Poisoning the Drug Policy Debate in 8 Simple Steps

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One of the primary facts worth knowing about the modern drug war debate is that it has been contaminated for decades. Anyone endeavoring to advance this conversation must navigate a dense fog of false dichotomies, red herrings, racist demagoguery, and McCarthian fear-mongering that serves to amplify the absurd while obscuring even the most simple truths.

While discussing this matter yesterday with NORML's Paul Armentano, I learned of a marvelous ancient document which sets forth in basic terms the fundamental strategies that have long been employed to destroy the drug war debate. "Themes in Chemical Prohibition" by William L. White was published in 1979 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is easily the most insightful material ever produced by that agency:

A review of chemical prohibitionist literature reveals eight themes which appear to emerge from the tactics of most such movements. The tactics utilized to produce these themes are as follows:

1. The drug is associated with a hated subgroup of the society or a foreign enemy.

2. The drug is identified as solely responsible for many problems in the culture, i.e., crime, violence, and insanity.

3. The survival of the culture is pictured as being dependent on the prohibition of the drug.

4. The concept of "controlled" usage is destroyed and replaced by a "domino theory" of chemical progression.

5. The drug is associated with the corruption of young children, particularly their sexual corruption.

6. Both the user and supplier of the drug are defined as fiends, always in search of new victims; usage of the drug is considered "contagious."

7. Policy options are presented as total prohibition or total access.

8. Anyone questioning any of the above assumptions is bitterly attacked and characterized as part of the problem that needs to be eliminated.

After almost 30 years, this remains a complete inventory of the instruments one can expect to find in any prohibitionist's tool belt. It reads like the Bill of Rights of drug prohibitionist rhetoric, a universal guide that could well be found folded up within the coat pockets of drug war generals from Washington, D.C. to Vienna.

Only through strict adherence to these principles is it possible to effectively defend a drug war that destroys all which it claims to defend. Only under these rules could the continuation of costly and catastrophic public policies be considered politically viable, while even partial reforms bear a burden of presumed political suicide. Only in this climate of perpetual hysteria can our leaders be intimidated and stripped of their will to lead, forced instead by perceived orthodoxy to reluctantly, yet willfully, march us further into the drug war abyss.

This post isn't about how to end the drug war. I don’t quite claim to know that, although I've got a few ideas. Rather, this is an introduction, for anyone who may need it, to the rules of mainstream drug policy debate. We must know each of these rules by heart, because it is our duty to break them at any and every opportunity.

Update: Here is just one example of the absolute falsity of item 3 on the above list.

United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Just turn those principles on their head

1. Unregulated drug markets are associated with drug cartels, terrorists and street dealers, big tobacco & alcohol.

2. Unregulated drug markets are identified as responsible for many problems in the culture, i.e., crime, violence, and insanity.

3. The survival of the culture is pictured as being dependent on a regulated drug market.

4. The concept of "deterrence" is destroyed and replaced by "regulation and control."

5. The unregulated drug markets are associated with the corruption of young children.

6. Unregulated drug markets are a scourge of society, always in search of new victims.

7. Policy options are presented in moderate terms of regulation and control of the drug market, not extremist policies of Total Prohibition or Laissez Faire.

8. Anyone questioning any of the above assumptions should be welcomed.

You're welcome

sicntired Anyone that thinks anything could be worse than what we've got right now needs an enema.For that.......

Heard it before...

The 8 steps to tyranny...somewhere...was it Geobbels or Goering? REGULATE ! it's safer.

Prohibitionists remain antagonistic and dangerous to society!

Ask any law enforcement official which domestic situation they'd prefer to avoid:

1) An individual or group high on liquid drugs... alcohol?
2) An individual or group high on marijuana?

Does anyone really doubt which drug has the statistically higher ratio of violence & death... even though marijuana smokers face much harsher penalties... including longer prison terms and forfeiture of assets... a drunk person would have to kill somebody to perhaps warrant such justice!

Suggest the following to any prohibitionist, or their legions of stooges & enforcers, and they'll try to kill or incarcerate you... and never mention their intellectual terrorism or they'll sympathetically proclaim you another poor 'paranoid delusional'... another victim of Satan's smoke... in desperate need of the type of compassion & rehabilitation that only an overcrowded massive prison system can provide!

Suggest that the 1st drug war, the Prohibition against 'liquid intoxicants' (the drug of choice of our European immigrants and ancestors... also the original 'gateway drug' ) which officially started in 1919 with the 18th amendment came about exactly the same way as the 2nd drug war, the Prohibition against marijuana... amazingly fast political actions by a radical Progressive Prohibition Movement (PPM)... how fast a responsible & vigilant citizen may wonder... less then 6 hours and no prior committee meetings!

If you're not immediately arrested or shot for your Gnostic rants, or hedonistically libertine crimes against their children and society at large, perhaps because your 'accusers' find you amusing.... like a cat with a wounded mouse or bird... they'll allow you to continue with your conspiracy theories.

EXCEPT... your lawyers sage advice starts to become audible through the cognitive dissonance dissipating inside your newly numbed skull... previously drowning out rational thought and hampering critical thinking (professionals commonly refer to this as 'caveman mode')... he's screaming at you to 'ZIP IT' --- because your 'accusers' will use everything you say and they make up against you, etc, etc...!

Most cops are unwilling stooges of the current Progressive Prohibition Movement! Cops are given great discretionary powers and it's unwise to provoke someone who may be and/or act sympathetic. However, zealot sects like the DEA are trained to react violently against 'druggies', however peaceful, however responsible, even vital, to their existence.

Facts confuse and threaten prohibitionists, and, they should fear the wealth of information and knowledge the few libertarian minded among us possess... not to mention the criminal implications the equally illegal 2nd drug war carries! If only we could get the justice dept to do it's job and strike down illegal laws... as it did when it struck down the 1st drug war in 1933 with the 21st amendment.

I believe it's also long past time to start holding those responsible... accountable... for their serious crimes ... regardless of title or stature... had the supreme court held the PPM responsible for their crimes in 1933 when they repealed drug prohibition... we wouldn't be fighting these dangerous delusional criminals now!

But the fundamentalist PPM remains alive, newly energized, and enabled today thanks to her immortal allies: fear, ignorance, certitude, copious amounts of hypocrisy, and the heavy hand of the police state... so beloved by moralists and the purveyors of gods & governments!

Prohibitionists remain antagonistic and dangerous to a modern egalitarian society... their delusions, desperations, paranoia's, pretenses, and proclamations make them more deceitful, disgusting, and criminal then ever.

"Carrots and Sticks"

We need a policy of "carrots and sticks" for marijuana that approaches this issue in the same way as international efforts to get rid of "blood diamonds" out of the diamond market. We should keep laws against selling and buying marijuana from drug dealers and traffickers, who fund violence and terrorist activities, while setting up a parallel regulated & taxed system that allows otherwise law-abiding citizens to operate in ways that benefit them as well as their communities.


Sociologist Craig Reinarman put it most succinctly:

"Drugs are richly functional scapegoats. They provide elites with fig leafs to place over the unsightly social ills that are endemic to the social system over which they preside. They provide the public with a restricted aperture of attribution in which only the chemical bogey man or lone deviant come into view and the social causes of a cornucopia of complex problems are out of the picture."

I once took an old 1998 ONDCP drug control strategy report preface and substituted just one word -- every time the drug "drug" was used, I replaced it with "Jew" (you can also substitute gang members, homosexuals, welfare queens or any popular scapegoat). Suddenly, Gen. Barry McCaffrey begins to sound like Josef Goebbels...

Jew Control Strategy

An American View

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government." -- Thomas Jefferson

The first duty of government is to provide security for citizens. The Constitution of the United States articulates the obligation of the federal government to uphold the public good, providing a bulwark against all threats, foreign and domestic. Jews, constitute such a threat. Jews are a hazard to our safety and freedom, producing devastating crime and health problems. Jews diminish the potential of citizens for growth and development. Not surprisingly, 56 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 1997 identified Jews as the most serious problem facing children in the United States.

The traditions of American democracy affirm our commitment to both the rule of law and individual freedom. Although government must minimize interference in the private lives of citizens, it cannot deny people the security on which peace of mind depends. Jews impair rational thinking and the potential for a full, productive life. Jews destroy personal liberty and the well-being of communities. Jews drain the physical, intellectual, spiritual, and moral strength of America. Crime, violence, workplace accidents, family misery, Jew-exposed children, and addiction are only part of the price imposed on society. Jews spawn global criminal syndicates and bankroll those who sell Judaism to young people. Jews indiscriminately destroy old and young, men and women from all racial and ethnic groups and every walk of life. No person or group is immune.

War Tactics

Prohibitionist Themes 1-thru-8 can be applied to tactics that are used in a war.

Perhaps Richard Nixon’s framing of the drug situation as a “war”, as if American society were being attacked by drugs, had some utility beyond public relations hyperbole.

The following quote is from Hermann Göring on the usefulness of conjuring up the threat of imaginary enemies.

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger [Emphasis added]. It works the same in any country.”

a web site devoted to analysis using those 8 themes:

Here's a web site I put together that uses those eight prohibition propaganda themes to automatically identify news articles of interest. I associate keywords and phrases with each of themes, and the system uses the presence of the keywords to identify which of the themes are present in a given article. So this is one way news articles can be categorized.


A web crawler portion of the system continually spiders for new drug-related news articles on online news sites and then processes them. The processing is the (critical) analysis involved with looking for those propaganda themes. I've had it running since early 2003, and it sees about 800-1000 new news articles each day, articles that relate to illegal drugs and drug policy, especially those eight prohibition propaganda themes. Lots more on that site.

I am glad to see other people looking at William White's prohibition propaganda themes In my opinion, those eight themes can be very powerful tools of analysis for drug war propaganda. And I think that site demonstrates it.

So, in a nutshell, there's a news bot website that crawls the web for drug news, to do propaganda analysis on the text using those eight prohibition themes identified by William White in that 1979 paper.

That 1979 paper took on a life of its own.

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