Why is there drug prohibition?

Political philosopher John Gray has an interesting theory, expounded in his 2002 book Straw Dogs (on pp. 141-2) of my 2007 Farrar, Straus, and Giroux paperback edition).

Prohibiting drugs makes the trade in the fabulously profitable. It breeds crime and greatly enlarges the prison population. Despite this, there is a worldwide drug pandemic. Prohibiting drugs has failed. Why then will no contemporary government legalise them? Some say organized crime and the law are locked in a symbiosis that blocks radical reform. There may be some truth in this, but the real explanation lies elsewhere.

The most pitiless warriors against drugs have always been militant progressives….It is no accident that the crusade against drugs today is led by a country wedded to the pursuit of happiness — the United States. For the corollary of that improbable quest is the puritan war on pleasure.

Drug use is a tacit admission of a forbidden truth. For most people happiness is beyond reach. Fulfillment is found not in daily life but in escaping from it. Since happiness is unavailable, the mass of mankind seeks pleasure.

Religious cultures could admit that earthly life was hard, for they promised another in which all tears would be wiped away. Their humanist successors affirm something still more incredible — that in the future, even the near future, everyone can be happy. Such a faith in progress cannot admit the normal unhappiness of human life. As a result, they are bound to wage war on those who seek artificial happiness in drugs.

Something for me to reflect on as I watch The Wire for the Nth time.

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