The War On…
The War on Drugs
This one has been going on for a long time. I started with
this one, not because of personal preferences of any kind, but because this is
the basis for so much federal intervention into the everyday lives of the
citizens and it is the one I am most familiar with. The model to enact federal
drug laws is still in use today and is the round about way the federal
government actually criminalizes behavior. Until the drug war started, it was a
generally held belief that the states, not the federal government, had the
power to criminalize behavior. You would be hard pressed to find criminal laws
from the federal government until after the Harrison Act.
The first state law against marijuana was in 1913 in
California. California had previously passed laws against opium dens in1875,
the first anti-drug laws in the US. The law against opium dens was aimed
primarily at Chinese immigrants. When they got around to passing the law
against marijuana, it was primarily aimed at Mexican immigrants. In 1910, Utah
outlawed polygamy. Lots of Mormon polygamists moved to Mexico and when they
returned a few years later, they brought marijuana with them. As part of
cleaning up vices in the Mormon Church, the state outlawed marijuana use.
The Harrison Tax Act was the first federal law to regulate
drug use. It was aimed at three drugs; opium, morphine and its derivatives and
the coca leaf and its derivatives. The purpose of the act was made clear from
the beginning. First, they wanted to regulate the medical use of these drugs.
What they did is pass a tax and require doctors to get a stamp to prove that
they were in the medical practice and that they paid this tax. Second, they
placed a tax of $1000 for any every non-medical exchange of any of these drugs.
You have to remember this is in 1915 and a tax of $1000 was obviously a way to
prohibit the transfer of what probably amounted to less than $1. I remember my
grandfather talking about the benches in the front of drug stores we used to
see a lot when I was a kid. He said those benches were for people that had
purchased a .5c bag of morphine in the drug store. They would go and “nod out”
on the benches. Of course, failure to pay this “tax” led to breaking a federal
crime, tax evasion.
Between 1915 and 1937, 30 states outlawed the use of
marijuana. The reason for the majority of this is best summed up by the words
of one Texas legislator, “All Mexicans are crazy and this stuff (marijuana) is
what makes them crazy.” Some states outlawed marijuana because they were afraid
that heroin addiction would lead to marijuana use. I think that is pretty
In 1937 the congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act. In the
20’s and 30’s there were two federal law enforcement agencies created. One was
the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics
(FBN). The testimony of congress, before passing this act, lasted a grand total
of two hours. The first to testify was the head of the FBN and his entire
testimony was, “Marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users
insanity, criminality and death.” Another person to testify was a
pharmacologist who said he injected the active ingredient (even though THC
wasn’t synthesized until after World War II) into the brain of 300 dogs and two
of them had died.
The last to testify is the most important though. You have
to remember that this was during the time of FDR and his socialization
programs. A group that disagreed often with FDR and his programs was the
American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. William Woodward was a doctor and
lawyer and the chief counsel for the AMA. He told congress, “The American
Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug.”
So what did these “progressive” activists in congress reply to him? “Doctor, if
you can’t say something good about what we are trying to do here, why don’t you
just go home.” The government had already made up its mind what it was going to
As during alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition has led to a
huge black market for the prohibited drugs. Cost of enforcement, likewise, has
also risen. The number of people in prison hasn’t shrunk due to more
enforcement; the market for the drugs hasn’t only increased, but it has soared.
People involved in the drug underground can’t go to the police when a crime is
committed against them. If they are robbed, raped or murdered, they are treated
different in the eyes of the law than other citizens.
And the cost of the drug war can’t be overstated. Even by
the federal governments own conservative estimates, the war on drugs cost the
taxpayers $37 billion dollars a year.
The War On…
There have been other things that we have declared war on.
We have declared war on poverty, cancer, terrorism, all with some of the same
effects as the war on drugs. The growth of government programs, out of control
spending, private contractor abuses and on and on and on. Regardless of any
good intentions on the part of the people declaring these wars, the end results
are fairly the same. We lose something every time the government takes up a
cause. I am sure that depending on ones perspective, these wars could have some
merit, but they all lack the results that show the costs are worthwhile. In the
case of the war on terror, the loss of civil liberties may be the most
Battle lines are drawing up again. Who knows what the next
“war on” is going to be. Probably immigration. If the government holds true to
form, the estimated costs of illegal immigration on the US economy now, will be
dwarfed in comparison to how much money and civil liberties the government can
take from us.
The No Name Group Project