Having a substance should not be considered a crime, because so far it's victimless. If you want to talk about distributing substances that are lethal, yeah, that oughta be brought up, but then, let's be serious. Tobacco is far ahead of anything else. Alcohol is second. Hard drugs are way down the bottom, and furthermore most drug use, though it's very harmful for the person, has very little social effect. The crime associated with hard drugs is mostly a consequence of criminalization.

Q: so should we go after the people who make cigarettes?
If the principle is, let's not get lethal substances out to the public, the first one you'd go after is tobacco, the next one you'd go after is alcohol, way down the list you'd get to cocaine, and sort of invisibly low you'd get to marijuana.

Q: a lot more violence comes from someone snorting some coke?
No, it doesn't. It comes from purchasing coke and selling coke, but that's because it's illegal. That's because of the criminalization of it, not the effect. There're good studies of this. Tobacco doesn't happen to cause violence, but alcohol definitely does. The deaths that are alcohol related are way beyond the deaths that are hard drugs related, if you separate, in the hard drugs case, the deaths that are the result of criminalization. So yeah, when you have drug gangs and narcotraffickers fighting for turfs and so on, sure, then there's gonna be plenty of killings. Just like when you had Al Capone running Chicago. But that's a consequence of the criminalization, not the drugs. What drugs tend to do is make people passive. Alcohol on the other hand makes them violent. There're extensive studies in the criminality literature, and you can take a look at the results. The basic result is that tobacco related deaths are way beyond anything else, just an order of magnitude greater. Furthermore those are not just to the user, they're to everybody else. So deaths from passive smoking alone are much higher than drug related deaths. Furthermore they're transferred on to the next generation. Alcohol is the next biggest killer, and it's a killer not only to the people who use it, which is bad enough, but also to others, because of its relation to violence. Next is things like hard drugs, and they are rarely harmful to others, they're harmful to the user.

When you get down to marijuana, last time I looked there had been about 60 million users and not one known case of overdose. I mean it's not good for you, undoubtably, but it's probably at the level of coffee. And in fact notice that there has never been a medical reason for criminalizing marijuana. I've looked through the history of this if you're interested, I don't know if you want me to run through it, but it's an interesting history. Very commonly substances are criminalized because they're associated with what's called the dangerous classes, you know, poor people, or working people.

So for example in England in the 19th century, there was a period when gin was criminalized and whiskey wasn't, because gin is what poor people drink. That's kinda like the sentencing for crack and powder. In the early stages of Prohibition in the United States, one of the targets was immigrant workers, these guys hanging around the saloons in New York, gotta go after them. The rich guys in upstate New York, they're gonna drink no matter what, you know, they wanna come home after work, they'll drink. But, go after those guys.

What about marijuana? Marijuana was brought in by Mexicans, and the first criminalization of marijuana was in the southwest, in the states. It was in New Mexico, later Utah, and so on, and it was specifically targeted against Mexicans. It didn't get criminalized in the United States until shortly after Prohibition ended. After Prohibition ended we had this huge bureau of narcotics, and it had to do something. So they discovered, you know, that marijuana is gonna do all kind of terrible things to you. The Senate testimony about this is mind-boggling. They did have a representative of the American Medical Association, who said we don't have any medical evidence about this. He was shut up, denounced, you know, get rid of him right away. Then they found somebody else, this is literally true, they found a pharmacologist, a guy teaching at Temple University, who was doing experiments with marijuana and dogs. The testimony is hilarious, you really have to read it. They brought this guy and he testified that when he gave marijuana to dogs they went insane, you know, they'd do all kind of things. And then, some senator or somebody asked him, this is from memory, so it's probably a little off, but something like this, it's in the thirties. They asked the guy, well have you ever tried marijuana on humans? So he said, yeah, he tried it on himself. And he said, well, what happened? He said, I turned into a vulture, I started flying around the room. So they, oh my god, this stuff is terrible, it makes people insane. And it was declared by Congress that marijuana makes people insane.

But then something happened. It turned out that lawyers, defense lawyers, got the idea, OK, I can use this for an insanity defense. So if a guy who killed 3 cops, his lawyer would say, well, you know, he had marijuana before so he was insane, so you can't do anything. And people were getting off on charges, like cop killing for example, on the claim that they had marijuana. So all of a sudden it was discovered that marijuana doesn't make you insane. Congress decided, sorry, it doesn't make you insane, because we wanna wipe that out.

The next idea was, marijuana is an entry drug, it's the drug you take and then you go on to something else. Well, there was never any evidence for that, but that was decided. And then in the early fifties, something else happened, marijuana is being brought in here by Red Chinese to poison the American population and destroy us. So therefore we gotta stop marijuana. And it kinda goes on like this. Actually, the peak of marijuana use was as I said, in the seventies, but that was rich kids, so you don't throw them in jail. And then it got seriously criminalized, you know, you really throw people in jail for it, when it was poor people.

—Noam Chomsky (1928 - ····) Dialogue with trade unionists, February 2, 1999—
Noam Chomsky, originator of the Theory of Generative Grammar


United States


Activist; Linguist; Philosopher;

Dec 7, 1928


Sagittarius : Earth Dragon


Alcohol; Crime; Drug; Marijuana; Tobacco;






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