Sam Harris and Johann Hari discuss the “war on drugs”

From Sam Harris's blog:

DrugsS. Harris: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Johann. You’ve written a wonderful book about the war on drugs—about its history and injustice—and I hope everyone will read it. The practice of making certain psychoactive compounds illegal raises some deep and difficult questions about how to create societies worth living in. I strongly suspect that you and I will agree about the ethics here: The drug war has been a travesty and a tragedy. But you’re much more knowledgeable about the history of this war, so I’d like to ask you a few questions before we begin staking out common ground.

The drug war started almost exactly 100 years ago. That means our great-grandparents could wander into any pharmacy and buy cocaine or heroin. Why did the drug war begin, and who started it?

J. Hari: It’s really fascinating, because when I realized we were coming up to this centenary, I thought of myself as someone who knew a good deal about the drug war. I’d written about it quite a lot, as you know, and I had drug addiction in my family. One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to.

And yet I just realized there were many basic questions I didn’t know the answer to, including exactly the one you’re asking: Why were drugs banned 100 years ago? Why do we continue banning them? What are the actual alternatives in practice? And what really causes drug use and drug addiction?

To find the answers, I went on this long journey—across nine countries, 30,000 miles—and I learned that almost everything I thought at the start was basically wrong. Drugs aren’t what we think they are. The drug war isn’t what we think it is. Drug addiction isn’t what we think it is. And the alternatives aren’t what we think they are.

If you had said to me, “Why were drugs banned?” I would have guessed that most people, if you stopped them in the street, would say, “We don’t want people to become addicted, we don’t want kids to use drugs,” that kind of thing.

What is fascinating when you go back and read the archives from the time is that that stuff barely comes up.

More here.