Whenever the government declares war on something in order to save us, they inevitably loses the war and we get more of whatever they declared war on. It happened with the “war on poverty” and the “war on terror,” and it has happened with the war on drugs as well.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi, Emma.

Emma: Hi, Brittany.

Brittany: So, a bit ago, actually, I think it may have been the last episode, Connor and I talked about a guy named Lysander Spooner, and an essay he wrote called Vices Are Not Crimes, and just kind of to refresh vices are behaviors that people tend to think of as like immoral or bad. So like smoking or doing drugs or, you know, drinking too much alcohol. But, you know, even though I think we can all agree that doing these things are pretty bad for you, Lysander Spooner did not think that the government should tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your body. You know, maybe it’s one thing to have like your family or friends say, Hey, maybe you shouldn’t do this, but the government shouldn’t tell you that. And, you know, somebody does drugs or does something like that, it does harm them. Right? But as long as they’re not harming other people, the government shouldn’t make things illegal. Not only that, they really cannot make it illegal if you’re following the Constitution. So this is gonna help us with our topic today, and that is what is the war on drugs? So I’ll just kind of define that a little bit. So the War on Drugs was this concept that was, it really got heated up in the 1970s where the government declared this war on drugs. So they were making pretty much everything illegal. And, you know, Connor and I talked about prohibition, and we’ll touch on that in a little bit, later in the episode. But that’s kind of what this is. It prohibited all drugs. And again, I think we can agree that drugs are probably not great for us to do, but banning them all has not worked out well. Right. It’s nice to say we’re gonna ban something and all our problems are gonna go away, but that is not what happened. And surprise, spoiler alert, that usually doesn’t happen when the government bans things. In fact, there was another, what was it? The War on Poverty was, I think Lyndon Johnson. And that hasn’t really worked either. So it’s almost like every time the government declares a war on something, you know, it’s not gonna work. So, there’s a lesson to remember. So let’s dive into this a little, and then Emma, I’ll kick it to you. So the first drug ban, or the one that we can really trace back to in America came in 1909 and instead of just flat out like banning things, at first they started like we’ve talked about, like the frog and boiling water, where if you wanna, you know, boil a frog, you put it in cold water and then slowly raise a temperature so people don’t know what’s happening. And what they did with these substances is, they did like a lot of taxes on them first. So they started like slowly doing regulations. And again, I am not gonna say that it wasn’t what we call like well-intentioned, right? That people didn’t, they weren’t worried about other people, what they were doing to their bodies, but it’s not really their business. So that’s where all this came into play about 1909, and then slowly from there it got worse and worse and worse. So Emma, I don’t know if you wanna comment maybe a little bit about, I know you didn’t do this episode with us, but earlier bands like maybe what Prohibition is, if you wanna give our listeners a little refresher.

Emma: Yeah, totally. So Prohibition basically was this era where they tried to make alcohol completely illegal and basically banish it from the country. And I think it’s such a good example of why these government wars on vices and wars on, you know, things that could be seen as negative don’t really work because as soon as prohibition happened, it forced the alcohol trade underground and caused all of this crazy. There was this whole industry of bootleggers who would like, you know, drive this moonshine all around the country. And it’s really interesting. I actually have some people way back, far back in my family that did that for a living. So kind of crazy. Yeah. Super.


Really? That’s kind of fun though.

Emma: It is, the funny thing is my husband and I both have that like a few generations back, so we always joke that our kids are gonna be like very anti-government. But anyway, so prohibition did not work because it forced this trade completely underground and it became this huge crime ridden, basically underbelly. And a lot more people got hurt through that than they would’ve been if it was kind of out in the open. And then when Prohibition came to an end, there was this huge police state that had been set up and there were all of these, you know, government programs to combat alcohol. And from what I understand, I, haven’t done a ton of reading on this, but I do know a little bit from what I understand, the government basically said, well now we have all of these huge programs, and all of these people whose job it is to enforce these alcohol laws. We need something else now to crack down on. And that’s again, from my understanding where sort of the war against marijuana came from is they started, you know there were a lot of Hispanic communities that had marijuana as sort of like a medicinal thing that they would do. It wasn’t illegal at the time. And then they started making these crazy, you know, propaganda movies about how it was causing people to go crazy and lose their minds. And there was this really famous one, I think it was called Reefer Madness. And it was like this crazy thing where all of a sudden it was like marijuana became this huge boogeyman and it wasn’t even something a lot of people were really using at the time. And I have to think that may have even contributed to more people finding out what it was and like seeking it out. But yeah, I dunno that’s kinda an interesting thing to me how prohibition ending kind of started some of the first drug wars ever.

Brittany: Yeah, no, I think that’s a great point. And you bring up with, with Briefer Madness in that whole era, you know, a lot of it was also racially motivated. They tried to say people in minorities that they were gonna, you know, harm your kids by giving them drugs and all this stuff. And so there’s a lot of racism tied in, with it as well. And even, you know, we’ll go into incarceration rates and stuff in a little bit, but no, I think you make some great points. So I think it’s actually really funny to look at when it started heating up, which is in the 1970s. And at that time, President Nixon, Richard Nixon was president, and Nixon hated hippies. So this is gonna play kind of a big role in this. He did not like hippies. And so I kind of always connect this with like the anti-war movement. You and I talked about Vietnam and how that really kind of, I think we talked about the anti-war movement too, about how that really started to rise during a Vietnam, which is right before and during this time, or right before this time. So Nixon was sick of the hippies. He was sick of the anti-war movement. Like this was not his thing. And so to me, it’s not a coincidence that they started banning because hippies were associated with using cannabis. And that cannabis made them a little bit more open to questioning authority and questioning what was going on. And so, President Nixon did not like this. So that’s when he started declaring, you know, war on drugs. We’re gonna say, you know, no more of this. And then President Reagan comes along in the eighties and he kind of perpetuates this to the next level. He, they kind of say up the ante as an expression we use, so he made it even worse. And then, punishments for him got worse. Something called mandatory minimums were put in place, which are really scary. That basically says if you get caught with drugs, certain drugs, a judge has to sentence you to prison for a certain amount of time. So even if a judge is like, all right, like I don’t think this is a big deal, their hands were tied, they had to send you to prison for a certain amount of time, which has ruined a lot of people’s lives. This is also when Dare drug, it’s called, what is it? Drug Awareness Resistance.

Emma: This was a trivia question at a restaurant I was at two nights ago. So I just thought really drug abuse, resistance education. And I didn’t get it right at trivia, now I know. really


But really? if you have anything you wanna, I’ll throw it to you in a second if you wanna add stuff. I just wanted to say, it’s funny to me cuz you brought up that reefer madness may have told, like made people more interested in drugs and Dare has kind of done the same thing where areas where they have dare and this is a program where police go into your public school and they tell you how scary drugs are, but in California it was worse than that. They actually told you how bad guns are. So they’ve kind of used it to give whatever propaganda, you know, they want to use. So, that’s always funny to me. But in the areas where they have these, there’s actually higher drug use. So, it’s just very interesting to me. How they, actually here’s a fun little story. When I was in dare in eighth grade, cause they did it in fifth grade, then again in eighth grade, Charlie’s Angels had just come out like this movie and there’s like a pose where they pose with guns and I had a picture of me posing like a Charlie’s Angel on my folder. Cause we used to put pictures in our folder. That’s what old people used to do. So I got in trouble by the Dare officer cuz he said, that’s like a gun thing, you must be in like a gang. And like my mom had to get called. Oh my gosh. And my mom was like, what? She’s like this like an innocent 13-year-old. It was so ridiculous. So Dare Derek does a lot more harm than good. And also, I don’t know if you have anything you wanna add on Dare. Cause I know you just talked about it.

Emma: Yeah, well it was such a thing when I was like kind of elementary school age. I think it had kind of started to fizzle out by the time I got to high school, thankfully. but yeah, it was, they would come to school hand out these stickers and people would like take these vows to not do drugs ever as kids, which was super strange to me that like you have the police come into a school and then you have kids signing like these lifelong vows. Like not like there’s anything wrong with having a personal conviction to never do drugs.

Brittany: Absolutely. Yeah, awesome. That’s possible.

Emma: Good for you. But when you have the state coming in and basically like kind of trying to scare kids into doing that and it’s just supposed to be like a normal day in school for them, I find that super, super weird. And I’m, I don’t know if they still do that.

Brittany: They do, cause I got in a fight with a dare fundraiser who stopped me on move to Starbucks. I was like, give us money. And I’m actually, no, I probably should have been nicer, but.

Emma: Yeah. It’s, weird though. I find it really strange and I’m glad it’s kind of, people are starting to realize how weird that was. But I think it was kind of the beginning of, not the beginning, but a huge cultural thing of like pushing kids into statism and like kind of just doing whatever the government wants from a really young age, which is super concerning to me.

Brittany: Absolutely. So now I wanna talk about a couple of the consequences of this. Well one, as we learned with alcohol prohibition, it didn’t work right. And now, we’re seeing a lot of new cannabis laws coming to light where people are like, it’s being made legal. And a lot of this is because we’re finding out a lot of this stuff has medical purposes, so like, it can serve as medicine if it’s used correctly. So that’s been good. But some things that I am really bothered with that I think are the worst things to come out of this are so many people were, excuse me, turned into criminals. So our prison system grew. Like we have so many people in our prisons now who are in there for what we call non-violent drug offenses, meaning they didn’t hurt anybody. So there was no victim like Lysander Spooner talks about they were only harming, you know, themselves. It could be argued or maybe they weren’t even doing that. and so now we have all these people who have criminal records and once you go into prison it becomes very hard to come out cuz you can’t get a job and you can’t, you know, you can’t find somewhere to live. So that’s a problem. One of the biggest things, and this is something I’m very passionate about, is it stopped, it actually made it illegal in a lot of places to teach people what we call harm reduction. And that is like, we know people aren’t perfect. Right. And no matter what laws are in place, just like we learned with prohibition and alcohol, there are gonna be people who use substances that are very harmful for them. So harm reduction, a lot of, there’s like organizations that top people like, oh right, we don’t love that you’re using these drugs, but if you’re gonna use them, we’re gonna teach you how to use them as safely as possible. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that you know, something bad won’t happen. Absolutely. But they were teaching people how to do it as safely as possible to reduce deaths. And with the opioid crisis, we have, now a lot of, there’s organizations right now cause a lot of the stuff is laced, meaning it’s mixed with other drugs and people don’t know they’re doing. And we have a lot of overdoses and deaths. So, you know, with harm reduction people, help test drugs and make sure that if people are going to make that bad decision to do drugs, at least they’re going to be as safe as possible. But there’s been laws, in fact, President Biden before he was a president passed laws making it harder to teach people how to do these things more safely. So there’s been so many terrible things, that that have happened because of this war on drugs that I think is, is just disastrous. And I think it’s a perfect example Yeah. Of what happens when the government tries to ban things. It just doesn’t work. It never works.

Emma: Yeah. It’s true.

Brittany: I dunno if you have anything to add, it’s Oh yeah. Please.

Emma: Please. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s just like one example out of a million that we’ve seen where, you know, maybe the intentions are good like you said, Brittany, it’s not such a good thing to do drugs and I hope no one listening thinks that either of us is promoting any sort of drug use as a good thing or as not a big deal. but what’s interesting is there are so many things out there that the government has tried to ban and tried to make illegal. And because, you know, we know that the government is not effective at enforcing those things. And it almost always causes more harm than good. just because you support the government not making these things illegal or not spending a bunch of money on fighting them doesn’t mean that you think using drugs is a good thing. So I think that’s kind of a good thing to include here, sort of as a caveat. But yeah, definitely. I think it’s a really huge example of how government action on this stuff can totally backfire and end up harming a lot of people.

Brittany: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think, again, I wanna emphasize, I know you just said it and I’ve said it, is we’re not saying drugs are great, go do them. Absolutely not. There’s terrible consequences. And your life can be very much, you know, it can be ruined. But also, you know, we’re learning a lot of things about cannabis having medical purposes and even for things like mental health. So definitely not supporting drug use, but the government should not be banning things let’s remember that.

Emma: Exactly. Yes. And to kind of like bring it back home too. Like Lisandra Spooner said something can be a vice, it can be something that you consider immoral. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we need the state to go in and enforce that for people. So we’ll wrap it up there today, guys. Thank you so much for listening and we will talk to you all again soon.

Brittany: Talk to you soon.