The Impasse
In the War
On Drugs
Steven Wisotsky
(Greenwood Press)

One of our favorite books described the war on drugs purely in terms of happiness:1

Americans are worried about being happy. Although it is not yet illegal to be unhappy, it is certainly frowned on. Americans have even been known to become anxious from fretting that they aren't happy enough.

   It then went on:

    Fortunately, they can take these problems to a psychiatrist who is specially trained to take little naps while patients are talking. After several years of this, or $20,000, whichever comes first, the patient may become even more anxious about not being happy. The psychiatrist then remembers that he can prescribe happiness pills. This recollection is known as "retrieved memory" (huevos revueltos).

    Happiness pills are medicines like Prozac, Valium, Xanax, and Percodan. Prozac is the top-of-the-line model, with power windows, moon roof, leather upholstery, and Bose stereo, loaded. The economy model, Valium, has five forward speeds and a cruise control. Xanax is a compact pick-up designed for week-end outings. Percodan is a Harley-Davidson with reflecting fins and a noisy motor.

    Pills to make you happy are primarily meant for the rich since they cost $75 - $100 for a prescription, plus the expense of the visit to the doctor. Poor people usually can't afford prescription medicine or a visit to the doctor, so they become happy by using locally available "street" drugs like marijuana, acid, hashish, and Testers Cement (Marca Registrada). Since these are not prescribed by a doctor, and since they don't cost very much, they are against the law. Any poor person caught buying, selling, or using them is arrested. Americans are allowed to feel good but if they feel too good or feel good without a prescription, they have to go to jail (see THREE STRIKES).

As this passage suggests, we Americans certainly have a weird attitude towards drugs. We want the habit of drugs to be restricted solely for the Upper Class: namely, only those who can afford a medically approved prescription or --- even better --- a top-drawer criminal attorney. If you are a high school student, we'll bust the hell out of you for selling, buying, or using (despite this, it's estimated that 500,000 American students nationwide use drugs every day).

For the poor --- it's even worse: the police now have tanks to shove down your front door and squash you and your family flat in their efforts to make the ghettos safe for democracy. (A writer in The New Yorker pointed out in a recent issue that the "Bill of Rights" no longer applies when it comes to apprehension and prosecution of suspected drug dealers and users.)

We destroy the governing systems of whole countries --- like Colombia --- by dumping our arrant needs on them, and then dump more monies on their governments to enrich the scoundrels and punish those who are merely feeding our habits --- habits which are a product of our puritan lifestyle.

The people of the United States had the grace, in 1934, to push through the 21st Amendment, putting an end to the fifteen years of nonsense that came out of prohibition; what a pity --- a terrible pity --- that we cannot do the same for drugs.

Steven Wisotsky, a professor of law at Nova University, has had enough of it:

    The War on Drugs inevitably is a losing and destructive policy; it reflects a set of unconscious, prejudicial attitudes portraying the drug taker as victim rather than one exercising personal liberty in the pursuit of fundamental psychic needs;...these attitudes imprison us, disabling us from taking meaningful and principled action; breaking the impasse requires a new paradigm of individual responsibility for drug control.

Americans have always delighted in overseeing the morals of other Americans --- but fun as it may be to try to punish those who don't live up to our standards, our morals pitted against theirs creates a hellishly expensive public policy. Federal taxes on a legal drug trade, it is said, could wipe out our national debt in two years. Further, Consumer Reports recently issued a study on drugs and drug use which claimed that our belief in the addicting powers of most drugs is a dangerous addiction peculiar to the operatives of the DEA.

The War on Drugs makes us all out to be children, "treats people as though they were not morally responsible," says Wisotsky. He sees our policy as a rearguard action that has to change, and change drastically, in the coming years, if we are to survive as a nation of laws and trust.

--- Leslie Seamans

1Gringolandia: A Guide for Puzzled Mexicans
      (Mho & Mho Works)