Terence McKenna's "Modest Proposal"
Regarding America's Drug Problems
In the numerous "Decriminalize Drugs" debates which have occurred over the last decade or so there are always people who point out all the many reasons why the "War on Drugs" is, from the point of view of a rational and ethically-aware person, totally insane and immoral. These reasons even get reported in the mainstream media, e.g., War on drugs: Campaigning countess winning support to change world laws. Despite some encouraging signs that cannabis prohibition is breaking down (e.g., the people in two U.S. states recently voted to decriminalize cannabis use) there has been very little progress. Why?
Some people believe that the so-called "War on Drugs", maintained now for over forty years by the U.S. government, is based upon a desire by governments to "protect" people from the "dangers" of (some) drugs (but notably not alcohol and nicotine, which kill more people than all other drugs combined). This is ridiculous, and the people who believe this are at best uninformed and naïve. Fact is, the "War on Drugs" is mostly about money — and lots of it. This has been well-known for many years by anyone who cares to study this matter.
For example, in 2008 Prof. David Nutt was appointed chairman of the UK Governmentís Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He published an editorial in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2009 pointing out that using the drug ecstasy (MDMA) was no more dangerous than horse-riding. As a result of this and other comments comparing the harm caused by legal and illegal drugs, he was sacked by the then UK Home Secretary. (See his book Drugs.) This illustrates the fact that most Western governments, in their determination to maintain the criminal status of illegal drug use, continue to ignore the scientific data showing that illegal drugs cause much less harm than legal drugs and legal activities such as many sports.
In a response to a question about the "War on Drugs", asked at the end of a talk he gave called "Eros & Eschaton", the late Terence McKenna said:
The reason drugs are illegal and suppressed, and bla bla, is because you can make a shitload of money off them in that context. Itís a money issue. Do you think a loving government is trying to keep you from jumping out of third-floor windows and thatís why LSD is illegal?! ... [The U.S.] government is not interested in your health. The government is artificially interested in inflating the prices of certain substances in order to create a focus for clandestine money that is used then to destabilise unfriendly governments, murder labour union leaders, kill and blackmail the editors of left-wing newspapers, so forth and so on.Terence McKenna provided a rational and ethically-aware solution to America's drug problems in a section in his book Food of the Gods given below:
A MODEST PROPOSAL
A drug policy respectful of democratic values would aim to educate people to make informed choices based on their own needs and ideals. Such a simple prescription is necessary and sadly overdue.
A master plan for seriously seeking to come to terms with America's drug problems might explore a number of options, including the following.
1. A 200 percent federal tax should be imposed on tobacco and alcohol. All government subsidies for tobacco production should be ended. Warnings on packaging should be strengthened. A 20 percent federal sales tax should be levied on sugar and sugar substitutes, and all supports for sugar production should be ended. Sugar packages should also carry warnings, and sugar should be a mandatory topic in school nutrition curricula.
2. All forms of cannabis should be legalized and a 200 percent federal sales tax imposed on cannabis products. Information as to the THC content of the product and current conclusions regarding its impact on health should be printed on the packaging.
3. International Monetary Fund and World Bank lending should be withdrawn from countries that produce hard drugs. Only international inspection and certification that a country is in compliance would restore loan eligibility.
4. Strict gun control must apply to both manufacture and possession. It is the unrestricted availability of firearms that has made violent crime and the drug abuse problem so intertwined.
5. The legality of nature must be recognized, so that all plants are legal to grow and possess.
6. Psychedelic therapy should be made legal and insurance coverage extended to include it.
7. Currency and banking regulations need to be strengthened. Presently bank collusion with criminal cartels allows large-scale money laundering to take place.
8. There is an immediate need for massive support for scientific research into all aspects of substance use and abuse and an equally massive commitment to public education.
9. One year after implementation of the above, all drugs still illegal in the United States should be decriminalized. The middleman is eliminated, the government can sell drugs at cost plus 200 percent, and those monies can be placed in a special fund to pay the social, medical, and educational costs of the legalization program. Money from taxes on alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and cannabis can also be placed in this fund. Also following this one-year period, pardons should be given to all offenders in drug cases that did not involve firearms or felonious assault.
If these proposals seem radical, it is only because we have drifted so far from the ideals that were originally most American. At the foundation of the American theory of social polity is the notion that our inalienable rights include "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." To pretend that the right to the pursuit of happiness does not include the right to experiment with psychoactive plants and substances is to make an argument that is at best narrow and at worst ignorant and primitive. The only religions that are anything more than the traditionally sanctioned moral codes are religions of trance, dance ecstasy, and intoxication by hallucinogens. The living fact of the mystery of being is there, and it is an inalienable religious right to be able to approach it on one's own terms. A civilized society would enshrine that principle in law.
Unfortunately at present there is no chance that this proposal will be implemented in the U.S. And the reason, as mentioned above, is money. As Terence McKenna pointed out, in his talk "Eros & Eschaton", governments are making a shitload of money from their involvement in the illegal drug trade and so there is no incentive for them to decriminalize drug use. So an end to prohibiton is unlikely to happen short of global nuclear war which basically destroys organized governments (a distinct possibility for around 2014-2015).
There is a way, however, to make prohibition pointless for governments. That's because governments can make a shitload of money from the illegal drug trade only if their profits are laundered, which can happen only with the connivance of the big banks. See Lars Schall's very revealing interview with Oliver Villar: Under the mask of the war on drugs.
LS: Does the drug trade work very differently than people usually assume?So it's well-known to the so-called law-enforcement agencies in the U.S. that the big banks are laundering the profits of the illegal drug trade, but no action is taken against them. That's because of the reason Terence McKenna stated, "to create a focus for clandestine money that is used then to destabilise unfriendly governments, murder labour union leaders, kill and blackmail the editors of left-wing newspapers, so forth and so on." If this money-laundering by the big banks was stopped then governments couldn't profit from the illegal drug trade and there would be no point in maintaining prohibiton. But it's not going to happen, for the reasons Oliver Villar stated in the interview quoted above. Thus this evil of the "War on Drugs" will continue as long as people remain ignorant of what's really going on, and in the event that enough people find out, as long as they lack the courage to bring about any change.
OV: [In my PhD research] what I found, it's far more than just simply criminals at work. What we do know, if you go back to the history of the global drug trade, which I did pursue, you find that states, not just individuals or criminals, were also part of the process of production and distribution. The most notorious example is the British colonial opium trade ... This is just one example. And from there on I looked at other great powers and the way they also somehow managed to use drugs as a political instrument, but also as a form of financial wealth, as you could say, or revenue to maintain and sustain their power. The great power of today I have to say is the United States, of course. ...
LS: From my perspective as a financial journalist it is remarkable to see that you treat cocaine as just another capitalist commodity, like copper, soy beans or coffee, but then again as a uniquely imperial commodity. Can you explain this approach, please?
OV: Again drawing upon past empires or great powers, it becomes an imperial commodity because it is primarily serving the interests of that imperial state. If we look at the United States for instance, it becomes an imperial commodity just as much as opium became a British imperial commodity in a way it related to the Chinese. It means the imperial state is there to gain from the wealth, the United States in this case, but it also means that it serves as a political instrument to harness and maintain a political economy which is favorable to imperial interests. ... [The "War on Drugs"] is a way how an imperial power can intervene and also penetrate a society much like the British were able to do with China in many respects. So it is an imperial commodity because it does serve that profit mechanism, but it is also an instrument for social control and repression. ...
LS: Cocaine has become one more means for extracting surplus value on which to realize profits and thus accumulate capital. But isn't it the criminalized status of drugs that makes this whole business possible in the first place?
OV: We have to think about what would happen if it was decriminalized? It would actually be a bad thing if you were a drug lord or someone to a large extent gaining from the drug trade. What happens if it is criminalized is that you are able to gain wealth and profit from something that is very harmful to society. ...[It] will never be politically acceptable for politicians to say: You know, we think that the war on drugs is failing, so we decriminalize it. That would be almost political suicide. ...
LS: How does the money laundering work and where does the money primarily go to?
OV: We know that the estimated value of the global drug trade — and this is also debated by analysts — is worth something between US$300 billion to $500 billion a year. Half of that, something between $250-$300 billion and over actually goes to the United States. So what does this say if you use that imperial political economy approach I've talked about? It means that the imperial center, the financial center, is getting the most, and so it is in no interest for any great power (or state) to stop this if great amounts of the profits are flowing to the imperial center. ...[There are now] reports that even come out in the mainstream media about Citigroup and other very well-known money laundering banks being caught out laundering drug money for drug traffickers across South America and in Mexico as well ...
LS: Do you think that "lax policies" are responsible for the fact that large multi-national banks are laundering drug profits?
OV: If you think again about the criminalized status of drugs, it's criminalized in society, but when it comes to the economic and financial sector, which should be criminalized, it is actually decriminalized. So we have some kind of contradiction and paradox where it would be great if it would be criminalized, but when it comes to the financial sector, it is actually fine — it's lax, it's unregulated, and we know that the US Federal Reserve, for example, can monitor any deposit over $10,000, so it's not that they don't know — they know what's going on. ... . It continues to benefit the imperial global architecture, particular in the West, and so it becomes a lax policy approach towards these money laundering banks because they wouldn't have it any other way, there is much resistance to it. ... Of course, they [governments] prefer to have this contradiction and paradox in place, because this is in fact what is allowing the drug profits to come in. If the government would take this problem seriously and would actually do something about these money-laundering banks, we would see a real effort to fight the drug problem, but that is not going to happen any time soon. ...
LS: Why is it that the [George W] Bush and Obama Departments of Justice have spent trillions of dollars on a war on terrorism and a war on drugs, while letting US banks launder money for the same people that the nation is supposedly at war with?
OV: That is another issue that is part of the contradiction of imperialism, or the process that I call "narco-colonialism". The stated objectives are very different to the real objectives. They may claim that they are fighting a war on drugs or on terror, but in fact they are fighting a war for the drug financial revenue through terror, and by doing that they have to make alliances with the very same people who are benefiting from the drug trade as we see in Colombia. ...
LS: You are arguing in your book that the war on drugs is no failure at all, but a success. How do you come to that conclusion?
OV: I come to that conclusion because what do we know so far about the war on drugs? Well, the US has spent about US$1 trillion throughout the globe. Can we simply say it has failed? Has it failed the drug money-laundering banks? No. Has it failed the key Western financial centers? No. Has it failed the narco-bourgeoisie in Colombia — or in Afghanistan, where we can see similar patterns emerging? No. Is it a success in maintaining that political economy? Absolutely. ... So I have to say when we are looking at it from that political economy / class basis approach with this emphasis on imperialism and the state rather than simply crime, it has been a success because what it is actually doing is allowing that political economy to thrive. ...
LS: Related to the drug war raging in Mexico, what are your thoughts on the claim by a Mexican official that the CIA manages the drug trade?
OV: It's the state, but in particular the armed bodies of the state, like the intelligence agencies, which as political entities are able to actually police these kinds of operations. How else can it be done? What is the history? What we know from researchers like Peter Dale Scott and Douglas Valentine is that this has been true since at least the 1970s in the Latin American context. ...
LS: So the CIA is in the drug trade something like the middle-man for the financial sector?
OV: Yes, I think that analogy would be quite useful. As a middle-man, as a liaison and enforcer, and as also a communicator between these various criminal elements before the drug trade shapes itself into a form that is both beneficial and subservient to US imperialism.
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