PILLS, POWDER, AND SMOKE by Antony Loewenstein

PILLS, POWDER, AND SMOKE

Inside the Bloody War on Drugs
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A critique of the war on drugs, which, by the author’s account, is mostly a war on the poor and dispossessed.

Build a wall on the border with Mexico, says Donald Trump, and voilà: no more drugs. As Jerusalem-based Australian journalist Loewenstein (Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe, 2015, etc.) observes, that assertion flies in the face of reports from the government’s own Drug Enforcement Agency that drugs predominantly enter the United States via airports and seaports, not via land. All the same, the Trump administration “has brought the drug war back with a vengeance, though it’s arguably far less effective in convincing people than in the past.” Indeed, Americans have embraced a hitherto unthinkable laissez-faire attitude in terms of cannabis, if not other drugs. The author examines several fronts in a war fought by Western governments, especially the U.S., on harder drugs that “are consumed nightly in such major cities as London, Sydney, New York, and Paris.” A U.S.–sponsored coup in Honduras, argues Loewenstein, made the country more vulnerable to exploitation by the cartels while interdiction campaigns elsewhere have amounted to “a convenient justification to ostracize, demonize, imprison, ignore, or kill the most marginalized,” for whom the drug trade is a means of simple subsistence. Loewenstein lays out a case that is provocative but broad: It is inarguable that Richard Nixon used the drug war as a proxy for suppressing protest on the part of youth and ethnic minorities, but it takes more evidence than the author provides to land the argument that the drug war is a front for “the US goal of finding reliable, if autocratic, partners to secure regions rich with valuable resources, including oil and gold.”

A sometimes overwrought but pressing survey calling into question a war that would seem to benefit only its combatants.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-947534-94-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Scribe
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019