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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.
Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.
Tue, 08 Mar 2022 08:01
Lindsay chats with David Farber, a historian who studies America's war on drugs. The two discuss the controversial origins of the decades-long campaign. And they look at some recent developments that may point to a different future.
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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. Download the Wondry app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. From Wondry I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American scandal. For years, any Ducan seemed to be a model employee. Working at the Hinton State Lab in Boston, Ducan tested drugs that had been confiscated from alleged criminals and identified the substances using chemical tests. With the lab drowning in a backlog of work, Ducan made a name for herself by running far more tests than any other chemist at the lab. But behind her sky high production was a dark secret. Ducan wasn't running actual tests. Instead she was merely guessing the results and covering up her tracks, even as the state continued to rely on her work for criminal prosecutions. But in 2013, it all caught up with her when Ducan pled guilty to 27 criminal counts and was sent to prison. But because her fraud had tainted criminal prosecutions, Massachusetts had to throw out some 21,000 convictions, the largest act of its kind in American history. For many, any Ducan's fraud was a symptom of the deeper problems with America's war on drugs. Critics charged that the drug war placed intense pressure on the criminal justice apparatus to convict drug offenders and created an incentive for people like any Ducan to lie. But those incentives and America's drug war may be shifting. My guest today is David Farber, a historian at the University of Kansas whose books include The War on Drugs a History, published in late 2021, and a previous book Crack, Rock cocaine, street capitalism, and the decade of greed. In our conversation, we'll look at the wide reaching consequences of America's drug war, including spikes in the country's prison population. We'll also discuss the history of this decades long campaign, as well as recent developments that may fundamentally change America's war on drugs. Here's our conversation. American scandals sponsored by Sachi Art. I'm lucky. Not only is my wife beautiful, funny, and smart, she also has great taste that matches mine, which has made decorating our home together a delight. But how do we go about finding the art for our home? When we agree on that, too, Sachi Art. They have artworks from thousands of emerging artists around the globe in all styles, so you're guaranteed to find art that fits your style, space, and budget. Their view your room feature lets you visualize the art on your walls, and my advisor, Satin, was instrumental in finding our newest piece. Get 15% off your first order with promo code podcast. Just go to sachiart.com and enter code podcast at checkout. Find art you love today. Lots of people don't know it, but autumn is an ideal time to plant. 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Looking at real problems in the United States and the war in Vietnam said it's time for an all out offensive against. against drugs. And from there the phrase War on Drugs really took off became part of the vernacular. You mentioned that Nixon was looking for both political capital and to solve some real problems. Let's address those two sides. What were the political problems he was facing? Politically Nixon had already been making hay out of the turn by young people toward new kinds of intoxicants, specifically marijuana and to some extent hallucinogenic. So a lot of American moms and dads, they were worried, they didn't know what to make of this. And as early as 1968 when Nixon is running for the presidency, he starts bringing up the problem of drugs, the problem of drugs. So it's kind of in the atmosphere, it's part of the political rhetoric. But the real proximate cause for what happened in the June 1971 announcement was a very real problem was happening in America's big cities, especially New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and a few others, as well as in Saigon and Vietnam more generally. And that was a turn toward heroin, mostly by African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the United States, and by a range of GI's over in Vietnam. I mean it was a real problem. There was a heroin addiction problem both domestically and internationally. So that was for real. Certainly drugs though aren't new to American culture or the American zeitgeist. So what was new about this moment that the suburban parents might be so fearful? Yeah, drugs have been around from the founding of the country. I mean there were people addicted to opium when they were signed in the Declaration of Independence. There's nothing new about drugs in the United States, especially hard drugs. But I think what did change and it really does date to the 1960s was there was a sense that suddenly middle class white suburban kids were experimenting with drugs that had long been seen as on the margins. So I think it was that fear and fear is a big factor in a whole slew of kind of drug moral panics that have taken place in the United States at least for the last 60 years, but arguably going back all the way to the early 20th century. So it sounds like even though America has a long relationship with drugs, this particular moment as we probably know in the 60s and 70s was a singular one. It was a cultural phenomenon. Is that what drew you to researching the war on drugs? Yeah, I mean I think drugs are a fascinating part of the American experience. You know, we have great narratives about the struggle over equality, the fight for a more democratic society, but you know, there's this kind of like more dark or at least unusual narrative, which is Americans have a really complicated relationship within toxication. I mean, we've passed constitutional amendments, right? To stop the use of alcohol in this country. So there's a whole kind of like other narrative, a narrative that's kind of placed to a civil war between what is it that Americans can and cannot do to find spiritual solace, recreation, relief from pain, and also the abuse of substances that lead to all sorts of troubles. So it's inherent to the American experiment. And I think over the last 50 years, we've kind of run into a near hysteria over that problem, that possibility of what Americans do to get intoxicated. And I think we're right now at an inflection point. Obviously cannabis is becoming legal and a majority of Americans lives. So yeah, I wanted to tell that history. I was really curious about it. Let's do a bit of a review of the last 50 years of the war on drugs. So in 1971, Nixon kicks off an aggressive posture against illegal substances. But the war has certainly changed over the years. Give me the first 10 years of the war. And then we'll just decade by decade see what what might have changed. Yeah, irony about the war on drugs is that it does go through some really radically different iterations. And I hate to even say this, but Richard Nixon is not really the villain of the story. So when Nixon declares this all out offensive against drugs, yeah, he's he's fundamentally focused on heroin addiction. And one of the surprises of Nixon's policies and in some ways, it's pretty typical Nixon. He's a pretty pragmatic policy maker. He spent a lot of money or Congress appropriated a lot of money at his direction to fight addiction. So a lot of that money went to trying to educate people and providing some forms of relief, usually through rehabilitation. So the very origins of the drugs are probably not what we think, especially when you think that Nixon is at the heart of it, but very quickly and Nixon does turn on this. There is a political challenge out there. And as I as I've mentioned, Americans start to freak out about the fact that suddenly little Johnny and little Mary 16, 18 year old kids, white kids, suburban kids, middle class kids are experimenting with cannabis. Some of them are getting high on LSD. And this was not in the cards in most parents lives. They just did not expect this. And so there was a lot of fear. And so even before Nixon has booted out office in 1974, his war on drugs starts to mutate. And there's greater attention paid suddenly to give him money to punish people. What we eventually would call the carceral state. And throughout the 1970s, there's actually kind of ambivalence about this. So when the Carter administration takes office and January 1977, they're kind of looking back to rolling away some of those punitive measures, turning this back to a rehabilitation education agenda. And we got really close in the United States to legalizing cannabis in the late 1970s. There was even talk of at least regulating and decriminalizing cocaine. So, you know, it's not a linear story. That obviously went through some massive changes in the 1980s. The Reagan administration, Nancy Reagan just saying no, really turned the tables on those reform efforts. Starting from the 80s, we start to get, will that all out offensive that Nixon had promised the 71? Were there any external forces that might have actually made more sense for a more punitive approach in the 80s? Yeah, in the 80s, I think one of the things that starts to happen is that there's a change in the drug menu. So in the 1960s cannabis, some use of hallucinogenics, of course, they're still ongoing use of speed. They're still ongoing use of heroin. But those are seen as more narrow problematic drugs. The 70s cocaine hits the stage. And a lot of young Americans, so called Yuppies, young professionals, embrace this new intox can make sort of sense for the gogo 70s. And in the 80s, there's another turn of the screw. And in order to kind of expand the market for cocaine, some clever, ruthless entrepreneurs come up with a new delivery system for cocaine. And that's a smokeable version. Rock or crack cocaine. And rock cocaine, crack cocaine did create some massive problems for targeted populations. It was a tough drug. A lot of people fell prey to addiction with it. And there was a lot of terror in big cities that crack was taken over a whole segment to the population. And I think again, just like previous periods, especially kind of suburban white middle class parents feared that their kids who already were kind of moving toward the use of intoxicants like cannabis could fall prey to crack. And that really up the ante for politicians and law enforcement personnel. And by the mid 1980s, you get a kind of full out moral panic surrounding crack cocaine. And that's when law enforcement, that's when mandatory minimum sentences. That's when the imprisonment of so many Americans just skyrocketed. So this is the moment of, I guess, intense criminalization of substance use begins. But the Reagan Bush years end. And we have a regime change into the Clinton era. Does America's posture towards drugs change with it? Yeah, not as much as you'd think. So, you know, we haven't heard this kind of dichotomy. Liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans. But I think it's fair to say for a man, a solid 25 years, there was almost mere consensus between the two parties about creating an immensely punitive regime toward the use of a whole range of intoxicants from cannabis to crack cocaine to heroin to meth and Fedaments. And this was not something that was partisan. This was not something even ideological for that period of time. Again, Bill Clinton, when he's running for reelection in 1996, he sees that his prospective voters, a lot of white liberals are still really scared that their kids are going to fall prey to drugs. And remember, the early 90s, there was widespread and pretty dangerous use of drugs, especially crack cocaine. So Bill Clinton's all on board. The war on drugs. It does not deescalate with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 or his reelection in 1996. It really will take into the 21st century before we start to see real fundamental challenges to the punitive nature of a war on drugs. Well, when did this consensus then begin to fracture? Was there someone leading the charge? Again, the way I sort of see the war on drugs is as much as it was a political consensus, there was also a kind of civil war in the United States. There wouldn't have been a need for war on drugs if there weren't tens of millions, in literally right, tens of millions of Americans who were choosing to use illegal substances. So I think it's 1971 that Nixon clears his war on drugs almost immediately, almost at the exact same time pro cannabis advocacy groups come into the fore normal. The National Organization reform marijuana laws groups like that start to push against this logic that somehow these intoxicants cannabis in particular, but the others as well are somehow way more dangerous than alcohol or caffeine or nicotine. And so there's a pushback always from the beginning. And I think that pushback gains greater political saliency, especially as young baby boomers start to get political power. And then as people start to see that cannabis has utility besides simply getting high post dramatic stress disorder in the 80s with AIDS when cannabis is seen as actually a useful tool in battling some of the symptoms of AIDS, you also start to have a kind of rupture within the black community over the punitive nature of drugs. And again, it's important to get in our heads that this was not a racial regime at its origins. Black congressmen, black ministers, black advocates for justice were pretty fierce drug warriors themselves, especially in the 70s and 80s. But as the carceral state kind of takes over as this mass imprisonment regime escalates under the Reagan years and then just continues into the bush and then even Clinton years, you do start to see a lot of black politicians, black political leaders, black community activists start to think that the logic of this war is more dangerous than the actual harm drugs can produce in their own communities. So you start to again see this civil war, this divide that takes place. But man, it just takes forever for the kind of political saliency of a fierce war on drugs to lose its potency. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion, or you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening, asks our listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. 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We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery and lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or every Listen to podcasts, or you can listen ad free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. Now as we've been talking about the war on drugs, we've almost exclusively limited our discussion to the federal government. But that certainly wasn't the end of it. Tell us about other parties who might have been involved. Yeah, it's again one of those kind of misnomers. We haven't our heads somehow the way we've been talking. It's Ronald Reagan. It's Bill Clinton. At the presidential level that the war on drugs takes place is nearly 90% of all arrests for drug charges from 1974 occur at the state local level. So somebody else has got to be fighting that war on drugs. It's not just a few politicians in Washington. So it's sort of the same formula though. Ronald Reagan will before he becomes president when he becomes governor in 1966 California. He literally uses the phrase war on drugs and he's looking at Berkeley and the hate ashberry and places that are making a lot of middle class Americans uncomfortable. Or their use of cannabis, their lots of fair attitude towards psychedelics. And he leads the charging California Nelson and Rockefeller, a fairly liberal Republican in the state of New York. See, he's again a political angle to this war. And he escalates it in New York state in the mid 1970s. That political saliency, that sense that a lot of Americans were afraid of what drugs were doing, especially to their kids. It's a local phenomenon. It's a state phenomenon as much as it is a federal phenomenon. It occurs to me then if 90% or higher of drug arrests are at a state or local level, then probably 90% of the costs are born in this war on drugs at the state or local level. How expensive has this war been and who ended up paying the tab? Yes, it's really hard in some ways to get solid numbers on this. But you can use a ballpark figure since 1971 of about a trillion dollars. That's how much been spent on the war on drugs. And again, it's useful to remember that while a lot of the arrests are going on at the state and local level, a fair amount of the money is coming from the federal government. So the federal government is setting block grants, is providing money for drug courts, is sending money to local law enforcement, is providing literally cops with military tools to take on drug traffickers. So a lot of money is coming from the federal government. But the cost of incarceration, you know, state prisons, local jails. Yeah, that's going to come out of the taxpayers pocket at the local and state level. So just the cost of incarceration are just massively exploding in part due to the war on drugs, really from the 1970s and then escalating in the 80s and 90s. Well, certainly there are dollar costs to this explosion of incarceration. But a lot of people have a lot of opinions about the other societal costs. Can you run through what might have happened as we increased our prison population? Yeah, I mean, the costs are just, it's like a ripple in a lake. So incarcerating somebody obviously destroys their life, their felon, their lives will never be the same again. But it just ripples through the community. Families are torn apart. The ability for people to come out of prison and become wagerers is decimated. Yeah, kids growing up without fathers and then increasingly without mothers as well do the war on drugs. Yeah, people really torn apart through that criminalization, that incarceration of people who are abusing drugs or trafficking in drugs. Again, a lot of these people need help. They're messed up. They're doing some bad things. But the choices we made to incarcerate them in so many ways just exacerbated the underlying difficulties. It's kind of put people in position to become heroin addicts or give themselves over to crack cocaine. So, you know, that people like this needed some kind of intervention. Yeah, for sure. But to turn them into demons, to incarcerate them, to take somebody who sold five grams of crack cocaine and put them in jail for five years, you know, five grams is nothing. You know, a little pack at a crack. That was a life change. The war on drugs, it's obviously a metaphor, a martial one though. And I was thinking, there are probably two types, broadly speaking, of military actions of war. One is perhaps one of an existential nature. You are suddenly attacked and you're thrust into a war to defend yourself. But another war, it would be a tactical one, one in which you have strategic objectives that you you want to accomplish through military operations. So, I'm wondering which of these two is the war on drugs. And if there were objectives, were they reached? I think again, this is something that really varied from regime to regime administration to administration. And there's lots of variations at the local and state level. William Bennett, who becomes the drugs are under George W. Bush. I mean, he believed in zero tolerance. He believed that the only way to win the war on drugs was essentially to destroy all people who use drugs. There should be massive penalties. You could literally he felt destroyed drug culture. You know, that's on his face absurd. It wasn't going to happen. So on the other hand, then there's more tactical approaches. Well, heroin is really dangerous. So if we get rid of heroin addiction, we've really had a fundamental, at least tactical victory, whereas cannabis, maybe that's not the same thing. And again, starting in the 70s and really continuing right through today, cannabis became kind of a drug exception. Well, maybe we don't need total war on cannabis. We can educate, we can scare, we can try to get young people not to become abusers of that substance. So one historian has called them impossible criminals. You're not going to lock up every 17 year old white suburban boy who's caught with two joints in his pocket. You know, that just didn't make sense in most of America. But heroin addicts, poor black people who are selling crack cocaine, maybe you could really eradicate them. And by the late 80s and early 90s, I mean, there was a kind of total war, at least on crack cocaine and those who sold it. So the war always varied. It never was equitable. It was never fair. That target's varied over time. And obviously the most marginal people overwhelmingly faced the front of the war on drugs. Another word for total war might be prohibition, which is something we've actually tried. And we've noted a couple of times that there's always been some sort of drug use in America since it's founding. So let's rewind a little bit and look at America in the late 19th century. What is the state of intoxicant use in this era of America? Well, the first answer is there's a lot of it. I mean, America's were getting high and intoxicated in every imaginable way. And it was almost completely legal. So you could go to the drug store and buy a wonderful product by the bear pharmaceutical company called heroin. It was called bear heroin. And it was good for headaches and all sorts of aches and pains. So the laws were La Zé Fair, caveat emptor. You could buy anything you wanted pretty much without regulation. There were some exceptions in various states and localities, but it was pretty wide open cocaine, heroin, cannabis. They were all widely used substances. This obviously lent itself to problems. There was a product in the late 19th century that was used for teething babies. Now, the way baby was crying, their teeth hurt as they were coming in. Well, they'd rub cocaine on their teeth. So maybe not the best use of a pretty heavy alkaloid. So doctors, public health professionals, pharmacists, started to see the need for some regulation. And we sort of started the late 19th century into the 20th treating drugs. Not as something, I don't know, demonic or terrifying, but like the way we treat a lot of pharmaceutical products today, as a product that needed regulation. So this is right at the beginning of the 20th century, the progressive era, like the 1906 Food and Drug Act, which required labeling, gradients, and other things. But we know that in just another 10 years, pretty much, we're going to get an absolute prohibition on alcohol. How does a laissez faire nation that realizes it needs a little bit of regulation suddenly go into an era prohibition? Yeah, these are never either or things. So alcohol, which was by far the most abused in the United States, going back to the 17th century colonial days, had always been a substance of concern. So there were a lot of piotistic Christians who thought any kind of intoxication, most especially alcohol, was dangerous. It made you irrational, it made you licentious, it made you prone to vice, and hold somewhat true attributes of alcohol use. So all the way back into the earliest days of the United States from the 18th century on, there was concern about alcohol, and there were prohibitionist impulses in the United States, and there'd be people who'd swear temperance, who'd voluntarily say, oh my god, I'll never use this dangerous alcohol substance again. So there's a battle throughout the 19th century about the utility of this very popular intoxication. And I think when a lot of immigrants came to the United States, especially from Eastern and Southern Europe, where alcohol use was even more popular, more common, Italy, Eastern Europe, Greece, Irish folks, this sort of raised the anti on the Protestant propensity toward restraining the use of anything that faith thought would lend itself to vice. So the wave of immigrants gave new impetus to this prohibitionist impulse. And again, it became a kind of civil war. This was by no means a consensus decision, but enough so that after World War I and the kind of moral purity that the war tends to produce, there was a massive successful campaign that lasted about 14 years to ban alcohol substances in the United States. In many ways, a complete failure because people kept drinking. Well, let's talk about that's failure. Obviously, we know that prohibition was repealed, and we know that people did keep drinking. But why was the official prohibition on alcohol repealed? So it was repealed because of politics. I mean, it's just like cannabis in the sense. You had so many people who found this prohibition against something that they thought of as a part of their lives. It's just wrong. And in places like Chicago, Boston, New York City, pretty much almost every big city in the United States, in which there were a lot of immigrant voters. This was extremely unpopular. And because it was so unpopular, police departments almost never made any serious attempt to squash the use of illegal use of alcohol. So speakeasies, you know, just like we sort of imagined it, were commonplace. They were an open secret in big cities. On the other hand, there were places where prohibition was fiercely enforced. So a lot of people did go to jail. The prisons had never been so populated before the 1920s, as I had, and we had a huge increase in number of prisoners during that period of time due to alcohol prohibition. But you know, it just was really hard to maintain this kind of criminal regime against tens of millions of scuffle laws. And it really was starting destroying the moral and political legitimacy of the United States government. One of the spectacular things about the prohibition era is that we enacted a constitutional amendment that fundamentally put thousands of people out of a job. If you worked at a brewery, you were most likely going to be let go. But the same thing actually happened when prohibition was repealed. We grew this black market, this criminal enterprise, to provide our nation with alcohol. And then we made it legal again. What did these criminals do after their jobs were suddenly made redundant? Yeah, I mean, you're totally right. Famously, some people know this story. One of the great prohibitionists was a guy named Lucky Luciano, and one of the guys who's responsible for creating the modern Costa Nostra. And Lucky Luciano was a great smuggler. He worked with Arnold Ross thing. He worked with Meyer Lansky, some of the great big names of organized crime. And these guys already, already by the 1920s as they're importing illegal alcohol, they're also seeing another opportunity. They're literally bringing it in cargo ships. This is not like a couple bottles smuggle over the border. It's tens of thousands of barrels. Well, they tend to have a little extra room sometimes, and they also get in the business of smuggling heroin and cocaine during the same time. So it was it was pretty common for these guys to bring in cargo ships with both contraband of alcohol and hard drugs. Well, when alcohol becomes legal again, they escalate the drug trade. They start to throw all these resources. All this can do knowledge that they've developed, all these connections. They've got all over the world. And Lucky Luciano in particular becomes the number one heroin importer into the United States. And organized crime really takes over the hard drug business at that point. And part is a money substitute. And yeah, yeah, it really works well. They make a fortune. So in the 30s and 40s, America's relationship with hard drugs probably changes as the supply is being changed too. Yeah, there's an escalation, especially a heroin in particular cocaine has some use. But there's a kind of another irony here, which is that methamphetamines or speed is again a kind of gray market drug during this time. It's sort of legal and sort of not legal. Like you could still buy it at a pharmacy. It was supposed to help, you know, with various ailments. So cocaine doesn't quite explode the same way because you can buy this other stuff. But heroin like I mean, talk about a great market model, right? People become addicted to it. You create your own increasing clientele. So that's where a lot of the emphasis goes. And it's particularly becomes particularly lucrative in America's big cities. This is a time again, like all these different things are coming together at the same time. It's during the 1940s and particular that you get massive new waves of immigrants into big cities. They tend to be black southerners who move into these big cities. Finally have some job opportunities because of World War 2. They work in defense plants and other things. They become the target for this new intoxicant. And heroin's kind of pushed hard in black segregated communities. And again, just takes office a business. So then we march forward to where we began in the early 70s. Heroin is a scourge and growing and people are growing afraid. There's a countrywide panic. And then in 1970, Congress passes the Control Substances Act. What is that law and how did it change the war on drugs? Or define the war on drugs? Yeah. So starting really during the Cold War, there's a new emphasis on international trade on trying to establish kind of ground rules for what will become the free trade block basically Europe and the United States and other other countries we can pull into that. And one of the things that becomes quickly apparent is there's a lot of illegal smuggling going on in this new trade regime. And illegal drugs are a big part of that. So in 1961, there's a real attempt to create a kind of set of ubiquitous rules to govern how illegal drugs should be treated. In 1961, there's a massive treaty signed by the United States, really pushed by the United States to start creating a series of laws to prohibit the smuggling in particular of heroin but other illegal drugs too. And it's really in 1970 that the United States Congress kind of gets on board and passes a law to really enforce this 1961 trade act that had taken place. And again, it's really kind of fascinating how Americans are still ambivalent about this stuff. In 1970, it is true that marijuana, heroin, opiates and a few other substances are treated as as demonic drugs. They're called schedule one drugs. They have no legal use whatsoever. And that's done in the 1970 control substance act. But other drugs are more ambivalently treated. So, valium and these other new prescription drugs that are easily abused. They're treated as as like schedule four drugs. A kind of white market drug that can be regulated that doctors and pharmacists can kind of control schedule one drugs heroin. That's going to be done by the police. That's law enforcement stuff. We've mentioned a few times the massive increase in incarceration during this period as a direct result of the war on drugs. But I'm wondering if we can put a number to it. What does a massive increase in incarceration look like? So I think right now, and the math is, again, there's arguments about this, but probably about 250,000 Americans are in state prisons or the federal prisons right now for drug charges of one kind or another. That's actually down some in the last 10 years. So the height of this was probably things about 10 years ago. But what's remarkable is that even in the 1970s, there were thousands of people in prison, not hundreds of thousands, but thousands for drug charges. In the city of Chicago, for example, even in the early 1980s, usually when Chicago police officers caught someone selling drugs, certainly possessing drugs, they might throw them jail, the local jail for a night or two, but almost no one went to state prison. Almost no one got sentences of a year, let alone 5, 10, or 20 years. So it really starts to change in the 1980s, where this is zero tolerance in some ways for drugs, and the decision was made to use punishment, to use incarceration. Those would be the tools by which we would end this war, by which we'd win this war, and the numbers just explode. In our discussion on the war on drugs, we've talked a fair bit about the victims of the war, the casualties. But who were the victims? Is there anyone still fighting the fight or who have incentive to do so? Yeah, there's definitely some special interests that have high regard for the war on drugs. I mean, some of it's a little bit embarrassing, almost prison guards, people who build prisons, private contractors who build prisons, the private prisons that exist in the United States. And again, it's worth remembering, drug criminals are only a relatively small percentage, especially in state penitentiaries and jails. But you know, it's money, it's money in the bank. Federal government, it's about 40% of all people in prison, federal penitentiaries are drug criminals. So there's still money to be made on this. I think luckily there's other financial interests that are starting to change their tune, the pharmaceutical industry, the rehabilitation industry. They're all people arguing for some real fundamental changes. So the financial interests, aren't what they once were. But I think a lot of parents are scared. I think a lot of politicians are still scared of the repercussions of embracing a real sea change in their positions. The battle over the war on drugs is not done. Well, it's been more than 50 years since Nixon announced this war on drugs. You've argued that the war has been lost. But have our leaders in government recognized that? Has there been significant change or any attempt to address a different way to wage the war? Yeah, I think one is to lose that metaphor. War is probably not the best way to think about how you treat your fellow citizens who've maybe fallen prey to addiction. There's got to be a public health solution to it. And I do think we're going through a sea change. As I say, I think this is a real inflection point. No one exemplifies that change better than our president, Joe Biden. Joe Biden is in 1980s. I mean, man, he was a general in the war on drugs. I mean, there's a famous speech he gives in Congress to push forward some of the fiercest punishing regimes we've ever seen in this country. He says, he doesn't want to fight the war like it's Vietnam. The enemy is amorphous and we don't put everything we have. This should be like D day. We need to throw everything we've got at it. We've got to shoot these enemies down. But when he ran for president, he said, I was wrong. What we did was a terrible mistake. And he's gone so far as to say, and there's been no laws to follow up on this, but he's gone so far as to say, no one should go to jail or prison or the penitentiary for possessing drugs. He's been hedging about what you do about drug traffickers. But that is a sea change. And again, when Richard Nixon announces war on drugs, 84% of Americans said anyone caught with even a few crumbs of marijuana should serve time in prison. Today, the numbers are almost exactly reversed. More than 80% of Americans say people should not go to jail or prison or the penitentiary for possession of drugs. They mean all drugs. So we really have seen a sea change. We still don't know, I think legislatively, how to make that change happen. It's happening with cannabis. There's a kind of exceptional quality to cannabis. But we're still figuring it out. But I think heads have changed. Right now at this moment, we've hinted at it being a sea change. Certainly, there's a discussion about cannabis. And we've seen it become decriminalized at the very least in several places. We've are still suffering a tremendous opioid crisis. There's been changes of political opinion too that follow a more popular shift in their opinion of drug use. So moving forward, if we look at the next 10 years of the war on drugs, if it exists, what do you envision? I think the opioid epidemic is another of these massive factors that helps us to reenvision probably what we can and should do about people who fall prey to drug addiction and drug abuse. Overwhelmingly, we've taken a public health approach to opioid addiction. Now we do put people in prison. But in general, we're trying to figure out a regulatory regime and a rehabilitation regime for those people. And I think that's probably the direction we as a society want to go. Again, I want to underline. I mean, there are drugs that are dangerous. Becoming a heroin addict is not a happy way of life. Falling prey to fentanyl and overdosing on it. Right? I mean, we don't 100,000 Americans are dying at this. This is serious stuff. We don't want to just say yes to drugs. But we do probably have it within us to move from a carceral punitive approach to a public health rehabilitative approach to how we handle. Again, people's ubiquitous desire practically to get intoxicated. It seems to be a part of the human condition. And to pretend it doesn't exist has not done us in good stead. Well, David Farber, thank you so much for speaking with me today on American scandal. Thank you. That was my conversation with David Farber, a historian at the University of Kansas whose books include The War on Drugs, A History, and Crack, Rock cocaine, street capitalism, and The Decade of Creed. From wondering, this is episode four of Frog in a Drug Lab from American Scandal. In our next series, by the 2010s, SAC Capital had grown into one of the most powerful hedge funds on the Wall Street, but accusations of insider trading led FBI agents to begin a sweeping investigation, working to flip sources, and setting the stage for a high stakes prosecution. 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