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‘Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did’.

In Queensland the political class is currently planning to double down on Richard Nixon’s ‘war on drugs’. The Queensland State Parliament has decided to change the penalties attaching to the use of cannabis to make them the same as the penalties that apply to the use of heroin and other illegal narcotics. So while all around the world most politicians are doing their best to try and repair some of the damage caused by seventy years of drug war madness – in Queensland they are opting for more madness.

It makes you wonder if Queensland politicians can forever remain impervious to facts and common-sense? Don’t these politicians understand that they are simply doubling down on a lie? Can’t they see that their actions make them look like sad relics from the past? Don’t they understand that they are simply perpetuating lies that were originally promulgated by some of the most evil individuals of the 20th century?

Twenty-two years ago a reporter tracked down John Erlichman, Richard Nixon’s Chief Domestic Policy Advisor, to ask him about the ‘Drug War’. He was asked what it was that had prompted President Nixon to launch his all-out crusade against cannabis and other drugs. Was it because the President was convinced that these drugs were dangerous? Erlichman’s honesty was refreshing.

Having been convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury and other charges resulting from the Watergate scandal, Erlichman had served eighteen months of a four year sentence before settling back into well deserved obscurity. So by the time he was finally tracked down by (Harpers Magazine) journalist Dan Baum, in 1994, he no longer had any reason to lie. There was no legacy to defend and there were no political cronies left to protect. So for the first time one of the architects of the ‘war on drugs’ was happy to tell the truth about their motivations.

‘The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that’ Erlichman explained, ‘had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did’.

These shocking admissions should have led to the dismantling of the whole drug war edifice immediately. But Erlichman and his cronies had created a monster. By the time these admissions were made the ‘war on drugs’ had already become a worldwide self-perpetuating militaristic phenomena. By this stage a host of right wing and populist politicians across the world had so embraced the drug war they were utterly committed to its survival; regardless of any nasty ‘facts’.

And still now, some twenty-two years after Erlichman’s admissions, the right wing continue to clutch the ‘big lie’ that cannabis is a dangerous drug tightly to their chest. It has become a right-wing article of faith. So unlike virtually every other public issue, when it comes to cannabis law reform, science or medicine simply does not matter. Our drug laws were originally (and continue to be) based on moral rather than on medical considerations, so medical and scientific proof is entirely beside the point. When it comes to cannabis; facts do not matter.

This has always been the case. Ever since the birth of the ‘drug war’ and up to the present facts and evidence have been beside the point. After all, any moderately well-informed doctor will happily inform anyone that asks that it is simply impossible to die from using cannabis. Or even injure yourself in any lasting manner. They will also likely point out that in clinical terms aspirin, sugar, paracetamol, and water are all far more dangerous than cannabis. But this also has always been the case. The facts haven’t changed. This is just a demonstration that the case for the ‘drug war’ is not based on facts. It never has been.

The longer you consider the phenomena that is the ‘drug war’, the more it becomes apparent that Erlichman was simply telling the unvarnished truth. His admission explains why it just does not seem to matter what science, medicine, or reality might have to say about cannabis: the bottom line argument for the anti-cannabis campaign, and our politicians, has always been that cannabis has to remain illegal because it is ‘evil’. The medical, scientific, and social facts regarding cannabis therefore have no bearing on any decision to make it illegal or to keep it illegal. Cannabis has to remain illegal, according to the drug war warriors, because the people who use it are ‘bad’ people. It is illegal because we have to stop ‘badness’ from spreading.

These same drug war warriors will also likely tell you that even if it is demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that cannabis is totally harmless, it still has to remain illegal because making it legal will send the ‘wrong message’ to society.’ Also, blah, morality, blah, think of the kiddies, blah, evil drugs, blah, God, blah, Church, blah, blah, blah.

This decision by the Queensland Parliament to further criminalise cannabis simply demonstrates how detached from reality the politicians in Queensland are. It is apparent that they simply do not think that ‘facts’ matter. That there are no derelict cannabis users living in shelters in our capital cities or filling our hospitals does not mater. That people are not dying or being hurt by cannabis does not matter. That cannabis users are not holding up service stations or beating up their partners, or going blind, or committing crimes to support their habit, does not matter. That the most dangerous thing about cannabis is the chance that you might get arrested, does not matter.

Once again the politicians of Queensland demonstrate that they are not fit to run a chook raffle. So after doubling down on the drug war what’s next? How about reintroducing witch-trials to protect us from sorcerers? Or laws to protect us from alien abductions? Or why not declare a holiday from gravity once a fortnight? After all every one of these propositions makes at least as much sense as outlawing cannabis so as to protect the health of the citizenry.

Also by James Moylan:

The Emperor fiddles while Rome burns

The ongoing News Limited ‘reality show’

Why we need to be intolerant of climate science fools

Campaign coping strategies

Yes, we do need to talk about the spurious nonsense being taught to children in our schools

Election 2016: Media Groundhog Day


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  1. Johnathan123

    Funny thing drug laws, funny too that if your parents ever went to a marriage guidance Councillor and was prescribed medication, your parents have been on ecstasy.

  2. Stove-pipe


  3. paul walter

    This is one of the most astonishing pieces I’ve read.

    This not least because there has been (as usual these days) no substantial reporting on it.

    How is it, that dumb things often seem to come out of Qld?

    Lest folk think I am advocating for marijuana, forget feelings about it are ambivalent because it is an ambivalent drug, something that can be a blessing or curse depending on how things go.

    There can be consequences stemming from over use, lets not deny it. Some do less well than others. It belongs in a basket of little vices; potentially troublesome pastimes like pokies and food addiction, over exercising, cigs and other guilty pleasures, even down to being a choc or caffeine addict: all end up sharing the attribute of being ultimately able to trigger the cycle that goes with (over) stimulated brain receptors. Unforseen consequences may follow for various reasons for some who find its company too seductive, but it is not addictive or damaging in the profound sense that Heroin, Ice and the worst of Alcoholism can be, although it can be corrosive.

    Having got that out of the way, I’ll say that, in the wake of Daniel Andrews decision and decisions like it elsewhere, the soc cons in Qld have again demonstrated that provincial “controlly” aspect of their natures and a political tin ear, that seems natural for that place: I think of the Reef and bush clearing, fudging of the Doomadgee Mulrunji case and that dreadful antic some years ago where a young couple were imprisoned for importing RU 486, where social conservatives from both parties combined to thwart Anna Bligh trying to change the law and set these young folk free.

    I could manage a middling thwack round the ears with a rolled up newspaper for Annastacia what’s her name.. a federal election is due and the last thing Labor needs to be associated with is more over-reaction on’s not the nineteen sixties.

  4. Backyard Bob

    The Queensland State Parliament has decided to change the penalties attaching to the use of cannabis to make them the same as the penalties that apply to the use of heroin and other illegal narcotics

    Any chance of a citation for the purposes of, you know, “journalism”?

  5. Wally

    We always read “Only in America” but the saying could equally be applied to Queensland.

    When fighting an ice epidemic making it harder for cannabis users is not a smart thing and the strictness of our drinking laws is also questionable. Politicians need to realise that by classifying soft drugs the same as heavy drugs they take away any natural tendency of people to restrain from going too far. Kids will get straight into ice if the penalties are the same as smoking a joint.

    The majority of users mix cannabis with tobacco so I cannot agree that cannabis does not have health issues and there is also those who become schizophrenic from cannabis use. I have a relative who this happened to when she first used cannabis in her 40’s.

    “between 8% and 13% of people that have schizophrenia today would never have developed the illness without exposure to cannabis”

    The risks of health problems from cannabis use are much lower than most other drugs.

  6. Miriam English

    I’m with Backyard Bob. I can’t find anything on the net about this. Where did you hear about it?

    If it is true then I blame the goddamn puritans.
    Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

    (Note: I use absolutely no drugs, not alcohol, not caffeine, not opiates, not cannabis, not any of the speeds or tranquilisers. But I don’t avoid them because they are against the law. On the subject of drugs, the law is stupid, and not respectable. I avoid drugs simply because they waste time in the only life I have to live. They would lessen my capacity to learn and explore knowledge.)

  7. Miriam English

    Wally, I’ve often read assertions that schizophrenia can be brought on by cannabis, but have always found the evidence to be sorely lacking. It always seems to be anecdotal or guilt by association.

    I’ve had a number schizophrenic friends. When visiting them in asylums I was always struck by the fact that almost all the inmates are hooked on tobacco. Does this association mean tobacco has some causal relationship with schizophrenia? No.

    Among my schizophrenic friends, some smoked cannabis and some did not. The ones who did never seemed particularly adversely affected by it.

    On the other hand, one drug which definitely causes debilitating mental illness is alcohol. I’ve seen many people become spectacularly screwed up from alcohol, both from its over-use, and from its sudden cessation. Alcohol is one of the few drugs whose withdrawal can kill you if you are using fairly heavily, regularly. If you use it regularly but less heavily, then stopping suddenly can cause psychotic breaks, with paranoia, anxiety, and so on. Because people think alcohol is a “normal” drug (many don’t even consider it a drug) they don’t realise how badly it is messing with them.

    One last thing, while I’m on the subject of withdrawal. Many people are fond of saying marihuana has no withdrawal effect because it is not addictive. This is not true. People who habitually use cannabis become irritable and impatient and prone to driving too fast when withdrawing. The effect is not as noticeable as with other drugs, but is definitely real.

  8. Miriam English

    Thanks, You can’t be serious?, unfortunately it is behind a paywall.

  9. Wally

    Miriam English

    I am not a medical person but the relative I mention was a drinker and smoker most of her life with no mental issues until she smoked pot and immediately became a schizophrenic. She is often admitted to Dax House for not taking her medication and has been off with the pixies for 15 – 20 years. Many of her siblings have been regular cannabis users and never suffered any ill effects, the only reason offered by the family is that she was born very premature.

  10. RosemaryJ36

    My research threw up an article dated 15/04/16 stating that medicinal cannabis would be made available so I do not know where the other info has come from but I would not trust it.

  11. paul walter

    Ycbs?, being Murder-doch, the link just ends a blind alley, but you have the link there and it is fair enough confirmation for a conversation like this.

    Personally, if cannabis brings about mental turmoil, the Qld government must be heavy users (along with the Turnbull government and the entire Murdoch press ).

  12. DC

    Great Article. I never new Nixon had such a plan but can see how subequent governments around the world would have turned it into a frankenstein trying to win conservative votes.
    After smoking pot habitually on and off, then on an unrelated matter of a small bit of eczema becoming addicted to stronger and stronger prescription topical corticosteroids from a Dermatologist for seven years as it got worse and spread to mostof my body, and then subsequently stopping cold turkey and suffering a seventeen month long topical steroid withdrawal which actually cured my so called incurable skin condition in less than 5 months but gave me more withdrawal symptoms than I can count on two hands which continue to this day, I can now laugh at the idea of ‘canabis withdrawal’. Yes it exists but its absolutely nothing. Two or three days of insomnia is nothing compared to a real withdrawal

  13. darrel nay

    Nixon’s drug war was actually laid out by the United Nations years before Nixon came on the scene. Nixon simply implemented the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs agenda.


  14. darrel nay

    Schizophrenia is best treated if diagnosed early. Marijuana can be used to make latent schizophrenia symptoms apparent so that early treatment can commence.

    Separately, it’s laughable that all the ‘scientific’ studies into the effects of tobacco and marijuana fail to test organic products eg. all the studies claiming tobacco is unhealthy are carried out using ‘big tobacco’ products which are drenched with hundreds of pesticides, fungicides, etc.


  15. Miriam English

    darrel nay, until Harry Ainslinger (worried that he would lose his job as second in command in charge of prohibition) made up a bunch of fake murders supposedly fuelled by marihuana, it was completely legal and didn’t even look like being criminalised. The lying bastard used racism to pitch the idiot puritans in USA into a mad, racist, drug-fearing frenzy by saying scary, murderous, marihuana-addicted Mexicans were the baddies. It took no time to get draconian laws enacted, even as USA was recovering from the terrible mistake of the alcohol prohibition, and good ol’ Harry was assured of a job for as long as he wanted it.

    Goodness knows how many lives have been destroyed because Harry Ainslinger lied. I think most of the (2 million?) people imprisoned in USA’s corporate-run prisons are there for simple marihuana possession.

  16. Mercurial

    Queensland, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia… on the subject of illicit drugs, there is no odd one out.

  17. Mercurial

    Miriam English, do you use drugs when a doctor prescribes them? Yes?

    Then you use drugs.

  18. Mercurial

    …and lest you misunderstand me, Miriam, I suffer from chronic pain. I live on paracetamol, which was described as ‘the gold standard’ in pain relief by my GP. It doesn’t work very well when I am trying to sleep however.

    I have smoked cannabis for several years, simply in an attempt to get a good night’s sleep. Sure, I have to watch my intake doesn’t increase (like most medications, you need more and more to get the same effect) but I don’t distinguish between ‘drugs’ and ‘medicine’. Diazepam (Valium) has a similar effect, in that it will help you sleep, but if you keep taking the same dose, its efficacy decreases. It is no more ‘addictive’ in that sense than cannabis. The division of drugs into ‘good’ (therapeutic) and ‘bad’ (recreational) is a false dichotomy. They are all on the continuum.

    If people accepted this, research into the beneficial effects of cannabis might be acceptable too. It’s just ‘another drug’. Imagine if my cannabis usage was done under medical supervision, with all the knowledge that medical research could provide to support me! I wouldn’t have to use trial and error, trying to find the answer to my pain. I wouldn’t have to navigate my drug use alone.

    I’m grateful I don’t live in Queensland.

  19. Mercurial

    The frenzy in the US about prohibition wasn’t all about identifying targets for right wing rage. Hemp (the cannabis plant) was a serious competitor to US-grown cotton in the manufacture of clothing, and therefore had to be stamped out. This led to the label ‘marijuana’. This was an exotic Spanish-sounding word, and instantly connected in feeble minds to Mexicans, criminals and drug addicts, which was very useful for the government of the day. It stuck, which is why I refuse to use the word today. It was called cannabis (the drug) or (Indian) hemp (the plant) prior to this (because it was grown widely in India), and those are the names I prefer. See “Reefer Madness” and ‘Marihuana: the Devil’s Weed’, two hilarious propaganda movies of the 30s.

    Hemp clothing is a bit of a novelty today, but if the US government had considered hemp as an alternative to cotton, its use in clothing would be much more widespread. Of course, the US cotton industry was way too strong. US government imperatives caused the death of the hemp industry in India.

    It’s a not dissimilar story with sugar in the US. US corn producers have screwed the soft drinks market by convincing the government to subsidise high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to the extent that it is the only sweetener used in almost all soft drinks. This despite being more expensive. Tariffs for the importation of sucrose into the US have taken care of the cost. The USA is the only major country in the world that has been conducting this massive social experiment in HFCS substitution. We are yet to see the results.

  20. John

    In my experience the creation of strong hydroponic strains since pot became criminalised is clear. IMO this is the likely cause of the alleged rise in schizophrenia.

  21. Miriam English

    Mercurial, I agree with almost everything you say.

    I think I didn’t make myself clear. I don’t use drugs in any kind of regular fashion. Many months pass without me taking so much as an aspirin, which is about the only drug I’ll touch under normal circumstances, but I don’t have a problem with taking antibiotics if I absolutely must (as I did after I was hospitalised a couple of years ago with a mysterious fever), or taking a bronchial dilator as I did while waiting for antibiotics to end a bout of pneumonia that would have otherwise killed me nearly a decade ago.

    I don’t really have anything against other people taking drugs medicinally or recreationally. I think it is generally stupid and unnecessary, but I wouldn’t do more than suggest it is wise to avoid drugs where possible. Laws against drugs are an unbelievably bad idea. It is like using high explosive to open a peanut. Sure, it opens the peanut, but blows the damn thing to vapor so you don’t get to eat it, which was supposedly the original purpose. Making laws against drugs attempts to stop people causing themselves minimal harm by instead using the legal system to ruin their lives. What a great idea!

    Many decades ago when I was younger and more stupid I used to smoke marihuana, use heroin, hallucinogens, speed… you name it. I never liked tranquillisers or alcohol, but most other drugs I tried. After some years I realised that it was a gigantic waste of time. I don’t hate drugs (well, I come close to hating alcohol — an old girlfriend died from it, and a family member is going crazy from it), but I think they are a waste of time, effort, and brainpower. And proposing laws against them is a waste of police and a waste of the lives they destroy through imprisonment and criminal records.

    Just one thing I don’t agree with you on: tranquillisers (diazepams and their analogues) are in a complete class of their own as to addictiveness. They are light-years beyond cannabis. As you say, a couple of days of mild unease and irritablity and slight insomnia is all you have to worry about with withdrawal from cannabis. It is barely even noticeable, which is why so many people dispute it. However, valium and similar tranquillisers are highly addictive and take many months filled with high anxiety to rid yourself of them. I consider them exceedingly dangerous. Heroin only takes a few days for the withdrawal to pass. You sleep off the withdrawal from speed. When it comes to drugs, the law’s system of classification is utter nonsense, and its system of punishments even worse.

  22. paul walter

    That’s the way Miriam: in the end , “hit ’em low, hit ’em hard”.

  23. silkworm

    “People who habitually use cannabis become irritable and impatient and prone to driving too fast when withdrawing.”


  24. silkworm

    “Schizophrenia is best treated if diagnosed early. Marijuana can be used to make latent schizophrenia symptoms apparent so that early treatment can commence.” This is correct, but is only true for THC-dominant strains, which over-stimulates the nervous system. On the other hand, a CBD-dominant strain will have the effect of pacifying the nervous system and thus has the potential of curing schizophrenia. It is this ameliorative effect that schizophrenics seek out in cannabis, though they seldom get the strain they need with the proper balance of THC and CBD. Thus it is vital for the mental health of our nation that cannabis be totally decriminalized so that proper scientific and medical research into cannabis strains and delivery systems can progress and results collected.

  25. Miriam English

    silkworm, you angrily, dismissively wrote “Bullshit.”
    You strengthen my case. 🙂

  26. Miriam English

    silkworm… care to give any references for the stuff about schizophrenia and different strains of cannabis?

    I doubt cannabis has any effect on schizophrenia at all, positive or negative. I’ve never been convinced by stuff I read that claims any effect. It is always anecdotal or uses association. If there was a genuine causative it should be reasonably straightforward to test for. Unfortunately imbecilic anti-drug laws make that difficult.

    Most schizophrenia presents during late teens, which is exactly when the kid is experimenting with various things. This makes it very easy to mistake association with causation.

    During the teens for all people there is a deliberate “culling” of a lot of the connections in the brain. As far as I know, nobody understands the reason for this, though some have suggested that it is to do with ending the brain’s initial fast learning phase. This pruning seems to be more severe in kids who develop schizophrenia, going far beyond what “should” be. Scans of older people with schizophrenia show their brains apparently continue to lose significant mass. As far as I know, nobody understands why this should be either. The thing is, the cannabinoids in cannabis don’t appear to have any nerve toxicity (in fact they work by mimicking your brain’s own cannabinoids), so it is very difficult to believe it has any part to play in this.

    All this is complicated by the fact that schizophrenia is a vague class, encompassing what may be many kinds of illness. Historically it was a “left-over” classification — anything that didn’t fit the others got called schizophrenia. Things are a little more clearly defined now, but it still seems to bundle together a number of distinct illnesses. Unfortunately understanding is still pretty primitive. However this is the age of brain research. More has been learned about the brain in the last few decades than in the previous thousands of years. And knowledge on the brain is accelerating. I expect that barring any major catastrophe we will come to understand what schizophrenia really is in the next few decades.

    We live in very exciting times.

  27. Miriam English

    Very interesting article. Thank you silkworm, for the link. Very encouraging that cannabidiol may have antipsychotic uses. Wonderful news, considering schizophrenia takes up more hospital beds than any other mental illness and the tragic way it strikes young, talented, promising kids.

    We really need to find out why it happens and prevent it, but in the meantime it would be wonderful if this was a less disabling alternative to existing antipsychotics such as chlorpromazine which has been the standard since the 1950s!

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