The Drug War
Noam Sayin’? The High Times Interview with Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky interviewed by T.A. Sedlak
July 29, 2011
Q: You’ve spoken out against the War on Drugs, explaining that it’s essentially a means to lock up poor people, that it actually increases drug use, and that it serves as an excuse to control foreign nations. Would you briefly elaborate on these points?
A: Let’s grant that there’s a drug problem, for the sake of argument — drugs meaning, you know, cocaine, marijuana and so on. Suppose you accept that. How do you deal with it? There are studies — government studies and others — that say that the most cost-effective way is prevention and treatment. More expensive and less effective is policing; still less effective and more expensive is border interdiction. And the most expensive and the least effective is out-of-country operations, like what they call “fumigation” — which is, in fact, chemical warfare — in Colombia and so forth. I’ve seen it firsthand; it really is chemical warfare. So those are the basic facts, and I don’t think anyone questions them very much.
Now take a look at the way the Drug War is conducted over the past 40 years. It goes back farther, but start from 40 years ago: There’s very little spent on prevention and treatment. There’s a lot on policing, a ton of stuff on border control and a lot on out-of-country operations. And the effect on the availability of drugs is almost undetectable; drug prices don’t change on measures of availability. So there are two possibilities: Either those conducting the Drug War are lunatics, or they have another purpose.
Well, in the law, there’s a standard way of trying to determine intention, and that’s by looking at predictable consequences. You have 40 years of experience with almost no effect on what they claim they’re trying to do, and you have very predictable consequences — in fact, several. At home, you lock up the people who are essentially superfluous. The economy shifted dramatically in the ’70s away from domestic production and towards financialization and the export of production. That leaves a class problem: What do you do with unemployed workers? We happen to have a very close class/race correlation in America, so that means, overwhelmingly, black males and Hispanic males. Well, you know, we’re a civilized country, so you don’t assassinate them — you stick them in jail. And, in fact, the incarceration rate has been shooting up, especially since the early ’80s; it’s now way out of line with any other comparable country. Meanwhile, overseas, the War on Drugs contributes to counterinsurgency operations. So a rational conclusion is that those are the purposes. The only alternative I can think of is sheer lunacy.
Furthermore, it’s known, just from experience, that prevention works. Here we get to the question of what’s the drug problem. Well, in fact, by far the worst problem is tobacco: Tobacco kills way more people than hard drugs, 20 times as many or some huge number. So that’s a really dangerous substance. The second most dangerous is alcohol, because of its direct consequence to the user, but also because it harms others. Marijuana doesn’t make you violent; alcohol does. So it contributes to abuse, violence — drunk driving kills people. It’s a killer.
Anyway, what happened is that, without any criminalization, the usage of these substances has declined pretty significantly among more educated people. And it’s the same with say, red meat. It was a lifestyle change, and it became a healthier lifestyle with no criminalization. That’s just education — basically, prevention. So I think there’s almost no other rational conclusion other than the one I mentioned: that the Drug War is not intended to deal with the use of drugs. It’s intended for other purposes, namely those that are the actual and predictable consequences of it.
Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, made a pertinent comment a couple years ago. He said, “If you want to destroy coca here, then let us destroy the tobacco in North Carolina and Kentucky. It’s a far more dangerous substance. It kills way more people than coca does.” That’s a joke, obviously — the United States isn’t going to let him do that. Then again, it just shows up the cynicism of the whole program.https://chomsky.info/20110729/