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America's Dirty War on Drugs

Discussion in 'Marijuana News from The USA' started by Superjoint, Jul 11, 2001.

  1. By Christopher Hitchens, Guardian
    Source: Guardian Unlimited

    Good to see that sanity can sometimes be as infectious as insanity. All it takes, apparently, is one lucid moment on the part of one public figure, and a whole realm of illusion can be dissipated. The Peter Lilley moment on soft drugs, closely followed by the David Blunkett one, gives some reason to hope that the American nightmare is not in our future.
    Here is what happened in my hometown of Washington DC during the Congressional elections of 1998. A local initiative was attached to the ballot, proposing the "decriminalisation" of marijuana for medical purposes.

    After the votes had been counted, it was abruptly announced that the result would not be disclosed. The United States Congress, which has ultimate jurisdiction over municipal government in the capital of the free world, ruled that, though it could not prevent a vote being taken, it could prevent the outcome from being made public.

    Right away, I knew what I had already guessed - that the citizens had voted overwhelmingly to allow the use of cannabis for the treatment of cancer and glaucoma. But it took a protracted lawsuit to get the ballots counted and the voters decision made known, only to be negated by Congress once again.

    In every other state where this simple question has been mooted at election times, it has carried the day by unanswerable majorities. In each instance, Congress or the federal government has intervened to have the decision set aside. The word for this, in commonplace vernacular, is "denial".

    The domestic war against the enemy within, which was begun as Richard Nixon's last desperate gamble for panicky popularity, is now in the same shape as the rest of his legacy. It reeks of corruption, police brutality and overweening bureaucracy. It also involves a demented overseas entanglement, with off-the-record US military aircraft running shady missions over Colombia and Peru, and high-level collaboration with ruthless and unaccountable "Special Forces".

    I simply cannot remember the last time, in public or private, that I spoke with a single person who believes this makes the least particle of sense. The opinion pages can occasionally drum up a lone, dull voice, but it's almost invariably that of a paid spokesman for a "war" machine that enjoys funding in inverse proportion to its victories. Again, I know very few habitual drug users, but I also don't know anyone who would be more than two degrees of separation from a reliable supplier, whether that turned out to be a gangsta or a cop.

    A striking fact is the predominance of honest and intelligent conservatives on the sane side of the argument. The first editor with any "profile" to call for legalisation was William F Buckley, the old lion of the rightwing National Review. He has been joined by George Schultz, formerly Reagan's secretary of state, and by Gary Johnson, the Republican governor of New Mexico, among many others. The "libertarian" journals have been ahead of the "liberal" ones for the most part. In an eerie way, this matches the recent shift of opinion on capital punishment, where conservatives have again been taking the most moral and political risks.

    (In both cases, the common factor may be Bill Clinton, the Nixon of the liberals, who expanded the drug war just as he increased the scope of the death penalty.)

    Three decades of this grotesque, state-sponsored racketeering have led to unbelievable levels of official corruption and to an unheard-of assault on civil and political liberties. Colombia doesn't look any more like the US as a result, but the US does look a lot more like Colombia. The actual resources expended would have more than paid for national health care: the potential revenue from legal, and therefore clean, narcotics would rebuild the cities from the ground up.

    A Lack of Diplomacy

    Edward Clay, until yesterday the British high commissioner in Cyprus, described Dr Marios Matsakis, the Cypriot MP who is leading protests at the British bases in his homeland, as "A medical monkey up a stick" after he climbed a British radio mast.

    But I am surprised that the opposition didn't manifest itself sooner. I remember in 1985 being invited to Sunday lunch by the then president, Spyros Kyprianou, at the presidential summer home in the Troodos mountains - a fine mansion partly built by Arthur Rimbaud, and once the seat of the British governor.

    Lunch was viley disrupted by the ear-splitting clatter of a huge RAF helicopter, which thundered up the valley and hovered offensively overhead. There was no possible "mission" for it to be performing, and even if there had been, a polite phone call from RAF HQ wouldn't have been out of place.

    The humiliation was extreme: the sense of a semi-colony intense. At about the same time, my old friend George Lanitis, then press officer at the Cyprus high commission in London, was driving his car through one of the roads traversing the "Sovereign based areas" and got pulled over for speeding. His diplomatic ID was waived away, even though he was accredited to the United Kingdom and these areas are claimed by HMG as British.

    On receipt of the summons and the fine, he paid good humouredly by cheque. The cheque was returned because it was written in Cyprus pounds, which are worth about £1.65 each. If we need to watch our officials at home, we need to hire professional Lynxes to watch how they behave overseas.

    Open and Shut Cases

    Why is defending the principle of "universal jurisdiction" in human rights cases like calling for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles? Because you have to meet with the same bloody stupid argument every day, that's why.

    In the case of the marbles, there's always some genius to argue that if we do the right thing then we will have to return the winged lions to the Babylonians. (Though in that case, of course, what strikes the trained eye is precisely the absence of any jurisdiction.) With Pinochet and Milosevic and the rest, it's where will it all end and why wasn't Henry V tried at Nuremberg for killing the French POWs at Agincourt?

    Joyce Horman, the widow of Charles Horman, is currently calling on the Chilean courts to ask the US government for help in elucidating the murder of her husband in 1973. (Some of you will remember the late Jack Lemmon playing Charles's father in Costa-Gavras's Missing. As a result, Judge Garzon in Santiago is officially forwarding 50 judicial questions to Henry Kissinger in New York.

    This move will help break a disgraceful official silence in Washington that has lasted, counting the present one, through seven administrations. Perhaps Kissinger, like his client and friend, Pinochet, will decide to develop amnesia and dementia. But the point is still made: those denied justice in any country including their own can now at least begin to seek redress elsewhere. That's where and how universal jurisdiction begins. Where it all ends is up to us.

    • Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Nation. Francis Wheen returns in the autumn.

    Newshawk: dddd
    Source: Guardian Unlimited, The (UK)
    Author: Christopher Hitchens, Guardian
    Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
    Contact: letters@guardian.co.uk
    Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/

    Related Articles:

    Special Report: Drugs in Britain http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/drugs/

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