The Black Market In America

Edwin M. Schur

Frequently various non-opiate drugs are mentioned in connection with the problem of narcotic addiction. Some of these drugs are stimulants, the effects of which are, very roughly, opposite to those produced by opiates ... Of the non-opiates, marihuana is probably most often closely associated, by the general public, with addiction ... Marihuana' does not appear to produce tolerance and physical dependence, and hence it should not be considered a truly addictive drug. There seems little justification for the term 'marihuana addiction' which one sometimes encounters. Although popular reports often suggest that marihuana use leads to sexual orgies and violent crime, very likely the drug's dangers have been greatly exaggerated. A careful study in New York in 1944, for example, concluded that publicity about marihuana's catastrophic effects was largely unfounded.

A final point about marihuana is of considerable importance for our understanding of the addiction problem. One often hears that the use of marihuana is the first step on the road to opiate addiction. This may well be true in certain cases. But when it does happen, such progression is due to particular social aspects of the use of marihuana. In America today marihuana purchasers are especially likely to encounter opiate peddlers, and the marihuana-using group may develop attitudes favorable to opiate use. It should be stressed that there is no necessary relation—in pharmacological or physiological terms—between the two types of drugs ...

Why do our present drug laws and enforcement policies continue to receive support, even though they are patently ineffective and are considered by many to be inhumane? From a sociological standpoint, this cannot be explained fully by reference to the belief that eventually these laws will work. When ineffective laws persist, there is a strong likelihood that they are bound up with other social values and institutions ... Sometimes a law is so glaringly ineffective that simple common sense seems to dictate a change. American addiction laws appear to fall into this category. One legal writer has noted that failure to control addiction may in part relate to lack of adequate technical knowledge of that condition. But he goes on to state, 'it requires more than a reference to scientific ignorance to justify the absurdity of current efforts to control the narcotics traffic in the United States.' Without doubt American thinking in this area continues to be based partly on the misconceptions Lindesmith aptly labeled 'the "dope fiend" mythology": '... a body of superstition, half-truths and misinformation ... bolsters up an indefensible repressive law, the victims of which are in no position to protest.'

... We have already noted that the 'market' in the United States is such that distribution of illicit drugs brings exceedingly high profits ... Not only has organized, crime in America been extremely profitable, but we know that at some times it has maintained at least indirect connections with legitimate businesses and political machines ... Especially relevant to our analysis of the narcotics situation is Linde-smith's remark that the underworld is implicit in our 'legal' organization. We have seen how American drug policies—by depriving addicts of access to legitimate supplies—set the stage for the growth of a 'big business' in illegal narcotics. Even Commissioner Anslinger has had to admit that effective curbing of medical drug supplies helps make profiteering worthwhile ... One legal expert even maintains that 'It is precisely our enforcement efforts, and nothing else, that... keep the traffic flowing.' It is difficult to see how a black market in drugs could maintain anywhere near its present success if it had to compete with widespread legal distribution of low-cost narcotics. Hence we must do more than recognize that drug traffic, as such, performs economic functions. We have to realize that it is the combination of economic demand and the severe limitations placed on supply by current policies which is at the heart of the matter. It is a latent function of these very policies that they support a prosperous underworld trade. Presumably Judge Murtagh had this in mind when he notes: 'In a way, the big shots of the narcotics trade must be grateful for the government's single-minded attitude toward addiction. Just as rumrunning made the Mafia rich when liquor was outlawed in this country, so junkrunning makes the new Mafia rich and powerful today.' The underworld drug business depends upon current American policy, and those involved in the business have a real stake in perpetuating present laws ...

Another factor relating to the persistence of current laws has been the success achieved by Commissioner Anslinger and his associates in disseminating their views ... Murtagh is correct in asserting that Congress 'has accepted the word of our Commissioner of Narcotics and has ignored the advice of knowledgeable doctors, psychiatrists, educators, social workers, and lawyers' . According to Kolb, whose governmental experience entitles him to write with some authority, 'People with only a police training have secured commanding positions in the formulation of narcotics policies; sound medical opinion based on careful research is cried down or ignored ...' Perhaps this has not been entirely Commissioner Anslinger's doing, since drug addiction already had become a police problem when he took office. However, according to one account, 'Anslinger accepted the task of making sure it stayed that way.'

... Why does the Narcotics Bureau continue to support policies which many independent observers condemn and which almost all objective evidence refutes? As already noted, Rufus King maintains that the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department 'succeeded in creating a very large criminal class for itself to police ... instead of the very small one that Congress intended.' ... One cannot overlook the fact that the Narcotics Bureau appears to have a definite interest in preserving current American policies. And the fact that a bureaucratic apparatus designed to implement those policies has been established further increases the resistance to change ... Judge Murtagh writes, 'There is only one way to start reform—retire Commissioner Anslinger and replace him with a distinguished public health administrator of vision and perception and, above all, heart. Such a man would not fight against clinics; he would be bound to fight for them.'

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