Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
Johann Hari joins us this week to discuss his recent New York Times best-selling book about the past, present, and future of drug prohibition.
What was the U.S. government’s original motivation behind drug prohibition? How has the way we view addiction changed over time? What happens when a country—or a state—decriminalizes drugs? What about hard drugs?
Show Notes and Further Reading
Chasing the Scream is available here, along with all of Hari’s interviews and notes used in writing the book.
Hari mentions Jeffrey Miron’s work on the economics of drug prohibition; you can read Miron’s recent work here.
Trevor: Welcome to Free Thoughts from Libertarianism.org and the Cato Institute. I’m Trevor Burrus.
Aaron: And I’m Aaron Powell.
Trevor: Joining us today is Johann Hari, former columnist for The Independent of London, and author of the New York Times bestseller, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Welcome to Free Thoughts, Johann.
Johann: I’m really excited to be here. Thank you.
Trevor: Now, we have a War on Drugs that’s throughout the world to a different extent, to a greater or less extent, which is sort of a secondary product of prohibition. And a lot of people don’t even know about the history of prohibition, how these drugs even came to be illegal in the first place. So, as a sort of general question and you can choose any specific drug or as a general concept, how did drug prohibition begin in the first place?
Johann: There were so many things when I started researching my book that I had no idea about. I had this quite personal motivation to look into it. We had drug addiction in my family. One of my earliest memories is trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to. And that’s really why I started doing the research that led me to go to 12 different countries and travel 30,000 miles and just sit with loads with different people whose lives have been changed either by the War on Drugs or by the alternatives to the War on Drugs and that kind of mad mixture of people from a crack dealer in Brooklyn to a hitman for the deadliest Mexican drug cartel to the people who led their country to become the first one to decriminalize all drugs.
And I discovered that so many of the things that we take for granted are just wrong, so many things. So if you had said to me at the start, “Why were drugs banned a hundred years ago?” I would have guessed that the reasons – if you stop an American in the street today and you said, “Why are drugs banned?” They’d probably say, “Well, we don’t want people to become addicted. We don’t want kids to use drugs.” And what’s fascinating if you go back and look at what happens is, that stuff barely came up. That’s not why drugs were banned. It’s not even mentioned in most of the debates.
The reason why drugs were banned is because as the people would have put it at the time, they believe that blacks and the Chinese people were forgetting their place using drugs and attacking white people actually opened the book with a place that might seem a bit weird, to open a history book about the War on Drugs. But I opened with this I think a really significant moment in the War on Drugs.
In 1939, Billie Holiday stood on stage in Midtown Manhattan and she sang the song Strange Fruit, which I’m guessing most people listening to this know it’s the song against racism.
Trevor: Very subversive, very subversive song, yes.
Johann: Yeah. That’s exactly what had got her goddaughter, Lorraine Feather said to me. You’ve got to understand how subversive that was to have an African-American woman standing in front of a white audience in a hotel where she wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door. She had to go through the service elevator and sing a song, a kind of indictment of American white supremacy. It’s kind of incredibly brave.
And that night, Billie Holiday gets a warning from the man who launched – the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and basically the man who invented the modern War on Drugs, a man called Harry Anslinger. And it basically said, “Look, stop singing this song.” And Billie Holiday said effectively, “Screw you! I’m an American citizen. I’ll do what I want.” And at that point, he decides to begin really destroying her and I tell the story in the book of how he stalked and played a role in her death that I can tell you about if you like. But I think that tells you so much for what the war on drugs was about right from the start.
Aaron: Well, how explicit was this? Because a lot of the time when we’re talking about this crushing racism that motivated a lot of American law-making in the early parts of 20th century, it’s kind of under the table or hidden. The real goal is to prevent Chinese laundries from operating. But what we’re going to instead do is say it’s to ban certain ways that laundries might operate that are dangerous that really just happen to align with the Chinese. Were they explicitly saying like as discussing these laws or as writing these laws or writing about them, we need to do this because blacks and other minorities are forgetting their place or was that the …
Aaron: … the subtext and they had a more perhaps lofty-sounding reason that they expressed?
Johann: The thing that absolutely amazed me is that it’s not subtext at all. Typical official statement was “the cocaine ’N’ word sure is hard to kill.” And Harry Anslinger used the “N” word so often in his own official memos that his own senator in the 1920s said he should have to resign. I mean this is not subtext. This is text to a really startling degree when you actually go to the archives and look at it. And it’s worth explaining I think a bit about the role that race played in terms of Anslinger himself.
So I think Harry Anslinger was the most influential person who no one has ever heard of. He takes over the Department of Prohibition in the late 1920s just as alcohol prohibition is ending. So he inherits this big government bureaucracy with nothing to do. That has actually just been discredited and incredibly corrupted and obviously lost the war on alcohol massively.
And he realizes that alcohol prohibition is going to end fairly soon and he effectively builds the modern War on Drugs. I’m sure he did genuinely believed in these things but he wanted to keep his government department going and he really builds – he’s the first person to use the phrase, “warfare against drugs” long before Nixon. And he really builds it around these two obsessive hatreds that he has. One is a hatred of addicts based on some stuff that happened to him when he was a kid. And one was a really intense hatred of African-Americans.
As I say, he is regarded as mad racist in 1920s and this is regarded as racist enterprise at the time which is quite surprising actually.
Trevor: And you can kind of go through the different drugs and say heroin Chinese people, that’s for example because I think you have that line in the book if I’m remembering correctly that the common user of heroin in say, 1905 was a housewife drinking a tincture – well, not heroin. Heroin is a brand name for bear. But a tincture of opium of some sort that make you feel better with a little bit amount of opium in it. But then when the Chinese get associated with it, the entire narrative changes.
Johann: When it can be rationalized, the move to ban it is project to rationalizing it. So you are totally right. The opiates are regarded as this thing that has been brought by the Chinese. Cocaine is regarded as African-American, Cannabis or marijuana is regarded as things being brought up by Hispanics from Latinos from Mexico.
Cannabis is an interesting example because Anslinger had actually said on the record officially that he did not regard – because bear in mind, when he takes over the Department of Prohibition, cannabis is still legal in the United States. And he had – it was on the record saying, “It’s not a harmful drug, not bothered by it.”
When he then begins to build his war against drugs, cocaine and heroin were really minority taste in the US at the time. You can’t really build much of a government bureaucracy around cocaine and heroin because it’s a tiny trade. And that’s when he suddenly announces that cannabis is in fact worse than heroin and worse than any drug, that it invariably causes psychosis.
And he picks up on this particular case, it’s very interesting, there’s a boy in Florida called Victor Licata who was 21, hacked his family to death with an axe. And along with the Hearst Newspapers, it was kind of the Fox News in the day, he creates this huge hysteria of, “This is what will happen if you smoke weed.” And in light of this panic, kind of his front.
Years later, someone went back and looked at the files, the psychiatric files from Victor Licata, there’s not even any evidence he used cannabis. His parents had actually been told to institutionalize him several years before but they wanted to keep him at home, that there was insanity in his family. The whole thing was a kind of bogus hysteria. But of course, it worked in the sense that Anslinger then has this huge department because of course cannabis was even then much more widespread than heroin and cocaine.
But you’re right. It’s not common sense that Victor Licata was Latino.
Trevor: But that’s an interesting parallel which I did not see in your book and that was one like absinthe in Europe was actually prohibited for another axe murderer in the 1905 I think that’s called the Lanfray murders, a guy in Switzerland murdered a bunch of his family. And the story became that he was on absinthe and therefore lost his mind and so then the prohibition of absinthe as a uniquely dangerous alcohol with warm water, whatever, swamped across Europe.
And this seems is another constant theme is that we say that some drug is just really going to take over your autonomy and turn you into a raving psychopath. We had this with bath salts in the United States recently and that that’s why we need to prohibit it. But there’s always this racial overtone to it also.
Johann: Yeah. This belief skips from drug to drug. As it becomes discredits number one drug, it skipped to the next. So enough people know enough people who have used cannabis, you can’t credibly even say that about cannabis anymore. So the idea skips to cocaine. Now, enough people know enough people who have used cocaine but you know when it doesn’t verbally suck us. So it skips from drug to drug. It’s a misunderstanding of both drugs and mental illness to think that one drug would invariably makes people insane and so on. It’s a misunderstanding of how these things work. You’re right. It skips around.
Aaron: Does this mean though that they aren’t dangerous. I mean so when I was a kid, I remember the one that was super scary was PCP.
Trevor: Superman. Yeah, coke drugs.
Aaron: It was the one that made you insane and they had to shoot you in the kneecaps to get you to stop. So is it with something like PCP, is that just totally made up or is there any truth to this stuff that’s actually can make you nuts or dangerous?
Johann: The two things that – this is the thing that most surprised me in my research as I mentioned. One of the reasons why I cared about this subject and why I spent so much time learning about it is because we had addiction in my family and my family’s experience with drugs was catastrophic. And it’s very tempting to generalize from your own experience and I kind of assumed a very, very large portion of people who used drugs like heroin developed really serious problems with drugs like meth.
And I think the two things that most surprised me in the research are first thing, well, a small proportion of drug users are harmed by the drug. It’s definitely not zero and it’s really important to say that. And secondly, what really causes addiction and that really kind of blew my mind actually.
So to start with the first point, so we all know this with alcohol, you go into a bar and you’re going to know that there are people there. You look around you and you know that most of the people in that bar or the vast majority, 90%, if it’s a good bar, will be drinking alcohol because it makes their life better. They’re having a good night. They’re relaxing and so on. And there may be some, small minority, who have an alcohol problem in which case they need our love and support. We all know that.
What was really striking to me and I actually learned this from – it was given to me by Professor Callahan, which frankly, I didn’t believe him. He just gave it to me and I really had to look at it in a lot of detail. Actually, that ratio seems to be true for virtually all drugs, 90% of people who use meth don’t become addicted to meth. 90% of people who use crack don’t become addicted to crack. Now, it can cause other health problems and other things. I’m not saying these drugs are a good thing and people should use them.
But the thing that – the obvious question that begs is, well, hang on, what’s going on with the 10% when something does go wrong? And to me, that was the most fascinating bit. So if you had said to me five years ago when I started this research, what causes say heroin addiction, to choose the one that happens to be closest to me, I would have looked at you like you were an idiot. And I would have said, “Well, the clue is in the name, right?’
Trevor: Heroin, yes.
Johann: That was a stupid question, right? And we’ve been told this story for hundred years that it has become part of our common sense. It was definitely part of my common sense, which is, we think, if you kidnap the next 20 people who walk past the Cato Institute offices and you make them all use heroin together for a month. At the end …
Aaron: They will subscribe to our intern program.
Trevor: Don’t let them out here.
Johann: Well, your poor interns, fusty and smart. At the end of say, a month, they would all be heroin addicts, right? And we think we know that for a simple reason that or we think of why that would be, there are chemical hooks in heroin that their bodies would start to physically need. And so, at the end of that month, they’d have this ravenous craving for heroin.
The first thing that alerts me to that fact that something is not right about that story is when it was explained to me. In Canada or most of Europe, so say, I’m in London at the moment, about to come to the US, if I step out at the end of this interview and I get hit by a truck and I break my hip, I’ll be taken to a hospital and I’ll be given loads of a drug diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s just the medical name for heroin. Actually, they are giving me a much better heroin that I could ever get from a drug dealer because it had been medically pure. It would be a hundred percent heroin than most of what our dealers says who use very little bit is actually heroin.
All over Europe and all over Canada, the whole time, people are being given heroin in hospital. If you have a European grandmother and she is about to have a hip replacement operation, she is taking a lot of heroin. So they are exposed to all the same chemical hooks as any addict you’re going to see on the street, right? If what we think about addiction is right that is caused by the chemical hooks, what should happen to all these people in hospitals?
Some of them should become heroin addicts. This has been studied very carefully but virtually never happens. And when I learned that, it seemed so weird and so contrary to everything I’ve been told. Again, I didn’t really believe it. And I only really began to understand it when I went to Vancouver and met this incredible man called Professor Bruce Alexander who has done this experiment that has opened up a whole world of science and experiments or human experiments, looking at humans that I think really should change how we think about addiction.
So Professor Alexander explained to me this theory of addiction that we all have in our heads about chemical hooks comes partly from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century that really simply experiments that Cato Institute could stage them and put them on YouTube. Anyone listening to this can try it at home tonight if they feel a bit sadistic,
You get a rat and put it in a cage and you give it two water bottles, one is just water and the other is water mixed with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself. Do you guys remember the famous …
Trevor: Oh yeah. We had a thing called dare in school. I think Aaron, you had that, right? Drug abusers on such occasion which pretty much just told us all these sort of these are the worst things ever you’ll be addicted immediately, which I believed until recently. So the rats experiment I remember watching that in a film strip in sixth grade I believe.
Johann: Yeah, and you can see it on YouTube that it kind of shows you that experiment. But in the ‘70s or actually by the time you were showing that, this would already been present, but in the ‘70s, Professor Alexander came along and said, “Hang on a minute. You put this rat alone in an empty cage where it has got nothing to do except use the drugs. What would happen if we did this differently?”
So he built a cage that he called a rat park which had loads of cheese, loads of colored bowls, loads of tunnels, the rat had a bunch of friends. They can have lots of sex. Anything a rat wants in life is there in rat park, right? And they got both the water bottles, the normal water and the drugged water. And they of course tried both because they don’t know what’s in them. But this is the fascinating thing. At rat park, they don’t like the drugged water. They almost never use it. None of them ever used it compulsively. None of them ever use it compulsively. None of them have overdosed.
So you go from almost 100% overdose with the environment that’s shitty and they’re isolated to no overdose when they have a good environment. There are lots of human examples I can talk about that. But to me what that tells you is the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.
Trevor: So this is fascinating because I think that the big takeaway that I got from your book, we’re gone into different ways here, is that the primary driver of the drug war has been people’s perceptions of what a drug user is like either of race or class and then their perceptions of what a drug does. And pretty much every instant of this, when you ask them that question of why is something prohibited – when something else is allowed, why is alcohol allowed and marijuana prohibited?
And if you have a government that doesn’t have a libertarian principles, meaning it thinks that it can in principle ban anything, then what actually decides whether or not something is prohibited or whether it’s allowed is sort of whether the people in power take that drug, use it or no people who use it or have some sort of accurate depiction of what heroin use is like or what alcohol use is like or what marijuana use is like.
And the single biggest thing that happened with marijuana is that people, as you mentioned, started knowing people who took marijuana and they started knowing people who did cocaine. And so that changed the perception of the drug user. But the big driver is the perception of the drug user and the perception of the drug.
Johann: That’s interesting. I think there’s some truth in that. I don’t think it’s the main reason. Rather, I think it maybe – it’s crucial actually how the war is sold. But I don’t think – because actually, it’s very interesting. If you look at – what’s the best way to explain this? I don’t think you need to challenge how people think about drug uses to change how they think about the drug war necessarily.
And I think Switzerland is an interesting – these are few places that interesting examples of this because I think the worst harm that’s caused by the drug war are totally different to what we’ve been talking about. I think obviously, like a massively level we’ve been talking about. I actually think the biggest harm is a whole lot other thing and it’s by far the most devastating effect of the war on drugs, even more than the massive and unnecessary death of addicts and the terrible addiction crisis and even more the mass imprisonment is the violence caused by prohibition itself, which is destroying whole countries.
And so – and causing catastrophic violence in the city that you’re in at the moment in Anacostia, across the river and across the United States. And I think it’s worth explaining this to people. I mean I learned about it mainly from as I said, transgender crack dealer in Brooklyn and a hitman from the Mexican drug cartel and actually from a guy who does amazing research for Cato, Professor Jeffry Miron at Harvard who is a fellow of yours. He had done absolutely amazing work on this. And I think everyone at Cato should be incredibly proud of him.
The best way to explain it is again, do a little experiment. Your listeners can do this. While you’re listening to this podcast, go and try to steal a bottle of vodka. And if the liquor store catches you, they’ll call the police and the police will come and take you away. So that liquor store doesn’t need to be violent. It doesn’t need to be intimidating because they got the power of the law to uphold that property rights.
Now, do a different experiment. Go and try to steal a bag of weed or a bag of coke or assuming you’re not in Colorado or Washington or Oregon. If that guy who sells that catches you, obviously, he is calling the police, right? The police will come and arrest him. He had to find you. In fact, he has to establish a reputation of being such a badass that no one would be so stupid as to try to steal from him. And he has to establish his place in that neighborhood through violence and intimidation. There’s a right use of the war on drugs creates a war for drugs.
Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, calculated there are 10,000 additional murders every year in the United States as a result of that dynamic. I reported for Chasing the Scream a report from Northern Mexico as I said, he came back from Colombia from Ciudad Juarez. It’s worth remembering, more people have died in the drug war violence in Mexico and Colombia than have died in the civil war in Syria. And there may not be that much we can do about the war in Syria. We should talk about it. But we could end this violence.
And if you want to know how we could end it, just ask yourself, where are the violent alcohol dealers today? Does the head of Heineken go and ship the head of course in the face? Does your local liquor store send the teenagers who work there to go and kill the people at another liquor store? Of course not. That’s exactly what happened under alcohol prohibition.
Everyone listening to this knows who Al Capone is. Everyone listening to it knows who Pablo Escobar is. I bet none of you know the name of the head of Heineken or Smirnoff. And I bet you don’t care because it’s a legal regulated business that doesn’t create violence.
Aaron: That’s one narrative and it’s a common one and it is one that we at Cato talk about a lot. But when it gets made, there’s a counter narrative that gets made by especially more conservative people that says, “Look, the world has violent people in it. It has people who will shoot each other in the face over nothing and sometimes that’s cultural, sometimes that’s just part of who they are that it can get certain communities seem to have more of it than others. And that’s the drive of the violence and drug is just what they’re latching on to.”
So they latch on to alcohol prohibition and there was a lot of violence around that. And if you get rid of that then they’re going to latch on to drugs because that’s something they can be violent around. But if you get rid of drugs, it’s just going to be something else.
And so, the violence is not being caused by the prohibition. It’s just that the prohibition is where the violence moves to because that’s the most convenient spot.
Johann: Yeah, and we can measure this. So, there’s a simple way of answering that, which is to look at a graph that Jeffry Miron, your associate, a Harvard Professor, shows. It’s a graph of the murderer in the United States in the 20th century. It massively spikes up when alcohol is banned and it collapses when alcohol prohibition ends. And it massively spikes up again in the ‘70s when drug prohibition is intensified under Nixon. I don’t want to say – let’s put a stress, that’s not the only reason why it spikes up in the ‘70s but it’s a contributing factor.
There are basically two ways to think about this. There’s the quantity theory of crime, I think of it this way which is like certain inherent proportion of people are just criminals. And then there’s the incentive theory of crime which is well, there are plenty of people who wouldn’t normally commit a crime but if you offer them a fair incentive to do it, they do consider it. I think everyone listening to this knows the incentive theory of crime is obviously true, right?
I would not go and I don’t know, push over a woman. If you offer me a billion dollars to do it, I would think about it. I would like to think I’d still say no. And I hope I’d still say no. But lots of people listening to this will know there are crimes they would not just commit of their own volition but if you offer them loads of money to do it, they will probably do it.
Trevor: If we had someone like Bill Bennett comes in, a former drug – a very big, hearty drug warrior. So he wouldn’t disagree with you that the dug more causes violence because people do violent things for things that are illegal. But that doesn’t actually answer the question of whether or not drugs should be illegal because that question is about whether drugs are the kind of things that people should be doing or that the government should all be OK with people doing in the sense that the kind of thing that you end up being if you’re a drug taker is an unacceptable thing that the government has a responsibility of standing in between you and those substances.
And if there is – I don’t know the results or violence that results from around this, that’s just the product for the government or people having base motives to try and get things that they shouldn’t be getting and the government needs to sort of stand in the way and make sure that that doesn’t happen. That’s the best we can be able to do.
Johann: Yeah. I think you’re right. And that does bolster your case that you have to change how people think about drug uses and not do things as the case for doing that. But I guess there are a few things you could say I’m supposed to react.
First thing is the question of scale. That seemed that has grown. I don’t agree with it but let’s grow on the idea that it would be a desirable thing to prevent people from choosing to use drugs that they want to, right? Would it be worth losing 10,000 Americans every year to do that? Would it be worth losing more than a hundred thousand Mexicans to do that?
So, once you factor in the violence, and it’s worth remembering, there’s a quite – every American taxpayer should know I think it’s a scandal, Michele Leonhart who is the head of – was the head of the DEA until relatively weeks ago, was asked in a Bi-Senate Sub Committee what she thought about the fact that 60,000 innocent Mexicans have died in the drug war violence. Actually it was a much higher – that figure they put out was wrong. It has been more than that but that’s what they put in it. And she said, these were exact words, “It’s a sign of success in the war on drugs.”
I mean that – ordinary Americans are so much better than that. That’s really – if I think about the people that I got to know in Northern Mexico who have lost people in the most unbelievably terribly ways, beheading and butchery. And as I say, I got to know a man had in fact between the ages of 13 and 17 butchered or beheaded about 70 people. He actually was an American kid, who grew up in Laredo, obviously on the border of Mexico.
So I think once you factor in these – now, I do agree that – so even if you’ve frown up this demonized view about drug use, I still think the violence would – ending that violence would outweigh this demonized drug use. But I agree also the demonized drug use is – the demonized idea of drug use is wrong.
And I think the other way to challenge that is to talk about what legalization has men in the places that have tried it. It’s interesting because it’s not – the first thing to say is that legalization means different things for different drugs. In the same way that I’m pretty sure that in D.C., you could own a dog, a monkey, and a lion if you really wanted to. But I’m also sure the rules would be different, right? You’ve got to I’m sure you can stand by a dog. For monkey, I guess you might need a license. And it’s definitely a lion …
Trevor: Zoos can own lions I guess. But yes, so different people probably can own those in different ways.
Johann: Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s a barely sense – we even, pretty hardcore libertarians would agree having a lion in your yard is not a good idea, right? And there should be a system that fairly regulates it, right?
You can do the same thing with different drugs. So I’ve been to places where different drugs have been legalized and use on different things. So obviously, Colorado – three US states have now legalized marijuana like alcohol. So you’ve got to be 21. There’s a certain amount you can buy every day. It’s taxed. It’s a regulated product.
Switzerland has legalized heroin for addicts, and it works very differently. Obviously, you don’t go into the Swiss equivalent CVS and just buy heroin. The way it works is if you’re a heroin addict or assigned to a clinic, you go to that clinic. You’re given your heroin there. You have to use it there in front of a doctor or nurse. And then you leave. And what’s fascinating is you leave to go to a job because they give how to get a job and so on.
What’s fascinating about that is do you know how many people have died of overdoses on legal heroin in Switzerland?
Trevor: Probably zero.
Johann: Not a single person. There are lots of reasons but I know that will be jarring to some people listening to this. That’s an undisputable fact. It’s one of the reasons why Switzerland which is a super conservative country voted by 70% to keep heroin legal after they had seen it in practice because you just saw a big fall in crime and you saw addicts just being turned around.
Yeah. So it’s important to explain to people that legalization doesn’t mean what they think it does. And so I think it is much – it’s about – I take your point about changing attitude towards drug users. There was an interesting debate about this. If you look at Washington and Colorado, the campaigns to legalize marijuana both successful …
Trevor: And I’m from Colorado actually and Aaron has lived there for a long time too.
Johann: Did you guys vote in the referendum?
Aaron: We were out. But I was in Colorado, and actually, Pueblo, which was one of the towns that legalized it for sale at the beginning. I was there the day that it went legal and drove by and have pictures of remarkably long lines lined up outside of the dispensaries. It was an event.
Aaron: That has a real ripple effect across the world, amazing ripple effect. Everywhere I went, people would talk about what happened there.
Trevor: And that was a non-issue. That was an interesting thing too. I mean a lot of people in Colorado were already smoking marijuana if they wanted to because of matter of another sources. But it has become mundane. It’s just like all my friends, “Yeah. I mean you just go with the storm by. It’s not this crazy thing anymore because they made it kind of boring.”
Johann: I think that’s a really important fact. This is one of the things I saw everywhere where they’ve been dealing drugs, from Portugal where they decriminalized all drugs to Switzerland where they legalized heroin. It’s massively controversial when you first do it and then the effect quite rapidly is, “Oh, is that it?” And people see significant improvements at the time. There’s nowhere that it has done this that hasn’t seen a significant increase in support after they’ve seen it in practice which I think tells you something.
But then there’s a really interesting debate between the Colorado and Washington campaigns, or not debate between them but a different sort of approach. So I got to know and interview people who led both sides, the Colorado and Washington campaigns. And what’s interesting is in Colorado, guys like Mason Tvert, he led the campaign I really admire. He led a campaign which is very much about trying to change how people thought about the drug itself which was saying cannabis isn’t what you think it is. It’s less harmful than alcohol. Actually, people transfer from alcohol to cannabis, that’s a good thing.
In Washington, people like Tonia Winchester who I hugely admire as well, she led the campaign that took a totally different approach. When she talked to people, so the way Tonia would explain it, only 15% of people in Washington smoke cannabis. If what you’re trying to do is run a pro-cannabis campaign, you’re not going to win.
What she did is she said to people when she was out canvassing, “I’m not asking if you like cannabis. I don’t like cannabis. I don’t want to smoke it. The question is not, do you like cannabis? The question is, do you think people’s lives should be ruined for smoking cannabis? Do you think we should empower criminal gangs? Do you think we should continue with the situation where drugs are controlled by people who don’t check ID and sell it happily to a 13-year-old as a 30-year-old?’
So she has a different approach. One of the interesting things is they both won. So in a way, I guess both arguments are effective. My personal instinct is more to verge towards Tonia’s approach but I could be wrong. I think they’re both true.
Trevor: Well, one of my favorite stories you tell in the book which is related to the conversation we’re having right now is going back to the history of the drug war and two brothers named Henry Smith Williams and Edward Williams who were involved in the beginning days of the drug war and were involved with Harry Anslinger. But one of the books written by Henry Smith Williams was this book called Drug Addicts Are Human Beings, which is a striking title and one thing that we might forget quite often and he seemed to realize in 1938 I think when the book was written.
Johann: Yeah, I thought that was such a kind of crazy heart-breaking story. One of the reasons why my book is written largely is the stories of people I got to know or people I learned about is because I think this sounds a bit wonky and I don’t put it as pretentiously in the book but I basically think the drug war is a war that only continues because we dehumanized all the people involved. We’ve dehumanized drug uses. We dehumanized drug addicts. We’ve dehumanized drug dealers. We dehumanize the people who live in the supply route countries. We’ve dehumanized the cops who fight this war.
Actually, I think if you really want to end it, one of the reasons I wrote stories of people I got to know is because I kind of thought, the average American or British person or pretty much anyone, if they met Chino Hardin, the transgender crack dealer that I got to know, he’s one of the most and wise and amazing people I’ve ever met, if they got to know Bud Osborn, the homeless street addict who started an uprising in Vancouver, if they got to know Leigh Maddox, the cop in Baltimore who led against the drug war, they wouldn’t say, “Fuck these people. I don’t care. Let them die.” They would not say that.
If they met – if they got to know Marisela Escobedo, the woman who was looking for her missing daughter in Ciudad Juarez in the middle of the drug war, her story will tell, they would not say, “Let them die. I don’t care.” The job here is to rehumanize these people in the story.
You’ve mentioned of Henry Smith Williams, I think he is kind of heart-breaking. So he was a doctor back when drugs were legal, before there was this crackdown. And he treated some opiate addicts and they were a bit like kind of low-level alcoholics today. So they had jobs. They had problem. They would go to the local pharmacy and they would get their – it was called Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. It was kind of mild opiate. And they were addicted to it and it debilitates their lives.
And then drugs are banned. And suddenly, he sees this huge transformation where these patients who previously had controlled but debilitating addictions suddenly – the first thing that happened is the price massively goes up by like at least a thousand percent for opiates. The second thing that happened is milder forms of the drugs are no longer available. I can explain why, I think that’s really important, in a minute. And lots of these addicts who were able to hold their jobs, their lives just fall apart. A lot of the women became prostitutes. A lot of men turned to property crime. You see a huge increase in property crime and you see a huge increase in deaths from drugs, partly because the drugs are contaminated because they are much harder drugs than they were before.
And he’s like, having previously not been very sympathetic to addicts …
Trevor: I mean he was really – he didn’t like them at all. He kind of used almost eugenical language about addicts.
Johann: Yeah, exactly. That we’d be better off if they’ve never been born, that kind of thing, he said. Suddenly, he is confronted with seeing all these people die. And almost the logic of what he’d said before drugs were banned and he just couldn’t stomach it.
And so, he begins to speak out. He is part of a wave of doctors who insist on prescribing heroin to their patients, giving heroin legally to patients because there was deliberately a loophole written into the law when drugs are banned by the senators which basically said, “This is meant to apply to recreational drug use but doctors can basically do what they want.”
So Henry Smith Williams is one of thousands of doctors across the United States who said, “Well look, we’re just going to carry on prescribing.” Because they didn’t want their patients to die going to criminals. And what happened here next I think is almost unbelievable that his brother was arrested. His brother was a prescribing doctor. It’s the biggest roundup of doctors in American history, 17,000 of doctors are busted that basically accused of being drug dealers.
Trevor: Is this Harry Anslinger again?
Johann: Yes, Anslinger leads that. Anslinger, just before he starts stalking Billie Holiday and then plays a role in her death, he obsessively destroys these doctors. And it’s a mass breaking of doctors. There was a big rebellion in the US. The mayor of Los Angeles goes and stands in front of a heroin-prescribing clinic and basically says, “You will not shut down this clinic. This does a good job for the people of the United States.”
There’s actually a crazy story about why and it has closed down that loophole, it shut down state by state. In California, where Henry Smith Williams was, is the state that holds out longest. And it’s really interesting why. I found this extraordinarily why California does shut it down. It turns out, the local Chinese drug gangs were really pissed off because in Nevada, the heroin prescription have been shut down so if you were a drug addict, you had to go to the drug gangs.
But in California of course, they could go to Henry Smith Williams and other doctors. So the drug gangs weren’t getting much business. So the local Chinese drug gangs bribed the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to introduce the drug war in California, to stop doctors prescribing and fully criminalized heroin.
Trevor: Wait. They bribed the Federal – this is insane. Wait. They bribed the agents themselves? Are they top level people?
Johann: I think he was called Chris Hanson. He was the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In California, there’s a big court case. I got the documents from it. And they bribed him to ban heroin, to fully ban heroin because they got the trade, right? And it was then revealed a few years later. There was a court case and Chris Hanson was sent to prison. But by then, the ban was in place, right?
No, that’s not the main reason why heroin was banned across the US. I want to stress that. But it does tell you something about who won from the drug war. Who have been the only winners from this war all along? Organized crime on criminal gangs.
Aaron: So the solution to this at least in part is this humanizing of the people involved and the telling their stories. So we can do that in part through your book, in books like yours that present those stories to us. But I mean we’re well aware that the best way to humanize people is to actually experience them face to face and get to know them and have repeat interactions with them.
So you’re a journalist and so it’s – I mean not only do you have the skills to track these kinds of people down and know how one goes about sitting down with a drug cartel hitman and a Mexican drug runner and dealers and vice cops and so on. But it’s your job to do it. The rest of us don’t have either the time or the skillset to do it. So how do you – and we’re so separated from these people. It’s not like getting to know Muslims in your community when you’re a Christian where you can just go over to the mosque or whatever. It’s harder than that. So, how do we go about humanizing these people who are either part of the criminal element or actively excluded or in profoundly different socio-economic strata than we are?
Johann: Yeah. The solution is not for everyone to reach out and meet their locals and say it’s a hitman. I had a slightly weird experience when I went to Rosalio Reta, who was the hitman from the Zetas that I interviewed. When I went to interview him, he is in prison in Tyler County, in Texas. And I had a slightly real experience when the guards, I can’t do Texan accent, I apologize, the guard says, “Well obviously, we can’t leave you alone with him. He has butchered or beheaded about 70 people.” And I was like, “Oh, thank you.”
And so, I go to the room with him and then I turned around a few minutes later and they were just gone. They just fucked off, thanks very much.
Anyway fortunately, I was not beheaded but he’s actually kind of quite weak and feeble when I met him. But that’s not the decision that’s worth remembering. Almost – the vast majority of people who were part of the anti-slavery movement in Britain and the North of the United States have never met a slave.
So, I don’t think you have to personally meet people in order to – I think it helps if you know – you can debunk – certainly with addiction — everyone who’s listening to this podcast knows someone who has got an addiction problem. And you have seen a really significant change in how we think about addicts in a really short period of time. If you think about, this is the most low brow reference I’ll ever give, but if you watch like Cagney & Lacey and all those ‘80s captured, quite often in those shows, there are characters who are addicts who are the evil addict, who come in and they’re like a monster, a ravening monster and they are the villain of the show.
And the fact that they were addicts makes them the villain. That would not happen now. You would not get an episode of CSI where the addict was evil. The people – the culture has shifted in such a way that that would – people would really bulk at that. And that has been a humanizing process. I think a bit like the gay rights revelation where people talk about their addictions and people come out if you like. And there has been this slow humanizing presence which has already begun.
And so now, even now, you don’t have – the drug war does massively persecute addicts but no one defends it in those times anymore, very, very few people. There’s actually this move to kind of – and I’m a bit worried about it actually, you guys might want to do some research on this, I think there’s a kind of defensive rebranding of the drug war. So look at Chris Christie for example. Chris Christie got a lot of praise for giving a speech in which he says we need to stop punishing addicts. And he talks about his mother having been a smoker and she was never able to give up. And he talks about New Jersey as a model.
If you look at what’s happening in New Jersey, to give you an example, they got a prison that obviously contained a lot of people who were there because they have drug problems that they have converted into a so-called treatment center. Now, I haven’t looked into that but I strongly suspect it’s punitive and shame-based treatment which is the norm in the United States and it’s an absolute scandal.
But also – yet, it’s slightly better if you are an addict to go into something called a rehab center which is an actual form of prison which is going to tell you that because of your moral flaws and shame, that is a little bit better but its’ still nothing like what they did in Portugal where they actually halved the heroin problem.
For example, I can talk about it if you want. I’m worried that because they know they can’t hold the line for defending prohibition, that are going to kind of rebrand prohibition and call it treatment when it’s actually not very different to prohibition and it’s still going to be the court mandates you to go to the treatment, so-called treatment. The treatment is still going to be judgment and shame-based. It’s going to be in an actual fucking prison, right? It’s not that different.
So I think it’s worth as being really vigilant about the people announcing they invented the drug war but actually they’re just continuing it by different means.
Trevor: There’s one facts – there are so many facts in your book that are jaw-dropping and in a variety of different ways. And there’s one that I want to kind of go back a little bit about – because we’ve been talking about some of the exporting of the US more on drugs. But to bring Harry Anslinger back into this who is the Lex Luther of the drug war, I mean I rarely – having reading this, I’ve rarely encountered anyone who is this much of a super villain as this guy. But how he got – and this story like you would tell will highlight this, how he got Mexico which we find our drug war?
Johann: Before I tell you that, can I tell you my favorite from Harry Anslinger?
Trevor: Oh, please.
Johann: At one point, he was being challenged by representatives of another country at the – well, it was the League of Nations then, and actually, no, it would have been the United Nations by then, and representatives from other countries talked about how they don’t want to do what he’s saying and he said, this is his exact words, “I’ve made up my mind. Don’t try to confuse me with the facts.”
And to me, that’s like the perfect motto for the entire war of drugs, isn’t it? Now, Anslinger, so when they banned drugs in the United States, unsurprisingly, drugs do not disappear. But Anslinger had told people that drugs would disappear. So you needed like a person to blame. And he picks on the – I see resonances with politics today obviously, he announces it’s the Mexicans, that they’re flooding the country with drugs.
And so therefore, you have to export the drug war. It’s a bit like Trotsky’s idea about revelation. You can’t just have revelation at once place. It has to happen everywhere and you have to export it. And so, Anslinger starts demanding that other countries fall in line. Obviously, Mexico is the neighboring country. And Mexico does this really brave thing. They say no. They actually appointed to run their drug policy an extraordinary man called Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra who was a doctor who ran a rehab center.
And if you look at what he said in 1930, I mean it would be present today, he said, “We shouldn’t ban cannabis because it’s not that harmful. Other drugs we need to get people love and support. And we must not ban drugs because the whole country will be taken over by cartels if we do.”
I don’t think any human beings has ever been so good …
Trevor: It’s pretty good, yeah.
Johann: … Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra. And Anslinger effectively says, “Fire this man. Get rid of him.” And Mexico again, really bravely says, “No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to keep our man.” And so the diplomatic pressure is stepped up and stepped up and stepped up over the next few years. Until in the end, what they did is – so opiates for hospital, opiates to use in hospital for medical relief were manufactured. All the ones used in the rest of the Americans were manufactured in the United States.
And they cut off the supply of legal opiates to Mexico. So people started to just die in agony in Mexican hospitals. And in the end, Mexico gave in. They got rid of Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra. They bring in a much more prohibitionist person. And the whole cause of Latin America in the 20th century branches at that point and you end up where – when I went to Juarez with an absolute horror show, and this happens all the way through history than Mexico repeatedly throughout the 20th century. Mexico tries to break from the US line.
So you have this, G. Gordon Liddy, when in 1970, when Mexico tries to move towards a law saying drug policy and Liddy, what’s it called, operation interceptor I think it’s called, they just search everything that comes across the border for Mexico for like six weeks and it brought the Mexican economy to a standstill. And then of course, Mexico gives in against this catastrophic program of fumigation and all of that.
This happens again and again and again. And to me, obviously, I talk about lots of different things in the book. I talk about the mass incarceration in the United States and the catastrophe thereabout, the criminalization of ordinary drug uses, about the distraction of drug addicts. But to me, it’s what we’ve done to the supply route countries is even more devastating than all of them.
Trevor: But we’ve basically extort – I mean we extorted by basically putting their citizens in the pain. And we also have made sure that certain studies, I mean of the American, these are just horrible because you write about how 1995 World Health Organization report about cocaine that said most uses “experiment on occasional” are by far the most common types of use and compulsive, dysfunctional use is far less common. But the US threatened to cut funding tot eh World Health Organization unless that report was buried. I mean this seems to happen a lot. We have a huge track record of using our weigh to make other people fight our puritanical pathologies about the drug war.
Johann: Yeah. I think you put it real well. And there has been a real war on science through the drug war as well, a real suppression of scientific research. Like you mentioned, that was – that study you just mentioned is the most detailed scientific study of cocaine use ever all over the stats. But it’s hundreds of scientists looking at enormous numbers of people and really detailed science.
And yeah, that was just a massive suppression. But I think …
Trevor: You got it because it was leaked, correct?
Johann: Yeah, it was leaked to the public. Yeah. It wasn’t leaked to me personally.
Trevor: I mean it wasn’t published. It was leaked, which is crazy.
Johann: Yeah, yeah. It has never been officially published for precisely that reason. And you took this right. Actually, there’s this fascinating thing I discovered in Anslinger’s archives where when they were making the initial proposal to ban cannabis, he wrote to I think it was 30 doctors saying, “What do you think?” And 29 of them wrote back and said, “No, this is not a good idea. Don’t do that.” And one of them wrote back and said, “Maybe.” And he of course, published the one and ignored the other 29.
There’s another scientist who wrote in, Dr. Ball, his name was. He said something like, “Well, maybe you’re right. But I think we should fund some scientific studies to figure this out. This can be tested.” And Anslinger wrote back and said, I think these were exact words, “The time for temporizing is over.”
It’s crazy to – the thing that got to me was so fascinating about working Chasing the Scream for so long is it’s crazy to realize so many of the things we’ve been told are just not true. And then to go to places where they’ve done the exact opposite and just see the results. I’m talking about – if you like about Portugal. So Portugal in the year 2000 had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, 1% of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of incredible.
Johann: That’s an extraordinary – that’s one in a hundred people. That’s extraordinary. And every year, they tried the drug war way more there, arresting and imprison more people. And every year, the problem got worse. And one day, the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition got together and basically said, “We can’t go on like this. What are we going to do?”
And they decided this really radical, something no one had done since the start of the drug war. They basically said, “Should we get someone to actually look at the scientific evidence?” So they set up this panel of scientists and doctors led by this amazing man called Dr. João Goulão. And they basically said, “Look, you guys go away. Figure out what would solve this problem. And we have agreed in advance we’ll do whatever you recommend.” So they just took it out of politics.
And I don’t think that they had thought of how the panel would recommend but it did. It’s a bit sad. But they did stick to their word. So the panel went away, looked at all the evidence, things like rat park, what we’re talking about before. And they came back and said, “Decriminalize all of it.” Decriminalize all drugs from cannabis to crack. But, and this is the crucial next step, take all of the money we currently spend on ruining addicts, on stigmatizing them, shaming them, arresting them, imprisoning them, and spend it instead on turning their lives around.
And it’s interesting. It’s not what the kind of stuff Chris Christie is talking about. They do a bit of residential rehab. They do a bit of psychological support. There’s somebody in there. But the biggest thing they did was the opposite of what we do. We give addicts criminal records and make it harder for them to reconnect to the society.
What they did was set up a program of job subsidy for addicts. So say, you used to be a mechanic. They go to a garage and they’ll say, “Employ this guy for a year. We’ll pay half his wages.” The goal was to say to every addict in Portugal, “We love you. We value you. We’re on your side. We want you back.” And the results by the time I went, it was 13 years since this experiment began, it’s 15 years now, the results are really clear. Injecting drug use fell in Portugal by 50%. Overdose massively fell. Deaths among addicts from all causes massively fell.
One of the ways you know it works so well is that when I interviewed a guy called Joao Figueira, who led the opposition to the decriminalization at the time, he was the top drug cop in Portugal, and he said to me, “Everything I said would happen didn’t happen. And everything the other side had said would happen did.” And he talked about he felt really ashamed he had spent so long arresting and imprisoning drug addicts.
It’s worth just saying that the difference between decriminalization and legalization. So what they did in Portugal was they stopped punishing users but you still have to go to criminals to get their drugs.
Legalization is where you open up some legal roots. So it’s like decriminalization shuts down Oranges Is the New Black and legalization shuts down Breaking Bad.
I don’t; want to say Portugal is just the solution because it doesn’t deal with what I think is the most devastating aspect of it but it does deal with the really significant aspect. And it does show, you can end all criminal penalties for drug use. And if what you do next is smart, you will see less addiction, not more.
Trevor: Now, we’re almost out of time. So there are a couple of things I want to make sure we hit that I think are crucial ideas in your book, one you kind of broached on it a few minutes ago, but I think it’s very important that the iron law of prohibition and what that is and how that means that the nature of the drug market under prohibition is not what it looks like when the government gets out of either complete prohibition or does something partial legalization or decriminalization.
Johann: I’m so glad you asked about that because it can sound a bit wonky but I think it’s one of the worst harms of the drug war. And I’ve been trying to find a way to explain it in a way that doesn’t sound really wonky but best way to explain it is imagine – so the best way to explain it is the day before alcohol is banned in the United States, the most popular drinks by far would be on wine.
A week after alcohol prohibition ends, the most popular drinks are beer and wine. In between, you could not get beer or wine. The only alcoholic drinks available were things like whiskey, vodka, and moonshine. And you think, well, why would that be? Why would banning alcohol change the way people drink alcohol?
It didn’t change what people wanted. It changed what they could get. And the way to understand that is to imagine, if you and me, let’s imagine you and me wanted to get the nearest bar to the Cato Institute website and Cato Institute offices, imagine we wanted to get enough alcohol for everyone in that bar tonight to be happy and we had to smuggle it in a wagon from the Canadian border or the Mexican border. If we fill our wagon with beer, we would only going to get enough alcohol for 100 people. If we fill it with vodka, we would get enough alcohol for thousands of people.
When you ban a substance and it has to be smuggled, you suddenly get a premium of getting the biggest possible kick into the smallest possible space. And the reason why that’s really damaging is because we don’t want people to be using the most extreme form of a drug, right? And so for example, you’ll often get, Carly Fiorina said it in one of the Republican debates, I’m saying this from memory so I might be getting it slightly wrong. But something like, well, cannabis today, yeah, she said it’s Jeb Bush, didn’t she? Cannabis today is not like the cannabis that Jeb Bush was smoking in the ‘60s. It’s much stronger. The implication being that’s why we can’t legalize it.
Well, she is right. It is much stronger. But that’s because of the prohibition, not despite it. Most people who smoke cannabis don’t want to smoke super skunk. Just like most people who drink alcohol go into your bar in D.C., very few people would be drinking vodka and no one is going to be drinking absinthe, right?
Trevor: Or Everclear for that matter, yeah.
Johann: Yeah, exactly. Most people want mild forms of the drug. This is really devastating when you look at opiates and cocoa products. Like we were saying before, the most popular way consuming opiates was a syrup, very mild amount of opiates in it.
When you ban heroin and not just vanish it, when you ban opiates, that just vanishes. It’s on heroin. The only form for opiates you can get is heroin. Think about cocaine. The only – the most popular way in consuming them was in tea prior to them being banned, very mild. It’s more like caffeine than it is like cocaine.
That just disappears. Does anyone ever heard of coca tea now outside of Peru and Bolivia? No one. The most popular way of consuming it becomes powder cocaine because it’s the only way of doing it. And then when you have that huge crackdown led by Reagan in the ‘80s and the huge crack down on cocaine smuggling, what do you get? Exactly.
An even more intense, even more compacted form of cocaine, crack, that is an invention of the iron law of prohibition.
Trevor: Fascinating. That’s incredibly important. So I think that for the closing out here, I think we can tie a couple of these together in a great thematic way. One is I’d like to hear sort of into the full of the Billie Holiday story and then how that ties into Harry Anslinger and the end of his life and what happened at the end of his life with his involvement with drug dealing and drug use.
Johann: Yeah. So when Billie Holiday says, “I’m going to sing my song wherever you want,” Anslinger resolves to destroy her. The first person since – he hated employing African-Americans but you couldn’t really send a white guy into Harlem to stalk Billie Holiday.
Trevor: It’s also importantly hated jazz music too. That’s what he thought.
Johann: He was obsessed with the things that Harry Anslinger said about jazz. He said it was like the primitive jungles of Africa.
Trevor: When it’s done right.
Johann: It’s like – so funny. The memos that his agent sent him about jazz were so amazing. They were literally things like – he said it was like the kind of deranged gibberish of a dying man. And he quite waited as he quoted the lyrics. And then said, “This is how marijuana makes you feel.”
So there’s one song – when he gets the notion, he thinks he can walk across the ocean. And Anslinger writes, “They do believe that on marijuana.” So he obsessively hated the jazz movement and wanted to destroy all of it. So he sends this guy, Jimmy Fletcher to stalk Billie Holiday. He spends years following her around Harlem. Billie Holiday was so amazing, Jimmy Fletcher fell in love with her and his whole life he was ashamed of what he did. He busts her. She is sent to prison. She spends 18 months in prison. She doesn’t sing a word in prison.
But what happens next is the cruelest thing. She gets out and you need a license to perform anywhere where alcohol was served. And Anslinger makes sure she doesn’t get that license. Her friend, Yolanda Bevan, said to me, “What is the cruelest thing you can do to a person is to take away the thing they love.” They take away singing from Billie Holiday.
She relapses. She collapses one day. She relapses on both very heavy alcohol use and heroin use and she is taken to a hospital in New York and they diagnosed – the first hospital won’t even take her because she was a heroin addict. The second hospital on the way and she says to one of her friends, “They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me.” Because she was convinced that Anslinger’s men were going to come for her.
She was diagnosed with liver cancer, quite advanced liver cancer. And she starts to go into withdrawal because she hasn’t got any heroin in the hospital. And one of her friends, Maylie Dufty, managed to insist that she was given methadone. And she started to recover a little bit. And then Anslinger’s men cut off the heroin after ten days. That was the limit that Anslinger had put in place. And she died a couple of days later.
When she died, she was handcuffed to her hospital bed. They didn’t let in her friends to see her. They didn’t – they took away her record player. They took away her candies. One of her friends told the BBC that she looked like she had been violently wrenched from life.
And I think that tells you so much about what the drug war was about, about how it destroys addicts, how it’s about race. At the same time that Harry Anslinger found out that Billie Holiday was a heroin addict, he found out that Judy Garland, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz was a heroin addict, he recommended that she takes slightly longer vacations and he reassured the studio she was going to be fine. Spot the difference.
Trevor: Which is sort of what he did at the end of his life too with a certain Senator.
Johann: So, this is what we know from what Anslinger himself wrote and what he told his co-author, so he found out that Joe McCarthy was using opiates, not heroin but opiates, which were then still available. And Harry Anslinger not surprisingly loved Joe McCarthy and he went to Joe McCarthy and said, “You need to stop this.” And McCarthy said no. And so, Anslinger arranged that he could get his opiates legally from the pharmacist in D.C. Bear in mind, he had destroyed the doctors who wanted to do that.
So, when it came to someone that Harry Anslinger cared about, he turns into a legalizer like everyone else. Later in his life when he became quite ill with angina, he himself started using opiates that were prescribed by his doctor. And I sometimes try to imagine what did Harry Anslinger think the first time he used opiates and he felt them kind of washing through his system? Did he think about Billie Holiday? Did he think about the doctors he had destroyed for giving people this drug? Did he think about all the lives he had ruined to stop people doing this thing that he was now doing?
Trevor: Now, for those who are familiar with your past transgressions where they can go to look up all the stuff because you’ve said a lot of things that might be shocking to many people because they’ve never heard it before. But you have all this documented. So where can they go to learn more about this?
Johann: Yeah. They can go to www.chasingthescream.com and it’s scream as in ahh, not scream as in the screen you look at to watch television. And they can hear interviews with all the people that I’ve talked about in this interview, all the people I’ve interviewed. And so, they can hear the audio of all that, all the quotes from the books that was said to me. You can hear the audio.
There’s massive and extensive footnotes that I’d recommend people kind of follow up to look at the trail for the history of this stuff because it is shocking and a lot this stuff should be better known. And I think it’s important that we know this because it doesn’t have to continue. We have a choice about this.
A big majority of Americans agree with the statement, the war on drugs has failed. And the one thing you can say in defense of the war on drugs is we have given a fair shot, right? The United States has spent a hundred years and a trillion dollars and killed hundreds of thousands of people and at the end of all that, you can’t even keep drugs out of your prisons where you have a walled perimeter that you pay people to walk around the whole time. That gives you some sense of how much this war is going to work. There are alternatives, I’ve seen them in practice, we can – you can look at them for yourself. We can see the results. There is a better way waiting for us when we’re ready to change it.
Trevor: Thank for listening. Free Thoughts is produced by Evan Banks and Mark McDaniel. To learn more, find us on the web at www.Libertarianism.org.