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Drug Crazy: How We Got into this Mess & How We Can Get Out

Drug Crazy: How We Got into this Mess & How We Can Get Out

by Michael Gray

Six years in the making, Drug Crazy offers a gripping account of the stunning violence, corruption, and chaos that have characterized America's drug war since its inception in 1914. Weaving a provocative analogy between the drug scene today and the failure of Prohibition in the 1920s, Drug Crazy argues that the greatest danger we face is prohibition


Six years in the making, Drug Crazy offers a gripping account of the stunning violence, corruption, and chaos that have characterized America's drug war since its inception in 1914. Weaving a provocative analogy between the drug scene today and the failure of Prohibition in the 1920s, Drug Crazy argues that the greatest danger we face is prohibition itself.
        While the target of our nation's controlled-substance laws may have shifted from hooch to heroin, the impact on society—discriminatory policing, demonization of the users, graft and grandstanding among lawmakers and lawbreakers—is an instant replay. Instead of Al Capone, we have Larry Hoover of Chicago's Gangster Disciples running a multimillion-dollar drug syndicate from his prison cell in Joliet.
        In a riveting account of how we got here, conventional wisdom is turned on its head, and we find that rather than a planned assault on the scourge of addiction, the drug war happened almost by accident but has been continually exploited by political opportunists.
        From the explosive opening montage of undercover cops caught in a shoot-out on Chicago's South Side to a humid courtroom in Malaysia where a young American faced death by hanging for possession of marijuana, Drug Crazy takes us to the front lines of the war on drugs and introduces us to a cast of villains and heroes, profiteers and victims. Among them:

¸         Pauline Morton Sabin, a Republican aristocrat who administered the coup de grâce to Prohibition by leading a million women into the arms of the Democrats.

¸         Harry Anslinger, a former railroad cop who guided the  Bureau of Narcotics through five administrations and engineered some of the most enduring and pernicious myths of the drug war.

¸         Pablo Escobar Gaviria, the Colombian kingpin who nailed  a suspected informer with a bomb—killing him along with a hundred innocent airline passengers.

        From the men and women in the forward trenches, Drug Crazy brings back a grim report: The situation is deteriorating on all fronts. In a sobering tally of the cost in crime, human suffering, and cold, hard cash, it documents the failure of crop eradication in the source countries, the hopeless task of sealing the border, and the violent world of the major players. We see the steady erosion of the Bill of Rights and a grinding criminal justice mill so overwhelmed that it's running a night shift.
        We do, however, get a glimpse of a way out of this swamp. Lessons from Europe—and from our own experience—are pointing us toward higher ground.
        In Drug Crazy, Mike Gray has launched a frontal assault on America's drug war orthodoxy, and his frightening overview of the battlefield makes it clear this urgent debate must begin now.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Arguing that the federal government's $300-billion campaign to eradicate drug use over the last 15 years has been a total failure, Gray calls for legalization of drugs and government regulation of their sale, with doctors writing prescriptions to addicts. Although he scants specifics as to how this would work and the potential consequences, his outspoken brief for decriminalization is bolstered by a revealing history of drug use in America. A Hollywood screenwriter, TV producer and director, Gray brings a filmic sense of drama and action to a gritty, scorching look at the failure of America's war on drugs. As he jump-cuts from Al Capone's syndicate in Prohibition-era Chicago to the abortive Reagan/Bush campaign to control Latin American drug traffic, Gray maintains that hardcore addicts, a small minority of drug users, have served as a scapegoat for politicians and lawmakers, with the nation's "moral focus" selectively shifting from opium and morphine in the first two decades of this century, to alcohol, then to marijuana in the early 1930s, to crack cocaine today. "It would seem that if Americans are to have any say at all in what their teenagers are exposed to," he concludes, "they will have to take the drug market out of the hands of the Tijuana Cartel and Gangster Disciples, and put it back in the hands of doctors and pharmacists where it was before 1914." Author tour. (June)
Library Journal
Screenwriter Gray's (The China Syndrome) main thesis is that the U.S. government should legalize narcotic drugs under the strictest control to combat the growing problem of drug use and organized crime. He bases his argument on the history of the alcohol industry under Prohibition, when the federal government attempted to ban alcohol and instead created an opportunity for organized crime to prosper. Gray traces the social history of drug and alcohol use without overburdening the reader with too much detail. Though concise, he gives the reader enough long-forgotten information to show what we can learn from past attempts to wrestle with this issue. Fully footnoted and containing a web-site bibliography, Gray's well-researched book will hold the reader's attention. His is a provocative solution to the drug problem, but don't expect America to adopt it any time soon. Recommended for all libraries.--Michael Sawyer, Northwestern Regional Lib., Elkin, NC
Philip Nobile
If religion is the opiate of the masses, drug prohibition is the high of the ruling classes. You do not have to be Stephen Jay Gould, an admitted therapeutic toker, to see the folly of criminalizing a citizen's association with plants, especially the kind bud -- cannabis indica, sativa and the hearty ruderalis (hemp). And yet President Clinton, a Rhodes scholar who joked on television about his youthful, offshore fling with Mary Jane, has juiced up Nixon's war against greens and crushed legitimate research into reefer's healing mercies.

America's century-long love affair with dope-busting is the subject of Mike Gray's engrossing Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out. Gray is a Hollywood screenwriter and director with a jones for muckraking -- he co-authored The China Syndrome and produced a documentary titled The Murder of Fred Hampton.

From the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act to the current blooming of medical marijuana in Arizona and California, Gray covers the usual historical landmarks with entertaining twists. Although he is indisposed to prohibition, his easy-to-read, fast-moving polemic has the feel of fairness. The true beauty of the book, the forest behind the trees, is its Voltaire-level refutation of the Church of Drug Enforcement. Gray seems particularly good at reporting the social and political context of destructive policy decisions. For example, a bogus 1909 cure for opium addiction prepared the way for the cruel Just-Say-Cold-Turkey attitude of our earliest narcotics laws. His chapters on the hemispheric quagmire created by exporting our drug war south of the border makes you want to burn Old Glory.

Gray sees an escape route running through Holland and Great Britain. Hamstrung by a United Nations treaty, the Dutch cannot easily legalize marijuana. But they have found a loophole -- tolerance. Small sales of weed are permitted in no-hassle coffee shops under government supervision. In theory, this keeps Dutch youth off the harder stuff by socializing the use of the non-addictive leaf. In practice, the trade-off appears to be working. Experimentation with heroin and cocaine has dropped steadily among Dutch teenagers while the marijuana-using population doubled between 1988 and 1992. The increase, of course, looks like red meat to the zero-tolerance crowd. But Gray points out that use by American teens likewise doubled in the same period, "despite the most repressive prohibition in history."

As for the cocaine- and heroin-afflicted, Gray describes the success of an old-fashioned, now heretical maintenance program in a Liverpool clinic where clients were dispensed their daily doses and expected to carry on with their lives. What happened? No HIV, high employment and a 94 percent fall in client crime. Naturally, the clinic was closed down. So how insane is the U.S. about drugs? Tobacco and alcohol are licensed to kill in the millions, but a few grams of gentle cannabis can land you in jail, forfeit your house and lose you your job -- unless you are Rep. Dan Burton's son (his stash included eight pounds and 30 plants) or play for the Dutch-oriented National Basketball Association. --Salon June 10, 1998

Kirkus Reviews
Dispatches from the war on drugs from author (Angle of Attack, 1992), screenwriter (The China Syndrome), and filmmaker (The Murder off Fred Hampton) Gray. His conclusion: We're losing. In ten days a mid-level "crack" dealer takes in $451,000. Colombian drug lords are multibillionaires. In one year, 1996, worldwide opium production increased by 20 percent. Such facts, concludes Gray, indicate that despite an 80-year battle in the US to fight drug use through prohibition, despite the US government spending $300 billion in the last 15 years alone on the war on drugs, drug production, sale, and use continue unabated. Gray further contends that this war on drugs is tearing apart the social fabric of the US. Few are the government antidrug agencies not contaminated by corruption. While the vast majority of drug users are white, those convicted of drug sale or use are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. The Constitution is regularly disregarded in the search for drug convictions. The prohibition approach to the drug problem has not worked. Prohibitionþwhether of alcohol in the past or drugs today—produces just the effects it aims to prevent. Forced onto the black market, drug sales will inevitably fall into the hands of the most ruthless criminals. In the search for profit, these criminals will produce those drugs that are the most profitable and the easiest to produce. Thus when the price of cocaine goes up, crack (very cheap and highly addictive) is created. Gray argues that control, not prohibition, is the answer. Marijuana use should be controlled in much the same way alcohol is; hard-core drug addicts must be allowed treatment that includes legal access to the drugs on whichthey are dependent. A tightly controlled legal drug market would end illicit drug trafficking and its costs in blood and money. Gray's analysis is, of course, controversial. It is, however, argued eloquently and persuasively, and deserves a hearing.(Author tour)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.89(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.09(d)

What People are Saying About This

Milton Friedman
The true story that Mike Gray tells so effectively is indeed stranger than fiction. Who would believe that a democratic government would pursue a failed policy...with no success in achieving the stated objective of a drug-free America.
Elliot Richardson
It shifts the burden of proof from the critics of existing policy to its defenders. That is no mean achievement!
George McGovern
This is a book that every American should read and take seriously -- a revealing and well-documented account.

Meet the Author

Mike Gray, author of The China Syndrome, grew up in Indiana and graduated from Purdue University with a degree in engineering. In 1962, he formed his own film company in Chicago, which produced the award-winning documentaries American Revolution and The Murder of Fred Hampton. Since moving to Los Angeles, he has been writing, directing, and producing feature films and series for television.

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