The Root of All Drug Laws - tuesday 2013-12-03 2128 last modified 2013-12-03 2128
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Regulating opioids is a good idea. Don't get me wrong on that. Once upon a time, more than a quarter of all men in China were addicted to some opium-based pharmaceutical. Generations, an entire century, lost to a foreign flood of increasingly refined imitation neurochemicals. Keeping them out of common circulation is probably one of the best ideas of how to deal with opioids since they were first discovered - humanity's second drug after alcohol.

How we got there, though. I recently learned that the first cannon shot in America's War on Drugs was aimed squarely at Chinese immigrants. The very first law was drawn up in San Francisco to drop the hammer on opium (smoking) dens. Run and frequented overwhelmingly by Chinese immigrants, opium dens were the target of a law specifically aimed at one group of people under the guise of targeting one drug. Ridiculous, really, since opium was consumed across American society as laudanum, a miracle pharmaceutical "prescribed" largely to middle class white women. There's little material difference between the two modes, certainly the active chemical is the same.

It's an interesting footnote at the beginning of a story about a nearly unstoppable monster, this ongoing, unending "war" against "drugs," and an odd chapter in the story of Asian immigrants coming to America. Further drug laws continued the trend of singling out specific modalities of consumption to target a specific demographic: crack cocaine for black men, marijuana for Latino men, meth for - whoops! - poor white men. Of all four, only one seems to have recovered from the fall. I've no explanations, barely any hypothesis for why. Perhaps because immigration policies were explicitly written to keep as many Chinese out of America as possible for decades, there just weren't enough to distill a new chemical mode of attack, not enough a threat to throw in jail. There's no solution there for our present day entanglements, just a bullet dodged.

But there we are at the start. Check out The House I Live In some time. Drugs, poverty, prisons, and America. They don't play so well together.

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