At a time when questions about the legalisation of cannabis are once again high on the news agenda, I think it is worth remembering the historical relationship between the state and the drugs trade. Although, it is only right that I first explain my personal history with the drugs trade. The British summer has in recent years become synonymous with large scale for-profit festivals. When I was younger, festivals where the time and place to cut loose, with little or no apparent scrutiny or authority. Glastonbury, Donnington and Tribal Gathering were all ‘music’ festivals, where a large section of those attending were there for the drugs. Me and many of my friends were so f@#ked that we had no idea who was playing, or even where we were for long periods of time during the festivals.
That was nearly twenty years ago. As part of the struggle to get myself off the drugs I became focussed on a nagging inconsistency. I recall openly smoking marijuana in front of Police officers at Glastonbury, and dealers openly selling MDMA, LSD and Amphetamine in broad daylight at Tribal Gathering. The nagging inconsistency was the relationship between the state and the drugs trade. The state took a specific position in it’s rhetoric saying one thing, while quite clearly from it’s actions doing the opposite. It was this that kept playing on my mind long after I had left that life behind. And it wasn’t just the disparity between the words and actions. It was also the narrative that the words were telling. The establishment propaganda machine likes to apportion blame to the victims and shadowy foreigners, while avoiding any suggestion of their own complicity or responsibility. If you believe the presentation, there is no relationship between the state and the drugs trade.
The problem with this is that almost anyone doing drugs on a regular basis can go in to a popular bar or a club frequented by 20-30 year olds and within a few hours find a dealer. Within the groups I did drugs with, we even made a virtue of being able to do exactly this. The fact that the establishment presents the illegal drugs industry as a highly militarised quasi-terrorist organisation hiding in the shadows, overlooks one fundamental issue. They sell their products to the general public in public places. If a twenty year old with no formal training, resources, technology or the powers of the state behind them can find them on any night of the week, it really shouldn’t be that difficult for the state to find them. I can only imagine two reasons for this. Either the state is incapable due to incompetence, or the state has no interest in truly stopping the illegal trade in narcotics. Either way, if the relationship between the state and the drugs trade can be shown to have persisted in this manner for any significant length of time, one can only assume the ruling class are happy for it to continue.
It was this glaring injustice that drove me to research this relationship between the state and the drugs trade, when I wasn’t researching all the other forms of social and political inequality. Finally, at the beginning of 2017, nearly twenty years after I had left that life behind, I decided it was time to write a history of the state and the drugs trade. It is to date the longest piece of non-fiction I have ever had published. And in order to make it manageable I had cut into 5 separate essays. Michael Albert at Znet was kind enough to agree to publish it in its entirety, for which I will be forever grateful. This series of essays and the years of research that went into them, is as much part of my rehabilitation as it is one of the key driving forces of why I write.
The first essay in the series is titled War on Drugs 1, 1773 – 1961; From Britain’s India to Castro’s Cuba. In addition to a preamble demonstrating the role of narcotics in 18th and 19th century European imperialism, it really focusses on the relationship in the 20th Century. Specifically the symbiosis of the state and the drugs trade as part of the creation of the US empire. It covers Chiang Kai-Shek in 1930s China, the American Mafia in Sicily during WWII, Corsican drug gangs in the immediate aftermath of WWII Marseilles. After WWII and into the early 50s it covers the Mexican traffickers colluding with the DFS, ex-fascists and mafiosi fixing elections in Italy, the KMT along the Burma-China (PRC) border, allegations of assassinations of liberal politicians in Colombia, and the infamous secret codicil within the Marshall Plan that allowed the CIA to legally conduct political warfare,
The essay goes on to outline how by the 1950s, groups within the US Intelligence community, stretching all the way to the very top, were employing Wall Street bankers and lawyers to work with organised crime, to hide the proceeds of narcotics trafficking in order to fund paramilitary operations which extended the power of the USG across the world. All the while, the CIA was running projects like Bluebird which studied the potential for using hallucinogens in mind control, or Operation Artichoke which studied the potential for narcotics in altering personalities. And of course the now infamous MKULTRA, proposed by Richard Helms and approved by Allen Dulles, which studied the potential covert use of biological and chemical materials. It has since been alleged that the Agency went as far as researching the potential of LSD as a weapon of mass-social control in urban pacification. But perhaps the most shameful of all of the state operations was Operation Midnight Climax, which drove one Agent involved to ask the question, “Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape, and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?”.
The relationship between the state and the drugs trade is not a new one. It was first developed in the form we see it today by the European imperialists of the 18th century. However, what has changed is how it is represented in the popular narrative now that we live in so-called ‘democracies’. And, just to be clear, these essays are not about dodging responsibility for my own actions. They’re about outlining the hypocrisy and collusion of the state in mine and everyone else’s drug addictions. They’re about the complicity of the ruling class and it’s share of the responsibility in the global drug trade. Znet was kind enough to publish the first essay of the series on 8th September 2017. To read it here or to download a .txt version of it please click through to the page.