This is the Definitive Argument Against Drug Prohibition. It's Time We Legalize All Drugs.
This is the Definitive Argument Against Drug Prohibition. It's Time We Legalize All Drugs.
By Jack A. Cole, Retired Narcotics Undercover Officer /

After you've finished reading this, there will be no doubt in your mind. Legalizing all drugs is the best way to lower the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction. If you already know the drug war has failed, skip to the middle for an alternative policy. You will be amazed by it. - Ed

I represent LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) an international nonprofit educational organization that was created to give voice to all the current and former members of law enforcement who believe the war on drugs is a failed policy and who wish to support alternative policies that will lower the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction - four categories of harm that were supposed to be alleviated by the war on drugs but which in truth were made infinitely worse by that war.

We went public with our speakers' bureau in January 2003 and have grown from our five founding members to over 3,500. LEAP has 95 speakers living in 39 of the United States and in seven other countries; a powerful and respected Advisory Board, made up of a U.S. Governor, four sitting Federal District Court judges, a sheriff, five former police chiefs, the Mayor of Vancouver, British Colombia who is retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the former Attorney General of Colombia, South America and from the United Kingdom, a former Chief Constable and a Detective Chief Investigator of Scotland Yard who was operational head of narcotic task forces for all of England.

The first thing I need to tell you good people is that the US policy of a "war on drugs" has been, is, and forever will be, a total and abject failure. This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on people - our own people - our children, our parents, ourselves.

I joined the New Jersey State Police in 1964 and six years later joined their narcotic bureau. I started working in narcotics at the beginning of the war on drugs. The term "war on drugs" was coined and created by Richard Milhous Nixon in 1968 when he was running for president. Mr. Nixon believed a "tough on crime" platform would garner a lot of votes but if he could be in charge of a war - wow! Of course as we all know, it worked. Mr. Nixon was elected President and by 1970 he had convinced Congress to pass legislation giving massive funding to any police department willing hire officers to fight his war on drugs. To give you an idea of how large those grants were, in the New Jersey state police during 1964 we had 1,700 officers and a seven man narcotics unit. That number had always seemed adequate for the job we needed to do. Six years later, when I was trying to join the narcotics unit we still had the same numbers. Then overnight in October 1970 we went from a seven man narcotics unit to a seventy-six person narcotics bureau. All paid for by federal tax dollars. And that program was replicated in police departments across the country. When an organization is increased by eleven times it sets up certain expectations. Since police are mainly judged by the number of arrests they make that meant we were expected to arrest at least eleven times as many people in the coming year for drug offenses as we did in 1969.

One-third of the seventy-six new detectives were designated "undercover agents." I happened to fall in that one-third and that is how I spent most of the next fourteen years of my life. After two-weeks training we hit the streets, where we were supposed to start arresting drug dealers. That was not an easy job in 1970 for a couple of reasons.

First, we really didn't have much of a problem with drugs in 1970 and what problem we did have was basically with soft drugs, marijuana, hashish, LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), etc. Hard drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin were almost unheard of back then - certainly unheard of compared to what they are today. Drugs were more a nuisance than a threat to our society. For instance, in 1970 people were less likely to die as a result of the drug culture than from falling down the stairs in their on homes or choking to death on food at their own dinner tables. Second, back then neither we nor our bosses had any idea of how to fight a war on drugs. Our bosses did know one thing though; they knew how to keep that federal cash-cow being milked in their personal barnyard. To accomplish that they had to make the drug war appear to be an absolute necessity. So early on we were encouraged to lie about most of our statistics and lie we did. Because dealers were not on most street corners or in all our schools - as they are now - we targeted our undercover officers on small friendship groups of kids in college, in high school or in-between who were "dipping and dabbing" in drugs - their term for experimentation.

So we arrested people who were basically drug-users and charged them as drug-dealers. We exaggerated the amount of drugs we seized by adding the weight of any cutting agents we found (lactose, mannitol, starch, or sucrose) to the weight of the illegal drug. So we might seize one ounce of cocaine and four pounds of lactose - but somewhere between the location where we seized it and the police laboratory it all magically became cocaine. We also the inflated the worth of the drugs we seized by releasing the "estimated street value" of those drugs to the media, which vastly elevated their importance. For instance in 1971 I was buying individual ounces of cocaine for fifteen hundred dollars each but when we released the estimated street value of one ounce of cocaine to the media it was closer to $20,000. Just ratchet it up a little and the drug war would appear absolutely essential. The federal dollars would keep flowing to our departments and our bosses would be happy. Who was to question our estimates and if they did who would they come to with their questions? Us. We could always justify them in some way.

However, as the war on drugs ground on we no longer had to lie about its getting worse. With each passing year of this continuing war, the "drug problem" has become exponentially more dreadful - an unintended effect caused by the war itself. The war publicized and aggrandized the use and sale of drugs and peaked the interest of a large portion of the youth of our country. In many cases, the drug culture portrayed in movies and on television seemed exciting and romantic to American teenagers. Many poor young people in the centers of our larger cities looked to the drug dealer as a role model - and the only way out of the poverty and misery of the ghetto. The dealer was the one person in their communities with the hot cars, hotter women, "money to burn," and leisure time in which to burn it.

In the first years the vast majority of arrests we made were for using or transporting marijuana, the drug that was easiest to interdict due to its sheer bulk and the fact that police officers could actually detect the odor of the drug if large amounts were being carried in the trunk of a vehicle they had stopped on the highway. At that time the media equated marijuana with heroin and cocaine; and the majority of the public hardly knew the difference between one drug and another. Marijuana seizures were the first drug interdictions that the police could count in the thousands of pounds but to the public drugs were drugs and a thousand pounds was an awful lot of drugs - this also made the drug problem appear much more important than it actually was at the time.

There have been many unintended consequences in the war on drugs. One of the unintended consequences of the successful interdiction of large amounts of marijuana was that it caused many marijuana dealers to switch to harder drugs that were less detectable and far more profitable, pound for pound. Among those drugs were heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. An even worse consequence was that in a few short years the price of marijuana increased by 2,500 percent, from $160 a pound to $4,000 a pound, causing many users to switch to harder drugs, which were less detectable, more plentiful and were becoming ever cheaper. The war on drugs actually increased drug usage and made it more likely that those using soft drugs would choose harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Political motivation has always been evident in many of the drug arrests made by police. Holdovers from the "turn-on and drop-out" flower children of the late 1960s, most of whom also protested the United States' involvement in the war in Vietnam, were among the first groups we concentrated on but we quickly included activist groups from racial and ethnic minorities, such as the Black Panthers. After all, H.R. Haldemann, Richard M. Nixon's Chief of Staff, recorded in his 1969 diary entry that Nixon emphasized, "You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this all while not appearing to." The system they devised was the war on drugs and for Nixon's purposes he could have hardly hoped for more. (1) The war on drugs has spawned the most racist laws seen in the United States since slavery. Indeed, there are more black and brown men in prison in the United States today (1,300,020) (2) than the total number of male slaves populating this country in 1840 (1,244,384). (3)

By three years into the war, we were actually arresting some real mid-level dealers of other drugs, such as, the members of "The Breed" Motorcycle Gang who were selling methamphetamine out of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.

In 1977, seven years into the drug war, I kicked down a door in the Corona section of Queens, New York and seized around 350 thousand dollars and what was touted by the newspapers as "the largest shipment of Mexican brown heroin ever confiscated in the United States." We were in the newspapers over a week on that case - the heroin seizure, which is a little embarrassing to mention today, amounted to nineteen pounds. But the "drug problem" kept right on expanding, to the point that by 1978 I was working on Billion-Dollar, international, cocaine and heroin trafficking rings.

Heroin price - purity

Then in 1982 I was assigned to a deep cover investigation, living nearly two years in Boston and New York City, posing as a fugitive drug dealer wanted for murder, while tracking members of a terrorist organization that robbed banks, planted bombs in corporate headquarters, court-houses, police stations, and airplanes and ultimately murdered a New Jersey State Trooper. It took me two years to finish that job and when I returned to New Jersey in 1984, I never worked another narcotic case. I was very happy about that. This is the reason why.

This "Heroin Price and Purity" chart was created by the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and placed on their Internet web site in what they called "The DEA Briefing Book 2001." The chart depicts the cost and purity of heroin - by year - from 1980 to 1999. The cost they are talking about was the average cost that one heroin user had to pay to "get high" one time and the purity they talk of was the average purity of one dose of street level drugs, which the heroin user purchased. DEA started their chart in 1980 but as I mentioned above I started buying heroin in 1970 so I can back this chart up ten years.

In 1970, we purchased "tre-bags" of heroin so called because they cost three dollars per bag. We bought them in multiples of two, because a heroin user needed to shoot two of those bags to get high. Two bags at $3 each, so in 1970 it cost $6 to get high. At that time the purity of the product was only about 1.5 percent (purity means how much of the white or brown powder contained in the small glassine envelopes was actually heroin). After ten years of fighting the "drug war," the purity had more than doubled and the cost to get high had dipped to $3.90. And after thirty years of "drug war" the price to "get off" on heroin had plummeted to 80 cents in 1980 equivalent dollars because the purity of heroin had increased by 25 times its original level - then registering over 38 percent pure in street buys. (4) By the year 2000 the purity of heroin had become greater than 70 percent in Newark, New Jersey and New York City. (5)

And we wonder why so many people are overdosing on drugs today? Addicts do not consume more and more drugs each day until their bodies can no longer take the poison so they die. They overdose because they get what is known in the trade as a "Hot-Shot." If for any reason the drug dealer is distracted while mixing the nearly pure heroin he gets from another country with the cutting agent he is using to dilute the drug before reselling it he is left with a lumpy product. On that day, some of his clients are going to be very angry because they get the part that contains mostly cutting agent and they think the dealer tried to beat them out of their money. But another unlucky group of his clients will get the part of the mix that contains mostly pure heroin. When they cook up and inject the powder they think is 10 percent heroin and it is really 80 or 90 percent heroin, they don't get angry they get dead - there is no second chance for them. That is why we are hearing of more and more cases where 5, 10, even 20 people overdose in the same suburban town on the same day. That is due to a bad mix. And folks, these kids who are overdosing are somebody's children - they could be mine or yours.

Traditionally the worse the problem gets the more police and money we throw into the mix. Local and State police where not the only ones benefiting from the influx of "big bucks" being offered them to fight the war on drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration of the federal government had about 3,000 employees when it was created in 1973, to replace the old Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. By 2001 DEA had tripled its staff but its budget, the money we give it to fight a failed war, had increased to 20 times the original amount - from $75 million in 1973 to over $1.5 Billion in 2001.

In 1980 we got a new man in the White House. President Ronald Reagan told us we were doing a good job arresting people but we were going about it the wrong way. "Think of it of an economics equation," he said. "You are working on the supply side arresting drug dealers when you should be working on the demand side arresting drug users. If you arrest enough users you will frighten them away and without users there will be no dealers.


Arrests for Nonviolent Drug Offenses
Arrest Stats
Source: US Drug Enforcement Administration Table for 2001

At roughly the same time the politicians told the cops, "Just do your job better. Arrest more people and we will back you up a hundred percent. We will pass the harshest laws ever conceived (mandatory minimums and 'three strikes, you're out'). 'Lock them up and throw away the key' and our problem will be solved." Well, lock them up we did - but our problem was obviously not solved. By 2000 we had tripled the yearly arrest figures of 1980, to where we are now arresting 1 million 600 thousand nonviolent drug offenders each year - with fully half of those arrests for marijuana violations and because Mr. Reagan said arrest users 80 percent of the marijuana arrests were for possession. I'm throwing around a lot of numbers here and numbers out of context are meaningless. Just how many are 1.6 million people? That number is equivalent to the population of New Mexico. So just imagine that this year we arrest every man, woman, child and baby in the state of New Mexico. And next year we will have to find a new state because we continue making 1.6 million arrests every year.

More than a thousand people were arrested as a result of my undercover work. I can't tell you how many of those young folks would have gone on to have a perfectly productive life had I not intervened but I am sure the number is huge. We have a saying at LEAP, "You can get over an addiction, but you will never get over a conviction." A conviction will track you every day of your life because it is on a computer. Every time you go to get a job it is hanging over your head like a big ugly cloud.

You know, I could even live with that if it made a bit of difference to lowering the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction but it doesn't. And the policies are so destructive. Think of all the people you know personally who have ever used an illicit drug when they were young - then put the drugs behind them and went on to lead a perfectly happy and productive life. If you can't think of any and I doubt that, I can name a few for you. You remember the fellow who was in the news so much a few years ago - the one who used to smoke but didn't inhale? That's right, President William J. Clinton. But I don't want to just pick on Democrats. We have a man in the White House today who used illicit drugs, George W. Bush. And Vice Presidents, Al Gore and Dan Quail, along with former speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich used illicit drugs. The line is too long to enumerate but all those folks have two things in common. They all used illicit drugs when young then put them down and went on to become powerful politicians and once they got there they all got selective amnesia. They forgot where they came from. Suddenly they came to believe police have to arrest young people for doing exactly what they did - in order to save them - and guarantee those arrested will never achieve the levels of success of our current politicians.

And what have we accomplished with all our hard work and monetary investment. On February 5, 1994, I clipped a photograph out of the New York Times Newspaper. It caught my eye for several reasons. There was no accompanying article, just the picture and that picture was buried on page 23 of the newspaper. The event occurred in the Corona section of Queens, New York, just down the street from where 17 years earlier I had made the largest seizure of brown heroin - nineteen pounds. As you can see, they did a little better than I did. The caption relates, "police and federal authorities recovered 4,800 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $350 million..."

Nearly two and a half tons of cocaine and according to the paper of record, the New York Times, this seizure didn't even rate a single article - let alone being in the paper every day for a week. "How could that be?" you might ask. How could we have degenerated to this point where the seizure of tons of cocaine hardly matters. I'll tell you how. It is because by 1994 the police were doing such a great job for us, regularly seizing tons of not just cocaine but heroin. We were seizing so much and so often that the New York Times apparently felt it couldn't keep up with us writing articles so they just took to summarizing those multi-ton shipments. As they did in Joseph B. Treaster's July 15, 1994 article, "3 Arrested in Smuggling Cocaine Found in Newark Cargo," on page B3 of the New York Times. Mr. Treaster wrote of, the seizure of "[t]hree tons of cocaine hidden in cargo at the Port of Newark," but he also mentioned, "Five tons of Cocaine in Houston...three [more] tons in San Francisco...five [additional] tons in El Paso" - all in a three-month period. (6) So are you getting the picture here--this is a long, long way from nineteen pounds. We are being flooded with high grade hard drugs.

And how has the war on drugs aided our children? Has it reduced drug availability or use in our schools? (When I give my public presentations, I always ask how many people know who John Walters is. Almost no one ever knows. I tell them John Walters is the Drug Czar of the United States - the "Top Cop" - the one in charge of coordinating the U.S. war on drugs. But I also tell them there is no reason they should know his name since every year or so we throw out the old Czar and appoint a new one because the old one has never been capable of diminishing this country's "drug problem." However, I suggest to them, we shouldn't be too hard on the drug czars because we have given them an impossible task - we cannot arrest our way out of our drug problem. So the only thing that really changes from the old drug czar to the new drug czar is the new drug czar tends to lie a whole lot better than the old one. And John Walters is really a pip. He would have you believe we are winning this war. He pointed to "Monitoring the Future 2002," (7) the largest government funded study ever done on the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults, and said, "This survey confirms that our drug-prevention efforts are working...." (8) What did the report really say? The study asserted that over a ten-year period, between 1991 and 2002, marijuana use among students in all school grades across the United States increased. How much did it increase? - 30 percent for twelfth graders; 128 percent for tenth graders; and for eighth graders, a 188 percent increase! (9) How can John Walters say this study shows our drug prevention efforts are working? Could the drug-warriors possibly be lying to us?

A 2002 drug survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University revealed that schoolchildren across the country say it is easier for them to buy marijuana than it is to buy beer and cigarettes.(10) How can that be?

The answer is really not very complicated. When I first worked undercover, I was hanging out with about 20 kids in front of a bowling alley at a suburban strip-mall. They were not criminals. They didn't mistreat anyone, rob, or steal. And they were not drug dealers, at least not as I identify the term. In the words of one of the more courageous Juvenile Court Judges who later threw out many of these types of cases, "They were not selling drugs they were simply accommodating friends." What would happen was one night "person A" got a chance to use his parents' car so he could make the trip to New York City to buy drugs for the whole group (at the beginning of the war one had to go to a large city to buy drugs). The next night it might be "person B" or "person C" who made the trip to the city. Whoever made the run, first went to all the friends, took orders for what each wanted and collected enough money from them to pay for the drugs they ordered. On returning from the city, the individual doses of drugs were handed out to those who had ordered them. No profit was made on the transactions. Most probably didn't even earn enough to pay for their gas.

Because I had befriended them, I could also buy drugs from them in that manner. That after all is the job of an undercover agent. It is not the romanticized work you see in the movies or on television. Every war must have a spy and in the war on drugs the spy is the undercover agent. You see, the drug culture may not involve victimless crimes but it does involve consensual crimes. Both the seller and the buyer get something they want from the transaction and neither is going to report the other party to the police. That is why it is necessary to infiltrate that world with an undercover agent who is willing to arrest any-and-all players, whether they are dealers or users. The job of all undercover agents is to become the best friend and closest confidant of the persons they are targeted against - so they can betray them and send them to jail. And when they are through with each person they are targeted against the next and the pattern repeats - friendship-betrayal-jail - over and over, hundreds of times.

But I digress. Let's get back to those kids in the parking lot. None of them were 21 years old but they could and did sell me any kind of illegal drugs you can name. However, they often came up to me and said, "Hey Jack, we're thirsty - will you go into the liquor store and buy us some beer? We can't buy beer." They could get all the illegal drugs they wanted but couldn't buy beer. How can that be?

The answer is so simple that it has apparently never occurred to our drug czars. Beer and cigarettes are legal commodities and the people who sell them are licensed to do so. Selling those drugs is the way they make their livelihood and they will do whatever they can to protect those licenses. I am not saying if drugs were legal that no children would be able to get drugs. Nothing works perfectly. But no illicit drug dealer is going to worry about checking your child's birth certificate to see if he or she is old enough to buy drugs - the street dealer only want to see one thing - "Show me the money!" And once they've seen the money it doesn't matter if the child is four years old, he or she will be given the drugs. We know this because we have recorded cases of exactly that happening

So, how much money am I talking about here? Enough money to bribe a cop? Enough to buy a judge or a politician? Enough to convince legitimate bankers to wash that dirty money through their banks? In just the banks of the Southern half of Florida in one year over seven billion dollars washed through. I'm not saying the money spent around the world on illicit drugs each year is enough to bribe a cop. I'm saying it's enough money to buy a whole country. Over 500 billion dollars is spent each year on illegal drugs.(11) That amounts to eight percent of the world's total international trade, about the same amount as spent in the international textile trade.(12) One of the main differences between the two trades is that folks in the textile industry only make a few percent profit on their investment - in the illegal drug industry nearly everything is profit. After all, what are we are talking about here - simply weeds. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about marijuana from the Cannabis plant, cocaine from the coca bush, or heroin from the opium poppy - it is all just weeds. Those of us charged with destroying it cut it down or pull it up by the roots or fly over it and spray it with poison. We also poison the poor folks growing it but we don't seem worry about that. However, the point is, we have to go back and destroy the plants all over again each year. They are so hardy and they will grow nearly anywhere that they literally have zero value - No value at all. That is, until we make them illegal. Once we prohibit them, their value becomes astronomically high; nearly beyond belief. So much so that marijuana is worth more ounce-for-ounce than gold, heroin worth more than uranium, and cocaine worth something in between. So much so that from the locations where it is grown, mostly in third-world countries such as Afghanistan and Colombia, to where it is sold in New York or Los Angeles, the increase in value can be up to seventeen thousand percent! How would you business folks reading this like to work on a mere 17,000 percent increase in value of your product?

I realized long ago that when uniformed officers arrested a robber or rapist the rate for that particular crime went down. They took someone off the streets that made our communities safer for everyone. But when I arrested a drug dealer the crime rate didn't go down. I was simply creating a job opening for a long line of people more than willing to risk arrest for those obscene profits. It was actually worse than that. I wasn't just creating a job opening, I was creating a safe job opening because it they tried to get the job while the dealer was still on the corner he would probably shoot them. I would suggest to you that whole armies of police cannot stop drug trafficking when the profits are this immense.

Let me summarize what I have said. After nearly four decades of fueling this war with over a trillion dollars of our taxes(13) and creating increasingly punitive policies toward drug users, what are the results? Our court system is choked with the escalating number of drug prosecutions and our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nation's fastest growing industry; with 2.2 million incarcerated today and another 1.6 million arrested every year for nonviolent drug violations - more per capita than any country in the world. Where will it end? The United States has 4.6 percent of the world's population and 22.5 percent of its prisoners (14) - right here in this "land of freedom"! There is something wrong with this picture.

And despite all this money so ill spent, all these lives wasted, drug barons continue growing richer every year, terrorists make fortunes on the trade, and our citizens continue dying on our streets. The final outcome to this terrible story is that today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and far easier for our children to get than they were 35 years ago when I first started buying heroin on those streets. This represents the very definition of a failed public policy. Will Rogers said, "If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging." So what we're suggesting at LEAP is that we stop digging in the hole of a failed war on drugs and start searching for alternative strategies

Now I am now going to make a couple of suggestions that I hope will answer what I think is your obvious question - "Is there anything that can be done to stop this scourge on our nation and the world?"

I believe there is.

I am going to offer you a policy model I have been working on for some thirty years. However, I am not presenting it to convince you of its worth as much as to open your mind to the fact that workable alternatives to these failed drug policies do exist. If you ever get to hear another LEAP speaker you may get an alternative policy that differs slightly as to how we might distribute drugs once they are legal. All LEAP requires of its speakers is that they believe the war on drugs is a failure and that the speakers support alternative policies that will lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition.

We speak to thousands of very intelligent people like yourself during our presentations and what we are hoping is that once the public's mind is open to alternative solutions, they will think of workable policies that are much better than any we have yet considered.

This then is my suggested solution.

Alternative Drug Policy

The first thing we must do is admit that most of the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction, attributed to drug use are actually caused by drug prohibition. Once we have done that we can stop the horrors associated with that prohibition by removing the profit motive generated within the drug culture.

Step 1: How do we do that? - simple - we end drug prohibition! We legalize drugs! We legalize all drugs - legalize them so we can regulate and control them and keep them out of the hands of our children.

"Ah..." I hear you saying, "But won't legalization cause everyone to use drugs? Won't we become a drugged-out zombie nation within a year?" The answer is NO! Drugs were not illegal in this country until 1914 and we seemed to get through the first 200 years without that occurring.

If we look around the world, we have many fine examples of policies we could try. Policies that show us drug use will not increase with legalization. In Holland where drugs have been virtually legal since 1976 the police look the other way unless the user and the seller are causing some other kind of trouble. If you are an adult, you can go into a coffee shop there and order from a menu that offers a multiple choice of several brands of marijuana and hashish. You make your choice, put your money on the counter and they sell you five grams of that product - each time you walk through the door. You can smoke it there or put in a doggy bag and take with you - nobody cares. In Holland, researchers conducted a survey to determine how many tenth graders had tried marijuana: 28 percent had tried it.(15)

Then they conducted the same survey in the United States. Here, where people like me will not only arrest your sons and daughters for possessing so much as one joint but we will take away their driver's licenses (even if the arrest occurred in their bedroom). That means if they live in rural America or the suburbs where there is no public transportation, they can no longer get to schools or hold gainful employment. If they reside in urban centers that have public transportation but happen to live in government-subsidized housing, we will not only throw them out of the house but their whole family will be evicted - and if they live with their grandparents, those old folks will also have to hit the street, because the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2003 that this kind of massive punishment is OK. It is OK, according to them, because, "We are fighting a war on drugs" and when you fight a war nearly anything is acceptable.(16)

Also, thanks to the "zero tolerance" attitude fostered from years of prohibition, when this punished child finally gets free from the lockup and wants to better their condition by going back to school, the State tells him or her they can't get a government educational grant or loan for that schooling. However, in another crazy paradox of fighting a war on drugs, if they were simply convicted of murder or rape there would be no problem for them. Just apply for it and the loan would be available.

In this country, 41 percent of tenth graders have used marijuana.(17) How can that be? Twenty-eight percent where marijuana is virtually legal and 41 percent where it's the devil's own weed - yet another unintended consequence of the war on drugs. The researchers couldn't square this fact in their minds so they went to Amsterdam and spoke with The Netherlands' drug czar, who happens to be the Minister of Health, because in Amsterdam they treat drug use as a health problem rather than as a crime problem. When the Minister was asked, "How can this be?" he answered very sensibly, "Well, I think what we have done in Holland, is we have managed to make pot boring." Young people are not likely to act out by doing things they believe are boring. What this means is children in the Netherlands don't start using drugs at the age of fourteen, which is the entry level for drug use in the United States. In the fact, as the Minister pointed out, the per capita use of soft drugs, marijuana and hashish in The Netherlands is half the per capita use in the United States. Since they separate soft drug purchases allowing them to be bought in coffee shops, users don't have to buy their marijuana from criminal dealers who would rather sell them hard drugs. The result is the per capita use of hard drugs, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. is one-fourth what is in the U.S. Another plus is that their homicide rate is also only one-fourth the per capita rate of the United States. And they really manage to accomplish all this on the cheap spending less that 1/6 the per capita spending of the United States for drug-related law enforcement

Comparing Important Drug and Violence Indicators in the US and the Netherlands
Social Indicator Years USA Netherlands
Lifetime prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+) 1998 vs. 1997 33%  1 15.6%  2
Past month prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+) 1998 vs. 1997 5%  3 2.5%  4
Lifetime prevalence of heroin use (ages 12+) 1998 vs. 1997 1.1%  5 0.3%  6
Incarceration Rate per 100,000 population 1997 vs. 1996 645  7 77.3  8
Per capita spending on drug-related law enforcement 2002 vs. 1995 $166  9 $27  10
Homicide rate per 100,000 population 1995 vs. 1995 8  11 1.8  12


So what would the outcomes of drug legalization entail?

The first outcome would be that we wouldn't have to arrest 1.6 million every year for nonviolent drug offenses.

Not arresting those 1.6 million people would be very monetarily important to every person in this country because each year our local, state, and federal government spends 69 Billion dollars to interdict drugs at our boarders and beyond; to arrested the dealers and users of the 90% of those drugs that penetrate that sieve at the border; to prosecute those arrested; and to warehouse those convicted of nonviolent drug violations - many for the rest of their lives(20) - to the tune of $26,000 per person, per year, nationally. And around $35,000 each in my home state of Massachusetts.

If drugs were legal, we could also alleviate some of the more egregious forms of institutionalized racism within our legal system.

According to the 1998 Federal Household Survey:

  • Whites constitute 72% of all drug users in the U.S.
  • Blacks constitute 13.5% of all drug users in the U.S.
  • But 37% of those arrested for drug violations are Black.
  • Over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations are black.
  • African-Americans comprise almost 60% of those in state prisons for drug felonies.(21)

According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics

  • Of convicted defendants, 33% of whites received a prison sentence and 51% of African-Americans received prison sentences.
  • In New York State prisons Nine in 10 of the 19,000 people serving mandatory sentences for drug offenses are Black or Brown
  • According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, a young couple giving birth to a Black male baby today has an expectancy of one-in-three that their child will serve time in prison
  • Disenfranchisement: Due to the fact that many state laws say no one convicted of a felony can vote, the fact that nearly all drug violations are felonies, and the fact that for drug felonies we arrest seven times as many black men per capita as white men, 14% of the total voting population of black men in the U.S. have lost their right to vote - In Texas 31% of black men have lost their voting rights.(22)

Step 2: The US government should import or produce the drugs and control them for quality, potency, and standardized measurement.

This policy would virtually end drug overdoses. Those deaths don't have to happen any more than the deaths attributed to "bathtub gin" during alcohol prohibition had to happen. These deaths are a result of drug prohibition not drug pharmacology. Legalization and regulation of drugs can stop the carnage. And if we can keep those people from overdosing, who feel they must continue to use drugs, perhaps we can wean them off their addictions. And folks, these are our children. They are our parents; our sisters and brothers. We should be trying to help them by bringing them back into our society as productive citizens, not by burying them years before they should have died.

Another important point about governmental production of opium was address by the Senlis Council, a European drug-policy research institution, which according to New York Times writer, Maia Szalavitz, has proposed this "truly winning solution":

[T]he developing world is experiencing a severe shortage of opium-derived pain medications, according to the World Health Organization. Developing countries are home to 80 percent of the world's population, but they consume just 6 percent of the medical opioids. In those countries, most people with cancer, AIDS and other painful conditions live and die in agony.

The United States wants Afghanistan to destroy its potentially merciful crop, [of heroin] which has increased sevenfold since 2002 and now constitutes 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product. But why not bolster the country's stability and end both the pain and the trafficking problems by licensing Afghanistan with the International Narcotics Control Board to sell its opium legally?

The World Health Organization has said that opioids are "absolutely necessary" for treating severe pain. Senlis estimates that meeting the global need for pain medications would require 10,000 tons of opium a year - more than twice Afghanistan's current production.

Because farmers aren't the ones who make the big bucks in the illegal drug trade, purchasing their poppies at competitive rates should be possible. But even if we paid exactly what the drug lords do, the entire crop would cost only about $600 million - less than the $780 million the United States planned to spend on eradication in Afghanistan this year. (23)

The Senlis Council, has come up with a sensible policy that will assist drug producing nations with their loss of income after drug prohibition has ended, while creating better conditions for millions of suffers of chronic pain.

Step 3: Distribute free maintenance doses of drugs to any adult requesting them. This is the most important point, the one that actually removes the profit motive. This sounds radical but it really isn't. We have been giving drugs to addicted people for over 25 years, in what is called the methadone maintenance programs.

The trouble with the methadone maintenance programs is that methadone is about ten times more potent than heroin and about ten times more addictive than heroin. There is a reason we call it "methadone maintenance." For the most part those who start it will be maintained on it forever.

Can giving free drugs to addicted people help end those addictions? The answer is YES! In both Switzerland and Holland, heroin addicted people are treated by giving them government heroin for free or at very small expense. Clinics were set up around the country where people were allowed to come in and inject government heroin up to three times a day, using clean needles, under medical supervision. But there were also social workers there, educators and job specialists, trying to wean their clients off heroin. They saw the addicts three times every day of the year and they quickly became trusted friends. We know how much power a friend has in modifying someone's behavior - certainly a lot more than a judge has when ordering that person to rehabilitation.

The outcomes of those policies are nothing short of amazing. Because drug dealers can't beat the low price of government drugs there are few selling heroin in the streets and users don't have to prostitute themselves or steal goods to pay for their drugs so crime was slashed by 60 percent. This also affected the use of other drugs. Cocaine use among those heroin addicts plummeted from 35 to 5 percent. Because the addicts inject only the quality-controlled drugs of the government, they know how much they are taking and no overdose deaths have occurred in the clinics.(24) Because the addicts are using clean needles to inject their drugs those countries now register the lowest per capita rate of AIDS and Hepatitis of any countries in Europe.

Then came the most important discovery. When an addicted person wakes up in the morning they have only one thought, "Where will I get my fix?" If they know where they might score, the next thought is, "How do I pay for it?" And if they also have money for the drugs then their next thoughts are, "When I go down there is the dealer going to sell me talcum powder and beat me out of my money? Is he going to beat me up, steal my money and my drugs?" Or worse, "Is he going to sell me a hot-shot and end my life?" Because of these thoughts the addicted person's life is in chaos for every waking hour. But in Switzerland and the Netherlands, because of these programs the addicts were able to stabilize their lives. They were no longer criminals forced to associate with other criminals, they were people with a health problem and health problems can be dealt with. Homelessness among the addicts fell from 12 percent to zero and fulltime employment more than doubled to 42 percent of participants. And of those going back to full time employment, 22 percent decided to give up their addictions to heroin. Why would they do that? At LEAP we maintain it was because they got their lives back - they once again had hope for the future.

That is the answer to America's drug problem. Give folks hope for the future and they will leave drugs behind.

So what are the outcomes of free governmental distribution?

  1. No profit motive for drug distribution (The underground drug market would no longer exist.)
  2. No individuals selling drugs anywhere (They couldn't make any money at it.)
  3. No crimes committed to obtain drugs (No pilfering, stealing, or robbing to obtain drugs because for those who still felt they must use drugs they would be free)
  4. No criminal association for drug users (They will not have to go to criminals to obtain their drugs and will not end up in prison with violent criminals, learning how to become successful gangsters, because they use them.)
  5. No diseases passed by sharing needles (AIDS and Hepatitis are terrible medical problems. According to the National Center for Disease Control, fifty percent of the new cases in the U.S. can be traced to intravenous-drug-users sharing needles.)
  6. Users able to stabilize their addictions and get on with their lives Treating addiction and drug abuse as health problems instead of a crime problems allows users to ask for help.
  7. No shootings of drug dealers by other drug dealers (When was the last time you heard of two Budweiser distributors shooting it out over who was going to supply the local tavern with beer? A ludicrous idea, right? One would reach in his pocket, pull out a piece of paper and say, "I have a contract for this territory. I'll take you to court." That is a total impossibility for the distributor of prohibited drugs. If you were to encroach on his territory he would reach in his other pocket, pull out a gun, and shoot you! Or if he misses you he might hit some little child behind you.)
  8. No kids caught in crossfire (Detroit, Michigan, United States of America, in 2002 - eleven children shot down in that one city by drug dealers trying to protect their turf. (25) This doesn't have to happen!)
  9. No police killed fighting drug war
  10. (This is a big one to me - three collogues in the Narcotic Bureau died while I was undercover. And around the world more are dying everyday, fighting this failed war on drugs. In Iran alone, over 3,100 police have died fighting the drug war(26) )
  11. No one killed by police in the drug war
  12. (This is also a big one to me: I will only cite two cases but I am sure you can think of similar episodes from where you live. Boston March 1997: Accelyne Williams, a 75-year-old retired Methodist minister, who just happened to be Black, sat in an easy chair in his own living room reading his Bible, when suddenly his door was crushed down with sledge hammers. A dozen police charged in, dressed in black from their booted feet to their helmeted heads, with ski masks over their faces, goggles over the ski masks, wearing knee pads, and elbow pads, and flack jackets; with guns hanging all over them; and each carrying a machinegun with a laser beam type flashlight taped to its barrel. They must have looked like storm troopers attacking from a "Star Wars" movie and for some unknown reason that old minister jumped up and ran for his live. He didn't get far though. In his bedroom his pursuers caught him and wrestled him to the floor. When finally he lay face down on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back - and his heart stopped - the police discovered something. They discovered that they had hit the wrong apartment.(28) New York City, May 2003: 57-year-old Alberta Spruill, a respected participant in her church and an employee of the city, who also just happened to be Black, was dressing to go to work when her apartment door was battered open by a SWAT team of New York City Narcotics Police. However, this incident was worse than the last I mentioned - if anything can be worse. Those police, having been told that the occupants of Ms. Spruill's apartment were not only criminals but were armed, tossed in a hand-grenade before running through that shattered door. Affectionately known as a "flash-bang' among police, which just slightly obfuscates its true nature the device used was a concussion grenade. They are implements of war that have been around for sixty years. After charging in, subduing Ms. Spruill and placing her face down on the floor with her hands cuffed behind her back, those police also discovered they had hit the wrong apartment. They picked her up, dusted her off and released her from her bindings, explaining they should have just been a few doors down the hall. But Ms. Spruill's heart was pounding in her chest and she was having a hard time breathing. They called for an ambulance but she never made it to the hospital. The New York City Coroner ruled the death a homicide, finding the police had frightened her to death by their actions.(28) There are too many WRONG houses! It does not need to happen!)
  13. No advertisements to aggrandize or romanticize drug use (The local drug dealer will no longer be a role model for young people trying to extricate themselves from the poverty of the slums of our cities.)
  14. Nobody will solicit one more drug user for any reason! (Why should they. There is no money to be made by doing so. In fact with this model the only way to profit from the drug culture would be as a social worker trying to help drug users stop their addictions.)

Step 4: Take a portion of those 69 billions of dollars we save each year thanks to ending drug prohibition and redirect it in two ways. First, to create programs that offer hope for the future. In the more than 35 years I have worked in this field I have found that addicted people tend to have one thing in common - they have very little or absolutely no hope for the future. Give them hope and the vast majority will leave their addictions behind them.

The drug use of U.S. soldiers during and after the Vietnam War reinforces this theory. Many (perhaps the majority) of U.S. soldiers used marijuana during the early part of the Vietnam War(29)(30) That heroin was so potent that they could smoke it with tobacco or dip toothpicks in a liquid solution and chew them as they went about their business. Countless soldiers were thus exposed to regular use of heroin over a long period. At the end of their tours when the soldiers expected to return to the United States, their bosses said they could not leave until they came up with clean urine. Talk about an incentive program! So they all cleaned up and returned home.(31) Some years later the U.S. media lamented about the many soldiers who became addicted to heroin in Vietnam and continued their addictions after discharge from the service. Actually, only around 5 percent of the soldiers who were regular users of heroin in Vietnam ever returned to the drug once back in the U.S. - and most of those who did return to heroin probably experienced as little hope for their future here as they did in Vietnam. because they had been placed in an untenable position - one where hope for the future was close to nonexistent. When President Nixon heard about the marijuana use, he was worried about the message that would send so he started a very strong enforcement program to track down users and force them to quit. The program was quite successful because the odor of marijuana was so easy to detect but the policy had terrible unintended side effects - most of the U.S. troops simply switched to the lower priced and easier concealed #4 grade heroin, which was available all over the country.

Hope is essential if we want to lower the incidence of drug addiction. Hope comes in the guise of available rehabilitation centers that offer a way out of the addictions. Two-thirds of the hard drug addicted people who come begging us for help find there is no room in the inn. Due to the "zero tolerance" attitude fostered by prohibition, judges are giving young folks caught smoking a joint on Friday night the choice of going to rehab or going to jail. Which would you choose? Rehabilitation for someone smoking a joint is much less necessary or reasonable than suggesting I need rehabilitation because I will drink a Jack Daniels after I finish writing this tonight. But because courts are needlessly flooding rehabilitation centers with pot smokers those hard drug addicts must continue to go begging. We are spending so much money locking them up we don't have any left to help them end their addictions.

Hope can also rise on the wings of guaranteed minimums. Instead of creating more mandatory minimum sentences, what would happen if we spent some of that saved money to create mandatory minimum education for everyone, mandatory minimum health care; decent housing; jobs for everybody who wanted to work; instead of thinking about minimum wages how about creating mandatory livable wages for everyone. Can you imagine how many fewer addicts we would have in our society? We are the richest country in the world and we make a very specific decision every year to spend $69 billion to destroy lives rather than to help people put their lives back together - to alienate rather then ameliorate. Give drug users hope for the future and they have less need to use drugs; less need to use drugs means less drug addicts. And isn't reducing the rate of drug addiction the reason we concocted the war on drugs?

The last half of step four is to redirect another part of those saved billions to programs that offer true education about drugs. I'm not talking about the failed policy of teaching D.A.R.E.(32) but real programs that tell the truth about drugs. Does drug education work? You bet it does! Again, we have a perfect example of a policy that did work. In 1965, 42 percent of the adult U.S. population smoked tobacco, the most deadly and addictive drug known to humans. Smoking tobacco kills 430,000 people in the United States every year, while the use of all illicit drugs and the misuse of all prescription drugs combined kills less than 13,000 per year. We tend to procrastinate a bit in the U.S. so we didn't really get angry about all the tobacco deaths until the late 1980s. Then we decided we were going to do something to bring down that death rate. But we didn't start a war on tobacco. We didn't start arresting users. We started a very strong drug-education-program aimed at lowering tobacco use. It worked. By 1998 only 24 percent of the adult U.S. population smoked that most dangerous of drugs and the percentage is dropping every year.(33) We took the worst drug problem known to the United States and nearly cut it in half through education. Now, what we at LEAP want to make clear to you folks is that we didn't have to send one person to prison to make it work; we didn't have to destroy a single life to achieve our goal. There are better ways of lowering the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction than this failed policy of a war on drugs.

Perhaps we should listen to some of our great thinkers in the United States as they expound on U.S. drug policy. Albert Einstein had this to say about prohibition:

The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this."(34)
Albert Einstein, 1921

Albert Einstein 1921: Talking about our prohibition - No. Einstein was talking about the prohibition our grandmothers and grandfathers had the good sense to do away with in 1933. alcohol prohibition. There is little difference between alcohol prohibition and drug prohibition but what difference exists made things better under alcohol prohibition. For instance with alcohol prohibition we didn't arrest users, only sellers and distributors. The drive to arrest drug-users came with the Reagan Administration. So now, we enforce a policy that says we have to arrest our children in order to save them

When will we ever learn? This is a picture taken in Boston, in front of Copley Plaza during 1932 - one year before that nasty law fell. It's a picture of those folks who were probably the most responsible for ending that sad stain on American history; members of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform. Do you see what it says on the side of their car? "SAVE OUR CHILDREN - STAMP OUT PROHIBITION!"(35) That is all we are saying at LEAP, "Save our children - stamp out prohibition!"

Prohibition car


  • "A Police Chiefs Guide to the Legalization Issue," Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, June 29, 2003.
  • Baum, Dan. Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1996.
  • Beck, Allen J., Ph.D. and Christopher J. Mumola. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Prisoners in 1998. (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1999).
  • Brown, Justice Henry Billings. "Majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson," Desegregation and the Supreme Court , ed. Benjamin Munn Ziegler (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company,.
  • Condon, Tom. "Heroin Fight Needs New Approach, Hartford Courant, November 10, 2002
  • Cullen, Kevin. "Tragedy Seen Inevitable In Drug War," Boston Globe, April 1, 1994, p-1.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker et al. Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for The Ninth Circuit, No.. Argued February 19, 2002 - Decided March 26, 2002.
  • "Drug Intelligence Brief," 2002 Domestic Monitoring Program Drug Intelligence Report, US Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • "Drug use on decline for U.S. teens," Associated Press, Washington, December 16, 2002.
  • "Drug Policy in the Netherlands: Progress Report," Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Sept. 1997-Sept. 1999.
  • "Every year drug abuse kills 14,000 Americans and costs taxpayers nearly $70 billion." A Police Chiefs Guide to the Legalization Issue, Federal Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Hackney, Suzette & Ben Schmitt, "Homicide's Tragic Toll; 10 Children Dead in 16 Weeks," Detroit Free Press, May 14, 2002
  • Ingraham, Larry. "U.S Denies 75% of GIs in Vietnam Use Marijuana." New York Times, 28 December 1967: 10.
  •  "Global Illicit Drug Trends 1999," United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, (New York, NY: UNODCCP, 1999), p. 86.
  • Kranish, Michael, "More Students Say Schools Drug Free Yet Survey Finds Marijuana Easier To Get Than Beer," The Boston Globe (MA), August 21, 2002, A2.
  • Levin, David J., Patrick A. Langan and Jodi M. Brown. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. State Court Sentencing of Convicted Felons, 1996. (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, February 2000).
  • "Licit and Illicit Drug Use in The Netherlands 1997" Center for Drug Research, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands: CEDRO, 1999.
  • Lifton, Robert Jay. Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans Neither Victims Nor Executioners. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.
  • Lusane, Clarence Pipe Dream Blues: Racism & the War on Drugs, Boston: South End Press, 1991
  • "McCaffrey Urges Global Cooperation Against Drug Trafficking," Washington File *EPF209 02/08/2000, (ONDCP chief outlines strategies to counter illicit drug trade) (1320)
  • McCoy, Alfred W. The politics of heroin:  CIA complicity in the global drug trade, New York:  Lawrenceville books, 1991.
  • Miller, Richard Lawrence. Drug Warriors and Their Prey:  From Police Power to Police State. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996.
  • Monitoring the Future, a survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders done for the United States Department of Health and Human Services


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This is the Definitive Argument Against Drug Prohibition. It's Time We Legalize All Drugs.