Ending the War on Drugs in Switzerland

According to the BBC, Switzerland is close to lifting an almost 100-year ban on high-proof absinthe. It’s interesting to note how little has changed in 100 years,

Absinthe, first produced in the 18th century by Henri-Louis Pernod, acquired a reputation as a creative lubricant in 19th-century Paris.

But it was banned in Switzerland in 1908, after a factory worker killed his wife and two children in a frenzy thought to have been brought on by the drink.


Switzerland ‘to lift absinthe ban’. The BBC, September 25, 2003.

The Drug War Is Working … At Least in Afghanistan

Libertarians and others claim that the war on drugs is unwinnable. But it turns out that they were wrong. The drug war can work. In fact, it is working in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, of course, has been the source of much of the world’s opium. According to the New York Times, last year about 75 percent of the world’s opium resin came from Afghanistan. this year, however, almost all of the opium has disappeared. The reason — an edict from the ruling Islamic fundamentalist Taliban ordering an end to opium growing.

The Times seems surprised that not only have opium farmers apparently gone along without much of a fuss. But of course when you have the reputation that the Taliban has, you don’t need to do a lot to get people to comply.

These are the same folks, after all who hang prostitutes in stadiums full of thousands of cheering people. The other day the BBC reported that a young man and woman each were given 100 lashes in a crowded stadium for the crime of having premarital sex.

This, then, is the way that the drug war can actually succeed. All it needs is a deadly fundamentalist religious movement prepared to torture anyone who gets in the way, and the drug problem will just go away.

The Taliban understands the way the drug war works. Why stop the opium trade now, when it is one of the few sources of hard currency for that nation? Because the Taliban understands what happens to other murderous regimes who crack down on drugs — they tend to receive large aid packages from the United States.

The United States recently gave $43 million to help avert famine in Afghanistan, but that’s going to be administered by the United Nations. What the Taliban really wants is direct aid. As Mullah Muhammad Hassan put it in the language of nations, “A fair reply to what we have done would have been some acknowledgment of the achievement.”

Given the insanity of the drug war, they just might get it.

Taliban ban on drug crops is working, U.S. concludes. Barry Barak, The New York Times, May 24, 2001.

No Accountability in the War on Drugs

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a brief news item illustrating one of the most dangerous aspects of the war on drugs — an end to holding agents of the state accountable for their actions.

In this case, a SWAT team was attempting to serve an arrest warrant at 6:30 a.m., and knocked on a home owned by 27-year-old Jennifer Switalski. Switalski wasn’t home at the time, but two tenants who rent half of the duplex from her were home along with their two-year-old daughter. When nobody answered the door, the SWAT team smashed the door down, threw the tenants to the floor and handcuffed them.

As happen so often with these supposedly highly trained paramilitary forces, it turned out they were at the wrong house. The warrant was for the house three doors down.

Switalski sued the Milwaukee police department for damage to the door as well as for lost rental income and lost “peace of mind.” Circuit Judge Stanley Miller threw her lawsuit out saying that since the SWAT team was acting on a lawful warrant, they were immune from such lawsuits.

So much for living in a nation of laws rather than capricious power.


Suit over SWAT team error thrown out. Tom Kertscher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 6, 2001.

Missionary, Child Killed In Peru Become Latest Drug War Victims

Two Michigan residents, Veronica Bowers, 37, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, were recently killed when their Cessna was shot down over Peru after being mistakenly identified as a drug plane. Pilot Kevin Donaldson survived. Many Americans were shocked by the deaths, but this is nothing new for U.S. anti-drug policy in the Andes.

News reports of the deaths are filled with claims that the Peruvians have rigorous standards they employ before bringing down an airplane. That anyone within the U.S. government is willing to use the words “rigorous standards” and “Peruvian military” in the same breadth is amazing. In fact the United States has looked the other way while the Peruvian army, fulfilling its role in the U.S. war on drugs, has murdered countless civilians, occasionally in just such an “accident.”

How inept is the Peruvian military? In the late 1980s its chief intelligence official, Vladimiro Montesinos, worked with several Peruvian generals to create an illegal death squad to go after leaders of the Shining Path, a Maoist movement that was one of the few things in Peru even more murderous and cruel than the government.

Anyway, in 1991, about 20 people were having a good time partying at an apartment a little ways from the Presidential Palace. The death squad thought the party was actually a secret meeting of the Shining Path. They busted their way into the party, forced everyone onto the floor, and then fired over 100 shots. Fifteen people died and four others were wounded.

This was just one of many grotesque human rights abuses that occurred in Peru, and yet through most of the 1990s the United States considered Peru a great asset in the war on drugs. Ironically what caused the United States to finally break with Peru somewhat in the late 1990s was that it turned out their main asset in Peru, Montesinos, was playing both sides of the field. While taking money to fight drugs in Peru, he was simultaneously helping arm guerillas in Colombia.

The death of innocents at the hand of the Peruvian military has occurred all too often. Now that it is American civilians being killed, maybe the United States will at last rethink its relationship with Peru, but I wouldn’t bet on it.


U.S. Suspends Peru Flights. ABCNews.Com, April 21, 2001.

U.S. Steps Up Chemical Warfare Against Colombia

Environmental News Network reports that the Colombian government has begun fulfilling one of its obligations under a $1.3 billion U.S. aid package approved last summer and stepped up its aerial spraying of herbicides in southern Colombia.

The Colombian army estimates that about 75,000 acres of coca plants have been eradicated through intensive spraying of Roundup Ultra. ENN reports that the herbicide is being sprayed indiscriminately and so also wipes out non-narcotics crops as well including corn and yucca plantings.

Four Colombian governors recently traveled to the United States to demand an end to the program, with Guillermo Jaramillo Martinez, governor of Tolima, stating the obvious that, “The farmers are the weakest in the narcotics traffic chain. They are cultivating illegal crops because they have no other alternative.”

And, of course, even if the eradication program is effective it will still have a perverse effect on Colombian agriculture. Any resulting decline in cocaine supply to the United States would simply cause an increase in prices which would provide ever more incentive for farmers to find ways to grow coca in spite of the spraying (not to mention fueling more violent drug-related crime in the United States that usually accompanies increases in drug prices).

That economic theory of drug demand and supply is confirmed by the fact that since the eradication efforts began seriously in the early 1990s, the amount of land cultivated for coca has tripled.

Like an addict who thinks that just one more hit will make everything better, however, the U.S. government can’t seem to get enough of its attempts to use chemicals to make its domestic drug abuse problem go away.


War on drugs takes toll on environment. Margot Higgins, Environmental News Network, March 21, 2001.

Utah Voters Reign In Property Seizures

By an overwhelming 69 to 31 percent margin, Utah voters on Tuesday approved a ballot initiative that reigns in some of the most outrageous civil forfeiture laws to finance the war on drugs. The initiative addressed three problems with forfeitures: seizure of third party property, legal representation for people whose property is seized, and where money from sale of seized property goes.

The initiative provides more legal protection for third party victims of property seizures. Under most civil forfeiture laws, a person who lends a car to a friend who then uses it to commit a crime generally has his property seized regardless of whether he knew the friend or associate was going to use the property to commit a crime. In Detroit, for example, a property seizure case made national headlines when a woman had her car seized after her husband used the car to solicit a prostitute.

The measure also allows people whose property is seized to have the same access to state-provided attorneys that they would have in a criminal case. This is important because often the costs of hiring lawyers and taking legal action to regain improperly seized property is often greater than the value of the property itself.

Finally, the most important part of the measure is that the proceeds from sales of seized property go to schools rather than police departments. Utah police complained this will cost the millions of dollars in funds they need to fight the drug war, which is exactly the point. When police benefit financially from the results of their property seizures, there is an incentive to focus on increasing property seizures. In several high profile cases around the country, police have targeted the homes of wealthy individuals for relatively minor drug and cocaine possession charges because of the financial rewards awaiting the police department from sales of the expensive property (in several cases, for example, yachts have been seized when drug officers found a handful of marijuana cigarettes owned by a guest on the boat).

These three changes to forfeiture laws bring some common sense to property seizure and should be used nationwide in reforming a property grab by police that is out of control.


Majority Approves Initiative Limiting Property Seizure. Deseret News, November 8, 2000.