The more things change …

A temperance poster from 1930 displays early War-on-Drugs propaganda technique.

The Wellcome Collection in London has a show called High Society. It’s mixes historical curiosa with a very unoriginal sermon against drug prohibition, full of inaccurate claims. (The world illicit drug market is not $320 billion per year.  Opium was not banned in China in the 1840s; rather, it was a state monopoly, and imports from India by British traders were a threat to the revenue stream.)

But there’s lots of interesting material, including a video of Humphrey Osmond giving mescaline to a research subject who looks and sounds more or less like Cary Grant with an upper-crust English accent and an appalling dull anti-cocaine silent made by D.W. Griffith in 1912 that makes you wonder how the same director eventually made Birth of a Nation.

Also included are two delicious Temperance posters from about 1930, showing that drug-war propaganda technique hasn’t changed much over time. One is about the fact that wine is a gateway drug for distilled spirits. Here’s the other:

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

8 thoughts on “The more things change …”

  1. If I'm not mistaken Grant himself took LSD a number of times (before it was made illegal) at the direction of his psychiatrist.

  2. Everything in that poster was technically true and worth considering in both choosing to drink and crafting alcohol policy.

    What part of that poster is not true?

  3. I think there was an element of desire to retain control of distribution, as well as the revenue issue, behind the Chinese policy toward British opium. But their unwillingness to take anything other than silver in exchange for tea was what got the smuggling networks started in the first place. So I guess it was a revenue calculation in the end.

    One stock in trade claim of anti-prohibitionists has to do with the futility of prohibitions, and an absence of successful prohibitions in the historical record. A counter to that has to be the post-WWII history of China. Though in my mind it's an exception that goes a long way toward proving the rule.

  4. Yes, except for people who look at the measures taken by the communists, and think 'D*mn! Why can't we do that?'.

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