Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Drug War Racism

I want to talk a little about racism and the Drug War. I'm sure by now everyone has heard of racial profiling and has an opinion, pro or con. But I'm not going to spend too much time with that. What I am going to look at is the racist origins of drug prohibition.

One of the first drug laws in the country was passed in San Francisco. It outlawed opium. But not just any opium. It outlawed only smoking opium, not laudanum, which is drunk. And why is that? Because white people took laudanum, and Chinese smoked opium in opium dens, luring white women into depravity and destruction.

The same sort of rhetoric was used in the South. Cocainized blacks were accused of raping white women.

Then we come to marijuana. And the culprits here were the Mexicans. They liked the weed--even had a song about it. And like all the other groups in America at the bottom of the economic scale, they needed to be controlled. And so another drug law was passed--in Congress, with less than five minutes debate. The Speaker of the House says this is bad stuff. Pass a law. All in a day's work. And to think they actually get paid for being a rubber stamp.

Knowing the history of these laws, it is not surprising how they are used today. Laws controlling private personal behavior are almost always enforced most strongly on the poor and other classes least able to resist. After all, what police officer wants to meet resistance? It requires a lot more time in court, and that lowers the stats. Bad for promotion. And if he starts arresting too many of his neighbors, it's bad for his social standing.

What is so surprising to me is that so many people in the poor communities ask for ever more policing to rid themselves of the drugs and the drug dealers. So far as we know in human history, it has never been possible to eliminate the drugs. And as William Burroughs once said about heroin, "dealing is harder to kick than using." So how do we eliminate the dealers? We do that by allowing sales. Put the drugs back in the drug store. Put the drug users under a doctor's care. And for those drugs like marijuana that are safer than aspirin, let them be sold next to the aspirin.

We have actually tried this solution once before with a dangerous drug: alcohol. And it worked pretty well. When we were done legalizing we still had an alcohol problem, but the organized criminals were off to new lines of work like drug dealing.

For much of this information I am indebted to Charles Whitebread and his speech, "The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States" delivered to the California Judges Association in 1995, which can be found at: The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in The United States.

2 comments:

Laura said...

You didnt make any connections between the laws and the minority, so said basically, chinese people smoke opium, so they pass opium laws, black people like cocaine so they pass cocaine laws, mexicans like weed so pass weed laws. you never once made any real proof that anyone was "out to get" any of these minoritys by passing these laws you simply read into it what you wanted to. the government outlawed alcohol which white people drink, or is that racisim too?

M. Simon said...

Laura,

If you read the history link I provided you would find the evidence of racism that you were looking for.

You would also have found that alcohol prohibitiion was in part a political measure against Democrats who organized and had much of their political strength in saloons.