Drug Policy

New Film Highlights Growing Drug War Dissent

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Although it sounds like a porn movie franchise, Breaking the Taboo is actually a one-hour documentary about the war on drugs that premiered on YouTube last Friday. Produced by Sam Branson, the son of Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson, and narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film highlights an emerging international critique of the war on drugs that in recent years has attracted support from various former (and a few current) heads of state, many of them associated with the Global Commission on Drug Policy (which counts the elder Branson among its members). Breaking the Taboo documents this important trend while offering a concise and accessible explanation of the problems caused by the attempt to forcibly separate people from the psychoactive substances they like. But it suffers from some of the same halfway haziness as the drug policy commission's 2011 report, which criticized the status quo without forthrightly condemning prohibition. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the commission's chairman, put it this way at the time:

I am not proposing to replace war by peace. I am proposing to replace war with a smarter fight, a fight using other instruments, more intelligent instruments to convince people not to use drugs.

God forbid we should replace war with peace. That quote, which is featured in Breaking the Taboo, encapsulates the perhaps deliberate ambiguity of a film that plays up all the familiar costs of the war on drugs—including violence, corruption, the enrichment of thugs and terrorists, the destablization of source countries, and the squandering of law enforcement resources—without settling on a clear alternative. As possible models of reform, it mentions the Netherlands, where retail sales of marijuana are tolerated (though still officially illegal); Switzerland, where addicts can obtain heroin by prescription; and Portugal, where drug use is decriminalized but consumers still must contend with "dissuasion committees" and the trade remains illegal.

What do all of these examples have in common? Drug prohibition. (The film was completed before voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing commercial production and distribution of marijuana, a development noted in a caption at the end.) Reflecting this lingering attachment to the arbitrary distinctions enshrined in our drug laws, the film focuses on a 1971 speech by Richard Nixon as the beginning of the war on drugs, ignoring the 57 years of drug prohibition that preceded it. Breaking the Taboo's reluctance to talk about repealing prohibition, as opposed to merely de-escalating the war on drugs, is also reflected in this tellingly edited quote from a 1989 speech by President George H.W. Bush:

If you do drugs, you will be caught, and when you are caught, you will be punished. Some think there won't be room for them in jail. We'll make room.

Here is what Bush actually said:

If you do drugs you will be caught, and when you're caught you will be punished. You might lose your driver's license—some states have started revoking users' driving privileges. Or you might lose the college loan you wanted—because we're not helping those who break the law. These are privileges, not rights. And if you risk doing drugs, you risk everything, even your freedom. Because you will be punished.

Now, I can imagine a few whispers out there: Maybe you think we'll never get drugs under control, that it's too easy for the dealers to get back on the street. Well, those days are over, too. The revolving door just jammed. Some think there won't be room for them in jail. We'll make room. 

In other words, Bush wanted to make room in prison for dealers, not for users. By compressing this passage from the president's speech, Breaking the Taboo reinforces the misconception that people commonly go to prison merely for using drugs, thereby missing an opportunity to challenge the idea that people should go to prison merely for helping others use drugs. Worse, the film lends credence to pseudoscientific justifications for viewing drug users as the victims of predatory drug suppliers. If you use drugs, warns Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, "You will lose the ability to makes decisions. The greatest danger of drugs is that they destroy the most important thing in life: the power to decide." Former President Bill Clinton, citing his cocaine-addicted brother as the source of his expertise, likewise declares: "Don't be drug-free because it's illegal. Be drug-free because it's the key to your freedom; it's the key to your future."

It is jarring to hear such absurd, absolutist proclamations from people presented as critics of current policy in a film that condemns "moralistic" anti-drug propaganda and repeatedly describes the goal of "a drug-free society" as a silly fantasy. Clinton nevertheless implicitly makes the case for legalization, as opposed to a kinder, gentler war on drugs:

We could have fighting and killing over cigarettes if we made it a felony to sell a cigarette or smoke one. So we legalize them. If all you do is try to find a police or military solution to the problem, a lot of people die, and it doesn't solve the problem.

Former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss is more explicit: "I am sure that regulation by the state, with very clear limitation, is the solution." Anthony Papa, a drug reform activist who spent 12 years in prison for delivering an envelope containing 4.5 ounces of cocaine at the behest of a police informant, asks a question that also points to legalization: "If you can't control drug use inside a maximum-security prison, how could you control drugs in a free society?" The petition to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "and all Heads of State" that the film's producers are urging people to sign likewise seems to envision a world in which people may buy and sell currently banned psychoactive substances without fear of arrest or prosecution (emphasis added):

We call on you to end the war on drugs and the prohibition regime, and move towards a system based on decriminalisation, regulation, public health and education. This 50 year old policy has failed, fuels violent organised crime, devastates lives and is costing billions. It is time for a humane and effective approach.

As I argue in my book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, the claim that no one in his right mind would ever use drugs because they enslave you and take away your ability to choose sits rather uneasily with a call to end the prohibition regime.

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  1. “The greatest danger of ______ is that they destroy the most important thing in life: the power to decide.”

    Fill in the blanks.

    A) Anti-texting laws. Communicate.
    B) Political parties. Choose.
    C) Drugs, decide.
    D) Earphones. Sleep.
    E) The media. Be informed.

    1. Did I miss a blank?

    2. F) Squirrels. Edit Posts.

    3. And here I always thought the most important thing in life was to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

      1. That’s not what’s important, it’s what is good.

        1. I always get those confused!

  2. Holy shite, it sounds like some drug warriors saw a changing tide on prohibition and decided to get clever and get in front of it with a faux anti-drug war film, trying to steer the waters away from repeal.

  3. Take two. Sheesh, time for *something*. 8-(

    “The greatest danger of ______ is that they destroy the most important thing in life: the power to ______ .”

    Fill in the blanks.

    A) Anti-texting laws. Communicate.
    B) Political parties. Choose.
    C) Drugs. Decide.
    D) Earphones. Sleep.
    E) The media. Be informed.

    1. F) Drug warriors. All of the above.

    2. G) Hemorrhoids. keep your shit.

  4. Sounds like a solid plan to me dude.

    http://www.Got-Anonz.tk

  5. I wish I could remember the name of this documentary I saw where they were showing Branson’s island home (Necker Island) and he was just giving a tour of the place when he opened the door to Sam’s room. Inside you could see an apparently blissed-out Sam with his eyes closed playing his guitar. Branson quickly closed the door and said, “Well, moving on…” I thought, well that’s pretty much what I’d be doing if I was Richard Branson’s son!

    Can anybody remember what show that was?

      1. No actually I found it, it was MTV Cribs, and Sam was actually playing guitar on a patio, and Branson sees him there and says “He’s a cool dude, you know, he’s seventeen, and you have to be cool at seventeen.”

        So it was from February 2005. Thanks though for the CNBC biography, hadn’t seen that.

  6. Clinton nevertheless implicitly makes the case for legalization, as opposed to a kinder, gentler war on drugs

    Yet another former head of state bravely questions the results of the War on Drugs after vigorously prosecuting it.

    1. Well, they *said* drugs destroy the power to decide!

    2. Unofficial drinking game here at Reason where whenever a former [yuckity yuck] has a mea culpa moment, you drink!

    3. No, it was said while still in office for promoting a harebrained scheme for FDA, ostensibly under its existing power to regulate medical devices, to regulate tobacco products (except cigars) but not ban them.

      1. He did say (approximately) that then, but I see he apparently said it again for the video.

  7. the film focuses on a 1971 speech by Richard Nixon as the beginning of the war on drugs, ignoring the 57 years of drug prohibition that preceded it.

    Nobody at reason would ever do that!

    Or would they? There are too many links to list

    https://reason.com/blog/2011/06…..f-drug-war

    1. War on Drugs =/= Drug Prohibition.

    2. It also doesn’t suit the narrative of the video that, as Stanton Peele is fond of bringing up, the Nixon admin. promoted more treatment, research, & educ’n respecting drugs than any other, and less spending on enforcement.

  8. The film doesn’t go far enough, but it shows that the tide is changing in countries like the U.S. and Brazil.

  9. I am not proposing to replace war by peace. I am proposing to replace war with a smarter fight, a fight using other instruments, more intelligent instruments to convince people not to use drugs.

    The notion that free citizens can consume whatever products or chemicals they want as their bodies and their lives are their own has been almost entirely exorcised from Western Democracies, and I blame the idea of healthcare as a right.

    1. free citizens can consume whatever products or chemicals they want as their bodies and their lives are their own

      That’s just crazy talk, Paul. What’s next: “Free citizens can view whatever books or videos or games they want”? Talk about your slippery slope!

    2. It’s true that the ‘right’ to healthcare has been disastrous in this respect, but the years of Prohibition and the WoD happened a long time before Obamacare in the U.S… There’s also a conservative (mostly religious) root to blame.

      1. There’s also a conservative (mostly religious) root to blame.

        Thought experiment: “Eat bread; this is my body. Drink wine; this is my blood. Smoke MJ; this is my breath.”

      2. O RLY?

        So the Progressive impetus behind alcohol Prohibition was just another scheme by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

        1. Republicans made them do it.

        2. The Progressiveness of that time were shared by protestants.

          Same thing that gave us public schools (protestant response to private Catholic schools)

          All the labels have been flipped around.. the “liberals” then were the anti-progressives, until the hijacking of course

        3. Prohibition was the result of an alliance between busy body progressives and self-righteous SoCons. Solid proof that the alliance of progressives and conservatives in the War On Liberty has been going on for over a century

          1. Yep, the 2 of them are equal opportunity oppressors, who are 100% willing to work together to further the oppression.

            1. Prohibition was the result of an alliance between busy body progressives and self-righteous SoCons.

              And prohibition had nothing to with giving women the right to vote? Don’t get me wrong, I support the 19th amendment. But a conspiracy is no match for the obvious.

              1. Can women not be progressives or SoCons? Furthermore, the 18th Amendment was (naturally) passed before the 19th, and while women may have supported Prohibition more than men did, I don’t think there’s any evidence that the 18th Amendment would never have passed if none of the states had let women vote prior to the passage of the 19th

        4. Conservative in the philosophical sense, yes; I never said Republican or right-wing. Ever heard of the Anti-Saloon League? It was heavily supported by Protestant denominations.

          1. (Answer for Hugh)

          2. It was heavily supported by Protestant denominations.

            Mainline protestants =/= Evangelicals and fundamentalists.

            Mainline protestants and their institutions are the progressives not the “SoCons”.

            1. And your point is…? As I said, there is a religious root to the idea that a person doesn’t actually own his body (“your body is a temple”). Of course, not every religious person believes that allows the State to curb sinful behavior.

              1. As I said, there is a religious root to the idea that a person doesn’t actually own his body

                Which is why atheist states like Nazi Germany and USSR were so fond of self-ownership.

                1. The fact that in America some religious conservatives believe that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” and that the State can thus ban “immoral” behavior doesn’t mean that religion is a necessary condition for a given State to disrespect the notion of self-ownership.

            2. Are you seriously denying that large numbers of social conservatives of the day supported Prohibition? Look at a map today of the dry counties that are still around – are SoCons today less permissive than they were 100 years ago?

              1. apparently they prefer to blame absolutely everything on the other team

          3. The Anti-Saloon League is still around

            It partners with George Hacker’s Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest

            1. I thought they became MADD

              1. I find it amusing that someone is using the Anti-Saloon League as an example of a “conservative” rather than “progressive” institution.

                They are now the Food Police who demanded we eat transfats in the 1980s and early 90s before turning on their partially hydrogenated friends in the late 90s to today.

                1. You seem obsessed with labels. The Anti-Saloon League had an important religious base; its motto was the Church against the saloon. “By the late nineteenth century, most Protestant denominations and the American wing of the Catholic Church supported the movement to legally restrict the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. These groups believed that alcohol consumption led to corruption, prostitution, spousal abuse and other criminal activities.” [Wikipedia]. Does it sound more conservative or progressive to you, using today’s labels? The ‘spousal abuse’ may be more progressive, but the rest sounds more conservative to me.

                  1. Does it sound more conservative or progressive to you, using today’s labels?

                    Why are you using today’s labels to consider who was responsible for prohibition?

                    They would never have been able to pass a constitutional amendment in that era without Progressive support.

                    1. Because it seemed more logical to use a philosophical reference than a purely political one. Conservatism is rooted in tradition, particularly religious tradition, and religion did play a role in Prohibition.

                    2. Prohibition operated largely thru religion, just as it operated thru other institutions. But the religions then common in the western world had not traditionally been anti-liquor.

                    3. I beg to differ. Many Protestant denominations considered drinking to be a sin, and they were a major force behind Prohibition (I’m aware that Catholics and some Protestant denominations were against it). Progressives with their idea of improving society were also a major force.

                    4. But it was not traditional for those sects to be anti-liquor in their religious doctrine. That all came in later in congregations in just a few parts of the world.

                    5. ok, but tradition doesn’t have to be as old as the religion in question. The current Catholic Church stance on abortion dates from the 19th century, yet I would say it’s a traditional value because the Church is a traditional institution. Honestly I don’t know exactly when Protestant denominations (mainline and evangelicals alike) started considering drinking as a sin, but it’s beside the point.

                    6. Conservatism is rooted in tradition, particularly religious tradition, and religion did play a role in Prohibition.

                      Prohibition was not conservative in any sense. It was a radical expansion of government power with the goal of ‘improving’ the citizenry. As such it was a thoroughly progressive achievement. And it was not incongruous with other progressive efforts to improve the citizenry like public education, economic central planning, regulations of every aspect of life and eugenics.

                      In fact, when viewed in this way, it is completely consistent with the efforts of modern day progressives to improve the citizenry through controlling the foods that they can eat and ever metastasizing regulations.

                      Part of your misconception seems to revolve around the religious aspect of prohibition and the false belief that progressives were anti religious. They weren’t. Progressive ideology is deeply intertwined with Christian theology, even today. It’s the source of their hatred of the profit motive and suspicion of all things related to money. It’s also shown by their economic creationist beliefs and in the language that they use to disparage people like Social Darwinist. Remember that WJB, one of the most famous of all progressives, also prosecuted the Skopes Monkey Trial.

                      And modern progressives are every bit as religious as their comrades of a century ago, they’ve just replaced Jesus and Jehovah with the people and the state.

                    7. I understand that progressives were largely responsible for prohibition, but I was trying to say that they had conservative evangelicals as important allies. Otherwise, how would you explain that the dry counties that subsist today strongly correlate with the presence of (mostly conservative) evangelicals?

                    8. Let me fix the definition for you.

                      Progressive Christian evangelicals were a driving force behind prohibition.

                    9. I think this discussion just kinda illustrates how meaningless a term like “conservative” is. It’s meaning depends totally on the context, and even there, the positions of “conservatives” often run counter to the literal definition

                    10. You really see who is attached to labels when topics like this come up. Conservative/progressive/liberal/left/right are really not a whole lot more meaningful than TEAM RED/BLUE.

                2. “Progressive” and “social conservative” are in no way in conflict here. Progressives were no kind of libertines in the early 20th century, and most still aren’t.

      3. “There’s also a conservative (mostly religious) root to blame.”

        Yes, there is. Your body does not belong to you. It is a temple that belongs to Jesus. You must not be allowed to defile it. That is the right’s foot behind the boot heel on liberty.

        On the left, of course, the foot in the boot is ” If you make bad decisions we all pay.”.

        1. It’s amazing how much religious salvation drives like the Spanish inquisition and modern day progressives have in common. It’s all about ‘saving’ you, from some imaginary demon or from yourself doesn’t matter, if you refuse to be saved then severe punishment is in order.

          1. Yes, progressives have really exchanged God for the State. Your body belongs to the God-State, but the State is good and wise. He’s watching you all the time. He has the power to do anything. He will grant you miracles and eternal salvation if you just believe in it and make a few sacrifices.

            1. but the State is good and wise. He’s watching you all the time.

              Your assertion is useless without cheesy video evidence.

        2. Exactly. If you’re a catholic even your sperm doesn’t belong to you (every sperm is sacred).

          1. I don’t think that video is official Catholic Church doctrine.

            /not a catholic

            1. Are you saying that Catholics now can use contraception and jerk off? Spread the good news! I was a Catholic and as far as I know the video is an accurate and entertaining interpretation of the Catholic doctrine.

      4. Prohibition and the WoD happened a long time before Obamacare in the U.S… There’s also a conservative (mostly religious) root to blame.

        I’m not blaming Obamacare in particular, I’m blaming the fact that now BOTH major parties have signed on, lock, stock and barrel to prohibitionist attitudes.

        Liberals, AKA Democrats, AKA The Left have become full-bore prohibitionists because they realized (sometime after the 1980s) that the Public Health state was incompatible with recreational drug use.

    3. I blame nervous parents.

  10. You guys, I have the solution: the DEA/DOJ keeps doing exactly what it has been doing for the last forty years, but changes names from SWAT teams and Interdiction Operations to “Dissuasion Committees.” Bingo bango, drug war’s over.

    1. What’s the new name for puppycide?

      1. How about “Powertodecide”?

    2. We have always been at war with Drugs.

  11. I just hope the guy who posted this video to YT wasn’t on federal probation.

  12. We’ve secretly replaced the Houston Texans with the Houston Cougars. Let’s see if anyone notices.

    1. It appears not. This is pretty brutal. Not as brutal as what the Seahawks did to the Cardinals, but it’s close.

  13. OT, but hey!
    “San Francisco edged out as “smartest” city”
    Disclosure: I live in SF. I have not yet read the article. I’m going to channel Carnac the Magnificent.
    Paper held out to the left, right hand holding temples: “What did a lefty study just ‘find’?”
    Have I got it?

    1. Promise; I did not look before the prediction. And here it is:
      “The study was conducted by Co.Exist, a website dedicated to covering “groundbreaking innovation.” As opposed to those other kinds of innovation, apparently. Author Boyd Cohen, a climate strategist, used data grouped into six areas: smart people, smart economy, smart environment, smart government, smart living and smart mobility to come up with his rankings.”

      Sounds like he’s channeling shithead.

      1. What kind of work does a “climate strategist” do? Sounds suspiciously similar to Dr. Smith’s PhD field from Lost In Space.

        1. There’s also the villain from the old Avengers movie

        2. “What kind of work does a “climate strategist” do?”

          I would love to hear the dingbat’s answer to that, but Carnac says (paper held out to the left, right hand holding the temples):
          “Lobbiest”

        3. Here’s his website.

          Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., is a climate strategist helping to lead communities, cities and companies on the journey towards the low carbon economy. Boyd is the co-author of Climate Capitalism, a professor, consultant and entrepreneur with a focus on climate capitalism and resilient cities.

          I can’t stop laughing.

          1. and he tweets.

            Oh my stars.

          2. “Boyd is the co-author of Climate Capitalism,”

            Hey, I got Carnac covered tonight!
            (paper out to the left, right hand thumb and fingers on temples, eyes closed):
            “Who is egotistical enough to be immune to shame?”

      2. “Ph.D. in strategy and entrepreneurship from the University of Colorado”

        He thinks deep thoughts about the climate, and stuff.

        1. Pretty sure that’s spelled “shit”.

      3. I couldnt sleep so I got up and came to look here and what do I see?
        Climate strategist???? WTF kind of idiot even thinks that is a field? Who would study that shit? Who would give a dunce cap with that printed on it much less a fucking piled higher and deeper?
        Holy fuckity fuck fuck I will never sleep now.

        I have an idea…stop all student loans/grants now. And taxpayers ( a slim majority of whom re-elected fascist shitstain )…fuck you. There will be no repayment of the incredibly unwise money you poured into the cesspool that is academia.

        1. I couldnt sleep so I got up and came to look here and what do I see?
          Climate strategist???? WTF kind of idiot even thinks that is a field? Who would study that shit? Who would give a dunce cap with that printed on it much less a fucking piled higher and deeper?

          It’s gotta be some elaborate parody, like the intelligence institute that did a four year study, commissioned in 2011 to prove that Fox viewers are functionally retarded.

      4. I have a suspicion that what qualifies as ‘smart’ for ole Boyd is different than what would for me.

        Climate stategist my ass.

  14. OK, now for some gamboling:
    “Gravediggers work the old-fashioned way on the Tule River Indian Reservation, chipping away at the hard pan by hand with pickaxes and shoveling the dirt aside. They say it’s a sign of respect not to use machinery, but never has the crew had to dig so many graves at one time.
    […]
    The killings have shaken this peace-preaching tribe because it goes against their teachings that love for family exists above all. Authorities said the killer was Alyssa’s father, Hector Celaya, 31,…”
    Check your fave AP reseller.

    Well, a ‘peace-preaching tribe’ is claimed, and I’m guessing the “peace” historically meant to others in the same tribe. And then there’s the collectivist presumption that individuals are somehow not individuals, but tribalists.
    More importantly, it’s one more ‘ain’t obsolete cultures grand?’ bullshit.

  15. Sometimes dude tyou jsut gotta roll with ti.

    http://www.Surf-Data.tk

  16. earned that one “Sharon Levy” cares more for boot licking than the Hip sohbet odalar? & cinsel sohbet

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