Politics

A 1930s California story shows why the war on drugs is a failure

Policies based on punishment and stigma will only make our drug problems spiral. The path back to sanity can only come through love, compassion – and a regulated trade.

For most of the history of the United States, drugs were legal. People could buy opiates and cocaine-based products from their local pharmacy. An opiate-laced brew called Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, for example, was particularly popular with housewives. One person who viewed this legal system with skepticism was a Los Angeles doctor named Henry Smith Williams. When a small number of his patients became addicted, he was disgusted, and he came to see them as despicable “weaklings.”… At the same time, Smith Williams realized that the drug war was “in effect ordering a company of drug smugglers into existence.” Because pharmacists could no longer sell these drugs, the Mafia and other criminal organizations stepped in, selling a vastly inferior product at extortionate prices. In the pharmacies, morphine had cost two or three cents a grain, but the criminal gangs charged a dollar.So when opiates and cocaine were banned in 1914, he welcomed this first birth-pang of the drug war with glee.After learning all this, Henry Smith Williams [a prominent doctor who initially supported the war on drugs] ] realized he had been terribly wrong to demand a war on drugs, and he wrote a prophetic book called “Drug Addicts Are Human Beings” in which he opened his heart, and argued for a return to the system that had prevailed for most of U.S. history – a limited, licensed trade. He also predicted in the 1930s that if the drug war continued for another 50 years, there would be a $5-billion smuggling industry in the United States – and the journalist Larry Sloman later calculated that his prediction was eerily accurate.

Original Article (LA Times):
A 1930s California story shows why the war on drugs is a failure
Artwork Fair Use: Public Domain

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