How appropriate that California is home to thenewest ban on caffeinated beer. This haven of busy-body progressivism has longbeen a national leader in the war against liberty and property. Talk-radioconservatives are mocking Governor Jerry Brown’s crusade against the dreadalcohol-caffeine combo, lamenting the implications for our dwindling personalresponsibility, freedom and common sense. This is classic California, they seemto agree. But they do not appear to realizethe origin of these terrible anti-liberty attacks, even when the answer is mostobvious. Indeed it was in California that the war on drugs began. The 1875Opium Dens Ordinance, mostly targeting Chinese immigrants, forever marked SanFrancisco as a pioneer among prohibitionist municipalities. A state-level lawin 1891 mandated warning labels for opium. In 1907 California requiredprescriptions for opium sales and the drug and paraphernalia were bannedstatewide in 1909. The same year the U.S. sent Hamilton Wright to the OpiumCommission in Shanghai to contemplate a global ban.
On a national level, the UnitedStates was a radically free country, as far as drugs were concerned, until theearly 20th century. A1906 federal law involved small interventions into the drug market but itwasn’t until 1914, in the middle of the horrible Wilson administration, thatthe Harrison Narcotics Act was signed, signifying the beginning of the end forAmerican drug freedom and so many other liberties that have fallen ascollateral damage. For almost a century it’s been a nearly uninterruptedavalanche of prohibitionist nonsense and despotism.
The 1914 Act regulated opium and cocaine and banned heroinoutright. Before that, even a child could walk into a pharmacy and buy heroinin measured doses, and there was virtually no associated societal problem tospeak of. The next drug nationally prohibited was alcohol, which wasconstitutionally possible thanks to the 18thAmendment, after manydecades of agitation by social reformers, progressives, puritans, and otherswho incredibly believed they could eliminate sin through the state’s salvation.Throughout the 1920s the Noble Experiment only proved that neither human naturenor economic law could be overturned by federal legislation. Violent crimeskyrocketed. The prison population doubled. Almost half the law enforcementapparatus became dedicated to stamping out liquor. Police departments becameeven more corrupt than usual. Hundreds of federal officials were fired overbribery and misconduct. By the end of the decade even some former abolitionistssaw that prohibition was destroying the country and worked to end it throughthe 21st Amendment.
That should have been the end of the prohibitionist impulseforever, but it wasn’t. Some of the same social reformers and bureaucrats stuckaround and began a new crusade against marijuana. This time another progressiveof Woodrow Wilson’s ilk, Franklin Roosevelt, signed the prohibition into law.The Constitution was left unaltered and from then on the national governmentrecognized no limits on its general power to ban substances.
The propaganda surrounding the ban on marijuana was sounbelievably ludicrous that we should be embarrassed of our forebears forbuying into it – almost as embarrassed as we should be of today’s Americansrepeating the government’s drug war propaganda as though there’s anysignificant truth to it. Marijuana was said to make people uncontrollablyviolent, while somehow also pacifying them and thus rendering them poorcandidates for the military. It was said to turn its users into irredeemablecrazed rapists and murderers. In truth this is probably the most benign populardrug in human history. Surely alcohol and tobacco are far more dangerous.
But reformers who focus on the relative harmlessness of potand thus argue for legalizing it while keeping other drugs illegal are missingthe point. It was the ban on heroin that led to this huge decline in ourliberty. Every drug that was outlawed from then on was simply the next dominoin line. Psychedelics like LSD were targeted in the mid-1960s (yes, they wereactually perfectly legal before that). In 1970 the federal government adoptedthe tyrannical Controlled Substances Act, a comprehensive scheduling scheme togive the government carte blanche over every substance. A 1984 law banned anydrug "substantially similar" to Schedule I or II drugs in eithereffect or molecular configuration. Ecstasy, or MDMA, one of the most demonizedchemicals in recent years, was used legally for over seventy years since it wasfirst synthesized in 1912, then banned by the DEA in the mid-1980s over theprotests of many in the medical community who cited its beneficial therapeuticeffects. Even though no one else is allowed to buy or use it, the U.S. militarybegan experimenting with it a few years ago as a remedy for post-traumaticstress disorder afflicting returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hysteria akin to the reefer madness of the 1930s has struckagain several times in recent memory. GHB, a substance not so different in itseffects from alcohol, with some additional risks but also some comparativebenefits over liquor, is a chemical found naturally in the human brain. It wasperfectly legal but then banned by the FDA in 1990. Ephedra, a stimulant withboth advantages and disadvantages compared to caffeine, was banned in 2004. Inrecent years the drug warriors have targeted Salvia divinorum as a threatening partydrug – a complete fantasy for anyone who knows anyone who’s tried it. They’vealso been fretting day and night about the great threat of Qat – a relativelyharmless thing used by millions worldwide. Even as the establishment happilysubsidizes prescription drugs that kill many thousands of Americans a year,they are attempting to stamp out the last substances that can’t be patented, nomatter how little risk they pose.
Slippery slope arguments don’talways convince, and yet history bulges with examples of the logic behind onebad policy leading to another. For many years opponents of the drug war haveargued that prohibitionist reasoning would conquer one freedom after anotheruntil the many pleasures of mainstream life were under attack.
Of course there is the attack oncigarette smokers – from bans on smoking in bars to the paternalisticprohibition of flavored cigarettes that happened just two years ago. Now thepoliticians are targeting whatever food they deem unhealthy. This has broughtus restrictions on salt and transfats, attacks on commercial freedom in theform of un-American Happy Meal bans, and, perhaps most obscene of all,police-state measures to stamp out raw milk and other nutritious and naturalfoods. People are being jailed and shut down for growing natural, normal foodon their own land. We have slid right to the bottom of the slippery slope.
After 9/11, Americans put up with a massive assault on theircivil liberties that would have been impossible without the conditioning andwarming up to the police state that transpired during decades of the war ondrugs. Now we see that in every area of our lives we are losing libertiesfaster than we can take account of the loss. The prohibitionist mindset – theprinciple that the government can outlaw whatever it determines should beverboten – has infested everything: commercial activities, firearms, lightbulbs,foods, and dozens of other pleasures of life enjoyed by average Americans.
Every year tens of thousands of Mexicans die and hundreds ofthousands of peaceful Americans are jailed all to sustain a fundamentally eviland totally unwinnable crusade against drugs. This political program of nearlyunparalleled destruction has infected every corner of public policy and, justas important, has destroyed the American spirit of freedom inside and out. Weare not allowed to buy as much pseudoephedrine as we want – one of the onlyover-the-counter drugs that we all know works – because of the war on meth. Weare restricted from carrying our own cash in and out of the country. We arealways at risk of being shot by a paramilitary police force, roaming thestreets or conducting one of America's dozens of unconstitutional daily raids.In a million ways our freedom has been undermined and incrementally we seeeverything in society we love face the threat of being stripped from us.Everything is in danger of being rationed, prohibited, seized. Where did thisall begin?
Bourgeois Americans see the walls caving in, the last bits ofpleasure and their favorite, mostly harmless sins being targeted foreradication by the planners lurking in the state capitals and Washington. Theysee we are losing something important every time plastic bags are banned ordriving while chatting on a cell phone is attacked. They find it absurd thatalcohol and caffeine are both permitted but the combination is made illegal. Ifeel for all of them but must plead them to see the real problem here.
This is what happens when you banheroin: A state that can stamp out one person’s liberty, however peripheral heand his activities may seem to mainstream society, can and will continue totrample on all of us until all our freedom is a mangled corpse, a translucentshadow of what it once was. You want to restore civil society? Call for thelegalization of all drugs. Only a society that does not seek something asirredeemably stupid and wicked as a drug war has any hope for liberty. Onlythose who are willing to defend the liberty of the junkie fully deserve to seetheir own liberty restored.
AnthonyGregory [[url=mailto:email@example.com]send him mail[/url]] is researcheditor at the Independent Institute. He livesin Oakland, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.
Copyright© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladlygranted, provided full credit is given.
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