It’s no longer a "war." What is it? What it has always been.

I am allowing myself a short and strictly conceptual post (as opposed to an attempt to analyze a statute or policy statement).

In studying other aspects of drug control I have come to the conclusion that there is a missing change in terminology.

Once upon a time there was a “War on Drugs.”
Actually twice: there was a Nixon War on Drugs and then there was a Reagan/Bush War on Drugs.

However, references to a “drug war” are few and far between these days.
There are some real wars that have people’s attention. Iraq. Afghanistan. Al-Qaeeda. That ongoing thing with Iran.

Essentially the “War on Drugs” or “drug war” got downgraded to a police action.
There is a military aspect of drug control to the extent that the opium trade finances the Taliban – and it is therefore necessary for the military to conduct actions against the opium fields as part of an actual war.
Otherwise, it is a matter of criminals violating drug laws with police assigned to stop them.

If that is the case, what are we to call the existing policy?

Is it accurate to call it a “War on Drugs” – if that language is no longer current?

Should we call it “Prohibition”?

Is it really Prohibition, i.e. the classic Prohibition of alcohol? I don’t think so because it does not employ an amendment to the U.S. Constitution; alcohol prohibition was simply the outright grant of a Constitutional basis for a federal ban on alcohol. Once that Constitutional basis went away, control went back to the states and there is legal manufacture, sale, and possession of alcohol.

The current policy of federal prohibition has a different constitutional basis; it is the interstate commerce clause. Federal “narcotics” prohibition, which is the ancestor of all “drug” prohibition, was never based on its own constitutional amendment. Instead it has been expressed in statutes that relied, in the first generation, on the federal tax authority and now on the federal authority to regulate interstate commerce generally.

The current statute, the Controlled Substances Act, regulates commerce in certain psychoactive substances.
Those substances include heroin, cocaine, cannabis, methamphetamine, LSD, PCP – all the biggies.
It imposes criminal penalties for violations of its provisions.
It IS the policy.

I have said consistently that it’s a form of market control in which the only permitted use is “medical” and any misuse is criminal.

Perhaps the task at hand is to limit the acts that qualify for criminal sanction.
Perhaps the task at hand is to redefine the criteria for use.

I don’t know. I presume that the task at hand fundamentally is to devise a new set of terminology, one that characterizes substances in terms of their functions, such as sedative, stimulant, dysphoric, euphoric, etc. That distinction appears in a very simple and immaterial way in the Controlled Substances Act, but the statute does not use those classifications to make practical distinctions between the substances.

For the moment, I would explain the current drug policy as “the federal criminal prohibition on the non-medical use of some drugs” – the drugs that are within the jurisdiction of the Controlled Substances Act.

Then take your pick of issues. I would focus on what is “medical.”


One thought on “It’s no longer a "war." What is it? What it has always been.

  1. It's a social stigma, deeply rooted in past socio cultural doctrines that no one is really clear about any more but everyone continues to blindly follow. What you're doing is good: clear away the misunderstandings so people can choose for themselves.


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