Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

April 1, 2009 -- Citizen Radio (US)

Professor Noam Chomsky On The Drug War

Interviewed by Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

(Excerpted from a longer interview at

Allison Kilkenny: In an unpublished article for the Washington Post, you wrote that the NAFTA protests during the 90s in Mexico gave, quote: "only a bare glimpse of time bombs waiting to explode." Do you thinks the drug cartels in Mexico are a byproduct of the trade inequalities you explained in that Post article? Also, if you could talk about the roles international banks and corporations play in the War on Drugs.

Noam Chomsky: I can't really talk about it because there isn't any war on drugs. If there was a war on drugs, the government would take measures which it knows could control the use of drugs.

And it's pretty well understood. Years ago -- maybe twenty-five, thirty years ago -- around the time Nixon's first War on Drugs was called, there was a big study by the army and the RAND corporation (the main, outside advisory research bureau) analyzing the effects on drug use of various approaches to it. They studied four. The one that came out the most cost effective was prevention and treatment by a large margin. Next, much more expensive and less effective, was police work. Still less effective and more costly was border interdiction. And least effective and most costly was out-of-country operations like chemical warfare in Columbia. Well, the methods that are used are the exact opposite. Most of the funding goes into cross-border operations (least effective, most costly,) next, interdiction and police action, and least to prevention and treatment. And there's pretty independent evidence that this is correct.

So, for example, smoking is far more destructive than drugs by orders of magnitude. Now, you don't carry out chemical warfare in North Carolina or Kentucky. You don't interdict the borders because it's produced here. You don't arrest kids for having a cigarette. But in fact, prevention and treatment have sharply reduced smoking.

Throughout the 1980s, there was a general shift among young people toward more healthy lifestyles, so you have a reduction in smoking, a reduction in the use of red meat, in alcoholism, a whole pile of things. If you walk around a college campus, you rarely see kids with cigarettes. If you go down to the slums, you do. But that's because the social-cultural change was kind of class-based. But it worked. And as I said, it's even things like red meat. People eat healthier diets. And that's pretty much what the RAND-Army approach predicted. So that suggests, since policies have been followed for decades, which were known in advance to have exactly the wrong properties (and it's shown by evidence that they do have the wrong properties,) but they continue with them. Well, to a rational person, that suggests that something else is going on with the planning. And I don't think it's hard to figure out.

Out-of-country operations are just a cover for counter-insurgency, or for clearing land in Columbia and driving out peasants so multi-national corporations can come in for mining, and resource-extraction, and agribusiness, and macra production, and so on. Which is why you have (outside of Afghanistan) probably the largest refugee population in the world in Columbia. [The War on Drugs is] not effecting drug production. In fact, it's going up by, I think, 25% last year. But it's going to continue because that wasn't the purpose.

Here in the United States, the drug war has been associated, clearly, with a very sharp rise in incarceration. If you go back to 1980, the prison population in the United States, per capita, was approximately like other industrial countries -- kind of toward the high end, but not off the chart. Now, it's five to ten times as high and still going up. And most of it is drug related (also, length of sentences, and repeated sentences, and so on.)

And it mostly targets what are called the "dangerous classes," the poor, minorities, and so on. So like, black males, is astronomical. On the other hand, drug use among wealthy people is barely prosecuted. So it's a class-based form of control of superfluous population, and for that purpose, it seems to be working.

It's also making a lot of money for commercial enterprises. What some criminologists call the prison-industrial complex has been a pretty substantial development, especially for rural counties, it's a Godsend. When they build prisons, it brings in construction work, jobs, and surveillance. A couple of years ago, maybe still, the fastest growing white-collar profession was security officer, and it gets rid of people you don't want anything to do with. They don't have a place in the current industrial system. And there's also racial elements involved. So you can say the drug war is a success for what its real purpose is, but not for its proclaimed purposes.

There was just a study initiated by three pretty conservative former Latin American presidents: [Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, C}sar Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico,] and they came out with the conclusion, which anybody whose watching it knows is correct, but because it comes from that source, it was publicized, namely that the drug war in Latin America has been a complete failure in terms of its proclaimed objectives. But that just tells you those weren't the proclaimed objectives. Rational people don't keep pursuing a policy that's failing when they know there's a better policy unless there's some other reason, and I think the other reason is not terribly hidden. So you can't really talk about a war on drugs. You can go back to the question and formulate it differently (laughter), but it would be based on a different assumption.

(Interview contued at

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact