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Book Report, March 16, 2019

Book Report-Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days Of The War On Drugs by Johann Hari (2015; New York, Bloomsbury USA)

 This is the story of the “War On Drugs,” focusing on the life and work of Harry Anslinger, America’s most ruthless and destructive anti-drug enforcer. Anslinger’s determination to eradicate narcotics from the country moved him to push for funding for his Federal Bureau of Narcotics-originally the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Prohibition-by creating a panic in the public about Black jazz musicians and Mexican immigrants; and to repress science-based data that contradicted his fear-mongering and moralizing against the slide of immorality, in Anslinger’s mind, that drugs represented.

The book shows how, along the way, Anslinger’s crusade destroyed the lives and careers of anyone who got in his way, like the jazz legend Billie Holiday and scientists who used facts as opposed to his  scare tactics; how Anslinger was harsh and ruthless in dealing with Holiday, who was Black, but was kind and helpful to Judy Garland, who was shite, through her drug problems; and how, just as the prohibition of alcohol allowed criminal syndicates to supply the liquor people still wanted (and prospered as a result of their monopoly), so the prohibition of narcotics (which, taken under medical supervision allowed people to function normally in the world) created a monopoly for criminal syndicates. That monopoly allowed the crime families to jack up the costs of narcotics far above what the legal market did, causing otherwise law-abiding and functional people to cheat, steal, and beg for the money to buy their drugs.

The reality is obvious; prohibition of things people want, be it alcohol, drugs, or sex, will not make people no longer want them. There will be criminal syndicates who will supply the demand for the commodity, and in doing so, they will corrupt police, courts, and politicians. Having a personal morality is fine, but should that should not necessarily be the basis of public policy? I have no answer now, but I open the floor for discussion.   

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