That other disasterous war: the “War on Drugs”

March 18, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More

This documentary by Penn and Teller characterizes the “War on Drugs” as “The new prohibition.”   The documentary is a no-holds-barred presentation that includes some coarse language.   Here is Part II and here is Part III.

The statistics are compelling.  Alcohol causes 50,000 deaths per year.  Tobacco causes 440,000 deaths per year.  Marijuana has yet to cause a single death.  It is simply not toxic.  Yet marijuana is the one drug of these three that the government condemns, while the others, both dangerous and highy taxed, are freely available.   Why?   Not clear, not consistent and not sensible, according to this documentary.

In the meantime, the government acknowledges that people should be free to consider whether or not they will use alcohol and tobacco, based upon an assumption that each individual can weigh information regarding the substantial risks of such drugs. When it comes to street drugs, though, the government thinks that people can’t be trusted to decide for themselves.  Further, the government continues to conduct a campaign of violence against individual users of drugs, throwing hundreds of thousands of them into expensive prisons, at a cost exceeding $20,000 per prisoner per year.  Actually, this reminds me of an important issue: why do so many people reach for street drugs (and legal drugs) rather than dealing with life’s challenges in more productive ways?  I suspect that it’s because we don’t seriously invest in our children while they are young.

Penn and Teller are not advocating the recreational use of drugs.  Much to the contrary.   Penn indicates several times that the recreational use of street drugs is “stupid” in almost all cases (I generally agree).  An exception is the medical use of marijuana, covered in Parts II and III.  Check out the compelling interviews, undeniable cases where the use of marijuana substantially relieved severe suffering.  To take a contrary position in the face of this evidence of constant suffering is nothing less than sadistic.

The conclusion of this documentary is that the “War on Drugs” is an senseless and expensive war that creates violence, gangs and black markets, as well as ruining neighborhoods and lives.  And it does all of this without creating any measurable benefit, contrary to the grandiose claims of those who support the “War on Drugs.”


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Category: Health, Medicine, Politics, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. gatomjp says:

    The hypocrisy of the "War on Drugs" is rarely more apparent than in the world of bodybuilding, a world I have come to know while working on my documentary Raising the Bar.

    Although I do not condone steroid use for most sports, bodybuilding is an exception. Less a sport and more an art form, bodybuilding is about pushing the limits of the human body as far as possible using a balance of diet, exercise and chemistry. It is an extreme lifestyle that I do not recommend however, the typical bodybuilder is not nearly the menace to society as is the far more common drunk driver. Steroids do not alter conciousness, despite the common misconception of “'roid rage” (An asshole is an asshole, no matter what he’s on. Nice guys don’t turn into assholes when they use steroids), and the health risks have been greatly exaggerated by the media.

    During the taping of RTB I interviewed many bodybuilders and not one could point to anyone they personally knew whose health had been adversly and permanently affected by steroid use. I realize that this is anecdotal evidence and far from a scientific sample, but not ONE?? I couldn't find one good "death from steroids" story!

    What was more disturbing however was how skittish my subjects were. They all refused to speak about steroid use on camera and, off the record, related to me horror stories of harrassment and incarceration at the hands of government agents. And for what? What is the government protecting us from in this case? I believe all drugs should be legalized, but if they are not, can steriods really be compared to heroin and cocaine?

  2. Ben says:

    One could still argue that it is cheating. I mean, is the competition about who can inject the most horse-testosterone, or who has the best genetics, or who works the hardest? I guess my question is not fair on some levels, because eating anything could be considered cheating, depending on the rules you agree to. For example, if science were to say that eating "wheaties" before a competition gives you extra muscle tone and increased red blood cell count, then "wheaties" could theoretically be banned from competition.

    I am a fan of sports (like Ultimate Fighting), and they sanction the use of "energy drinks" which more closely resemble rocket fuel than water. It seems like people will do just about anything to gain an advantage. Sadly, I think I would too, if bodybuilding/football/fighting was my occupation instead of cubicle-squatting.

  3. gatomjp says:

    It's only cheating Ben, if it upsets the so-called "level playing field". In the world of BB (bodybuilding), steroids ARE the level playing field! Everyone winks and looks the other way because they all know that without the chemistry one cannot achieve the kind of take-your-breath-away physique that the fans of BB look for. It's not an advantage if it is understood that everyone is doing the same thing.

    On the other hand, another common misconception is that a steroid is a "magic pill" that "creates" muscles. This is untrue. The physique-enhancing aspects of the many and various compounds that we group together under the label "steroids" do not work without a rigorous, nearly impossible regimin of extreme diet and exercise. The steroids enable the muscles to recuperate faster and more completely from the excessive demands being put on them than they would naturally, thereby growing bigger instead of being torn down.

    This is a gross oversimplification of the effects of the drugs, but my point is that without a punishing, Puritanical work ethic the novice BB quickly discovers that the chemistry is only one component of a delicate balance of many factors (including genetics) that create an award winning body. You can't "cheat" by taking more steroids than the next guy. It won't work. You win by knowing more about physiology, working harder and dieting more strictly than your opponent.

    So again, why is this stuff illegal?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, this is a bit of a one-sided view of the legal issues around marijuana. In addition to the fact that marijuana is a common "gateway" drug, marijuana use exacts a significant economic toll on a society due to the lost productivity in the short (you're not productive, and often aren't working, if you're high) and long (the less you learn when you're young, the less productive you'll be later in life; plus marijuana does kill brain cells) terms. So there is actually a substantial public interest in preventing or strictly regulating marijuana usage. Whether that outweighs the individual interest is a good question, but it's one that's not addressed here, or by P&T, or by any other pro-pot advocate I've seen.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's an excellent post on the failed "War on Drugs" by Arianna Huffington and the unwillingness of politicians to even address this massively expensive and failed project.

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