The new Rolling Stone (Led Zeppelin cover–they're back, by the way, praise Odin) has a mega-story by Ben Wallace-Wells tracing the past couple of decades of failed strategies in the war on drugs. It's a story perhaps overly focused on big picture stuff and the Drug Czar's office and less on the day-to-day tragedies the war causes for Americans guilty of harming no one else's life or property. Still, it has been praised by such tough-minded drug reporting experts as Jack Shafer at Slate and is certainly on the whole a quality piece of longform journalism.
However, a couple of bits struck me as tonally obnoxious. It of course has to praise Clinton in comparison to Republican presidents though little about his drug record or decisions deserve it. Also, since in Rolling Stone style it has to take the managerial-liberal rather than libertarian stance on this matter–not something as silly as actual drug liberty, but lots and lots of programs to manage the horrible problem of drug use with treatment and not jail–it takes this little stab at those nutsos who actually think it's no one else's business what we choose to eat:
The real radicals of the War on Drugs are not the legalization advocates, earnestly preaching from the fringes, but the bureaucrats -the cops and judges and federal agents who are forced into a growing acceptance that rendering a popular commodity illegal, and punishing those who sell it and use it, has simply overwhelmed the capacity of government.
It's certainly apt to be true that any eventual collapse in the war on drugs will come not from people coming to any proper ethical conclusions about locking people up for their recreational choices but from realization of the practical impossibility of it all, but still, that "preaching from the fringes" language is a little needlessly insulting to those who were, after all, smart enough to know how this would all turn out ahead of time.
Earlier in the article is some proof of something I've long believed: if ardent drug warriors want to get American left-progressives fully on their side in cracking down on drugs by any means necessary, the ironic first step required is: legalize drugs. The left-progressives will want to crack down on them soon enough as soon as there are recognizable greedy corporate interests on the side of selling the stuff.
See Wallace-Wells' weird shift when he lament mid-article about how the war on drugs really was going to stamp out the meth epidemic, until the greedy pharmaceutical interests who make money off pumping ephedrine and pseudoephedrine into the blood and brain of innocents and their army of wolfish lobbyists stymied the brave and brilliant drug warriors:
Gene Haislip, who served for years as one of the DEA's top-ranking administrators, believes there was a moment when meth could have been shut down, long before it spiraled into a nationwide epidemic. Haislip, who spent nearly two decades leading a small group at the agency dedicated to chemical control, is his own kind of legend; he is still known around the DEA as the man who beat quaaludes…..
Haislip was known around the DEA as precise-minded and verbal…….Assembling a coalition of legislators, Haislip convinced them that the small, growing population of speed freaks in Northern California was enough of a concern that Congress should pass a law to regulate the drug's precursor chemicals, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, legal drugs that were used in cold medicine and produced in fewer than a dozen factories in the world……
All that was left was to convince the Reagan administration. One day in late 1986, Haislip went to meet with top officials in the Indian Treaty Room….. Haislip noticed several men in suits sitting quietly in the back of the room. They were lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry, but Haislip didn't pay them much attention. "I wasn't concerned with them," he recalls.
When Haislip launched into his presentation, an official from the Commerce Department cut him off. "Look, you're way ahead of us," the official said. "We don't have anything to suggest or add." Haislip left the meeting thinking he had won: The bill he proposed was submitted to Congress, requiring companies to keep records on the import and sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
But what Haislip didn't know was that the men in suits had already gone to work to rig the bill in their favor. "Quite frankly," Allan Rexinger, one of the lobbyists present at the meeting later told reporters, "we appealed to a higher authority." The pharmaceutical industry needed pseudoephedrine to make profitable cold medications. The result, to Haislip's dismay, was a new law that monitored sales of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in bulk powder but created an exemption for selling the chemicals in tablet form—a loophole that protected the pharmaceutical industry's profits.
Jacob Sullum on more recent crackdown attempts on ephedrine, and after you read the Stone article read his magisterial book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use that takes the proper position on drugs: not the state's business.