Friday, July 31, 2009

Sketches of the Drug Czars

The United States spends nearly $50 billion each year on the war on drugs, to little avail: illegal drugs remain prevalent, and drug-funded groups continue to spread violence from Mexico to Afghanistan. The new White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, says he wants to end the drug war, but other men in his position have tried and failed to do just that. In this illustrated history, Ricardo Cortes shows how science, politics, ego, and scandal transformed a public-health initiative into a century-long military campaign.
Written and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes
President Richard Nixon took on drugs as part of his anti-crime platform. But even as he pushed through such tough measures as mandatory sentencing and "no-knock warrants," he also poured resources into drug-abuse prevention and treatment, which were funded at twice the level of law-enforcement efforts. In 1970, Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act, creating the U.S. drug-scheduling system. Marijuana was temporarily placed in Schedule I, the most restrictive, pending review by a commission to study its effects. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse consisted of 13 men—9 appointed by the president and 4 by Congress. In 1972, they offered their unanimous conclusion: "We believe that experimental or intermittent use of this drug carries minimal risk to the public health, and should not be given overzealous attention in terms of a public health response." The panel, along with the American Medical Association and the National Institute of Mental Health, recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use, and the American Bar Association called for reduced penalties. Nixon responded by rejecting the report, declaring "an all-out global war on the drug menace," and creating the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) by executive order in 1973.

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