Award-winning journalist Hari’s multistrand examination of the war on drugs, spanning 100 years from inception to the present day.
Through a smattering of narratives, the author looks at the centennial of the war on drugs from the time it was legislated with the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914. Blending sociology, history and reportage with novelistic detail, Hari uses the narratives of the first American drug czar Harry Anslinger, jazz singer and addict Billie Holiday, and drug-dealing gangster Arnold Rothstein as archetypes to point out how the war continually perpetuates itself with shocking intensity and contradiction. The author is a sharp judge of character, and he wisely notes that the underlying reason for drug prohibition was not an altruistic desire to protect people from harmful and addictive chemical substances but rather fear “that the blacks, Mexicans, and Chinese were using these chemicals, forgetting their place, and menacing white people.” It certainly seems that the primary goal of the war was to repress minorities and solidify white dominance, and little has changed in the past 100 years. Racial discrimination continues to dominate discussions of the drug war’s effectiveness; a majority of nonviolent drug offenders are black, yet statistics show that drug use across races is equal. Alarming, though well-known statistics such as this are peppered throughout the many profiles Hari shares from his travels around the world to experience the repercussions of the drug war firsthand. While the author harangues the singularly negative consequences of drug prohibition, he discusses the case of Portugal, where all drugs have been decriminalized since 2001; there, the average drug use is now lower than any rate in Europe. It is one of the few glimmers of hope, alongside movements to legalize marijuana, in a worldwide war whose fight should not be against drugs but for humanity in general.
A compassionate and humane argument to overturn draconian drug policies.