Understanding America’s Drug War

by Kurt Johmann

Written: February 2000

The American empire’s so-called Drug War is a policy that affects more than just America, because America’s many possessions and provinces—including most of Europe—have been forced to adopt similar laws and measures that criminalize and penalize the use of certain types of drugs.[1] America’s prohibition against certain drugs—in general, it is those drugs that affect the mind in a way that many people find desirable or enlightening that are prohibited—includes marijuana, about which law-professor Nadine Strossen says in her 1998 article The Facts about Marijuana:

In 1997, there were 640,000 marijuana arrests in the United States—more than in any previous year—the vast majority of which (500,000) were for simple possession.

Our government’s marijuana policy imposes unconscionably long mandatory prison sentences, thus overloading our prisons with non-violent offenders at enormous taxpayer expense. This, in turn, forces some states to release violent offenders.

But these are not the only problem caused by our marijuana policy: It relies on medieval asset-forfeiture laws to confiscate property without due process, subjects huge groups of our citizens not even suspected of using any illegal substances—including schoolchildren—to degrading and intrusive urine searches, and threatens doctors with criminal prosecution for telling seriously ill, suffering patients that marijuana could relieve some of their painful symptoms.[2],[3]

Ever since the passage of the Marijuana Stamp Act in 1937, the government has carried out a propaganda campaign about the drug’s supposed destructive properties.

Officials say it is a “gateway” to hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine; it damages the immune system and reproductive functions; it kills brain cells (remember the government-sponsored film “Reefer Madness”?). These claims form the basis of the drug “education” classes the government mandates for every schoolchild in America. But these claims are false.

Anyone interested in learning the scientific truth about marijuana can do so by reading a concise 1997 book called Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts by Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan. The authors review all of the scientific literature about marijuana and show that the 20 most widespread, longstanding claims about the drug’s dangers are myths, not facts.[4]

For the above mentioned book (Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts) at the Internet bookstore amazon.com the following anonymous review gives some insight into America’s Drug War:

Yes, marijuana is harmless, and our country would be much better off if dope replaced alcohol and cigarettes as the drug of choice. But, as with so many other things, liberals often pretend that the reason we have the terrible laws (or whatever else) we do, is because people don’t know the truth.

The people prosecuting the drug war don’t care whether or not the drugs are bad for us—the CIA actually imports drugs into the country (this is not a far-out conspiracy theory; see Gary Webb’s book, or Alfred McCoy, or Jonathan Kwitny, to name just a few).

The drug laws give the police a right to search and imprison poor and working-class people with impunity (I doubt there have been many drug busts at Harvard recently). Large profits are made both in the building/managing of prisons, and also in the slave labor which is forced out of the inmates. Under Reagan [U.S. President, 1981–1988], for example, the number of state prisoners in for drugs went from 1 in 18, to 1 in 3, with 80% in for mere possession.

Liberals often talk about how much this kind of thing costs “us,” but they forget that cost to us (the common taxpayer) is revenue to them (government and industry). Liberals talk about things like the ability for the US to blow up the world zillions of times, as if the people in charge of Pentagon spending are idiots, when actually it’s about a large transfer of wealth from the public to the corporations who make the weapons.

I’m sorry this hasn’t been a review of the book. I confess to not having read the book. I’m sure I’d enjoy reading it, but I’m not sure that I need to, as I already know, from experience and reading, that marijuana is harmless. Sounds like a good book to give to a kid who is wondering about whether or not he should light up.

In my opinion, dope is not only harmless, it’s a positive thing, the exact opposite of the toxic shock you give your body when you get drunk, or light up a cigarette. In sum: liberals have their facts straight, but they don’t understand the enemy. I get really sick of hearing “every legislator should read this book,” as if politicians are really trying to serve the public, and will do so if provided with “good” information.[5],[6]

As to why America’s Drug War—albeit under different names—has been going on for nearly a century, the literature on the Drug War has offered many reasons. Here are the three reasons that I believe are the most important:

  1. Money

    Many of the writers who have commented on the reasons for the Drug War have cited money as the single most important reason, and I agree with them. By criminalizing an inexpensive substance that many people want to buy and use, the inevitable result is a black market and prices that are much higher for any buyer of that substance. And, in effect, by artificially raising prices for the many buyers, wealth is transferred from the many to the few. The Americans have a saying:

    the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer

    Besides the enrichment that flows from the direct sale of the criminalized substances, there is also a large flow of money that results from the sale of legal replacement products which at the very least would have to be sold more cheaply—and thus earn less profit for their owners—if the original substances in question had not been removed from the marketplace by their criminalization.

    Thus, it is not surprising that the pharmaceutical industry is both a major advocate for the Drug War and a major financial contributor to both Democrats and Republicans—with the understanding that the Drug War will continue.

    As a specific example of how the pharmaceutical industry profits from the Drug War, consider the situation for those cancer patients receiving chemotherapy treatment, and the pharmaceutical companies that sell those cancer patients—indirectly through doctor prescriptions—anti-nausea drugs that are less effective than marijuana at prices roughly one-hundred to one-thousand times higher than what the cost of a marijuana medicine would be if marijuana were legal.

    It is this latter money reason, the removal of low-priced competition, that was the specific reason for Marijuana’s criminalization in 1937. To understand what happened one must first know of the many other uses for the hemp plant, which is the source of marijuana. In a 1998 report, Feasibility of Industrial Hemp Production in the United States Pacific Northwest, by Daryl Ehrensing, Department of Crop and Soil Science, Oregon State University:

    For many centuries hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) has been cultivated as a source of strong stem fibers, seed oil, and psychoactive drugs in its leaves and flowers. Environmental concerns and recent shortages of wood fiber have renewed interest in hemp as a raw material for a wide range of industrial products including textiles, paper, and composite wood products. ... Plant breeders have developed hemp varieties with increased stem fiber content and very low levels of delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.[7],[8]

    Thus, the hemp plant has other uses besides its potential effects on the psyche. Scott Roussel, in his 1999 article The History and Benefits of Hemp, tells why hemp was criminalized in America:

    DuPont’s chemicals [DuPont is a giant chemical company] made wood-pulp paper cheaper than paper made from annual crops like hemp. At the same time William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the largest newspaper chain in the United States, backed by Mellon Bank, invested significant capital in timberland and wood paper mills to produce his newsprint using DuPont’s chemicals.

    ... [DuPont also had other products that competed with hemp, including nylon] ...

    Mellon Bank, owned by U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, was also DuPont’s primary financier. Mellon’s niece was married to Harry Anslinger, deputy commissioner of the federal government’s alcohol prohibition campaign. After the repeal of Prohibition, Anslinger and his entire federal bureau were out of a job. But Treasurer Mellon didn’t let that happen. Andrew Mellon single-handedly created a new government bureaucracy, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to keep his family and friends employed. And then he unapologetically appointed his own niece’s husband, Harry Anslinger, as head of the new multimillion dollar bureaucracy.

    At the same time, a machine was developed that was to hemp what the cotton gin was to cotton: it allowed hemp’s long, tough fiber to be mass processed efficiently and economically for the first time. Popular Mechanics, in February 1937, predicted hemp would be the world’s first “Billion Dollar Crop” that would support thousands of jobs and provide a vast array of consumer products from dynamite to plastics.

    [This impending reduction in the cost of hemp products posed a threat to the profits of DuPont. As a result, in the Hearst newspapers and elsewhere, a strident propaganda campaign against hemp developed, playing on various alleged threats posed by the psychoactive part of the plant. The end result was the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which was then used as justification to impose a ban on all hemp.][9]

    Regarding this tactic of having a widely used product outlawed by the American government, there appears to be at least one general requirement that must first be satisfied by that product before the government will ban it: it must be possible to make what sounds like a good public-interest argument to justify the ban.

    It should be easy for one to see how drugs that affect the mind are an easy target for such public-interest arguments: just claim that the drug causes people to behave in crazy or criminal ways, and concoct a few horror stories for public consumption, and most of the public who have no personal experience with that drug will accept that public-interest argument and go along with the ban. Other lesser-used public-interest arguments are to claim that the drug causes specific damage to the body (for example, the 1960s claim that LSD damaged one’s DNA), or to claim that the drug has some permanent, negative psychological effect (for example, the claim that marijuana turns one into a lazy person).

    To show that this general requirement—that a good-sounding public-interest argument be available to justify banning a widely used product—is not limited to the banning of drugs, consider the recent banning of Freon which was a widely used refrigerant, whose production and use was banned by America in 1996. The public-interest argument that was used to justify the ban on Freon was that Freon was damaging the atmospheric ozone layer. Thus, a protect-the-environment type of argument was used which is certainly a good-sounding argument to most people. However, as Kary Mullis points out in his book Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, the true reason for the ban was a money reason:

    I couldn’t help but notice the amazing coincidence that the American patent on the production of Freon, the principle chlorofluorocarbon used in refrigerators and air conditioners, expired at just about the same time Freon was banned. Those countries that had begun producing Freon without paying for the privilege were asked to stop. And a new chemical compound, a commercial product that would be protected by patent, would soon be substituted and make a lot of money for the company that produced it.[10]

    It is perhaps worth noting that the need for a good-sounding public-interest argument is not only so that the public can be fooled. It is also so that the people in government can be fooled, because, other than the typically few people who are directly pushing the ban for their own self-interested money reasons, many of the people in government who are in a position to either help or hinder the ban will not necessarily be direct financial beneficiaries of the ban, and it is for those people especially—to win their goodwill and cooperation in imposing and supporting the ban—that a good-sounding public-interest argument is needed.

  2. Scapegoating

    The American empire has many so-called social ills, which can be blamed on the American system as a whole, and more specifically blamed on the fact that America is an empire. However, the standard policy followed by America’s establishment has been to blame the victim. Thus, social ills are often blamed on the public’s use of illegal drugs. And this scapegoating works to a large extent, because the majority of people in America—who do not want to break the law—do not use illegal drugs.

  3. Prevent Enlightenment

    In a 1997 radio interview, in answer to a caller’s question as to what the prospects were for a legalization of psychedelics, Terrence McKenna said:

    Let me say this ... I mean, I’m a bit of a pessimist on this subject. Because I take psychedelics so seriously, I can’t imagine them ever being really legal unless there’s a total social transformation because my analysis of it is, the reason everybody from a Marxist state to a Christian oligarchy to a high-tech industrial democracy can get together and agree that psychedelics are a terrible terrible thing, is because the social effects of psychedelics being taken by large numbers of people is a kind of deconditioning from the cultural myths, whatever they are. It’s no knock on any given society, it’s just that if people start taking psychedelics, they start questioning what they’ve been told about reality. And culture is in the business of keeping you inside a set of predetermined answers to those questions.[11]

    Regarding McKenna’s comments, it is worth noting that, in general, an empire, being based on the enslavement of other nations, is especially likely to be hostile to anything that can give its slaves any insight into a bigger reality. And just as an empire wants to falsify the history of its enslaved peoples so that they cannot remember when they were free, so does an empire want to falsify reality so that its enslaved peoples cannot find their way to freedom.

    McKenna’s “high-tech industrial democracy” sounds like a euphemism for the American empire. If America were a real democracy, psychedelics would probably be legal. As it is, like every other policy imposed by the American government, the Drug War was never submitted to a public vote.

Besides the above three reasons for the Drug War, many writers have also pointed out that the Drug War provides an excuse for greater police intrusion into our lives, and that the Drug War specifically allows greater police oppression against African-Americans. However, my own opinion is that these are not reasons for the Drug War, but instead are just side-effects of the Drug War.

Similar to the American empire’s criminalization of certain drugs—in general, those drugs that affect the mind in a way that many people find desirable or enlightening—America has also criminalized prostitution. America claims to be an advocate of women’s rights, and free trade—but America denies women the right to trade sexual favors for money. Here is the underlying reason: the American empire strongly favors the owner class; and the owner class, as a rule, always favors policies that promote a concentration of wealth into its own hands. One of the ways to satisfy this general policy of concentrating wealth is to remove from the common man those pleasures that if legal and not overtly oppressed are cheap and plentiful. By criminalizing what is cheap and plentiful, the common man is driven to pay a higher price: either for the same goods which are now in shorter supply, or for alternative goods that come from fewer suppliers. And it is this higher price, flowing to fewer suppliers, which adds to the net transfer of wealth from the many to the few.

Regarding the question as to when the Drug War will end, my own opinion is that the Drug War serves too many useful purposes for the American empire—specifically, concentration of wealth, scapegoating, and keeping America’s enslaved peoples believing in a false reality—and consequently the Drug War will remain as long as the American empire remains. And the same can be said for when America’s criminalization of prostitution will end: not until the American empire falls.


[1] It seems to be somewhat customary for an author who advocates the legalization of the various psychoactive drugs that America has criminalized, to give a cautionary notice that he is not necessarily advocating that anyone in particular take any of these drugs if they become legal. So, in keeping with this custom, here is my cautionary notice: Regarding drugs that affect the mind in a way that many people find desirable or enlightening, some of these drugs do have one or more clear downsides. For example, although some of these drugs are not physically addictive (including, for example, LSD, mushrooms, and marijuana), there are other drugs—especially those drugs that clearly have a physically stimulating or sedating effect, such as, for example, drugs that are derived from the coca and poppy plants, including cocaine and heroin—that are physically addictive, with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms for those who first become addicted and then try to quit without following a strategy of gradual withdrawal.

Also, as with most any drug—whether that drug is for the mind or for the body—certain people may have specific adverse reactions that are not experienced by the average user of that drug. In the future when these various psychoactive drugs are legal one can expect that many of them will come in bottles that will have warning labels that specify the recommended dose and list the various possible negative side-effects.

Regarding the downside of certain drugs, a related issue is that the disease known as AIDS—as explained by professor Peter Duesberg and others—is in the typical case a result of the long-term use of certain drugs. In his book Inventing the AIDS Virus (Duesberg, Peter. Inventing the AIDS Virus. Regnery Publishing, Washington DC, 1996), Peter Duesberg says:

Therefore, it takes twenty years of smoking [tobacco] to acquire irreversible lung cancer or emphysema, and twenty years of drinking [alcohol] to acquire irreversible liver cirrhosis. Therefore, it takes about ten years of nitrites [known as “poppers”; widely used by American male homosexuals since the 1970s; Ibid., p. 270], heroin, amphetamines, or cocaine to develop AIDS. And therefore it takes less than a year of the much more toxic drug AZT [an alleged anti-AIDS drug] to cause AIDS by prescription. [Ibid., pp. 411–412]

Since 1981, 94 percent of all American AIDS cases have been from risk groups that have used recreational drugs. About one-third of these were intravenous drug users and two-thirds were male homosexuals who had practiced risk behavior by using oral recreational drugs [such as “poppers”] ... and AZT. [Ibid., p. 416]

Therefore, it takes about ten years of injecting heroin and cocaine to develop weight loss, tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other drug-induced diseases. The time lag from initiating a habit of inhaling nitrites to acquiring Kaposi’s sarcoma [one of the original defining illnesses for AIDS, when it was found in American male homosexuals in the early 1980s] has been determined to be seven to ten years. The different “latent periods of HIV” [HIV is the acronym for the alleged virus that the American establishment has claimed since 1984 is the cause of AIDS, and this alleged virus is alleged to be transmitted by sexual contact; the reasons for this claim were, and still are, political and financial reasons that among other things has to do with the enrichment of the pharmaceutical industry, and the general drive to make sex expensive which is done for the same underlying reason as given at the end of this essay for the criminalization of prostitution] are simply reflections of the time the human host takes to accumulate sufficient drug dosage for AIDS to occur. Blaming Kaposi’s sarcoma on HIV after inhaling carcinogenic nitrites for ten years is like blaming lung cancer and emphysema on a “slow” virus after smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for twenty years. ... In short, disease from drug-use is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon like disease from infection: only high cumulative doses cause irreversible damage and disease. [Ibid., pp. 421–422]

[2] At: http://www.intellectualcapital.com/issues/98/0723/icreport2.asp

[3] For some perspective on the figure given by Nadine Strossen of 640,000 marijuana arrests: in 1997 there was an estimated total of 1,583,600 drug arrests in the U.S. (source: FBI, Uniform Crime Reports), out of a total U.S. population of about 268 million people (source: U.S. Census Bureau).

[4] At: http://www.intellectualcapital.com/issues/98/0723/icreport2_b.asp

[5] At: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ts/book-customer-reviews/0964156849

The anonymous author is only identified as being a reader from Atlanta, Georgia; his review is dated August 15, 1999. I have formatted his original text by breaking it into paragraphs and capitalizing as needed.

[6] The anonymous author likes to use the term liberal. However, to use the term liberal is to confine oneself to the American establishment’s rather narrow parameters for political debate, which start with classifying a person as being either a liberal or a conservative—with, insofar as I understand this vague terminology, a liberal being someone who supports the government, but who would like the government to be less cruel; and a conservative being someone who supports the government, and doesn’t care about its cruelty. The key here is that both types, liberal and conservative, support the government, which is what the establishment wants.

Regarding the anonymous author’s observation that “liberals have their facts straight, but they don’t understand the enemy,” that is to be expected, because to “understand the enemy” is to reject the American government, at which point one would no longer be a liberal.

Thus, to allow all the liberals in America to remain liberals in good conscience, the media of the American establishment have a standard practice of blaming each government action that a liberal might see as being cruel, as being the result of misguided actions on the part of ill-informed but typically well-intentioned politicians—and it is this kind of phony explanation for the Drug War that the anonymous author is complaining about.

The possible explanation that America’s cruel actions are a direct result of America being an empire, is never considered by the establishment media, and that is consistent with the simple fact that the establishment media does not even allow that America is an empire.

[7] At: http://eesc.orst.edu/AgComWebFile/EdMat/SB681/text.html

[8] When one considers the many uses that the hemp plant has—including such things as making both rope and paper, and providing a potent, safe, non-addictive medicine for many bodily ills—one may ask how such a plant that has been so beneficial to mankind for so long came about.

My own guess is that the hemp plant is the result of a deliberate genetic engineering—applied to some then-existing plant—done in the remote past. And this genetic engineering was done either by the non-human Caretakers, or by some previous human technological civilization.

As to who and what the Caretakers are, and as to how it is possible that mankind has had previous technological civilizations on Earth, see my book A Soliton and its owned Bions (Awareness and Mind).

If the hemp plant is from the Caretakers, then America has criminalized a gift from the gods. If alternatively the hemp plant is from an earlier human technological civilization, then America has criminalized a gift from our own human ancestors. These two possible origins for the hemp plant may also apply, more or less, to some of the other plants that are especially useful to mankind—including some of the other plants that America has criminalized as part of its Drug War.

[9] At: http://www.sdearthtimes.com/et0199/et0199s11.html

[10] Mullis, Kary. Dancing Naked in the Mind Field. Pantheon Books, New York, 1998. pp. 116–117.

[11] The radio program was the Art Bell show—dated May 22, 1997—and the guest was Terrence McKenna. A transcript of that show, from which the above quote is taken, is at:


August 2017: I, Kurt Johmann, the author and copyright owner, hereby place this Understanding America’s Drug War essay in the public domain.

Revisions: end