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  • Writer's pictureAnderson Petergeorge

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs -Johann Hari

Top Three Takeaways

  1. What we see in the current drug war (e.g. overdoses, gang wars) is exactly what happened during the alcohol prohibition in the 1920s: During prohibition, dealers want to get the most bang for buck so they choose the strongest alcohol substances to trade. Beer was virtually eliminated in the prohibition for this reason and it was mainly a high percentage moonshine. This is currently happening in the drug industry where it is the hardest drugs being trafficked leading to more overdose. Regulation solved this for alcohol and can do the same for drugs.

  2. The War on Drugs was fueled by a broken system that allowed one individual to have a dictatorship on drug laws for almost 40 years: Harry Anslinger (US Commissioner that spearheaded anti-drug policy and criminalization) had a dictatorship on narcotics for almost 40 years. He saw drugs as an opportunity to put racialized individuals in prison despite it being proven that the largest distributor of drugs was the bureau itself. He specifically set laws to use criminal law penalties for non-whites using and selling drugs while whites would be sent to receive treatment with no criminal penalties. Harry himself became a morphine addict near the end of his life.

  3. "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety it’s connection”: Experiments have proven that people do not get addicted using any drugs right away. Addiction comes from not having their basic needs (e.g. Food, shelter, security, connection) covered in other ways and using drugs to obtain this feeling of their needs being met. Rats put in a cage with morphine and nothing else drank the morphine more than those that had other rats in their cage, mazes and things to keep them stimulated in other ways. This was also seen when US soldiers returned from the Vietnam war where many had used heroine regularly. Those that had families and safe environments to come back to did not use once they came back.


  • Marijuana was legal until Harry Anslinger (US commissioner that spearheaded anti-drug policy and criminalization) saw that it was mostly used by black and latino kids and said they were using it and convincing white girls to sympathize with them and get them pregnant in order to get it banned

  • Did not realize that people of colour used drugs more first because of lower social wealth and economic difficulties. Some medical families would eat weed because they didn’t have food

  • Targeted Jazz musicians mainly over racism using drugs as an excuse to try and capture them

  • White people would get treatment without bringing in criminal law penalties but black people would get put into prison

  • They increased the calibre of the guns to be able to shoot black people easier and used the excuse that drugs made them superhuman to withstand regular guns

  • After he tried to fully eradicated drugs in Baltimore saw it wasn’t helping and then used communist conspiracy as a new example. Saying drugs came from communists

  • Harry who set all these rules went through a mental break down and paranoia but kept his rules

  • Turned out the bureau itself was the largest distributor of drugs not musicians or racial groups like Harry was portraying

  • Drug dealers realized since their clients couldn’t complain to the police they could put whatever they wanted into the drugs to sell. This is similar to the prohibition when people were constantly getting poisoned by the street alcohol. Regulation can help solve this just like it has with alcohol

  • Most of drug violence is not with people on drugs but for people who are trying to protect the drug trade

  • You could put violent racists in prison and reduce racist attacks. You can put rapists in prison and reduce rapes but putting drug dealers in prison doesn’t reduce drug use as the demand is still there and people will do what it can to get the supply. New drug dealers will emerge as they have no other way to make income

  • The drug war is fueled by hate. Cops fighting for all the previous cops that died and the gangs fighting for family and other members they lost. It’s policy that was the issue once the hate starts hard to end

  • Rat experiment showed surprising results. Rats that had nothing in the cage drank more morphine compared to rats that had other rats and a maze and food in their cage. 25mg vs 5g. This shows that if humans have more support system and things that they would use less drugs. It’s the environment that determines the level of addiction. Addiction is not a disease it’s an adaptation

  • This also proved for rats who had used lots of morphine then put in the cage that had lots of stimulation and things to do. They then reduced the amount of use. This was also experimented with humans who came back from Vietnam who used heroine before and those soldiers that came back to good environments stopped using

  • Humans need to bond / connect and therefore if there are no other humans to do this then they will find something to be able to do this. Many then turn to drugs

  • Things started to actually get impacted when people that use drugs came together to these drug policy meetings and showed that they were human to all these people who opposed them so much. It helped lessen the fear and helped people relate more together

  • Once the lawmakers actually went incognito and listened to the people and their problems, they then realized they were people with much harder lifestyles then them and understand why they use drugs

  • Was scientifically proven that these heroine users don’t actually use for life and concentrated between 25-39 after which they typically stop by themselves after their life has more structure

  • Because drugs are so expensive when they are prohibited, drug users only have a few options to get them (robbery, sex) or the most common getting some heroine then putting other stuff in it to dilute it and resell. This is what makes the supply so toxic and also makes drug users into sales people that over sell the experience to convince people to buy their tainted supply so that they can buy more themselves. This is what creates the overdose cycle. This is what happened with alcohol too until it was legalized

  • In Portugal drug users are just seen as sick people not criminals and this has reduced their drug use compared to any other European country

  • During the prohibition, dealers want to get the most bang for buck so they choose the strongest substances to trade. Beer was virtually gone in the prohibition and it was mainly moonshine. This is currently happening in the drug industry where it is the hardest drugs being trafficked leading to more overdose

  • The statement if you use crack or heroine once and you will be addicted is a false statement used to scare people. Science shows only 3% of people that use crack become addicted

  • People believe it’s the chemical hooks in the drugs that make it addicting but it’s actually other factors such as isolation, trauma and harm that creates the addiction

  • Marijuana is scientifically proven safer then alcohol but was kept illegal to be able to throw more Hispanic and black people in jail. Once you charge someone for marijuana you ruin their life forever due to the criminal charge despite it not being that unsafe

  • Men are 8 times more likely to hit their partner after alcohol and 0 times more likely after weed

  • Out of all the drugs alcohol has the biggest impact to harm others

  • “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety it’s connection”

  • Key Ideas #1: The War on Drugs was born in America and pushed onto other countries.

    • Harry Anslinger and the US gov would stop trade and set tariffs on countries who also didn't criminalize drugs. Impacted Mexico significantly

  • Key Idea #2: The War on Drugs was not originally meant to prevent addiction, but rather to suppress racial minorities.

    • Many whites in the US preferred not to acknowledge that racial tensions in the country were bound up with structural racism and poverty. It was easier – and less uncomfortable – for them to naively believe that anger among African-Americans was caused by “foreign” drugs, and that by quelling the import and use of these drugs, the country could once again bring its minorities back into docile acceptance of the status quo.


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