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The American Gestapo

Law enforcement in the age of the drug war

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

July 14, 2023

hen I was a kid in the '70s, local police departments in America were literally up in arms about the pop hit "I Shot the Sheriff," Eric Clapton's chart-climbing rendition of the Bob Marley song. Many radio stations in my area refused to play the song under the influence of implicit and explicit pressure from local police. I didn't think much of it at the time, one way or the other. Not only was I not a Clapton head, but I was too busy with mundane concerns at the time (like covering rent) to stop and think about the sociopolitical aspects of the brouhaha. To me, it was just a song. Sure, its first four words were shocking the first four times I heard them, but after hundreds of additional playbacks, Eric Clapton could have been shooting penguins for all I cared. Whatever.

Forty-five years later, of course, it's perfectly clear to me why someone (especially a pot-smoking Jamaican) might write such a protest song. For in the age of the Drug War, the police are not simply the police, they are the Gestapo. They are not just enforcing laws, they are enforcing what Heidegger would call "a way of being in the world," one in which Mother Nature's psychoactive medicines are assumed to be bad and in which the content of one's mind is limited, not to what the government wants us to think (which would have been bad enough), but even worse, to HOW and HOW MUCH the government wants us to think.

Today, law-and-order conservatives moan about the lack of respect for police and raise blue-line flags over their generally expensive houses, but you can bet those flags would be lowered in double-time if the police were enforcing a ban on liquor. Let the police start busting down doors in the name of liquor prohibition and the flag-flying good-old boys would be just as anti-cop as a Berkeley hippie during the Vietnam War.

This is why the cops are the Gestapo in the age of the Drug War. In any encounter with the public (aside from those with the rich and upper-middle-class) the subject of "drugs" is always a subtext, the gorilla in the room. The cops may have come by your place to investigate some shouting, but everyone knows that at some level, they are on the qui vive for "drugs." In the age of the Drug War, in fact, cops are simply obsessed with drugs. Just watch an episode of COPS, in which an officer has pulled over a young driver for speeding. The officer's focus on drugs is so white-hot that it's almost comical: "Hey, you got any drugs in there? No? You been doing drugs? No? You sure? Do you mind if I look in your car? No? Why? Do you have drugs in there? Have your friends been doing drugs? No? Are you sure? How about your trunk? Got any drugs in your trunk? No? Are you sure?"

It's hard not to think of the German Gestapo when you're on the receiving end of such a grilling. And I speak from experience. When I flew into Montreal 30 years ago, a male traveler on my own, I was pulled aside by dour-looking customs agents and placed behind a desk where I was eyeballed for a full hour of almost complete silence on their part, apparently under the theory that I would become nervous and betray the supposed fact that I was smuggling drugs. I'm sure they were disappointed when they finally realized they had pulled over a hayseed Francophile who just wanted to improve his French-language skills during a weekend in Quebec City with his drug-free brother-in-law and sister. Fortunately for them (or more probably for myself) I was not a very politically aware creature at the time. I have always felt that the Drug War was nonsense, but I had yet to realize the degree to which it was a cancer on the body politic, as antithetical to democratic freedoms in general as it was to my own personal ability to achieve self-transcendence in this life. (I had yet to read "The Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James, in which the 19th-century philosopher told us that the proper study of ultimate reality required the use of precisely the kinds of substances that the Drug War had outlawed.)

I feel no compunction to respect the busybody Customs Police in Montreal, just as I would feel no obligation to respect American police if they were to badger me about "drugs."

Law-and-order conservatives must decide what they want: they can have respect for law enforcement and they can have substance prohibition: but they can never have both.

For more evidence that this is so, let's consider some of the REAL reasons why folks use drugs (as opposed to the stereotypical hedonistic reasons that are constantly portrayed on episodes of both fiction and non-fiction television in America, from CSI to 48 Hours). Then let's consider how we currently respond to such uses in America.

1) Actors use drugs to combat stage fright. Law enforcement response: knock them to the ground, handcuff their hands behind their back, and then throw them in jail for 10 to 20 years.
2) Cancer patients use drugs to overcome pain. Law enforcement response: knock them to the ground, handcuff their hands behind their back, and then throw them in jail for 10 to 20 years.
3) Philosophers use drugs to follow up on the research of William James about ultimate reality. Law enforcement response: knock them to the ground, handcuff their hands behind their back, and then throw them in jail for 10 to 20 years.
4) Theologians use drugs to experience the insights that inspired the Hindu religion. Law enforcement response: knock them to the ground, handcuff their hands behind their back, and then throw them in jail for 10 to 20 years.

These law enforcement responses are cruel non-sequiturs. If the cops started arresting people for taking too many aspirin, or too few, there would be an uproar of people shouting: "Cops have no expertise in healthcare!" Likewise, when the cops arrest people for attempting to obtain self-transcendence in this life, we should be shouting: "Cops have no expertise in matters of psychology, philosophy and theology!"

And yet I'm told that I must respect and honor the police officers who carry out these hideous anti-American assaults against my autonomy as an adult human being.

Ronald Reagan may have "shat" upon natural law in 1987 when he had the DEA confiscate Thomas Jefferson's poppy plants in violation of the natural law upon which Jefferson founded America; yet natural law remains the very foundation of our republic. As long as that is so, government has no right to mother nature's plants and fungi. None at all. Mother Nature's bounty belongs to individuals, not to government. And I refuse to respect any officer who is charged with the task of denying me my right to the godsends that grow all around me.

Individual cops may be wonderful and kind and thoughtful. I realize that. But as long as the police as an institution continue to run interference between myself and my ability to achieve self-transcendence here-below, I can quite justifiably label them collectively as "the American Gestapo."

Author's Follow-up: July 14, 2023

To expand this metaphor that approaches similitude, the DEA can be seen as the SS Stormtroopers.

Next essay: Canadian Drug Warrior, I said Get Away
Previous essay: Open Letter to Margo Margaritoff

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Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

Prohibitionists are also responsible for the 100,000-plus killed in the US-inspired Mexican drug war
Drug warriors do not seem to see any irony in the fact that their outlawing of opium eventually resulted in an "opioid crisis." The message is clear: people want transcendence. If we don't let them find it safely, they will find it dangerously.
Q: Where can you find almost-verbatim copies of the descriptions of religious experiences described by William James? A: In descriptions of user reports of "trips" on drugs ranging from coca to opium, from MDMA to laughing gas.
Today's war against drug users is like Elizabeth I's war against Catholics. Both are religious crackdowns. For today's oppressors, the true faith (i.e., the moral way to live) is according to the drug-hating religion of Christian Science.
When folks die in horse-related accidents, we need to be asking: who sold the victim the horse? We've got to crack down on folks who peddle this junk -- and ban books like Black Beauty that glamorize horse use.
More materialist nonsense. "We" are the only reason that the universe exists as a universe rather than as inchoate particles.
Prohibitionists have the same M O they've had for the last 100+ years: blame drugs for everything. Being a drug warrior is never having the decency to say you're sorry -- not to Mexicans, not to inner-city crime victims, not to patients who go without adequate pain relief...
NEW TERM FOR LOGIC CLASSES: "The Oprah Winfrey Fallacy," which is the idea that a statistically insignificant number of cases constitutes a crisis, provided ONLY that the villain of the piece is something that racist politicians have demonized as a "drug."
The Drug War is the most important evil to protest, precisely because almost everybody is afraid to do so. That's a clear sign that it is a cancer on the body politic.
Someday, the First Lady or Man will tell kids to "just say no to prohibition." Kids who refuse will be required to watch hours' worth of films depicting gun violence, banned religions, civil wars, and adults committing suicide for want of medicine that grows at their very feet.
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You have been reading an article entitled, The American Gestapo: Law enforcement in the age of the drug war, published on July 14, 2023 on For more information about America's disgraceful drug war, which is anti-patient, anti-minority, anti-scientific, anti-mother nature, imperialistic, the establishment of the Christian Science religion, a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded, and a childish and counterproductive way of looking at the world, one which causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, visit the drug war philosopher, at (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)