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The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure

by Dan Baum

Pub Date: June 5th, 1996
ISBN: 0-316-08412-3
Publisher: Little, Brown

 A thoroughly researched attack on America's war on drugs. Baum, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, traces American drug policy back to the presidency of Richard Nixon, when several eager young aides were given the opportunity to turn their personal contempt for drugs into national policy. Despite several studies that recommended the legalization of marijuana--in 1969 more Americans died per year by falling down stairs than from a drug overdose--Nixon's team declared marijuana public enemy number one. Baum traces a connection between an attack on marijuana use in Vietnam and the sharp increase of heroin use among the soldiers, a habit with far greater consequences once they brought it home. The war on drugs grew with each new president, swelling prison populations and shrinking school budgets, though the number of deaths due to drug use remained low. Baum can scarcely mask his contempt for the methodology used by these early drug czars, and his sarcasm toward Nixon's boys and their successors, the ``Bennettistas,'' is ugly. Baum's scrutiny of the truth behind the drug hysteria, however, is impeccable, and the second half of the book serves as a horrifying catalogue of a bloated policy run amok. Baum details several cases where individuals were murdered in their homes by overzealous police; the investigations had been spurred by rumors. Baum theorizes that Los Angeles millionaire Donald Scott may have been killed because local drug agencies were eager to take over his beautiful ranch. In 1991, 80 percent of people who had property confiscated were never formally charged with a crime. And routine police use of drug-sniffing dogs can also lead to false accusations: The Pittsburgh Press found in 1991 that 96 percent of the US currency in use was tainted with enough cocaine to make the dog respond. A passionate salvo in the bitter debate over drug policy.