------------------------------------------------------------------- Prohibition Won't Solve The Drug Problem (Historical Essay In 'Montreal Gazette' Touches On Coleridge, The British-Chinese Opium War, Hong Kong's Devolution, And American Narco-Imperialism In Colombia) Source: The Montreal Gazette p.A4, Page Four Column PubDate: July 9 1997 Subject: Prohibition won't solve the drug problem Author: Nick Auf Der Maur Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Prohibition won't solve the drug problem In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree Where Alph the sacred river ran, Through caverans measureless to man, Down to a sunless sea. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the great 18th-and 19th-century philosopher, is said to have written Kubla Khan and other great poems (like Rime of the Ancient Mariner) while under the influence of laudanum, an alcohol extract of opium. The lines to Kubla Khan, the Mongol ruler of China, kept running through my mind during all the fanfare about the handover of Hong Kong. That's because, as the media tirelessly pointed out over and over again, Hong Kong came into British hands via the Opium War, when the British navy preserved British merchants' right to deal drugs to the Chinese. Coleridge died in 1834, shortly before the Opium War, so we can see that the British Empire made no small contribution to drug use round the world. We tend to regard drug use as "today's" problem, a temporary one that can be solved by such energetic measures as the US War on Drugs. Well, obviously, it's not a new one. Opium was popular in Victorian times. In Victorian novels when a lady was experiencing distress, she would retire to her rooms to take laudanum - -instead of a tranquiliser as she would in today's novels. In the 1890s, newspapers told of a "drug menace" in North America, where such drugs as cocaine, maarihuana and opium were widely available. In the roaring twenties, during the Weimar Republic, cocainae was sold on street corners in Berlin, and in fashionable restaurants in Budapest and Vienna, waiters would serve it after dinner on silver salvers. In the 1930s, alarm was spreading in America over marihuana use, and the film Reefer Madness was widely distributed. The big difference between then and now was that drug use would ebb and flow as a fad, and apart from the British merchant fleet in Asia, there wasn't a highly organized network (in the 20s and 30s) for illegal drugs. In Europe and America, while drugs were readily available, they weren't expensive, profits were not huge and there was no concerted police effort to shut down the trade. It remained essentially on the fringes. All that changed after WW2 when distribution increased, opening new markets, and creating demand. Folklore also has it that many wounded US servicemen became addicted to morphine during the war, then popularised the use of morphine and heroin in the civilian population. Whatever, drugs are now big time because they are illegal and entirely in the hands of organised crime and it is obvious that when there is big demand the private sector can be very ingenious, very efficient at getting goods to market, especially when huge profits are involved. There was a report I read a few weeks ago that illicit drugs now account for eight per cent of world trade. Eight per cent! That would make drugs one of the most important commodities on the planet. Big business - and not getting any smaller. Clearly, despite massive seizures, spectacular arrests and huge increases in law enforcement budgets, the drug trade is growing, probably at the same rate as the computer industry. And like computers and electronics, the price of drugs on the street has actually decreased over the years, indicating vast increases in supply and production, to say nothing of the sophistication of distribution networks. The modern world of massive legitimate trade, travel and communications, makes it impossible to interdict the drug trade, but the blinkered vision of America insists on waging a losing war on drugs. It is more an American problem because America simply is the biggest market in the world, be it for automobiles or drugs. I read an interesting bit in the New York Times last month by Robert Stone. He wrote: "American pressure put the authorities and news media in Columbia in a difficult position. To walk a mile in Columbia's shoes, let us imagine we have a president who carries five bullets in his body as a result of an assassination attempt by drug traffickers. Let us imagine that Ladybird Johnson and Amy Carter have both spent time in the hands of cartel kidnappers. Brian Gumbel, Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey have all been urged by their colleagues to hang in there while they too endure a spell in the hands of criminals. Two popular attorneys general thought particularly close to the president have been gunned down, along with several successive heads of the federal drug investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration and their respective field officers as well as numerous congressmen and senators. All over the country prosecutors and judges are being offered the choice of being rich beyond avarice or being dead." We would probably be as a nation rather upset, and in Mexico, we read this week, that their biggest cocaine billionaire died of a heart attack following plastic surgery and liposuction. The US had arrest warrants out for him but Mexican police never found him until there were reports of his death. Then they launched a big cadaver hunt and finally captured him. (I guess they walked into the morgue with guns drawn and said, "Freeze"!) Another big "War on Drugs" success. Prohibition is not the answer. -------------------------------------------------------------------
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