Essay date: July 14, 2023

The American Gestapo

Law enforcement in the age of the drug war

Law enforcement in the age of the drug war

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.

Alcohol is a drug in liquid form. If drug warriors want to punish people who use drugs, they should start punishing themselves.
Next essay: Canadian Drug Warrior, I said Get Away
Previous essay: Open Letter to Margo Margaritoff

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old time radio playing Drug War comedy sketches

You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.

A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.

The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.

It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)

If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.

Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)

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