Keith Halderman

The Ruinous Drug War


Keith Halderman, editorial assistant at the Trebach Institute and blogger at Liberty and Power, discusses the sordid history of America’s war against some drug users.

MP3 here. (38:48)

Keith Halderman completed his BA in International Relations at Pennsylvania State University and a BA in Social Science Education at the University of South of Florida. He holds a MA in American History from the University of South Florida. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in American History at American University. He has published articles on the medical use of marijuana in the 19th century, the U.S. Army’s study of marijuana use in Panama conducted during the 1920s and Blanche Armwood the first Executive Secretary of the Urban League in Tampa Florida. His dissertation topic looks at marijuana prohibition in the 1930s from a Public Choice perspective. He is a long time activist with both the Libertarian Party and the drug law reform movement. He works as an editorial assistant with the Trebach Institute.

  • anthony dimichele

    greetings pot heads! great interview ~ i once published an article on Art & Drug Use… in the san juan free press.
    there is a long and illustrious history of drug use and visual arts as well as in music… i suspect the same is true in drama and dance as well…
    i have thought all along it is the creative/imaginative types that have been targeted all along…
    bon courage, anthony dimichele

  • Rupert Pupkin

    Just think for a minute what would happen if the all the worlds supply of ‘illicit’ opium poppies were destroyed. The war on ‘illicit’ heroin would be won! Fat chance daddy oh. The chemists would come on line and start making synthetics such as fentanyl analogues.

  • Oebe NL

    Organized crime has a symbiotic relation with national governments. Drug-prohibition and enforcement “wars on drugs” is where their mutual interests are plain enough to see. Together they control both supply and demand. There is simply too long a list to sum up what drugs and wars on drugs are (clandestinely and legally) good for. I don’t think there is any chance – certainly not by rational arguments about drug-use itself – governments could be forced to abandon that.

  • Ryan Dawson

    I don’t use drugs (as an athlete pot is not beneficial) but I agree with Scott. You own yourself and can use whatever you want so long as you don’t hurt anyone else.

  • Tony Litwinko

    It is a logical fallacy to insist that because prohibition arose during the progressive era it was instituted by progressives. It was not, and Mr. Halderman, as an expert on the era of marijuana use should be able, more than anyone else, to insist on the distinction. To accuse the “progressive” or “left” side of the political spectrum as being the cause of the “nanny state” is too broad an accusation, a form of “knee jerk libertarianism.” Progressive thought is more subtle than that. Prohibition arose clearly out of conservative religious attitudes, and was probably supported strongly by law enforcement officials as a way of exercising their police power. Holdovers still exist in the State Store systems in some states. The the very conflict over Roe v Wade comes out of that strong portion of the progressive movement that wants to preserve a woman’s control over her own body. Further absurdities in this interview occur when the objection against medical marijuana is that it will lead to control of us by doctors. What baloney. No one should have a problem with medical marijuana since it is obviously a wedge issue that has the potential for prying open the legal structure surrounding the war on drugs.

    Progressive and libertarian forces overlap at very interesting issues and may indeed be the points of alliance in a political movement against the current police state mentality of the “war on drugs” and “the war on terror.” The illegality of the invasion of Iraq is a clear point of overlap. Libertarians should recognize that there is a very strong element of personal liberty within progressive thought.

    • Keith Halderman

      The most influential drug policy organization in the 1930s was The World Narcotic Defense Association, founded and headed by Richmond P. Hobson. He had won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Spanish-Cuban-American War and parlayed that into an election to Congress from a district in Alabama. While there he authored the 18th Amendment which brought in Alcohol Prohibition, the center piece of the progressive reform movement. Hobson campaigned as a speaker for the Anti-Saloon League making arguments based on scientific grounds not religious ones. He put forth a brief for Prohibition entirely consistent with the basic premise of Progressive Era thought that social problems could be solved in a scientific efficient manner by government experts. The modern day schedule of drugs enacted in 1970 is a classic example of that theory put into practice. Government specialists on drugs decide which are the good ones and which are the bad, then they prohibit the bad ones making everything just fine, simple as that. When the American delegation went to the Hague Convention in 1912, where our government signed a treaty obligating it to create an anti-narcotics organization, the leader was Bishop Brent. Not a right wing figure but an Episcopal churchman. Some of the strongest supporters of draconian drug war measures have been liberal congressmen and Senators, from Hamilton Fish to Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden. If drug prohibition is not a progressive policy, why has a congress controlled by Democrats, the presumed inheritors of the progressive legacy, not enacted a bill legalizing marijuana for George Bush to veto? I stand by my statement that drug prohibition is an artifact of the Progressive Era.