by Paul Wright
For at least the past 50 years, the U.S. government has purported to wage a war on poor drug users. Poor people who used drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana were duly arrested, prosecuted, convicted, caged and even killed in vast numbers – yet with each doubling of the prison and jail population, drug users remained as ubiquitous as ever. Not only was the U.S. population the victim of this ongoing practice, but the countries where many of the drugs were produced were militarized, invaded, conquered and otherwise brought to their collective knees under the guise of fighting a “War on Drugs” that has no end in sight.
When I was incarcerated, a fellow prisoner named Douglas Housley, who had been convicted of being a drug chemist, once told me that the only difference between him and the pharmaceutical industry was that they had better laboratories to produce drugs. At the end of the day, their end goal of getting people high to escape their reality was the same as his. That people have long used drugs to get high, drunk or otherwise alter their perception of reality or escape it should come as no surprise.
For most of American history, drugs have been legal. Cocaine, for example, was not deemed illicit in the U.S. until 1922 with the passage of the Jones Miller Act. The manufacture and possession of heroin was made illegal in the United States in 1924. And the first federal law criminalizing marijuana was enacted in August 1937. In the meantime, the pharmaceutical industry has steadily grown to become one of the largest and most powerful businesses in America, and the manufacture of opioids and other painkillers has created whole new generations of people addicted to “legal” drugs – those made in commercial laboratories and dispensed by pharmacists on a doctor’s prescription.
The economics of the drug trade are the same whether the purveyor is a Fortune 500 company or a “cartel” in Latin America or Asia: drive up profits by lowering production costs and increasing consumer use (and therefore demand). With the age of mass incarceration, it is not surprising that prisoners are among the many victims of both the war on poor drug users and a pharmaceutical industry constantly seeking new users. This month’s cover story explores the intersection between the two. Of course, unlike groups that manufacture and import drugs that are deemed illegal, the pharma industry, which has knowingly addicted millions and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans with its products, has prospered and largely benefited from a government benevolence that is not seen by smaller peddlers of illicit drugs.
I am excited to report that our new PLN Publishing title, The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct,by former HRDC staff attorney Alissa Hull, is in final production stages and will be ready for shipping by the end of September. The book is a complete guide to post conviction relief at the state and federal levels, and summarizes hundreds of cases where criminal defendants convicted due to prosecutorial misconduct have secured habeas relief. We will advertise the book in Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News once it is available.
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