where it would be sold at cost price or even under cost” and, provided with information, let the people decide for themselves. He carries on “Since the penal laws have proved impotent, would it not be a good thing to try out the anarchist method”?

For Malatesta, his suggestion involved humanist freedom based on educated choice. This humanist solution has in fact been tried in the modern day context, and been found to be more successful than methadone programmes, but, the government in the UK refuses to acknowledge their success and makes it impossible for doctors to implement such programmes.

A glaring example of state perpetuation of the drugs problem was the closing of a project in Liverpool run by Dr David Marks. He prescribed pure heroin to addicts, and, began to help addicts overcome their addictions or deal with their habit in a private safe way. The state closed down the project and Dr Marks was forced to go to Australia in order to carry on with he believed to be a more successful programme for combating the problems of addiction and the social problems of crime that go with it.

I do not intend to minimalise the pain, violence, and crime that characterises the whole issue of drug addiction, including alcohol and tobacco. But really who are the real criminals here? Junkies? Crack-heads? Inmates of rehab centres and prisoners?

Or the state, which perpetuates the drug problem through its double-dealing ‘secret’ agents, the arms dealers, the producers of weapons of mass destruction, the polluters, the corporate cartels, and the city traders who control the whole economic infrastructure in the interests of profit and ‘fair’ capitalism. The state, as the ruling class, keep some drugs illegal to give them leverage to attack alternative lifestyles and to criminalise whole sections of the population who don’t fit in one way or another.

At the same time it uses the trade to ferment political instability where it suits them and bolster repressive and brutal regimes across the world. Cycles of crime and violence that go hand in hand with prohibition perpetuate public fear and moral panic so the state can literally get away with murder (in Iraq, for example) and pass increasingly authoritarian laws taking us all for fools.

The question we should really ask is why we live in a society of double standards, hypocrisy and downright conspiracies, where the pain of life is so unbearable that so many people choose to obliterate themselves with drugs rather than participate?

(taken from Freedom vol 64, no 9, dated 1st May 2004)

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