This month marks the 40th anniversary of the contemporary war on drugs in the United States. In 1970, a Democrat-controlled Congress passed and Republican President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control act, which consolidated and updated all previous federal drug laws. Included in the legislation was the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which established five categories (or “schedules”) of regulated drugs based on their medicinal value and potential for addiction, and which remains the legal framework for the war on drugs. In 1971, Nixon declared drug abuse to be “public enemy number one in the United States” (a ludicrous statement) and the modern drug war was launched.
For a fuller examination of the history, and consequences, of drug prohibition in the United States, see my co-authored (with Dave Kopel) monograph on the issue, The Drug War against Civil Liberty and Human Rights, published by the Liberal Institute of the Friederich Naumann Foundation.
To mark the occasion, I am re-reading Mark Bowden’s terrific book, Killing Pablo, the story of the rise and fall of Colombian criminal and terrorist Pablo Escobar, who in the 1980s became fabulously wealthy, powerful and infamous due to drug-prohibition, much the same way American criminal Al Capone became fabulously wealthy, powerful and infamous a half-century earlier due to alcohol prohibition.
It is also a story of the wild abandon with which American drug warriors were (and still are) willing to irresponsibly grow the size and power of government, “reinterpret” inconvenient laws, blur the line between soldier and police, launch military actions, throw away ridiculous amounts of tax dollars, and waste both lives and liberty in a futile effort to stop free Americans from consuming politically incorrect substances. From Killing Pablo (page 54):
In April of 1986, the president [Reagan] had signed National Security Decision Directive 221, which for the first time declared drug trafficking a threat to national security. The directive opened the door to direct military involvement in the war on drugs, which was placing a growing emphasis on attacking the crops, labs and traffickers in Central and South America. This was an unprecedented mixing of law enforcement and military missions, and Reagan directed that any American laws or regulations prohibiting such an alliance were to be reinterpreted or amended. The Departments of Defense and Justice were directed to “develop and implement any necessary modifications to applicable statutes, regulations, procedures and guidelines to enable U.S. military forces to support counter-narcotics efforts.” Beginning that summer, U.S. Army troops joined DEA agents and Bolivian police in raiding fifteen cocaine processing labs in that country.
For an explanation of how U.S. drug war efforts in Andean Ridge countries has thwarted free-market capitalism, destroyed the livelihood of subsistence farmers, enriched narco-terrorists and criminal thugs, strengthened the role of the military, weakened civilian rule, and propped up government corruption, see my chapter (again, co-authored with Dave Kopel) “A Foreign Policy Disaster” in the book, The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War (Accurate Press, 2004).