Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Harper Government on the Wrong Side of the Drug War

Harper's new omnibus crime bill will mean stiffer sentences for those growing a few marijuana plants, clearly designed to go after the user.  However, if he really wanted to do the war on drugs right, he would be targeting the pharmaceutical industry; the real drug pushers of this generation.

I often mock the ads on U.S television for new prescription drugs;  "cures" for ailments you never heard of.   Clearly they're just starting to make things up.

Direct-to-consumer advertising can be very effective, but also dangerous.  According to the Canadian Health Coalition, the ads push the newest medicines, those without a history of the affects of long-term use.

Truth in advertising demands that they list the side affects, but they are practically sung at the end or read so fast you can't keep up.

"Did she just say that this drug might make me want to jump out a window?"

What you remember the most from the ads is "ask your doctor".  Arthritis sufferers asked their doctors about Vioxx, a heavily advertised pain medication, and yet 115,000 died from heart attacks as a result of taking the drug. 

CHC also warns that the ads are designed to turn the normal into a problem, convincing people who feel fine but with "symptoms" of a new medical condition, that they need drugs. Others who have symptoms of a legitimate condition, could instead treat the fabricated one and mask the symptoms that need to be addressed.

In Canada direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicine is still prohibited, but Canwest Global is hoping to change that, calling it an infringement on their freedom of expression.  I believe the case is still pending.

With Harper now controlling the Supreme Court, if it goes that far, CanWest will win.  They'll just have to bring him a hockey sweater.  It won't hurt that Pfizer is now running the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, either.

History Repeating Itself

In his 2008 book White Protestant Nation, Allan J. Richtman traces the modern conservative movement to the 1920s and Prohibition, which was not only about banning the sale of alcohol but an attempt to crack down on all vices, including drug use.
A near panic over drug-induced crime that hit the United States during the 1920s led public officials and private reformers to declare America's first war on drugs. The nation closed its public drug treatment clinics and as it had done with venereal disease, adopted a moral and law enforcement approach to narcotics. Addicts had no recourse other than illegal sources of supply ...

Despite a continued drug war, however, the nation's experiment with Prohibition crashed in the late 1920s. Prohibition exposed the tension between moral reformers and a business community opposed to govern­ment control over industry ... a continuing thirst for alcohol gave rise to a thriving underground market operated by organized criminal syndicates that waged bloody street battles for control of market share and paid off law enforce­ment officials to look the other way. The prisons swelled with felons con­victed of violating the dry laws and collateral crimes. The cost of federal law enforcement quintupled during the '20s and intruded into the lives of ordinary Americans. (1)
Many believe that the narcotic trade is new and addiction something that can be cured with tougher laws.  They thought the same thing in the 1920s when federal laws were passed and a war on drugs was launched.

Throughout the Victorian era, narcotics were readily available and sold as patent medicines.

Cannabis Indica, patented by the American Druggist Syndicate in 1906.  Bottle reads:

"Fluid Extract. Cannabis Indica. USP eighth revision. The flowering tops of cannabis sativa. Alcohol 60 percent. Physiologically tested. A.D.S.

This was one of many cannabis products promising to cure migraines and "nervousness".  The 60% alcohol didn't hurt.

Bayer began selling liquid Heroin in 1899 for pain relief.  It earned it's name because those testing the miracle cure claimed that it made them feel heroic.

However, by the early 1900s heroism turned to addiction, so pharmaceutical companies began to patent a range of cures for addiction, including the German Liquor Cure.

To those addicted to the habit of using opium or morphia in  any form or manner whatever. We guarantee this preparation to be absolutely harmless, to contain no poisonous narcotics. Can be taken freely without producing any of the deleterious effects on the system, such as are caused by the use of opium and morphia. Immediately on taking a dose of this remedy, a calming and soothing effect is produced. It acts as a tonic to  the nerves;it will act at first as perfect substitute, rendering the patient independent of these poisonous drugs, and after continued use for a short period the nerves will become strong and the general health improved, so that the remedy can be taken at longer intervals and soon altogether discontinued; then the cure is complete". Cannot be sent by mail on account of weight".

They don't say what was in this stuff, but perhaps more alcohol than Cannabis Indica.

Enter the crusaders of the conservative movement, who were going to end all that, with a whole range of federal laws.  We'll call it an omnibus bill. 

Since Ronald Reagan launched his war full scale war on drugs, the results have been pretty much the same.  Some examples:
- the U.S. per capita spending on schools increased 32%. The per capita spending on prisons grew 189%

- California built 21 prisons since then but just one college.

- From 1985 to 1998, the number of deaths per 100,000 for drug-induced causes almost doubled. In other words, having a drug war proved twice as deadly as not having one. (2)
By the 25th anniversary $4 trillion dollars had been spent on the war on drugs with a record expansion of prison and jail systems.

Martin Beckford, Health Correspondent for the UK Telegraph writes that the War on drugs has failed:
Leading peers – including prominent Tories – say that despite governments worldwide drawing up tough laws against dealers and users over the past 50 years, illegal drugs have become more accessible. Vast amounts of money have been wasted on unsuccessful crackdowns, while criminals have made fortunes importing drugs into this country.
So why does the Harper government, at a time of record deficits, insist on making the same mistakes as those who have tried "crack down" before?

Robert O. Paxton blames it on the mindset of these kinds of populist movements. They "despise thought and reason" and "abandon intellectual positions casually" (3) .  Preferring emotional arguments to proven facts, is the basis of the new conservatism.  Even if their leaders know otherwise, manipulating emotion is what puts them into power and keeps them there.  They often refer to it, as Guy Giorno, Harper's former chief of staff, did, as "playing to the base". 

I tried to debate Canada's new drug laws with one of my conservative followers.  Frustrated, he said "You can't tell me that things weren't better in the Victorian era", (we'd already run the gamut from the 1920s).  And yet I can.  Every generation has had their problems and there has never been any quick fix.

Bill C-10 will only create a new set of problems.  Or an old set of problems, as history will repeat itself.


1. White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, By Allan J. Lichtman, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008, ISBN: 10-0-87113-983-7, pp 14-15

2. BOTTOM LINE: The true costs of Reagan and extreme capitalism, by Sam Smith
3. The Five Stages of Fascism, By Robert O. Paxton, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 1-23. The University of Chicago Press

1 comment:

  1. I imagine your Conservative followers are thoroughly confused by the facts.